the review site with a difference since 1999
Reviews Interviews Articles Apps About

Anchor Bay presents

The Day The Earth Caught Fire (1961)

"Look, all I know is what I read in the papers. There may be some after effects, atmospherically, due to the bombs. But quite frankly, I wouldn't know."- Bill Maguire (Leo McKern)

Stars: Edward Judd, Janet Munro, Leo McKern
Other Stars: Arthur Christiansen, Reginald Beckwith, Michael Goodliffe
Director: Val Guest

MPAA Rating: Not RatedRun Time: 01h:38m:44s
Release Date: 2001-06-12
Genre: sci-fi

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A A-B+B B+


DVD Review

When I was a kid it was my mission every Sunday to scour the new TV guide and search for any and all horror or sci-fi flicks that would be on that particular week. Usually reserved for standard timeslots of late nights or Saturday afternoons, the discovery of a never before seen title was the equivalent of striking gold. Somehow I missed seeing The Day The Earth Caught Fire then. There really is no excuse, I guess. How I missed it, I don't know. But I do know one thing: if I had seen The Day The Earth Caught Fire around 1970, when I was a ten, it would have scared the bejesus out of me. This is an example of British science fiction at it's finest.

Prolific British director and Hammer Films vet Val Guest (Casino Royale, The Quartermass Xperiment) directed The Day The Earth Caught Fire in 1961, using an original script he had written in 1954. Created as a result of Guest's concerns over Britain's own nuclear bomb testing, he and screenwriter Wolf Mankowitz further developed the story into a downright scary tale that would eventually win 1961's British Academy Award for Best Screenplay. It's a disturbing footnote that the fears of Guest are as real today as they were nearly half a century ago.

To reveal too much about the plot of The Day The Earth Caught Fire wouldn't be a real disservice, since the back of the DVD case reveals the entire story in less than one paragraph. Even the film's title pretty much gives it away. But let me take the high road, for a moment, and just give you a taste. Yeah, I know it's over 40 years old, but if you haven't yet seen this one I would hate to be the one to have taken the wind out of Guest's sails.

A series of sudden, bizarre global weather changes, apparently a result of simultaneous United States and Soviet nuclear bomb testing, has the staff of The London Daily Express scrambling to keep up with the ever-changing global developments. Alcoholic, square-jawed columnist Pete Stenning (Edward Judd) has been reduced to running errands and writing filler copy, and crusty fellow writer Bill Maguire (Leo McKern) constantly grumbles about long workdays and lack of booze as they, and the rest of the frantic newspaper staff, dig up information about the deadly meteorlogical anomalies that are occuring across the globe.

Stenning meets Jeannie Craig (Janet Munro), a hot little number that happens to be a secretary of sorts for an agency also studying the strange weather conditions. It is through his relationship with Jeannie that Stenning learns the horrible truth about why the Earth's weather patterns are suddenly so violently out of whack.

This an unnerving piece of doomsday science fiction, and Guest carefully doles out tidbits of information in the hectic newsroom scenes, buried in a myriad of conversations that overlap. You actually have to pay attention to the fast-paced dialogue, and while it may not take a rocket scientist to figure out Guest's plot hook, discovering it through the eyes of the London Daily Express staff is damn spooky. To Guest's credit, he treats the audience with a level of intelligence that is rare even in films released today. His development and introduction of the storyline is subtle, and by doing so, he builds a disturbing level of suspense and unease.

Guest smoothly meshes stock disaster footage into the film, as well as cleverly shooting a scene, with actors, amidst an actual London anti-nuclear rally, and it is this type of filmmaking that helps strongly layer the elements of the global nightmare that he has written. A veteran cast of British actors help deliver Guest's vision of impending doom and fear as Earth is threatened with annihilation.

What makes Anchor Bay's new release of The Day The Earth Caught Fire even more exciting is the inclusion of the two restored rust-tinted sequences that bookend the film. As if this release needed anything more to make it a thrilling doomsday ride, these two eerie scenes are jarring in their simplicity, but totally effective. Plus, as an added bonus, watch for Michael Caine in a briefest of brief appearances as a London bobby.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Credit Anchor Bay with another success. Completely remastered from original vault materials, The Day The Earth Caught Fire no doubt looks better today than when it was released in 1961. The overall 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer is gorgeous, virtually speck free and with minor edge enhancement to contend with. The few minor flaws are negligible, because as black and white films of the era go, this print is as sharp and detailed as any I've seen. The opening and closing tinted sequences have been restored using the identical tint and filters used by Guest in 1961, and it is those small touches that truly make this a first-rate release.

A beauty.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: Anchor Bay has wisely kept the original mono soundtrack, and though it is sometimes a bit flat, making it difficult to understand some of the heavier British accents, the tone of the film remains constant. No flash or fancy surround effects are needed for this one.

One glaring negative is that the audio on the commentary track sounds as if director Val Guest has a pillow over his face.

Audio Transfer Grade:

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 22 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
4 TV Spots/Teasers
Production Notes
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Director Val Guest and newsman Ted Newsom
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Radio Spots
  2. Stills Gallery
  3. Mini Movie Poster
Extras Review: A fantastic collection of supplemental material from Anchor Bay. Val Guest should be proud.

Commentary: First and foremost, the commentary track with Guest and Newsom is loaded with a ton of great background info. That alone would be enough to make this DVD a must have. As stated in the audio transfer review, it's too bad the audio is really muddy.

Trailers: The theatrical trailer, presented in widescreen, is a nice transfer, as are the four TV spots. It's interesting to note that the TV spots do not use the red tint that Guest used in the final release.

Radio Spots: Four radio spots that are basically the TV spots without the visuals. Kind of unusual, but nothing memorable.

Stills Gallery: Generally I'm not a big fan of photo gallery extras, however this one is better than most. With over 90 images, including a couple of Janet Munro nudes taken from her hair-washing scene in the film, publicity stills, movie stills, posters... you name it. A nice collection of images.

Mini Movie Poster: This is a four-color cover of the informative two page booklet of production info included with the DVD. Another nice bonus from Anchor Bay.

Val Guest Bio: A fairly in-depth onscreen biography, culminates with a filmography. The content is great. It's just that I hate reading that much text off of my TV screen.

No subtitles, however.

The Day The Earth Caught Fire has been dressed up nicely with a great set of extras.

Extras Grade: B+

Final Comments

The Day The Earth Caught Fire is a brilliant example of British science fiction that can do what so few films of the genre can, which is to remain current and relevant over 40 years later. And frightening, as well. To call this a B-movie would be an insult. It is a well-written, smart, apocalyptic story that despite it's age, still serves up a heavy dose of chilling realism. As doomsday films go, this is a keeper. To quote the music of REM, "It's the end of the world, as we know it. And I feel fine."

Rich Rosell 2001-07-18