The Climate Change Irony of The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1962)

*contains spoilers

There is a movie which will become more important as the years pass… should we not correct the environment… as a premonition of things to come. The film is The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961), a fictional account of how the world, after the detonation of a couple of large atomic bombs, moves out of its natural orbit and slowly but surely heads for the sun.

Original Poster

Yes, slowly but surely, the world has to live with the fact they are possibly doomed to an environment so hot, it may mean the end of civilisation.

Sound familiar? Well, the heating bit anyway.

Australia recently had its hottest day in over a hundred years. People say: “Oh, we don’t know what the weather was like a thousand years ago…” Yet the aborigines in Australia survived for many thousands of years in that parched land, so it couldn’t have been too hot. The country is facing long drought and unprecedented bushfires…

Aussie actor Leo McKern in The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961)

The Day the Earth Caught Fire stars Aussie Leo McKern (1920-2002), the movie is set in London, in particular, in an earnest and honest newspaper office. Remember them, before they just blatantly wanted to influence your vote?!

McKern’s character has just received nearly two thousand letters in protest of the bomb detonations and he honestly doesn’t know what to do with them… we are yet to learn the results of these bomb tests.

It is a journalist played by Edward Judd (1932-2009) who is probing the immediate effect of the bomb but the government is tight-lipped. If they know there is a real problem, they are not letting on…

Actor Edward Judd as the reporter was not the first choice for the role

Look at the media today, particularly the Murdoch media. In our capital city, the columnist calls global warming “a hoax” in the local newspaper while talking heads on the television set lampoon Greta Thunberg (2003-) like infants just because she showed some passion in what appears to be a heating planet. The week of her speech in one broadsheet a reporter used a whole page to pull apart her argument that the world is reaching a climate crisis.

“It amounts to the biggest jolt the Earth’s taken since the ice age started,” says the deputy editor of the Daily Express, played by actor McKern.

Remember, the greatest news story ever told! Quad poster

This is the days of honest newspaper work and editors, not smoke and mirrors, not those who pick out the facts which please them most – the journalists who do nothing but the media barons’ bidding which leads to politicians acting like demagogues, interested only in their own popularity poll each month…

In The Day the Earth Caught Fire… the complacent public… wait on the news of the next celebrity as too many deny what is happening to the world… It is heating up. There is a movement, however, as there’s a huge antinuclear rally in the movie, something akin to the movement which briefly peaked after Greta’s speech… is the government keeping secrets and what will it take for the world to realise?… and I am talking in duel purposes here about the movie and the world today… In the movie it takes an eclipse of the sun ten days before it is due to realise something is terribly wrong. Bushfires? Melting glaciers? Probably not as shocking.

It’s a pity newsmen aren’t always as honest with facts. All the President’s Men (1976) trailer

“Does anyone care about the weather?,” says a newsman while in conference to the editor in chief of the Daily Express in the film. He is played by the actual editor at the time Arthur Christiansen who points out that there are floods thoughout the world including former arid wasteland in Western Australia that is two feet deep in water…

“It’s certainly nothing to worry about,” says an “expert” on the television. Sound familiar?

The headline on the newspaper that day reads; “It’s never been so hot!”

But the world carries on as though nothing is happening, although McKern’s retort to the expert on the teevee is: “Yes, it’s all good, clean fun.”

Is the planet heating up?!

Perhaps the world and it’s leaders, indeed the average person, naturally can’t concentrate long on its problems and we have to naturally go to the pub, make love and carry on as though there is nothing we can do… Reporter Judd takes his child to the local fun park to cool down and these are the forgotten pawns of the climate debate… the children. Interestingly, the birth rate has fallen recently in Australia. “Normal” people we are told in our metropolitan newspaper are the ones who don’t believe the “hoax” of climate change. They go to work to pay the mortgage or the rent, go home to see the kids, make love and then breakfast in the morning to read the paper. They have no time for trivia such as the hottest day on the record except as a headline!

Then the city of London gets covered by a “heat mist”, as we are introduced to a character played by tragic alcoholic actress Janet Munro (1934-72 heart disease).

Judd and Munro start to feel the heat in more ways than one

“There’s just a few of us normals left,” says Judd to Munro and she automatically asks: “Is it a boy or a girl?” There were “normal” people working for newspapers even back then it seems – the “normal” species of opinion journalist today just wants to influence you with a disregard of the facts – they are such experts.

Reporter Judd though will see first hand as the world gets hotter and without denial he’ll see something is very wrong… this really does dawn on the world population in The Day the Earth Caught Fire.

Thanks to dishonest or not totally honest reporting through rearrangement and misuse of fact and worldwide division politically between and within nations… the dawn has not arrived… I hope I am wrong. I do not want climate change to happen but I do not remain a sceptic anymore… it is far too serious to dismiss…

It surprising and ironic that it’s the Daily Express that denies climate change

Following the appearance of the heat mist in London, the editor says: “Go back to Galileo (1564-1642)” to see if there’s been such weather in the past… but the world has almost, if not already, reached the tipping point…

“Anything’s possible, even the Indian rope trick,” says Judd about the situation, which has yet to be blamed upon the atomic bomb blasts.

Can a normal person comfort their children with good faith ever again… they will become the deniers or liars who did nothing.

Bushfires are the new norm in Australia. A clip from Irwin Allen’s Fire (1977)

“Just remember you’re normal,” says Munro to Judd as he takes a crack at her to start a relationship and he remarks: “As well as being normal, I’m human.”

It will take more than one person to stop what is about to happen to the world. Indeed it may already be too late. That we are human with a propensity to often not get along under some circumstances continues to mar the world to this day… But man and woman etc continue to pair off but Munro thinks he’s a pushover. He says: “Have you suffered marriage, divorce of any other virus” like some fast talking scribe from The Front Page… life goes on as the Big Picture goes out the window and they make love.

Judd comes out with pithy lines as well as quick ones like in His Girl Friday (1940) trailer

The real daily life of a newspaper in its day is shown pretty well in this film – as is the devastating cyclone London must suffer.

“Repent for the sins of mankind,” preaches one believer on the street for probably too much adultery and alcohol being consumed by the general population. Something’s diverting their attention.

“If something’s gone wrong, don’t you think people are entitled to know?,” says Judd to Munro, who has overheard something on an official switchboard where she works.

“If people at the top are cleverer than we are, then they know what they’re doing,” she responds as she tells him not to use the information she heard for a story… But he tells McKern, whose worst fears are realised: “Bastards. They’ve finally done it.” Remember I’m talking about the bombs in the movie altering the planet’s orbit! At this stage the government only admits to the Earth’s axis being affected.

A heat mist settles over London in The Day the Earth Caught Fire

“What can it do to us… except for altering the world’s climate?,” says the editor, who is going to print it all.

In the meantime there’s floods, snowstorms, cyclones, heat… the climate is crazy in The Day the Earth Caught Fire. But the government still wants to keep the rest of the story and the facts a secret.

“The human race has been poisoning itself for years with a great big, fat smile on its face,” is Judd’s best line in the movie and sums up the pickle the world is apparently in.

The Day the Earth Caught Fire shows how a newspaper functioned in its day

It takes the governments facing what is apparently the truth for the world powers to unite and for the scientists to find a solution.

“What they’ll do to get votes,” says someone to the Prime Minister’s voice on the radio. Such was the cynicism back in the early 60s about politicians and the media. Little has changed although it is far worse. We don’t turn it off and instead almost serve as enablers!

Meanwhile fires become commonplace as dams are emptied and temperatures reach the highest of the century… that the media is the main source which helps hold the civilised world’s attention and keep it focussed… it must continue to make money and keep the masses calm… that along with the government, army and police force. Thus the importance of the focus of the media as a last bastion in The Day the Earth Caught Fire.

Judd is the ‘normal’ everyman journalist who must face a world in crisis

“I don’t think things in the city are going to be pleasant,” says the Daily Express editor when it is finally confirmed by the government that the planet is indeed heading toward the sun… Perhaps print is dead and now civilisation is internet, television and radio… just how long will it function as the world ends… as the rich media tycoons have already retired to their multimillion dollar retreats, safe from it all, kind of like the movie Elysium (2013).

The rich buy their own escape from the world in crisis in Elysium (2013)

“The only thing to cancel is your life insurance, sell up and have an orgy,” says Judd, when a copy boy says he’ll have to cancel his holiday.

The film is in black and white and Judd wasn’t the first choice for the role. Richard Burton (1925-84 stroke) was first choice and you can imagine him delivering all the pithy lines. Towards the end of the film look for an appearance by Michael Caine (1933-) as a policeman, who says: “Stay clear of Chelsea, it’s pretty rough down there” as civilisation begins to fall apart and the world apparently goes into party mode.

Co-writer and director of The Val Guest won an award for his script

The script by Wolf Mankowitz (1924-98 cancer) and Val Guest (1911-2006 prostate cancer) was well respected enough to win the 1962 BAFTA film award for Best British Screenplay. It is certainly deserved. Guest also directed and produced.

While the world leaders today continue their warlike posturing… hypersonic weapons now touted – 2019/20 saw Australia burn at an unprecedented rate. Forgotten is the younger generation… who realise they don’t need to be told they are right because they are “normal” by the media! Many don’t even watch or see that claptrap. The media will eventually have to grow up and unite behind the possibility of The Day the Earth Caught Fire… not flatter us into believing we are normal to deny… the end.

The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961) trailer

At the end of the movie, the world unites and tries one last effort to save itself by detonating more bombs to right the planet’s orbit. Judd dictates his last story as the typewriters have melted along with the phones… There are two headlines ready as the bombs are detonated. One says World Saved while the other reads World Doomed. I don’t think the latter will sell many copies, as it seems to be the likelier outcome.

Will the zombie apocalypse come first? Or are we just kidding ourselves either way?

“All the works of man will be consumed in the great fire out of which he was created… perhaps there is a heart that cares for him more than he has ever cared for himself,” are Judd’s sobering last lines.

Remember, it’s only a movie!

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