The earth stood still for Mussolini on the 3:10 to Yuma: movies viewed

THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (1951) remains one of the classic SF films wherein the alien envoy Klaatu (Michael Rennie) arrives on Earth to warn us that if we take our warmongering ways into space, galactic civilization will destroy us as a threat to universal peace; will we listen, or will we answer to Klaatu’s unstoppable robot Gort? This boasts excellent performances by Rennie, Patricia Neal as a woman who befriends him and Sam Jaffe as an Einstein-esque scientist, a good script (as Keep Watching the Skies says, it has flaws, but ones I can live with) and terrific special effects in Klaatu’s saucer and the ominous, silent Gort. It’s also unusual for its time in handwaving away the importance of the Cold War, Klaatu loftily dismissing US vs. USSR as a matter of no significance. The film iss almost 70 years old and it still holds up well. “If I am hurt, you must go to Gort. You must say these words to him — Klaatu Barada Nikto.”

By contrast, the 2008 THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL is an utter mess: Keanu Reaves comes across as wooden rather than reserved, and the effects rely way too much on CGI (neither Klaatu’s ship nor Gort convinces the way the original did) and military hardware. And where the original had the whole world watching Klaatu’s arrival, here it’s a hush-hush government secret, which is a lot less interesting (but does justify lots of that military hardware). It’s also fundamentally pessimistic — Klaatu’s here not to warn us to change but to carry out a sentence of execution. The wasted cast included Jennifer Connolly in the Neal role, Jaden Smith as her son, Kathy Bates as a government overseer and Kyle Chandler as a nervous nellie. Stick with the original. “If Earth dies, you die; if you die, Earth survives.”

VINCERE (2009) is an Italian film about the exciting adventures of Mussolini as a boy — er, as a firebrand socialist in the early 20th century, and his passionate affair with the mistress he eventually abandoned. I just couldn’t get into this one, partly because I have no context for Italian politics of that era, partly because The Loves of Mussolini just feels creepy as a topic (though admittedly I was fine with Che Guevera’s early years in The Motorcycle Diaries). “A revolution is an idea that learned of bayonets.”

3:10 TO YUMA (1957) is an excellent Western in which drought-hammered, cash-desperate farmer Van Heflin becomes part of a posse taking down legendary outlaw Glenn Ford, then agrees to get him to the eponymous train and out of town for a $200 fee. But Ford’s gang know what’s happening and as the clock ticks closer, more of the posse start slipping away … Ford was originally offered the farmer’s part, but he works much better as the outlaw, his affable blandness making the role of an outlaw with a decent streak more plausible; Heflin’s neurotic twitchiness is perfect for the farmer. This would double bill well with High Noon (another abandoned hero having to stand alone against the bad guys), but also Rio Lobo, which was Howard Hawks’ riposte against both films (another embattled hero, but not at all tormented by Heflin or Gary Cooper’s self-doubts). Even standing alone, this is a really first-rate film (can’t speak to the remake, which I haven’t seen). “No matter where you took me, someone would be riding for help about now.”

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