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The 27th Day
(1957)

Director: William Asher
Cast:
Gene Barry, Valerie French, George Voskovec, Arnold Moss


Although I try my best to maintain my web site on a regular basis so that I can keep and build on my readership, and I certainly hope that in the years ahead I will gain a lot of fame from my writings, my general personality is not that of a big achiever. If you were to take a look at my personal life, you would probably find it to be pretty boring for the most part. For the most part, I am content to go through each day of my life with three meals a day, steady work at a job, and in-between all of that a little entertainment (particularly with the viewing of unknown movies.) And while I am perfectly fine with the role I have in being a leading view of unknown movies, I have no desire to have any other kind of leadership role. Why? Well, one reason comes from the incident when Peter Parker (a.k.a. Spider-Man) remembered something his Uncle Ben had told him in the past before he was killed: "With great power comes great responsibility." When you are a big leader in many different kinds of fields, you have so much responsibility. People are depending on you more than if you were just simply a follower of a leader. And with that in mind, I am sure you can imagine what might happen if you were to slip up in your responsibilities either just a lot or a little. There may be great consequences, and the people under your leadership could suffer to some degree. Heck, even you could feel some of the consequences of your wrong actions for a long time or even forever after your bad mistakes. So I am perfectly fine to be a follower for the most part instead of someone with some sort of great power over other people.

But I realize that life does not always go the way that you plan it to be, and you very well might find one day a great deal of power and responsibility thrust upon you without your consent. Most of the time it certainly isn't much more than being voted in your workplace to be some sort of leader on a project. But it could very well involve being given some sort of "superpower" over the rest of humanity. What would you do in such a situation as the last one? Well, if I were to get some kind of "superpower" over all other humans, I would do my best to keep it a secret from everybody around me, even with my friends and family. That's because I know humanity well, and many people would not take the news very lightly. Some people would panic at the sight of me walking down the street, afraid that I would inflict my superpower onto them. Then there are other people in their own form of high power who would probably want to "persuade" me to join up with their group and help them do their bidding. They would probably want me to engage in many activities I find (and you also probably) extremely distasteful. I would have trouble enough just trying to hide my new power from other people, so I certainly wouldn't want to have additional problems in my life. Hopefully for the rest of my life, I can sit on the sidelines and observe in various media how people in fiction or real life handle having great power within themselves. Someday I might find the answers to glaring questions about this, such as how so many superheroes keep their power or powers a secret from practically everybody.

But what would I do if I did get some sort of power - superhero form or not - and everybody around me learned about it? I think that I would really be in a pickle, for reasons I mentioned in the previous paragraph. I'm not sure what I would do - I obviously couldn't stay at home, but I The 27th Daydon't think I could go on the run and stay hidden forever. It's an unenviable situation, but at the same time it's intriguing enough to make for a promising plot premise, a premise that The 27th Day has. With it being over 65 years old, it's not my usual kind of sci-fi movie, but that premise made it irresistible to me. In the first part of the movie, we learn about an alien race that has made great advances in technology, such as interstellar travel. However, even their superior technology can't help a crisis on the closest star to their planet, which is days away from becoming a supernova and destroying them. They obviously have to move to another planet, and Earth seems to be an ideal home for them. But they have formed a strong philosophy that forbids them from engaging in any kind of warfare with another intelligent species. So they then decide to engage in another plan to get rid of the human species. A representative of the alien species (Arnold Moss, Gambit) kidnaps five humans, consisting of American reporter Johnathan Clark (Gene Barry, Thunder Road), Englishwoman Even Wingate (Valerie French), German physicist Klaus Bachner (George Voscovec, Somewhere In Time), a Chinese citizen (Marie Tsien, The King And I), and a Russian soldier (Azemat Janti). The alien gives each of the five people three capsules, with each capsule able to kill every human within 3000 miles if the person first opens the cases surrounding the capsules within the next 27 days with their own unique thought patterns. The humans are returned to Earth, and the alien leader fully expects that the humans will use all the capsules and wipe out all of humanity, allowing the aliens to make Earth their new home. But to make sure, the alien leader shortly afterwards broadcasts all over Earth the news about the five people and their possession of the deadly capsules...

Being that this science fiction movie was made in the 1950s and released by Columbia Pictures, you probably have at least a little idea of what it's like. Namely, that it was filmed in affordable black and white due to it having a somewhat limited budget. And yes, because of that limited budget, the seams do show at times. Though some viewers might not spot footage from the earlier movie Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers, they will see that stock footage showing militaries on patrol and other sights don't visually match the newly shot footage. Also, many of the sets newly constructed for the movie don't look particularly lavish or large scale. However, director William Asher (Movers And Shakers) doesn't dwell on these merely adequate sets for long periods of time, so they don't overstay our welcome and make us start to nitpick them to a serious degree. And along the way, he does throw in a few nice looking "real" locations (a beach, a racetrack), as well as the occasional constructed location (such as the interior of the alien's flying saucer, or a burnt-out home) that all compensate for the more shabbier moments. But even if Asher wasn't able to come up with all that visual compensation, I am pretty such that The 27th Day would still be a pretty compelling movie. Asher manages to generate a considerable amount of tension even during the moments when the budget is against him. For example, when the alien abducts the five prime human characters, it's extremely low tech (a looming shadow followed by the screen turning bright white), yet the creepiness and mystery of those five abductions manages to grab your attention, and makes you want to keep watching in order to find out what is going on and why. Tension also rises in various subsequent scenes of the movie, whether it be when the Russian soldier goes through "interrogation" from his superiors when they find out what he has, to when the characters of John and Eve hide out together in a location that is regularly patrolled by security.

Looking back at the entire film, I think that another reason why director Asher manages to generate a lot of tension is that many of the characters in the movie are written to be interesting and are performed admirably by the cast. Before I get into why, I should admit that some key characters don't come off well. We learn almost nothing about the Russian soldier, and the Chinese woman not only never speaks a word, she is eliminated from the narrative quickly. It would have been nice to have learned in depth their thoughts and feelings of the situation. However, we do get some communist perspective from a Soviet general (Stefan Schnabel, The Happy Hooker) who is determined to exploit the opportunity, and I admit that his treachery is fairly well depicted, making him and his actions come across as very dangerous, building tension. On the other side, the characters of John and Eve come across as believable people who want to do the right thing, but the pressures of the situation force them to make quick decisions whose outcomes risk making things worse. They do have some smarts about them all the same. At one point, John looks at the awful things various people have done during this crisis, and states, "People hate what they fear." And yes, he and Eve fall in love, though they interestingly admit during this realization that they are not sure if being forced together in this dire situation has made them feel this way. Such scenes and dialogue as those examples made them very sympathetic as well as believable. The German physicist Klaus is refreshing in the way that he soon realizes that the key for humanity to getting out of the situation might not be with brute force or dire actions, but instead giving a lot of thought as to what the alien told him and the four other humans. His intelligence and ultimate actions didn't seem to have a wrong note despite the situation being atypical to say the least.

As for the other characters, I do wish that the alien character has a bit more to do in the narrative. After the first ten or so minutes, he's pretty much out of there, and we are left hanging with just a few lines of tantilizing dialogue, like when he tells the five chosen humans about their situation, "[My species] cannot hope for disaster - we merely expect it." There are a number of unanswered questions about this alien, such as why his species just choose Earth and no other planets in the universe to potentially colonize, why he picked these specific five humans, and why he didn't also choose anyone from South America, Africa, or Australia to make sure the whole world could be affected. On the human side, there are a lot more unanswered questions, like how Eve got through the security at LAX arrivals, how she and John get food while hiding out, or how the Russians managed to put the capsules under every scientific test in just a few days. The movie also doesn't do a very good job explaining how much time has been passing; a feeling of a slowly but surely ticking clock would have amped up the tension considerably. While the story for The 27th Day is definitely lacking in explanation at times, at the same time it does have some interesting twists and themes to keep the boat afloat. It makes the successful argument that humanity since its inception has been warlike, and any specific human culture would seize the opportunity to be leader if given the opportunity. Though nuclear weapons are barely mentioned, we see that these and other human inventions of mass destruction are something humanity could never possibly completely control. The very ending of the movie (which I will not reveal) is to a degree somewhat of a surprise considering what humanity had been through for almost a month, but we've also got the message that under the right circumstances, anyone can change, for better or for worse. These messages and the other merit found in The 27th Day make it a golden age sci-fi movie that's still interesting and entertaining to modern day viewers more than 65 years later.

(Posted November 25, 2023)

Check for availability on Amazon (DVD)
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Check for availability on Amazon of original source novel by John Mantley (Book)

See also: Invader, Lifeform, The Silencers

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