When I was a kid I wanted three things: (1) an arm-blaster like the one the dude had in Laserblast (1978), (2) a lightsaber, and (3) a Daiwa skirted-spool spinning reel. I ended up getting the fishing reel, but have yet to encounter an alien intelligence that would bequeath me a laser-based weapon of destruction. However, technology is getting close to developing functional pseudo-lightsabers, and I still wait attentively and hopeful. Aliens bestowing weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) or special skills are rampant in our pop culture lexicon.
In film the best example is probably Klaatu (Michael Rennie) in The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), who brings Earth a universal communicator device that gets shot up, and a 9-foot tall robot named Gort (Lock Martin) capable of destroying the Earth. Then we have these guys HERE and on television from 1963-1966, and subsequent reruns, we had Uncle Martin (Ray Walston) in My Favorite Martian, who lived with Bill Bixby in a garage and really didn’t share any of his powers. Actually, the pilot of MFM reminds me a bit of Hal Jordan’s (the re-booted Green Lantern, DC 1959) encounter with benevolent but dying alien Abin Sur. In the comics, Jordan receives a magical and radiant ring that lets him do all sorts of things best not further explored in a horrid film adaptation.
This all leads us to a bonafied sci-fi gem The 27th Day (1957).
Columbia’s The 27th Day fits into the sub-genre of “alien warning” films from the 1950’s through the mid-1960’s. The quintessential example is the aforementioned TDTESS (1951), but there are other films including the colorful This Island Earth (1955), Episode 89 of the Twilight Zone featuring a 9-foot tall alien “Kanamit” (Richard Kiel) bestowing humanity with a book To Serve Man, the infamous Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959), and several others. In The 27th Day, five character are lofted away on a flying saucer (stock footage purloined from the Harryhausen-Schneer film Earth vs. The Flying Saucers) where they meet a humanoid alien (Arnold Moss) who presents them with a dilemma: The people of Earth have 35 days left and the aliens will be moving in. The five characters are:
- A reporter (Gene Barry)
- A science-bent professor in the Prof. Barnhardt/Sam Jaffe mold (well played by George Voskovec)
- A soviet private (Azemat Janti)
- A Brit (Valerie French)
- A Chinese peasant (Marie Tsien)
Things get complicated when the alien presents each of the five with further details and the means to humanely erradicate the planet’s entire human population. The vehicle of destruction is a palm-sized translucent “box” containing three capsules. Each box can only be opened telepathically by its caretaker, but once open anyone can use the capsule-WMDs by verbally oratating target impact locations by way of coordinate data. The humans are returned to Earth.
The capsules revealed….
Early on, six of the capsules are quickly eliminated from the story, focusing the plot on America versus the Soviet Union.
The 27th Day refers to the protagonists having 27 days before the capsules are rendered inert. Time runs out as the Soviets discover the secret of the alien technology. The 27th Day is well-acted with a good supporting cast. I especially liked Friedrick von Ledebur (Brother Christophorus in The Howling Man TZ Episode; Queequeg in Moby Dick, 1956) as a consulting scientist, Paul Birch in a military role, and the virtually unknown Azemat Janti in a pivotal role as a morally grounded communist. Paul Frees also appears as a newscaster, and his voice is unmistakable. Look quick for Three Stooges cronie Philip Van Zandt as a taxi driver.
The film is a product of 1950’s commiephobia and McCarthyism. It reminds me of a fusion of several films. TDTESS’s DNA is certainly present, as is the dreadful Red Planet Mars (1952), with elements from Nevil Shute’s novel On the Beach (1957). This is a well-crafted “what if” film and highly recommended. It is about as close to a film version of a Twilight Zone episode that I can think of. The film is available on a Mill Creek “Vintage Sci-Fi 6 Movie Collection” DVD for about $12.