By Kim Huett: The Day The Earth Caught Fire is a 1961 British Lion/Pax Universal film produced and directed by Val Guest (director of the Hammer films, The Quatermass Xperiment (1955) and Quatermass 2 (1957)), who with Wolf Mankowitz, also wrote the screenplay. Additionally, I also see in the credits that Beatnik music was provided by Monty Norman and you don’t see too many science fiction films featuring Beatnik music.
The film stars Leo McKern, Janet Munro, and Edward Judd and deserves to be better remembered as not only is it quite well made (barring some slightly dodgy special effects) but it also avoids the overused Earth being invaded by aliens plot. Instead The Day The Earth Caught Fire revolves around the idea of what would happen if H-bomb testing knocked the Earth out of its orbit and sent it spiraling towards the Sun. It’s a rather earnest anti-nuclear story that’s very much a product of the early sixties, but that’s what makes it so interesting.
(Just as an aside, I see Leo McKern and Edward Judd were both in an earlier SF film I’m keen to watch, X the Unknown, which features a living radioactive mass. These two don’t seem to have had much luck with radioactivity. In other startling news during Janet Munro’s disappointingly short film career she was in The Crawling Eye, a 1958 mess that made it on to MST3K. Despite the film being quite terrible it has her, Forrest Tucker, and Warren Mitchel in the cast.)
Anyway, apart from anything else much of the film is set in the offices of a daily newspaper which means that scene after scene is filled with the technology of yesterday in full use. However the best scene as far as I’m concerned involves Edward Judd entering the Press Office of the Meteorological Centre only to discover Janet Munro attempting to clean (or so I assume) a certain piece of technology once central to fanzine production. As far as I’m aware The Day The Earth Caught Fire is the only science fiction film to feature a mimeograph machine and that alone makes it special in my book.
[Reprinted by permission.]