CineSavant Column

Tuesday August 24, 2021



We give thanks this summer Tuesday to CineSavant’s keenly curious associate Gary Teetzel, who has come through with another of his interesting and popular Trade Paper search expeditions. The main subject this time around is Val Guest’s 1962 sci-fi hit The Day the Earth Caught Fire. Or at least we were always told that it was a hit. The trades catered to exhibitors all across America, and what was reviewed as hip and exciting in NYC could fall flat on its face out in the sticks somewhere.

This often happened with English movies, that were routinely panned as too talky and too ‘dark.’ Were English films in general not lit as ‘high key’ as Hollywood’s? ¬†Reviewers often come right out and say that the import picture are just ‘too English,’ perhaps referring to the different accents heard.

Gary’s string of trade clippings illustrate pretty well how a great movie can get the cold shoulder, or just have bad luck. Imagine killing yourself to produce such a superior film and then having to read notices like these.

I’ll let Gary take it away:


I watched The Day the Earth Caught Fire on Blu-ray the other night. Looked it up on the Media History Digital Library and found little of interest there. Then I checked out the trade paper Box Office. We expected a rave review, the kind that Guest and Mankowitz got almost everywhere. But when they reviewed it in their January 22, 1962 issue a linotype fumble managed to screw up the title, aspect ratio and the genre:


They apparently caught the mistake before going to press but were unable to correct it in time; the very same issue ran this correction:


The February 18 issue of Film Bulletin considered it newsworthy to note a bungled attempt to promote the film with Jack Paar, presumably on The Tonight Show:


Exhibitors who wrote in to Box Office magazine’s “The Exhibitor Has His Say” column were mostly negative:


That’s right: Boscobel Wisconsin, Minco Oklahoma and Jasonville Indiana are clearly authorities on film quality. In the same issue of Box Office that the negative comments from the Jasonville theater appeared, an enthusiastic, rave review was posted just above it — for reissues of the Ma and Pa Kettle series!


It’s too bad that Percy Kilbride and Marjorie Main had already retired from movies by the time of ¬†The Day the Earth Caught Fire. Imagine how much popular it could have been if Val Guest had tweaked the script slightly and called it “Ma and Pa Kettle Save the World”?

A November 26 article in Box Office reports on a promotion in England:

Newspaper Screamer Format Clicks in Campaign for ‘Earth Caught Fire.’


The January 28, 1963 issue reports on another ‘Caught Fire’ promotion:


By the way: Why do all the British newspapers in the film use Fahrenheit when reporting temperatures?


We continue with Gary’s reportage:


I also watched The World, The Flesh and The Devil earlier this week. In the scene where Mel Ferrer is recovering in bed, I paused to look at the titles of the books appearing behind his head. One spine that was clearly readable was George Burns’ show-biz memoir I Love Her That’s Why, which had been published in 1955. When the camera angle changes there is a continuity error. The book now appears at the end of the row rather than in the middle, and its front cover is visible. Thus comedians George Burns and Gracie Allen make a ‘cameo appearance’ of sorts in a grimly serious end-of-the-world movie!

Another thought: the movie mentions that Harry Belafonte’s ‘last man alive in Manhattan’ Ralph Burton is going around the city doing what he can to save great works of art. I therefore must conclude that Ralph considers George Burns’ book a milestone of 20th Century literature worthy of preservation for future generations.

And finally, I was just re-reading the American Cinematographer article on the making of ¬†The World, The Flesh and The Devil. The writer mentions the extreme difficulty the producers had filming a sequence in the actual Grand Central Station, only for the scene to be cut from the finished movie. That reminded me that I thought I had seen an unfamiliar shot in the trailer. Sure enough, it was there. — Gary


Thanks Gary, we always appreciate these detours into ‘observational arcana.’

And thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson