The Night the World Exploded (1957)
Directed by: Fred F. Sears
Starring: Kathryn Grant, William Leslie, Tristram Coffin, Raymond Greenleaf
Quite a few people seem to feel affection for this cheap disaster sci-fi clunker from the fifties, produced by the prolific Sam Katzman. It is my sad duty to report that I will not join them in their appreciation. I certainly don’t feel any hostility towards The Night the World Exploded either – I just find it rather charmless.
This is the kind of film where important developments will not be shown on screen but rather recited by a somber narrator as we watch a montage of stock footage. It’s the kind of film where an airplane set consists of a table and a few office chairs against a wall that in no way looks like the inside of an airplane. It’s a film where part of the plot revolves around the heroine getting married, but we never once meet her fiancée. There are films in this category that are a hoot to watch, but this one is mainly soporific.
Our hero is Dr. David Conway (Leslie), who has invented a machine that can predict earthquakes. Immediately a major quake hits Los Angeles. Securing the governor’s support, Conway and his team continues their research in the Carlsbad caverns. They realize that a series of quakes threaten to devastate southern USA. The cause of the increased pressure in the Earth’s crust remains a mystery, until they find a strange new type of mineral, dubbed Element 112. If left alone, this element will cause the entire planet to explode within a month…
Ideas-wise, I’ve certainly heard worse, but The Night the Earth Exploded is told in such an unimaginative and bare-bones fashion that it had me bored despite clocking in at a mere 64 minutes. It’s a talky, static film, where watching Conway and his assistant (Grant) descending a rope ladder for several minutes is supposed to be suspenseful.
My favorite part, by far, is when Dr. Conway demonstrates to the world’s top scientists what might happen if Element 112 is not neutralized: he applies a piece of the explosive matter to an inflatable beach ball that looks like the Earth. Yeah, that’s what I call science! Also, the “Giant Datatron Electric Brain” is kind of irresistible.
Sets and special effects are generally lackluster, and the acting is kind of stilted (yeah, I know, it’s the fifties). Earthquake sequences are mostly made up of stock footage of demolitions and various calamities. I would have forgiven a lot if the film had delivered on the promise of its title — but alas. It is a bit better than, let’s say, Cave In!, but that’s not saying much. Unless you’re specifically into cheap 50’s sci-fi movies or you are a disaster film completist, there’s really no need to bother.