Gort! Klaatu Barada Nikto!
So I wrote the outline of this review on March 21, 2020, back when we were all first told to quarantine because of the COVID-19 virus.
Every time they said the words “quarantine”, “shelter in place”, and seeing the lack of people driving at 6pm-made me think of this movie-as essentially the world was “standing still” (although there is still a line at Starbucks and the McDonald’s drive thru.)
While watching the movie there are quite a few things people say, that if you just replace the spaceman/alien with virus it actually applies. Their hysteria, the anger at the government, how each country reacts differently in what they do-but all panicking.
I first saw this movie on TCM or AMC, I can’t remember which, during one summer vacation. I remember it had to be summer because I was home that day and the movie channel had set the film to play so that it lined up with the 12:00 power going out at 12:00pm that day.
I really loved it the film, and of course later bought my own DVD of it. When the new one came out I watched it and was severely disappointed. The story just didn’t work as he came to help the planet-as humans needed to change or they would be destroyed-but to me it just didn’t work. This one makes a lot more sense.
It is 1951 and everything is normal until a flying saucer comes flying across the sky and lands in Washington D.C.
People all over the world are listening to the news and panicking!
To increase the sense of reality, some of the most famous broadcast journalists of the time were hired to do cameos as themselves. These included Gabriel Heatter, H.V. Kaltenborn, Drew Pearson and Elmer Davis. I had to look this up as the only one I recognized was Elmer Davis.
Meanwhile, out of the saucer comes a spaceman and a giant robot. Of course the military are there and they freak out about it, shooting him and getting their guns blasted by the robot, Gort.
The robot Gort was played by a 7ft. tall doorman, cast only for his height. He looks impressive next to Michael Rennie (the actor playing the spaceman) as Rennie is quite tall (6’4)
The spaceman’s name is Klaatu and he leaves Gort and the spaceship behind when the army takes him to the hospital. He has a humanoid like body, is over 100 years old, and heals quickly from gunshot fire.
The studio originally wanted a big name to play Klaatu, but was later convinced by the director to use Rennie, a relatively unknown actor at the time. I think Rennie was perfect as he was taller than any other man in the film, he has a voice that shows strength and power without being overbearing, and he is able to convey so much in slight movements. No one else could have done as great a job.
The army tries to break into the spaceship and destroy the robot, but nothing they have is strong enough.
Klaatu wants to meet with all the world leaders as he has a very important message, but unfortunately people are not so willing. Russia will only come to the summit if it is in Russia, England won’t unless it is in England, and so on and so on. I don’t know why they don’t do it in the United Nations building in NYC but whatever-world leaders just can’t get their act together.
Klaatu also wants to see the people-the ordinary ones-but the government won’t let him out. Just like in Escape from Planet of the Apes-the government control everything because they are afraid.
Klaatu waits until night and sneaks out-he gets some clothes, a briefcase, and finds a room to rent-going by the name “Carpenter”.
In the boarding house, the boarders are all crowded around the TV and are scared, watching about the escaped spaceman. When Michael Rennie comes into the room all shadowed and tall, he does look creepy. Especially with his height and the fact he doesn’t say anything right away.
Like something out of a horror film, it makes you think of the panic people get so quickly-like The Monsters on Maple Street or the COVID-19 panic (you remember the sanitizer and wipes hoarding).
The boarders are nice but worried and freaked out.
George Barley: Why doesn’t the government do something, that’s what I’d like to know.
Mr. Krull: What can they do, they’re only people just like us.
George Barley: People my foot, they’re democrats.
People complaining about the politicians running things? Doesn’t look like things have changed much.
Helen (Patricia Neal) is the mother of Bobby and before the spaceman visited she and her boyfriend, Tom Stevens (Hugh Marlowe), were supposed to go on a day trip. She wants to take Bobby along as she doesn’t have anyone to watch him- as everyone is prepping for the end of the world.
Now Tom is the worst guy ever. He doesn’t want Bobby to go on their trip and when the new boarder, who NO ONE knows ANYTHING about wants to watch Bobby he is like sure let’s go.
Dump Tom. Seriously, this new guy could be a pedophile, molester, or just crazy -you have no clue who he is. And if your boyfriend is willing to pass your child off to the first person he meets, dump him! He’s obviously not a good boyfriend or stepfather material.
Of course they say yes, so innocent in the 1950s, and Bobby and Klaatu go check out the sites. Bobby takes him to the Lincoln Memorial, Arlington Cemetery, etc-which is fine, but watching this as an adult I think it is a little odd. Like wouldn’t a kid want to show him something they think is cool? I mean he looks like he is 10, wouldn’t there be something more kid-friendly he wants to go to? An amusement park?
He does mention the movies in which Klaatu wants to treat him, but Klaatu only has diamonds-the currency of his people. He trades the diamond for Bobby’s $2 so he can pay for the movie tickets.
When he trades the two dollars for the diamond, Bobby says:
Bobby: Let’s not tell mom about this.
Klaatu: Why not?
Bobby: She doesn’t like me to steal from people.
This kid is hilarious and adorable.
Klaatu and Bobby also go check out the spaceship, where we get this great line that sums up my feelings regarding people’s extreme reactions to COVID-19-you know buying mass quantities and hoarding them, spraying themselves with Lysol, etc.
Reporter: I suppose you are just as scared as the rest of us.
Klaatu: In a different way, perhaps. I am fearful when I see people substituting fear for reason.
Klaatu asks Bobby who is the greatest man on Earth today, Bobby says the spaceman, and I’m surprised he didn’t say a baseball player or superhero, If someone had asked me question at Bobby’s age I would have said Spider-Man.
After Bobby thinks about it, he picks his mother’s boss, Professor Barnhardt and they stop at his house. He’s out, but Klaatu solves part of an equation-as his calling card, and the two head home.
Later that evening Helen comes back and Tom proposes to her. Ugh.
She wants to think about it, but he wants her to answer now as he has to go to Chicago Monday. Like triple UGh! this guy is the worst Helen! I know it is hard for a single mom but you can do so much better. Tom continues to be a total jerk as he gets all jealous and angry about them making a big deal over how sweet Carpenter/Klaatu was to take Bobby out. Oh so now you are all protective, asking “what do you know about him”. It didn’t matter when you wanted to take off with your girl but now it is an issue? You ARE THE WORST.
As the film progresses Helen and Klaatu are starting to become friends but you can tell there are deeper feelings stirring underneath the surface. They apparently filmed more of them talking and showing those feelings develop, but had to cut it. I think what the film has, portrayed their relationship beautifully in the way Helen and Klaatu look at each other-their voice inflection, the slight touches between them. I always thought they fell for each other, but just couldn’t be together.
Goverment agents come and fetch Klaatu to see Professor Barnhardt and he reveals who he is and that his mission is of the upmost importance. Barnhardt wants to help him and he will have all kinds of scientists from round the world come, but he worries that even seeing him and hearing they won’t believe. He asks him to do something to show the power-but something in which people won’t be hurt.
That night Klaatu returns to the boarding house, borrowing a flashlight from Bobby. He goes to bed and Bobby goes up too, as his mom leaving to go out with ugh Tim. BLEH!
As Bobby is heading to bed he sees Klaatu turning the light off-that sparks Bobby’s attention as Klaatu told Bobby that he needed a flashlight because the lightbulb in his room went out. Bobby decides to follow him and watches as he heads down to the spaceship and goes inside.
Bobby runs home and into his mother who is upset about him not being in bed. He tries to tell her about the spaceman, but she and Tom don’t believe him.Tom goes upstairs to prove Klaatu is there, but when he goes to the room it is empty. He pokes around-not cool Tim, not cool-and finds a diamond. He brings it down and goes on about how he doesn’t like Klaatu, he is trouble, a robber, etc. Oh, but you trusted him to watch Bobby! What a jerk! DUMP Him!!!!!
First of all-why would you assume he is a thief and not a diamond salesman or he could just own a diamond as some people do? I mean the US was in a housing crisis after WWII maybe he has money and is staying at the boarding house until he finds a house of his own? Huh?
Secondly, where was this protectiveness earlier when you were throwing the kid at him since you didn’t want to be bothered by having a child along on your romantic weekend? EH!!??
Yeah, he’s a real jerk Helen-let him go.
The next day Klaatu speaks to Bobby and realizing that he has figured out who he is, he goes to see Helen so that she can keep the secret until he has the summit with the scientists.
Meanwhile, Tom took the diamond to have it appraised and it is declared to be something out of this world. Tom is excited as he sees fame, glory, and dollar signs.
Klaatu has tracked Helen down and the two become trapped in an elevator as Klaatu’s plan has gone into effect. From 12-12:30 everything electrical stops (except planes in flight, hospitals, etc)-no phones, no cars, no anything-making it the day the Earth stood still.
When we had those huge summer storms that resulted in California burning, the power went out for the whole day and it made me think of this part of the film.
As they are traped in the elevator, Klaatu tells Helen who he is and the importance of the meeting. She agrees to help him-he is going to stay at the boarding house until it is time to meet-while she tries to track down Tom, and convinces him keep quiet.
Tom however does not want to keep quiet and has decided to call the army. Helen tries to tell him they need the summit for the safety of their world, but he doesn’t care.
Helen: What about the rest of the world?
Tom: I don’t care about the rest of the world! [Seeing her shocked expression] You’ll feel different when you read about me in the papers.
Helen: I feel different now.
And Helen dumps him.
YYYYYYAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY!!!!!!!!!! WOOHOOO YIPPEE!!
Good job Helen. You know you should be thankful for this as if Klaatu hadn’t come into your lives you probably would have married this horrible human being.
Klaatu and Helen go away from the boarding house as it is no longer safe and head to Professor Barnhardt’s house. Klaatu cautions her that if anything should happen to him, she must go to Gort and tell him “Klaatu barada nikto!”
Klaatu of course gets shot by the military, as we fear what we do not understand and often shoot first in these movies. And Helen hurries to the spaceship.
When she gets there Gort destroys two guards and then carries her into the spaceship. I hate the posters that showcase this as the illustration looks nothing like the actress. In the posters they always have her in a sweetheart pink dress which is nothing like what Neal actually wears as Helen. I mean she has her nice dress from work, but it is just an average dress with a high collar.
Gort goes off and gets Klaatu bringing him to the spaceship and back to life.
[Klaatu is revived by Gort after being fatally shot]
Helen: I – I thought you were…
Klaatu: I was.
Helen: You mean… he has the power of life and death?
Klaatu: No. That power is reserved to the Almighty Spirit. This technique, in some cases, can restore life for a limited period.
Helen: But… how long?
Klaatu: You mean how long will I live? That no one can tell.
Klaatu then gives his speech before he, the spaceship, and Gort are all whisked away.
Klaatu: I am leaving soon, and you will forgive me if I speak bluntly. The universe grows smaller every day, and the threat of aggression by any group, anywhere, can no longer be tolerated…I came here to give you these facts. It is no concern of ours how you run your own planet, but if you threaten to extend your violence, this Earth of yours will be reduced to a burned-out cinder. Your choice is simple: join us and live in peace, or pursue your present course and face obliteration. We shall be waiting for your answer. The decision rests with you.
Powerful way to end a film. I’m sure after WWII this really resonated with a lot of people. I, of course enjoy it, and hope you all did too.
For more Michael Rennie, go to I Do Think You Are Confused Mrs. Bowman: Dangerous Crossing (1953)
For more with Hugh Marlowe, Will We Survive the Night?: Rawhide (1951)