While "The Lost World" was the first "B" film I saw in the movies, the film that holds a special place for me is the 1961 "The Day The Earth Caught Fire" and I'll get to why that is in a bit. The story was set during the time that the United States and the USSR were conducting nuclear tests. It so happens that both countries detonate devices at the same time at opposite ends of the planet, Siberia and the south west (no wonder so many mutated creatures came from this area) The film takes place in London in the offices of The Daily Express Newspaper where we get to know the main characters. We open the film with Pete Stenning (Edward Judd) walking down the streets of a deserted London apparently perspiring heavily, he arrives and the newspaper and calls the switchboard where his girlfriend Jeanie Crain (Janet Munro) and has her tie him into the copy room where he dictates the events of the prior 90-days. Pete was an up and coming newsman who lost his wife and son during a messy divorce and has taken to drink, jokingly calling himself "the battered caveman", something I can relate to. His closest friend on the paper, Bill Maguire (Leo McKern) has been saving his job and tries to keep Stennings' spirits up. This is when we find out about changes in the climate and at the Met Center Pete meets Jeanie and they don't hit if off well. With massive fog banks and reports of heavy rainfall across the globe, Bill concludes there is a shift in the Earth's axis but no one at the top is saying anything. Pete stays over Jeanie's during a fog bank and a tornado hits London that night. She tells Pete she has heard over the switchboard that the earth's rotation has changed and the planet is moving to the sun. The paper publishes this putting a strain on on Jeanie and Pete's relationship. Pete sees his son off out of town and reconciles with Jeanie. Typhus breaks out in parts of London, no water, riots and the earth's major powers decide to detonate 4 nuclear weapons to right the planet's orbit. Pete goes to cover the moment after the button is pushed and the film ends with two newspaper headlines; "Earth Saved" and "Earth Doomed" This film took place as I said in a newspaper and the image of a newsroom remained with me for years, eventually influencing me to go into the news business for which I can say I'm still in to this day. I thank Val Guest, and Wolf Mankowitz for writing this film and providing the spark to get me into the news business. Every year on my birthday, I watch the film to remind me why I got into the business.
What started me on this path of watching "B" films or films of that sort? We start at the beginning. The 1960 "The Lost World" directed by the man who would later become famous for a number of television series and big budgeted disaster movies in the 70's and 80's: Irwin Allen. Having never seen the original silent "Lost World" this was a treat for me, being taken to the movies for my 6th birthday. At the time I thought this was the greatest film I had ever seen. What's better than giant lizards, head-hunting natives, girls running through the jungle? I was hooked. But today, we know it was optical effects (not CGI) that created the giant lizards.know it was optical effects and makeup that created the "giant" monsters, Iguanas, alligators and other lizards. It also has the other item needed for "B" films. A cast filled with veterans. Claude Raines, Michael Rennie, Fernando Lamas, Richard Haydn. Throw in David Hedison (who would go on to star in Allen's "Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea" series), Jill St.John and her pink boots and Ray Strickland and there you have it. A formula that Allen would repeat in his films over the years. The movie ends where the original really took off but we never find out what happens when they took the dinosaur that just hatched back to London. It's fast-paced, cheap but enjoyable. I still get a kick out of it today but it is what it is. No classic but an enjoyable film.