What would happen if a rogue planet flew into our solar system and slammed into the Earth? That question is answered in this classic sci-fi tale. An astronomer discovers an object that has just entered the solar system. His calculations show him it's big and headed straight for the Earth. The only problem is convincing the rest of the world. This top notch sci-fi shows humanity at its best and worst.
Richard Derr ... David Randall
Barbara Rush ... Joyce Hendron
Peter Hansen ... Dr. Tony Drake
John Hoyt ... Sydney Stanton
Larry Keating ... Dr. Cole Hendron
Rachel Ames ... Julie Cummings (as Judith Ames)
Alden 'Stephen' Chase ... Dr. George Frye (as Stephen Chase)
Frank Cady ... Harold Ferris
Hayden Rorke ... Dr. Emery Bronson
Sandro Giglio ... Dr. Ottinger
Considering when the film was made, it far surpasses action-packed, bloated-FX monstrosities like INDEPENDENCE DAY and ARMAGEDDON. George Pal gives us a convincing story with good FX. The theme of the plot is unusually profound for a sci-fi film, and it is handled with both humor and dignity.
Altruism and selfishness vie in the face of doomsday as the full range of human nature is displayed by a capable cast. Despite what may appear now to be a few creaky bits of movie magic, this film has a punch to it that many of the slicker films lack. It has stood the test of a half-century and is still touching and enjoyable.
"THERE ARE MORE STARS IN THE HEAVENS THAN PEOPLE ON EARTH!" a portentous voice-over intones amidst the background of a celestial choir. And with that very important fact established for those in the audience that might actually believe otherwise, we're off and running. Some movies are so loopy they're just plain fun to watch no matter how absurd they are. And with an opening like the one described you know this George Pal gem is going to be a hoot. "When Worlds Collide" was Pal's follow-up to his successful "Destination Moon" which along with "Rocketship-XM" launched the Golden Age of fifties sci-fi. It was a simpler time, an era in science-fiction films when all that was required for space travel was to "Strap yourselves in!" and "contract your muscles!" When astronauts wore leather flight jackets instead of space suits, and were always on the make for a beautiful pair of gams, (i.e. women) when all scientists smoked pipes and wore goatees, (that's how you knew they were intelligent) and were completely absorbed in their ivory tower research, oblivious to everything including at times the safety of the world. Worse whenever some dangerous creature was running amok their response to stopping it was invariably, "It shouldn't be destroyed, it should be studied!" or "It's so much wiser than us, we can learn so much!" It was an era when a woman wasn't considered complete without a man in her life, and even if she was a brilliant astrophysicist, all she really needed to know (as every man knew) was how to make a decent pot of coffee, when radiation was the answer to any problem, as in "Beast from 20,000 Fathoms" or was the reason for every problem like the giant ants in "Them!" Well, with the exception of extraterrestrials, radiation and giant insects, "When Worlds Collide" has all this and more!
This film is so ripe some enterprising filmmaker could do a parody of it, except it's hard to imagine how it could be done better. Eminent astronomer, Dr. Emery Bronson, (pipe smoking and goateed) has made a terrible discovery from his remote ivory tower observatory in South Africa. Two "heavenly bodies" are on a collision course with Earth. One, called Zyra will pass close enough to wreak havoc on land and sea, while the other, called Bellus will actually strike the planet and destroy it days later. "Money doesn't mean anything now. Time is all that matters!" So the pertinent, secret data must be taken at once to Professor Hendron in New York for corroboration on the Differential Analyzer, a fifties version of the computer. Enter Dave Randall, a leather flight jacket wearing pilot-soon-to-be-astronaut. Dave is always on the make for a beautiful pair of gams sort of guy, and blissfully unaware of the bad news he is carrying. At the airport Professor Hendron's daughter Joyce, played with wonderful vapidity by Barbara Rush awaits him. A newspaperman has offered Randall $5,000.00 for the secret of the little black box handcuffed to him. But Dave takes one look at Joyce and like a starving man eyeing a sirloin steak tells the reporter, "No thanks, I'm working on a better offer!" With the clock ticking on humanity they decide to take a taxi through the New York traffic to the breathlessly waiting professor. Along the way Randall manages to coax out of the trusting Joyce, who evidently never heard the expression, "loose lips sink ships" that the end of the world is upon them. Rush exclaims, "I'm frightened!" And then in one of the film's choice bits, slowly faces the camera and exclaims deadpan, "You see, I haven't the courage to face the end of the world!" The music swells, Randall squirms as if he just sat in something smelly left behind by a pet, slow fade out.
Most of the film deals with the construction of the rocket-ship, a latter day Noah's Ark, which will carry 44 individuals picked by lottery to make a new home on Zyra. It's their hope to build a bright shining new white world-literally for there is nary a single member of a minority group to be found among them. But money is needed for the project and since the Federal Government can't be bothered with saving humanity, wealthy industrialist Sidney Stanton, supplies that-provided he has a seat reserved aboard. "I think you're all crackpots!" he hisses. "Build it!" John Hoyt, deliciously nasty as the wheelchair bound Stanton steals the film. The cheesy but fun special effects kick into high gear with the approach of Zyra. Tidal waves strike New York, earthquakes rock the planet, and volcanoes erupt while the celestial choir swells yet again as a solemn voice-over intones, "Never has humanity felt so close to God!" Hendron reproaches Stanton with, "Not your sort of hypocritical prayer but the kind that come from deep inside a man!" after the latter has gunned down his wormy manservant Ferris who made the mistake of telling his employer he was an "Easy man to hate!" Things go from bad to worse when those who lost the lottery decide to riot. The good news is that Joyce realizes she loves Dave, and best of all he gets to go along and fly the craft to Zyra. Alone with Joyce days before take off and the end of the world, he remarks with all the gravity and emotion of a man suffering from acute gastric discomfort, "The last sunrise!" Joyce tries to get him to look on the bright side, "The same sun will rise again on the new world!" she says, not the least bit distressed that several billion people are about to have their lives snuffed out in a cataclysm of cosmic proportions. Oh well, guess she'll make a pot of coffee.
Everything turns out "alright" in the end-all things considered. Cue celestial choir, fade out. "When Worlds Collide" is a fun, goofy, glorious science-fiction postcard from the early fifties.
Okay, I know it's dated. know what?? I Don't care! This kind of movie making would put half the people in Hollywood out of work today. Maybe that's not such a bad thing. They did it right in the early days. They had their priorities right:
Then Special effects
Seems simple, doesn't it? How come they can't get it right today? (with few exceptions, of course). Nope, today it's Special effects, stars, then story.... in fact, even the stories aren't original!!!
This sums up why I like this movie so much and many like it from the same era. They're exciting, fun, and captivating. The kind of movie that leaves you thinking, dreaming, having nightmares, all in the name of fun. You're left dreaming of what it would be like, how you'd react, what you'd do. You'd sit and ponder about a new life on a new planet. And not once would the level of special effects tarnish your view of this gem.
When was the last time you felt that way coming out of a modern movie? My guess is a lonnnnnng time. There are very few exceptions today. The special effects in movies like "Worlds" was icing on the cake... BUT IT WAS THE CAKE THAT MATTERED! Today, it's all icing and the cake can't support it (crappy icing, in fact!!)
Eat your cake and have it too! Watch "When Worlds Collide"!
For its time, When Worlds Collide is a reasonably well-made and attentive piece of science-fiction. Sure there are plenty of holes in the physics, chemistry and aeronautics it uses, as other reviewers have pointed out so well - but that hardly wouldn't have mattered for the average Saturday afternoon movie-goer in the 1950s (I challenge anyone to argue that filmmakers pitch their produce at an audience half a century distant). The science isn't necessarily the core theme of the film anyway: it more directly concerns itself with how an intelligent race might organise itself and strive to perpetuate the species. And, towards the end of the film, a couple of scenes are given to how the survival instinct erodes civilised behaviour. Sadly, the gains the film makes are somewhat lost with a syrupy conclusion, though that might also have been intended to a link to another project.
It's been called a neo-Biblical parable, a Noah's Ark for the space era, and there's some evidence to support that (there are animals on the spaceship, two by two, the last scene is redolent of the Ark's residents emerging atop Mount Ararat, and there's even a flood scene after the first planet passes within spitting distance of Earth). What the movie certainly isn't is character-based, with most of them being cardboard cut-outs of stereotypes rather than interesting people. The most interesting figure is Stanton, the wheelchair-bound millionaire who helps fund the expedition but openly admits it is to guarantee his own survival; his money is taken somewhat reluctantly, but his prophecies about the degeneration of human behaviour in the face of catastrophe do eventually prove to come true. In the spirit of true idealism, Stanton - representing 'old world' cynicism, cruelty and selfishness - is left behind.
At first glance it looks like low-budget B-grade schlock, and there are certainly moments when that's all it is. However When Worlds Collide is also visionary film-making in that it knows (or rather knew) how to grab the attention of its audience with a darkly gripping premise: our own demise as a species. It's the fore-runner to films like Armageddon and Deep Impact, and though it has certainly dated it should be watched with respect for its contribution to the genre.
# In the final shot we see the Ark passengers disembarking with an obvious painted background depicting Zyra. This bad painting was tacked on for the film's sneak previews. Originally, producer George Pal wanted to depict Zyra as a miniature set, but Paramount shipped the film out before this could be done.
# There is a shot toward the end of a group of people sitting around a country store listening to the radio. Among them the little boy and dog later rescued by helicopter. The same shot shows up in The War of the Worlds (1953)
# The rocket was designed by space artist Chesley Bonestell.