The first UFO movie to feature a human-looking extraterrestrial came in 1951 with The Day the Earth Stood Still, in which the enlightened alien Klaatu and his indestructible robot Gort land their flying saucer in Washington D.C. Their mission: to warn of the dangers atomic weaponry poses not only to humanity, but to the denizens of other worlds in the universe.
The movie opens with Klaatu’s flying saucer being tracked on radar at high altitude before it lands on the President's Park Ellipse in the nation’s Capitol. Not quite the White House lawn, but close enough, and hence the popular question: “If aliens really are visiting us, why don’t they just land on the White House Lawn?” The obvious response is that aliens are unlikely to model their diplomatic strategies on Hollywood entertainment.
No sooner has Klaatu’s craft touched down than it is encircled by US soldiers with itchy trigger fingers. As he steps out of his craft, Klaatu announces: “We have come to visit you in peace and with good will.” But the military doesn’t buy it, and, when the alien reaches into his flight-suit and produces a peculiar-looking device, a jittery soldier presumes it to be a weapon and opens fire on poor Klaatu, wounding him and destroying the object he was holding. In response to this act of aggression, Gort, Klaatu’s humanoid robot, emits a powerful beam from his visor which he uses to systematically disintegrate any and all military hardware on the scene – much to the horror of the military and civilian onlookers. Gort continues his defensive actions until Klaatu utters the phrase: “Gort! Deglet ovrosco!" at which point the robot ceases its attack and returns to its formerly placid state. Klaatu then explains to the military that the destroyed object was intended as a gift for the US President – a viewing device through which he could have glimpsed the wonders of life on other planets.
After Klaatu is taken into custody, the military attempts to unlock the secrets of his craft (which is still ‘parked’ just a stone’s throw from the White House). But these efforts prove futile as the metal skin of the alien saucer is utterly impregnable, withstanding cutting torches and even diamond drills. Soon enough, Klaatu escapes from his captivity and decides to lodge at a boarding house under an alias: “Mr. Carpenter.” It is at the boarding house that Klaatu befriends Helen Benson (Patricia Neal), a World War II widow, and her son Bobby (Billy Gray), both of whom are – initially, at least – oblivious to his extraterrestrial nature.
When Klaatu asks Bobby who is the greatest person on Earth, the young science fanatic tells him it’s the leading American scientist professor Jacob Barnhardt (Sam Jaffe), who happens to live in D.C. This leads to a meeting between Klaatu and Barnhardt in which the former tells the latter that the people of the other planets are deeply concerned about our recent development of atomic power and its destructive potential both on Earth and on other planets.
Klaatu tells Barnhardt that if his anti-nuke message goes unheeded “planet Earth will be eliminated.” This promps the professor to arrange a meeting of scientists at Klaatu’s ship; however, in order that the scientists take Klaatu seriously, Barnhardt suggests that the alien first give a demonstration of his power. Thus, Klaatu arranges for a thirty-minute worldwide power black-out, essentially bringing planet Earth to a standstill.
When the blackout ends and the military finally catch up with Klaatu, he is shot and fatally wounded. Gort takes Klaatu’s corpse back to the saucer where Helen (now fully aware of Klaatu’s alien nature) watches as the alien is brought back from the dead through the use of advanced technology. Klaatu’s revival is only temporary, however, as even his science cannot truly conquer death; this power, he tells Helen, is reserved solely for the “Almighty Spirit.”
In the film’s closing scene, Klaatu steps out of his saucer and addresses the scientists that Barnhardt has assembled at the scene in what is today regarded as one of the silver screen’s most memorable speeches:
“I am leaving soon, and you will forgive me if I speak bluntly. The universe grows smaller every day, and the threat of aggression by any group, anywhere, can no longer be tolerated. There must be security for all, or no one is secure... It is no concern of ours how you run your own planet, but if you threaten to extend your violence, this Earth of yours will be reduced to a burned-out cinder. Your choice is simple: join us and live in peace, or pursue your present course and face obliteration. We shall be waiting for your answer. The decision rests with you.”
The depiction in The Day the Earth Stood Still of a human-looking extraterrestrial warning against the use of nuclear weaponry came two years before controversial contactee George Adamski claimed to have received his own anti-nuke message from the human-like alien, Orthon. Throughout the 1950s, and in every decade since, UFO experiencers claimed to have received similar eco-pacifist messages from human-like alien beings. While it is very tempting to conclude that the experiencers were simply taking their cue from Hollywood fiction, it is important to remember that The Day the Earth Stood Still contained factually accurate UFOlogical detail, some of which was, in all likelihood, inserted by the US government.
Consider, for example, the testimony of Linda Moulton Howe. The Emmy award-winning filmmaker and journalist claims that, while conducting research for a UFO documentary in 1983, she was told by Air Force Intelligence officers that The Day the Earth Stood Still was “inspired by the CIA,” and was “one of the first government tests of public reaction [to an alien landing].”
It is notable that the screenwriter of The Day the Earth Stood Still – Edmund H. North – was a Major in the Army Signal Corps prior to being selected by 20th Century Fox to pen the script. During his time in the Corps, North had been in charge of training and educational documentaries, and later established himself as a Hollywood scribe of patriotic war films including Sink the Bismark! (1960) and Submarine X-1 (1968), as well as Patton (1970), for which he received an Oscar – all of which raises the possibility that he maintained an official or quasi-official role in the government’s cinematic propaganda campaigns throughout his career.
|Screenwriter Edmund H. North|
More significantly, 20th Century Fox production chief Darryl Zanuck – the man responsible for overseeing the production of The Day the Earth Stood Still – was himself in charge of an Army Signal Corps documentary unit during the Second World War and was, at the time of the movie’s production, a board member of the National Committee for Free Europe (NCFE), which was established by the CIA in 1949. As a star member of the NCFE, Zanuck regularly rubbed shoulders with the organisation’s executive committee, which included future CIA Director Allen Dulles and future US President Dwight D. Eisenhower. In 1951 – when the The Day the Earth Stood Still was being written, produced and released – the President of the NCFE was General Charles Douglas (C.D.) Jackson, who served as Deputy Chief of the Psychological Warfare Division of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) during WWII, and would later be appointed as special advisor to President Eisenhower on Psychological Warfare. He was, in the words of historian Frances Stoner Saunders, “one of the most influential covert strategists in America.” Jackson referred to Darryl Zanuck as being among a group of Hollywood “friends” – including Jack Warner and Walt Disney – on whom the government could rely “to insert in their scripts and in their action the right ideas with the proper subtlety.”
With this in mind, and in light of what USAF intelligence officers allegedly asserted to Linda Moulton Howe about The Day the Earth Stood Still being a CIA test of public reaction to open ET contact, a memo from Darryl Zanuck to the movie’s producer, Julian Blaustein (also a veteran of the Army Signal Corps) and screenwriter Edmund North makes for fascinating reading. In the memo, dated August 10, 1950, Zanuck stresses that that every effort should be made to “compel the audience to completely accept [emphasis in original] this story as something that could possibly happen in the not too distant future.” Zanuck placed particular emphasis on the now iconic scene in which the alien Klaatu lands his flying saucer in Washington, D.C. before emerging to address the public. Zanuck advised Blaustein and North to “treat it as realistically as you possibly can,” even suggesting that the scene play out documentary style: “You should suddenly hear radio programs being interrupted with startling flash announcements from Washington, New York, Los Angeles, etc. The whole nation is ‘listening in.’ This should be dramatized like the opening of a documentary film.” The audience must “‘accept’ our entire project,” said Zanuck.
The script for The Day the Earth Stood Still was finally locked and approved by Darryl Zanuck on February 21, 1951. Virtually all of his script suggestions were followed. As a final thought on the movie in the context of propaganda and persuasion, the reader might find some significance in the following statement made by Zanuck in 1943 during his time in the Signal Corps: “If you have something worthwhile to say, dress it up in the glittering robes of entertainment and you will find a ready market… without entertainment, no propaganda film is worth a dime.”
Further circumstantial evidence for government collusion in the production of The Day the Earth Stood Still comes from Paul Davids, the writer/producer of the 1994 Showtime TV movie, Roswell. According to Davids, Robert Wise was a firm believer in ET visitation and his belief was based on authoritative information provided to him by possible government insiders.
“He [Wise] met with me in his office in Beverly Hills,” Davids told me during a 2013 interview. “He told me he absolutely did believe that the saucers were real and that some of them were extraterrestrial. He believed it not because he had seen one, but because of all the information that had come to him while he was making The Day the Earth Stood Still.” Wise told Davids that scientists and engineers from Washington had taken him aside during filming and talked to him about UFOs. “What they told him convinced him that the government took this really seriously, that some of these craft were visitors from space.”
Precisely what these scientists and engineers from Washington told Wise about UFOs is unknown, but it’s fair to say that The Day the Earth Stood Still boasts a remarkable degree of UFOlogical verisimilitude. In earlier movies, UFOs were clunky-looking contraptions, as with The Flying Saucer of 1950, in which the eponymous craft is little more than a circular plane on wheels – it even has a cockpit resembling that of a military aircraft. The sleek, domed saucer shape typically described in witness reports and in government documentation since 1947 was not realized onscreen until 1951 in The Day the Earth Stood Still. More notably, the subtle, uniform glow given off by Wise’s saucer calls to mind the appearance of ionized air – a common effect recalled by UFO witnesses around the world and thought to be the product of electromagnetic propulsion systems.
Klaatu’s concern about our use of nuclear weapons even has precedent in official government documentation (classified at the time) describing UFO incursions in restricted airspace over US nuclear bases. On January 31, 1949, the FBI issued a memo on UFOs, entitled “Protection of Vital Installations.” The classified document was sent to the Army’s G-2, the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, the Office of Naval Intelligence, and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. It reveals that a meeting between these authorities had recently taken place concerning UFOs, and states that “the matter of ‘Unidentified Aircraft’ or ‘Unidentified Aerial Phenomena,’ otherwise known as ‘Flying Discs,’ ‘Flying Saucers,’ and ‘Balls of Fire,’ is considered top secret by intelligence officers of both the Army and the Air Forces.” The FBI document catalogues a list of incursions by unknown objects into restricted airspace surrounding the Atomic Energy Commission’s highly sensitive research installation at Los Alamos, New Mexico, throughout December 1948 and into early 1949. Stunningly, the memo goes on to explain that “the unidentified phenomena travel at the rate of speed estimated at a minimum of three miles per second and a maximum of twelve miles per second, or a mean calculated speed of seven and one-half miles per second, or 27,000 miles per hour.” Even more eye-popping are the memo’s statements that “on two separate occasions a definite vertical change in path was indicated,” and that the appearance of the objects was “round in a point of light with a definite area to the light’s source.”
Another real-life parallel in the movie is the impenetrable metal of Klaatu’s craft, in which we see shades of Roswell. Dozens of first and second hand witnesses have testified that debris recovered from the Roswell crash in July of 1947 was uncuttable, untearable, unburnable and undentable – essentially indestructible. Additionally, the shrill sound emitted by Klaatu’s flying saucer also has been a common feature in UFO close encounter reports from the 1940s to present day, with witnesses often associating high-pitch whirring, humming, or hissing sounds with UFOs.
The appearance and glow of Klaatu’ saucer; its impenetrable metal skin, and the high-pitched noise it emits; UFOs exhibiting an interest in our nuclear capabilities… such details could easily have been slipped in at the behest of the CIA during the screenwriting phase through the Agency’s high-level asset Darryl Zanuck by way of his fellow Army Signal Corps propagandists – screenwriter Edmund North and Producer Julian Blaustein. And details could have been fine-tuned during the filming stage by on-set advice from Wise’s Washington scientists. Frustratingly, due to the CIA’s longstanding unwritten motto: “Nothing on paper,” it is unlikely that we will ever know for sure.
One of the most interesting details in The Day the Earth Stood Still is that Klaatu – an alien – is entirely human in appearance. Here again we find striking UFOlogical parallels.
Aliens among us
In the mid-1960s, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) conducted a Cosmic Top Secret Study of the UFO problem, titled The Assessment – sort of a NATO version of the US Air Force’s 1948 Estimate of the Situation. But while the USAF study merely concluded that some UFOs were likely “interplanetary” in origin, The Assessment went many steps further – this according to the testimony of Robert Dean, a retired US Army Command Sergeant Major who was assigned to NATO’s SHAPE headquarters in Brussels during the mid-1960s.
Dean claims that, while stationed at SHAPE in 1964, he had limited access to The Assessment, and its conclusions were shocking. Dean asserts that “part of the study stated that [NATO] had come to the conclusion that we had four different civilizations – cultures, intelligences – that were present here on Earth and that were visiting us and interacting with us.” Particularly interesting, says Dean, was that one of the alien groups was identical in appearance to humans; or rather, we were identical to them. This was of grave concern to NATO leadership.
Delivering a public lecture at the Civic Theater in Leeds, England, in 1994, Dean stated that some of the human-looking ETs were so similar to us that “they could sit next to you in an airplane or in a restaurant in a coat and tie or a dress and you would never know. They could be sitting next to you in a theater like this.” Dean noted that “this was a matter of great concern to the admirals and generals at SHAPE Headquarters in Paris. Some of the discussions which went on in the War Room were kind of frightening and some of them were rather amusing. One officer said: ‘My God, man, do you realize that these [aliens] could be walking up and down the corridors of SHAPE Headquarters and we wouldn’t even know who the hell they were?’”
In The Day the Earth Stood Still, Klaatu effortlessly infiltrates human society, walking among us unnoticed, casually but keenly observing our curious ways. While many UFO movies have explored the idea of hostile alien infiltration of our society, only a handful have looked at the flipside of the coin – and this despite numerous cases in the UFO literature of seemingly benevolent, human-looking aliens walking freely among us.
A typical report along these lines dates back to 1954 when, on December 9, a farmer in Linha da Vista in Brazil observed on his land three men and their landed craft, which was enveloped in a haze. Two of the men were outside of the craft inspecting their surroundings, while the third was visible inside it. The craft made a noise “like a sewing machine.”
Shocked at the sight before him, the farmer dropped his pitchfork. One of the men then approached, picked it up, examined it, and handed it back to the farmer. The two beings on the ground then joined the third in their craft, motioning the farmer not to come too close. The craft then took off. Hardly the stuff of Hollywood nightmares. The beings in this case wore “brown coveralls, ending with shoes which had no heels.” They were “of average height, had broad shoulders, long hair, very white skin and slanted eyes.”
These blonde, white-skinned ‘Nordic’ UFO occupants – and variants thereof – have been reported in every decade since the 1920s, and on every continent (for literally hundreds of raw witness reports of human-like aliens beings, see the 1969 book The Humanoids, edited by Charles Bowen).
Klaatu as Christ
The one aspect of The Day the Earth Stood Still that dates it UFOlogically and reminds us of its firm roots in Hays-code-era Hollywood is its subtle allusions to Christianity. Klaatu’s reference to “The Almighty Spirit” is a clear nod to God and was intended by the film’s writers to be understood in a Christian context. It is no accident, for example, that Klaatu is given the alias of “Carpenter” – Christ’s worldly occupation as described in scripture. Nor is it coincidence that Klaatu – a man with otherworldly powers who preaches peace to the masses – is killed only to be resurrected before rising into the sky (in a flying saucer). But the film’s Christian allegory is ironic, given that, in many contact cases, UFO occupants have spoken about a divine power in secular and distinctly non-Christian terms, speaking of God not as a supreme (male) ‘being’, but instead espousing the notion of a universal life force or all-pervasive cosmic energy.
For us, what you call God is a form of absolute energy,” the Argentinean contactee Orlando Jorge Ferraudi claimed to have been told by a human-like UFO occupant in August 1956, “and as to death, it is only a change in molecular structure, a change of state.” In a UFO contact case from Campitello in Italy, in July, 1968, a human-like being with slightly feline features allegedly told car salesman Walter Marino Rizzi that “God is everywhere; in us, plants, stones, grass, and nature – everything that exists,” and added that when his own people die of natural causes, it is as a result of “exhaustion of cosmic energy.” In these terms, alien ‘faith’ would seem to have more in common with the Eastern philosophies of Taoism and Buddhism than with Christianity.
In 1995, The Day the Earth Stood Still was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” – and rightfully so, for its influence cannot be understated. This was not an obscure B-movie catering solely to frisky teens at the drive-in; this was a major motion picture event – a high quality studio product that had the enthusiastic backing of one of the most influential figures in Hollywood (Darryl Zanuck) and that was seen by millions of cinemagoers the world over. One of those cinemagoers was Ronald Reagan. Himself no stranger to the movie business, Reagan starred in numerous B-movies between the late-1930s and mid-1960s. He was also an avid movie-watcher, and no motion picture struck quite such a chord with the future Commander in Chief as The Day the Earth Stood Still.
Famously, in an address to the United Nations General Assembly on September 21, 1987, President Ronald Reagan said:
“In our obsession with antagonisms of the moment, we often forget how much unites all the members of humanity. Perhaps we need some outside, universal threat to make us recognize this common bond. I occasionally think how quickly our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside of this world. And yet, I ask you, is not an alien force already among us?”
It is a matter of public record that Reagan was himself a UFO witness, but his “alien threat” statement to the UN – which he would repeat publicly on multiple occasions throughout his Presidency – may have been directly inspired by The Day the Earth Stood Still. According to Presidential UFO researcher Grant Cameron, “World peace and aliens were never far from Reagan’s mind. He used to walk around the White House asking people if they had seen the movie The Day the Earth Stood Still, uttering the phrase ‘Klaatu barada nikto.’” Just as the character of Helen had uttered the alien phrase in the nick of time and saved the world, Reagan planned to do the same, says Cameron.
Cameron even posits the notion that Reagan’s fascination with The Day the Earth Stood Still may actually have led to the end of the Cold War: “In 1989, inspired by Klaatu’s words, ‘There must be security for all, or no one is secure,’ Reagan stood at the Berlin Wall and asked his friend Gorbachev to ‘tear down this wall.’ Gorbachev removed the wall which separated the two Germanys, and there has been peace between the West and the Eastern bloc countries ever since.”
But Reagan is not the only President to have been inspired by The Day the Earth Stood Still. On March 21, 2012, while in Maljamar, New Mexico, President Barack Obama paraphrased Klaatu’s immortal line: “We have come to visit you in peace and with good will.” Addressing a crowd of reporters, Obama declared: “It was as a wonderful trip... we landed in Roswell. I announced to people when I landed that ‘I come in peace.’” It was a cheap tactic to elicit some laughs and to associate a real, historical UFO incident with Hollywood fiction. Perhaps someone should have pointed out to the President that The Day the Earth Stood Still was a poor choice in this regard, standing, as it arguably does, as one of the most UFOlogically accurate movies in history.
This article was first published in Issue 3 of UFO Truth Magazine, Sept/Oct, 2013.