Wednesday, 13 July 2016

The 27th Day (1957)


A thoughtful contemplative small budget film that deals with big ideas and concepts


Directed by William Asher
Produced by Helen Ainsworth
Written by Robert M. Fresco
Based on The 27th Day 1956 novel by John Mantley
Music by Mischa Bakaleinikoff
Cinematography Henry Freulich
Edited by Jerome Thoms
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Running time: 75 minutes



Cast


Gene Barry as Jonathan Clark
Valerie French as Evelyn "Eve" Wingate
George Voskovec as Professor Klaus Bechner
Azemat Janti as Ivan Godofsky
Arnold Moss as The Alien
Stefan Schnabel as The Soviet General
Paul Frees as Ward Mason, Newscaster
Marie Tsien as Su Tan




Five individuals from five nations suddenly find themselves aboard an alien spacecraft!



Each person is given a container holding capsules!

Only a mental command from the person to whom the container is given can open it!

Each individual has now been provided with the power of life and death!

The fate of the entire planet is in their hands!

What will they do with the power they have been given?

WHAT WOULD YOU DO?




Spoilers follow below…..





Five disparate individuals separated by geography, artificial boundaries and a combination of somewhat dissimilar cultures, languages, political and ideological belief systems and values, are about to be forcibly united in a shared purpose by forces beyond their control.





On the coast of Cornwall, a shadow silently slithers over the body of British bathing-suited beauty, Evelyn Wingate. As if of divine origin, a voice insists, “Miss Wingate, come with me please.”





At 4.30pm at the Los Angeles Record Telegram, American reporter Jonathan Clark sits in his office. This purveyor of a certain brand of “truth” has the kind of face that belongs to a man who could just as easily find himself in the role of the scientist hero bravely trying to save the earth from alien invaders. Today, however, he is just Mr Clark sitting in a shadow cast by something “alien” who summons him with the words, “I must ask you to come with me.”





Amidst the renting internal turmoil of a crazed Cultural Revolution, Chinese peasant Su Tan is drawn away from its cruel consequences by the commanding voice from above: “Come with me, Su Tan.”






German physicist Klaus Bechner, is informed by the voice that it will be necessary to interrupt his departure for America where he is scheduled to be a key-note speaker and witness the launching of a satellite. Somewhat ironically, this event was supposed to herald in an era of “communication between the planets.”





Soviet soldier, Ivan Godofsky stands guard outside an edifice constructed of state tyranny, power, control, fear and paranoia. This time however, Ivan’s obedience is to be given only to the voice as it informs him that his gun “will not help.”






All five individuals now find themselves aboard an alien spacecraft in Earth orbit. But how and why? In answer to this question, Professor Bechner declares to his fellow passengers, “the how we will never understand. What interests me is the why!”







Suddenly a voice announces, “People of earth, permit me to explain. “The voice belongs to a humanoid known only as "The Alien." This alien host explains to his human ‘guests’ that he is the representative of a world orbiting a sun in a “nearby universe” and that the sun is about to go nova.

In an apparent vindication of Einstein’s special theory of  relativity, the five humans are informed by the alien that his craft has been travelling at close to the speed of light whereby, “time as you know it doesn’t exist.”

The alien goes on to explain that the five humans have been selected as being “representatives of the human race” and that his mission is to help them save their “beautiful planet” from destruction by the “ultimate weapon: The H-Bomb.”


BUT WHY?
The alien informs the five humans that his race of beings need a new world to inhabit within the next 35 days, but that they are prohibited by their moral code from killing intelligent life.


THE PLAN 

“To lend you a weapon” that “affects only human life.” 


That there is “no obligation to use the weapon.” 


And…. 


“The weapons are yours to do with as you wish.”




Each of the five people are provided with clear containers consisting of three capsules. Each capsule is capable of destroying all human life within a 3,000-mile diameter.





It is expected that humanity will wind up using all the capsules, thereby obliterating itself from the face of the Earth and leaving the way clear for alien colonization of the planet.

Each container is “tuned to the electrical impulse of its owner.” In other words, it can only be opened by the thought waves of the person originally in possession of it. However, once the container is opened, the capsules can then be used by anyone, but only for the next 27 days, after which they become inactive.



THE TASK 


To keep the peace for 27 days. 



Or in other words, 

To learn “what has escaped the world for thousands of years.” 


THE STAKES 

“Each of you hold in your hand the power of life and death” 

And ….. 

“More than enough power to wipe out human life.” 

Therefore, humanity must, 

“Practice peace or die” 
And if successful; 

“Your race will live, mine will die.”



The Game

The gods have spoken; 
The game is afoot; 
The rules are set; 
The outcome determined 
By the choices made 
As the game is played...

Back on Earth, Eve casts her capsules into the choppy waters of the English Channel. Her decision: To have nothing to do with such awesome power and responsibility.




Meanwhile in China, amid the smouldering ruins of her home, Su Tan chooses to commit suicide before a statue of the Buddha, thereby causing her capsules to be destroyed. Her decision: To escape further suffering in this life by choosing what for a Buddhist would be, a negative act that will ultimately block the path to enlightenment.

Professor Bechner succumbs to scientific curiosity and opens his container by using his own thought waves. His decision: Despite possible consequences, to gather data, test hypotheses and approach the problem rationally instead of reacting emotionally.

Back behind the Iron Curtain, Private Ivan Godofsky decides to conceal the truth from his political and military masters who he knows will make use of the capsules and any information about the alien to their own advantage. When questioned, he tells his comrades that he thought he saw something but was mistaken. The system under which he lives encourages either mindless obedience or concealment of the truth and subterfuge.






The next day, the Alien takes control of all electronic communications and informs the world that there is to be an “announcement of vital importance” that will contain “information of vital concern to the people of Earth.” The alien then reveals to the world the existence and nature of the capsules.





Meanwhile, just after hearing the broadcast while on a trip to the U. S., Professor Bechner is struck by a car while crossing the street and is taken to the hospital. At about the same time in the USSR, Ivan Godofsky is pursued and detained by the authorities.

Having earlier booked a flight to Los Angeles, Eve soon arrives at LA International Airport and is met by Clark who is now disguised. His missing moustache is a clue to his decision: To run, hide away incognito and seek safety in cynical seclusion. But why? Perhaps it has something to do with the media and public reaction to the Alien’s broadcast:








Excerpt from Ward Mason’s news broadcast 

“….As to the question: Was it real? The answer must be held to be, yes! 

…..The alien spoke from a point somewhere beyond and outside of the earth’s atmosphere….. 

And where are the five people…….?” 

(names read and repeated)


As a result of the growing panic and with the “whole town locked up,” Clark takes Eva to a closed race track where they can hide.





Godofsky, now honoured as being the “first Russian in space,” is meanwhile being interviewed by a Soviet general who appears to be suspicious and dissatisfied with his information;

“They just gave me that box.”
“I don’t know.”
(The purpose of the box)

Suspecting that the box “contains a secret of great power” which he must obtain before the Americans do, the general orders Ivan to be subjected to interrogation in order for him to reveal the truth.





Back at the race track, Clark and Eva are ensconced in their “home for the next 25 days” where “not even the horses are here out of season.” Of course there is a lot of bantering innuendo between the two:

Eva: “I trust that you’re a sound sleeper.”
Clark: “I don’t walk in my sleep, if that’s what you mean.”

Quite a recipe for growing sexual tension to develop between Eva and Jonathan!






After hearing reports on the radio about sporadic acts of rioting, Clark declares that people are “so full of hate, they’d lynch us if they could get their hands on us.”

Eva, on the other hand, observes that “people hate because they fear and they fear what they don’t understand.” This is one of those eternal truths about people no matter what era they live in. It certainly goes some way towards explaining how people fleeing across national borders may be viewed or how people of certain racial, ethnic, religious or political groups, or even sexual orientation are often treated.






Back in the USSR, the sense of urgency over the secret of the capsules is mounting and there is fear of “other nations discovering the answers” before they do. As for Ivan, “even torture cannot break him.” His interrogators try to break him by referring to him as a “filthy traitorous liar” who “will go down as the greatest traitor this country has ever known.”





Meanwhile in the US panic continues to mount as a recuperating Bechner refuses to reveal the details of The Alien's plan. The withholding of information is leading to increased concern and apprehension. The professor does reveal that “the box and its contents cannot in themselves be harmful to anyone.” As with most technological developments, it is often the uses to which they are put and the intent behind their application that will determine the likelihood of their causing harm to people.

After two Communist agents almost succeed in assassinating Bechner, and an innocent man who resembles like Clark is killed by a mob, Clark becomes a lot more introspective and arrives at a crucial decision. He declares to Eva, “maybe for the first time in my life I’m thinking of the next guy to do the right thing by him.” He and Eve then decide to voluntarily surrender themselves and be placed in government custody.

Clark’s decision: “Both nations have the ultimate weapon. I tried to stay out of it by hiding.” He is now involved.






We now find Godofsky in a state of shock after the beatings he received during torture. It is then decided to use sodium pentothal to get Godofsky to reveal the Alien's plan and gain access to his capsules. They succeed in doing so by a combination of chemical and emotional manipulation, the latter in the form of appeals to his love for his parents and for his country: “The Imperialists have pooled their atomic weapons and we find ourselves defenceless unless you help us, Ivan!”

The world is sent into a spin with the Soviet announcement that they have cracked the secret of the capsules:


IRON CURTAIN BREAKS SECRET OF ALIEN BOX! 

WORLD CONTROL CLAIMED BY IRON CURTAIN 
ALIEN PLAN TO TAKE OVER WORLD IS REVEALED 
ALIEN “CAPSULES” ANNIHILATION WEAPON! 
IRON CURTAIN LIFTS LID OFF “SECRET BOX!”


The scene shifts to Washington DC where Johnathan Clark and Bechner discuss the situation the world finds itself in. The dilemma is as follows;

John: “They give us a weapon and expect us to use it and yet they give the impression they hope we won’t!”

“How come they happen to have five nice shiny human exterminators lying around?”

Bechner: “They could have simply used their capsules and taken the planet.”

(It is obvious that they know) “…. the human race has spent more time destroying itself than in any other human endeavour.”

“They have merely intensified our choice – a choice that has faced us since the atomic bomb.”

John: If we had been a mature civilisation “we would have promptly tossed them (the capsules) into the nearest sewer…. or the nearest ocean.”

It appears that the whole matter of humanity being faced with a crucial choice is really one that has been staring it in the face since the mid-20th century to the present day. Throughout that time, the human race has possessed the capacity to destroy itself but has lacked the will to choose (like Eva did) to completely and utterly do away with the means of doing so.






And so the next move in the game is made with the Soviet general declaring that he is “prepared to destroy all life on the North American continent” if the US does not withdraw from Europe and Asia and limit itself to the continental US.

A first strike policy is settled upon as a course of action as it is believed that “democracies are appeasers” and that the US needs to be bombed into war if it is not provoked.






Global anxiety increases, prompting Clark and Bechner to cooperate with U. S. authorities. A decision is then made to test one of Bechner's capsules to determine the veracity of the Soviet threat and ultimatum. A dying professor “born in Germany but resides in Missouri” has exposed himself on purpose to a lethal dose of radiation and volunteers himself to be left on a raft in the middle of the ocean as part of a test of the capsules’ capabilities. For the volunteer it is a question of “one life against millions” After a capsule is opened, his exact coordinates are read out loud and he is instantly vaporised. The truth is now known.






On board a U.S. destroyer Bechner begins to study the remaining capsules and considers that the whole matter is not just a question of ‘life or death’ but is instead a question of “life AND death.” He also discovers some kind of a message or imprinted code on the capsules.





Over in the USSR the Soviet general prepares to use the capsules when suddenly Godofsky makes a dash for him causing the capsules to fall to the ground below the balcony on which the general was standing. Just then on the ship Bechner, safe from outside intervention in a cabin, launches all the remaining capsules. He had managed to discover that the capsules can be programmed in the sense that they can indeed bring life and death. The resulting “invisible rays from outer space” and ultra-sonic wave kills all "confirmed enemies of freedom," including of course the Soviet general!

At a later date at a meeting of the United Nations, a united world broadcasts an invitation of “hospitality and sanctuary” to The Alien and his people. On behalf of 30.000 inhabited worlds, the invitation to coexist peacefully is accepted with “gratitude and love.”

In this scenario mankind has been judged and found not to be wanting. Should the gods set us a similar test in this, the second decade of the 21st Century, how would we fare?


Points of Interest


The 27th Day is based on the successful first novel by Canadian-born writer John Mantley. The novel was chosen as a Book-of-the-Month Club selection.

We have seen the film’s leading man, Gene Barry in another science fiction film that was earlier featured in this vlog, George Pal's classic 1953 film The War of the Worlds.

Another face we are familiar with belongs to actor Paul Birch, who had roles in sci-fi cult favourites such as The Beast with a Million Eyes (1955), Day the World Ended (1955), and Not of This Earth (1957), all of which have been featured in this blog. 





You might recognise the face of Arnold Moss who played the alien leader in The 27th Day. He also later played the Shakespearean actor and once former murderous tyrant, Anton Karidian in the original Star Trek episode, “The Conscience of the King.” 


The 27th Day is certainly a film of its time that played on the rising interest in science fiction and unidentified flying objects, as well as on the fears of people during the Cold War period. But it also held up a mirror to those times and forced people to think about the danger and folly associated with the Cold War.


Its relevance 60 years later? 

North Korea…. South China Sea…. Iraq…. Religious fundamentalism…. Syria…. Refugee crisis…. South Sudan….US racial tensions…. Russia & NATO…. a nine member nuclear weapons club……. Brexit…. Trump! It seems that humanity still has a long way to go until it can rise beyond its destructive, infantile and petty conflicts and not succumb so easily to fear.






©Chris Christopoulos 2016