When Worlds Collide (a plodding movie deserves a plodding blog, I guess)

Juli Kearns Cinema Leave a Comment

The credits to “When Worlds Collide” are backed by flames, lots of flames, then smoke, blue streams of it against black, looking suspiciously like lurking under the bottom of the screen are positioned a number of special effects techs puffing away on packs of Camels. And for some reason, don’t ask me why, I wonder what they’re wearing. Oh my, then a hefty leather covered HOLY BIBLE portentously opens to the passage on God warning Noah the earth is to be destroyed because of his having gone bad and filling it with violence. Follows now a leap from religion to science (or maybe not) with a speech on man searching the infinitesimal corners of the universe. For what he’s searching we’re not really told, just that there are lots of stars out there, but the “drift” (a bit of old slang that I used to hate and have managed to never use in my life but seems appropriate here) is that his curiosity is loaded with spiritual inclinations. Eve may be the bad girl of Genesis, but is rewarded here with mothering the pursuit of knowledge and thus all scientific endeavor. There’s an old adage, or something like that, about the Sunday morning sermon following Saturday night’s carousing, which in 50s America transforms into the Sunday morning sermon following Saturday night’s scientific stargazing, the twain meeting as both join hands and seek to learn how and when That Which Knows No Turning Aside plans to destroy humanity. Which, I suppose, is what we get for unleashing The Bomb, except puppeteer and special effects magician, George Pal, whose movie this is (Cecil B. DeMille too, but uncredited) seems to give no nod to The Bomb, though this is definitely a post WWII apocalypse flick. Though I suppose we could say that colliding worlds has all to do with Two Big Bombs having undone the old world, transporting us to a new one. I really don’t know.

As for us, the audience, we’re aware from the title and the flames and the biblical reference that the astronomers are seeking god’s warning of fire and brimstone and that a new Noah will arise and there that’s all that really needs to be said about the film, I suppose. Nevertheless, I will blog, H.o.p. distracting me with constant talk of monster waterbugs (he saw one run across the floor, a fact of life in the South, you’d think he’d be used to it) and I try to pay attention to the announcement now taking place at a South African observatory as to THE MOST FRIGHTENING DISCOVERY EVER unfolding. (It looks like a chicken was killed in here, white feathers all over the floor that H.o.p. has been picking out of a very thin-skinned Ikea pillow, but I can’t vacuum as I lost a ring.) And one kind of wonders as to why the revelation of the end of mankind comes from South Africa. At least I do. And at how South Africa can be featured so prominently in this way but there’s not, I don’t think, a single black person in the film. Not even, I don’t believe, in the United Nations scene.

In South Africa, isolated on their mountain-top observatory, the astronomers confer in the way that religion’s priests once attempted to divine from their rooftop observatories what the movements of the stars revealed of the future.

Says one, “These two bodies have traveled over a million miles in two weeks!”

The ominous sound of an airplane passes overhead and the men look up in terror.

“Is that Randall?”

“I hope so.”

Like they think the mysterious astral bodies they’ve been tracking could suddenly translate into the immediate vicinity? Is a parallel being drawn between Randall and those mysterious bodies? If those mysterious two bodies are connected with Randall and Randall is a pilot then I suppose we could say he represents Nagasaki and Hiroshima. I’m tired and ready to say just about anything though.

The scientists discuss amongst themselves how it won’t be necessary to tell Randall what information he’ll be carrying to other privileged scientists in the outside world.

Poor Randall. Sounds as if he’s being taken advantage of, kept in the dark like that. Cut to Poor Randall with wavy brown-gold hair (looking very much like Danny Kaye in that Bing Crosby Christmas film) cuddled with a curvy blond in the cockpit of his plane. He requests permission to land, then plants a passionate kiss on the blond who wears a green Girl Scout beanie type hat. The hat means nothing except that she’s girly and maybe adventurous. It could mean that and let’s hope she’s always prepared, too.

Later, down in the observatory, Randall paces, the scientists keeping him waiting, but he kept them waiting two hours first and explains he had to get a friend’s old lady aunt home (Randall’s a lying playboy). The scientists make clear that they wanted Randall to make their delivery because he came with a recommendation that assured they could depend on his lack of curiosity. And how’s that for heaping scorn on the unscientific commoner (curiosity a predicate to science), except Randall doesn’t care. Not one bit. His feelings aren’t injured in the least. When they give him strict instructions on the materials he’s delivering and to whom, a Dr. Hendron at the Cosmos Observatory in America, and how they don’t want him to know what’s going on, Randall makes clear all he cares about is the money, and they assure him that the day is coming when money will mean nothing to him or anyone else. At which point they chain their secret black box to his wrist, and Randall to a spiritual awakening.

For, you see, the black box is nothing other than the bible. It is. I promise. With the key to Randall’s deliverance.

Courier David Randall is then shown on his flight to New York, a passenger now. That he’s a babe magnet is reiterated. The stewardess delivers him a telegraph from a newspaper offering him $5000 for an exclusive story on what’s in the black box. She tarries, smiling, waiting for Randall to hit on her. He refrains and looks bemused. But not so entertained by the telegraph, which, expressing consternation, he crumples.

In the next scene Randall must pass through customs. How he’s to do so with that black box chained on his wrist is answered by a young woman in a midnight blue suit exiting from the office of the Chief Inspector, I guess with the Chief Inspector. She points out Randall as being perhaps the man she’s looking for (get it, he may just be the man she’s looking for) and Randall is given a pass straight through customs. The young brunette with the pearl necklace is Joyce Hendron, there to take him to the observatory. And Randall, being a dog, has a difficult time restraining his impulses, but manages to just sniff her up and down. She doesn’t mind. She doesn’t mind so much that when the Sentinel rushes up to him with an offer of $7500 for the news of what’s in the box, Randall declining, pointing out he’s working on a better offer, Joyce grins.

Joyce, in the taxi with Randall, has no idea that Randall isn’t the curious type, that he hasn’t a clue what he’s been carrying, and goes on about how they’ve been praying the calculations are wrong.

She asks him, “Don’t you find yourself wishing…isn’t it almost better to not know?”

Randall pretends he’s had more going on in his brain since WWII than babes, money and flying. “No, it’s better to know,” he says, mustering up what should be taken as an expression of deep consideration.

“I wish I had your courage. But I’m frightened. As frightened as all those people would be if they knew. I haven’t the courage to face the end of the world.”

But Joyce won’t really have to face the end, and she knows it, which is why, I suppose, she looks like she’s talking about a dull party to which she’s just turned down an invitation, because she’s got a better offer in the works as well.

Now to science town. Joyce embraces Dr. Tony Drake (Ear Nose and Throat, destined to not get much respect) and introduces him to Randall. Joyce leaves them alone to get her dad and it becomes clear Tony doesn’t have a clue about Doomsday. Another point is made about Randall’s South Africanness, I guess, because he pointedly produces South African cigarettes for a smoke.

All serious urgency, Dr. Hendron appears and receives his box. Tony wants the rest of his courier money but is given the momentary brush-off, because that way he’s forced to stay and become involved. Differential Analysis follows.

Soon we are introduced to what was in that black box, information on the discovery of the star Bellus, approaching Earth at tremendous speed, and a newer discovery, a tag-along planet that’s been named Zyra. You know it’s bad when it’s revealed they are waving hi from the constellation, Scorpio. But you already knew it was bad so why bother with the Scorpio detail, I don’t know.

Bellus and Zyra are 3 billion miles away but could be upon the Earth in less than one year, and will destroy it. First Zyra will rip oceans from their depths and produce tidal waves thousands of feet high and earthquakes. Then Bellas will deliver the take-out punch, and any people who managed to survive the passing of Zyra will be toast as Bellas rips the earth apart.

Hendron’s daughter, struggling to appear more interested in the fate of the Earth than her interest in struggling to appear interested, appears with the results of the Differential Analyzer. The findings of the South African, Dr. Bronson, have been confirmed. Apocalypse is nigh.

Cut to a rather fabulous club with curtains and chairs and band and things which deceives you into believing set design has finally arrived and will lead to more set design, but you’re going to be disappointed if you believe that so enjoy the moment. Tony dances with Joyce while Randall first amuses then annoys a neighboring table by torching bills and lighting his South African cigarettes off them. As Tony tells Joyce about a terminally ill patient of his and how he now knows how it must feel to receive your death sentence, Joyce is making eyes with Randall and he making eyes with her, so when Tony urges that they get married now, Joyce replies that she promised her dad she’d wait, which is about as fast a dropping of a beau I’ve seen on film.

Wait for what?

“There’ll be sooo much to do,” Joyce says. What with the end of the world and all.

Hey, I wouldn’t want to take up my last few months with planning a wedding either.


The Club, which is about it for set design

Having torpedoed her engagement, Joyce quickly slips away from Tony and heads for the table, and Tony is conveniently called away for something to do with the hospital, which must be depressing, pretending to be interested in healing people who are fated to die within a year. Randall tells Joyce he never believed that Americans were the most progressive people on Earth, but does now with alcohol costing by the inch. Measuring how much he’s had to drink, he asks how much is 7 times 2.5? Joyce, proving her overweening intelligence, does the calculation for him. Then he gets straight to the point, asking if she and Drake are really getting married.

“I don’t know,” Joyce smiles.

Sigh. Ho-hum. Oh, Joyce. If you were any truer to the character of the privileged, bored post graduate socialite, we would worry more about poor Tony as in the end you’d marry him because a pilot is so beneath you.

Anyway, Randall says he doesn’t want to be an interested bystander, and we are given to believe this is a hand-in-hand step up the spiritual evolutionary ladder along with money ceasing to mean anything to him. “Money to buurrrrn,” he says, lighting Joyce’s cigarette. His laughter is at least burdened with a struggle to make sense of imminent doom. But Joyce? She laughs like she hasn’t a care in the world. Randall burns money! What an entertaining party trick! Aren’t we decadent?! Yes, weirdly, while Randall is pulling himself up the morals and ethics ladder, distracting Joyce from her betrothed with his acrobatics, Joyce has plummeted down a number of bars, the good and reliable Tony shrugged off her shoulders with nary any consideration as she blithely preens on Randall’s attention, who has obviously wiled his way into the bed of every woman he’s ever met.

And you thought Randall couldn’t be trusted?


Joyce laughs gaily, the end of the world not looking so bad if she gets to fly off to Zyra with Randall

“But she’s just a 50’s woman struggling with society’s admonition that she be the good girl who sacrifices her feelings for sake of convention and a man’s expectations.”

No. There’s a lot less to Joyce than that.

Enough romance. Next stop is the United Nations and the leaders of the world discussing its end.

Dr. Hendron assures, “The effect of Zyra’s passing should be felt about 1 o’clock on the afternoon of July 24th.” Bellus will crush the earth 19 days later on the morning of August 12th.

I like it that the effect of Zyra isn’t going to be anything progressive. I wonder why it’s the 24th of July. Anything to do with July 4th but they didn’t want to be too obvious? No. Something to do with the astrological sign Leo? Probably.

Hendron presents his solution. He and his associates believe Zyra once contained living matter and some vegetation may still exist. Not everyone can move to Zyra, but a few can. A 20th century’s Noah’s ark. But 8 months is very little time. If they wait, there will be no time.

Scorned by the profane, Hendron folds up his papers and leaves.

Not even Washington believes him.

But Sidney Stanton does. While the mysterious Sidney Stanton waits in the wings, Joyce reveals to her dad that Tony, who she always “liked”, wants to marry her now, and maybe she should marry him because he wants it, but she’s all confused because of the new and different Randall. Her dad tells her to let Tony wait while he thinks up a good excuse to keep Randall there.

“Oh, thanks, dad! Thanks!” Joyce giddily accepts her dad’s agreeable promise of a new toy.

Usher in Sidney Stanton in his wheelchair, who tells his attendant to take a brief hike. It’s interesting that the man in the wheelchair is the rich one with the money to make the rocket fly, and also a bitter bastard who not only wants on board but wants to take control and select his shipmates. When refused absolute authority, he attempts to negotiate his selecting at least half of the passengers, arguing what is it Hendron’s right to decide who lives and who dies. But Hendron won’t give, and Stanton angrily ends in agreeing to supply the money in exchange for his passage alone.

The scientists lease a mountain top and make a selection of those who will work on the project of building the ship and stocking it. Though over 600 have committed their remaining months on Earth to the project, only 40 can ride Noah’s ark to Zyra. Who will go will be determined by lot just before take-off.

So everyone pitches in to build the rocketship. And two by two the animals are gathered.

WASTE ANYTHING BUT TIME, TIME IS THE SHORTEST MATERIAL, signs exhort.

Except for being the lucky daughter of Dr. Hendron, Joyce’s credentials have never been clarified, much less given a brief outline, but she’s a busy little Queen Bee, running around, overseeing this that and the other. When it was time to do the Differential Analysis she was there overseeing, jotting notations. She is overseeing all the selected women. She is shown overseeing the women dutifully microfilming the great books of the world…

The Bible, Anatomy of the Human Body, Practical Mathematics, the encyclopedia, Standard Agriculture, The Story of Mankind and Shakespeare’s Plays.

Occasionally Tony brushes up against Joyce. He reaches. She coolly withdraws.

Why would that be? Why is Tony still reaching for Joyce?

Stanton brings guns to protect them when the panic starts, confident that those destined to be left behind will rush the rocketship and attempt to grab a ride. Dr. Hendron believes reason will reign, and humanity, knowing only a few can take the trip on the ark, will stand back and wave heroically bye.

The general public gathers in their blue collar country stores to listen to the announcement that they’re doomed. But it seems they’re only being told about Zyra, and that they will be evacuated from coastal areas in preparation for the mess Zyra will leave in its wake. Are they not told about Bellus?

If, in the 50s, you were looking for a reason to leave the family farm for the halls of education, the above scene is it.

Meanwhile, go to Randall piloting, which is still what he mostly does though he’s been given some management job by Daddy Hendron. Anyway, Randall tells Joyce that he doesn’t figure in the new world, unneeded, not a scientist or farmer or engineer.

“Dad promised me…dad said we’d need you!”

The world no longer looks so bright for Joyce.

Now images of the evacuation of the populace, everyone behaving in a mannerly, lining up for their planes. Images of the world praying and atoning. Images of New York as an ghost town.

Then it is July 24th. The clock approaches 1 p.m.. Passes. The scientists and Stanton wait for the cataclysm on the mountain top. Nothing happens. Stanton gets testy.

“Millions of dollars for a false alarm…all you scientists are crackpots…nothing is going to happen…”

You’re given the feeling that despite their having been able to track Bellus and Zyra way out in the starry reaches of space, they haven’t a clue where it is currently, like it slipped behind some curtain and they’re solely relying on old calculations.

You’re given the feeling that Hendron would prefer that the Earth fall apart and prove him right (Ha! So, there!) rather than be wrong.

And it does, of course. The Earth begins bucking up a storm, vigorously protesting Zyra infringing on its territory. Everything that isn’t nailed down on the mountain top starts coming undone, which seems to be about everything. Joyce and Randall cuddle. Tony turns his flashlight on them.

Oh…the pain!!!! A volcano erupts. Lava flows. Bridges collapse. Forest fires rage. Towns burn. The oceans rage. There are mudslides. Floods sweep away toy houses.

You see, Joyce apparently never told Tony that she was interested in Randall. I leave you to draw your own conclusions on Joyce’s character.

Pockets of people have survived Zyra and plead over the radio for help. Randall and Tony climb in a chopper to deliver medical supplies to some of those pockets. On their way back they see a lucky little boy alone on the roof of a house. Tony, who had never guessed about Randall until that day, is obviously upset that he’s wasted the last eight months of his life on earth. Randall climbs onto the roof of the house, from the chopper, and helps the boy into it. The chopper flies away as Randall retrieves the boy’s belongings, and Randall gazes after it, momentarily worried that Tony may be leaving him, but Tony returns. Yeah, he says he thought about leaving him. It briefly occurred to him. Ha ha.

On the 11th day before doomsday, a big meeting is held, officiated, of course, by Hendron.

“This meeting was called to choose those who will make the attempt to make Zyra. As most of you already know, our human cargo must be restricted to 7000 pounds, 44 persons. Every pound consumes fuel, a commodity we can not waste if our flight is to have a chance. About 900 pounds already have been spoken for, Mr. Stanton, Dr. Frye, my daughter, myself, Dr. Drake and Mr. Randall. Unless there is some objection we intend on including another 40 pounds, the latest addition to the camp.”

The only child on Mount Scientist, by the way.

Randall is still pretending he doesn’t think he ought to go, and maybe he believes it.

“Dr. Frye and I hope we have worked out a sound plan. For the sake of efficiency, it would be unwise for one man to know he was not to go, while the man alongside him was among the fortunate few. In this envelope is a list of numbers…”

Would you have any objection to Hendron and his daughter, Frye (the pilot), and the Queen Bee’s two beaus being exempted from the lottery?

Almost all the other workers have been without names, except for a “Julie” and a no-name boyfriend. Now, her boyfriend urges her to pick both their numbers. Then Randall, unwilling to be among The Chosen, approaches to pick a number but is turned away, told that there are only numbers for the others. Which makes him upset. And makes Joyce furrow her brow over his being upset. Poor Joyce.

Hendron has a talk with Randall.

“Not to quarrel about your sense of ethics, just to ask you why.”

“I haven’t any more right to a ride on that ship than any other man…”

“I’ll grant you that, I’ll even admit my motive was a selfish one. I want to do things according to Hoyle, Dave, but Joyce is important to me…”

“To me, too!”

“I’m glad. I’d do anything to ensure her chances. Wouldn’t you?”

“It isn’t a free ride for Joyce either. She’s qualified to go.”

“No more than some others. We’re stretching a point because she’s important to both of us. But why not, for her sake, stretch the point a bit farther, to include you.”

But Randall still protests and insists he will not go.

The workers now must race against time to finish the project, each hoping they will be among the lucky lottery winners shortly before take-off.

I guess the rest of humanity, at least those who have survived Zyra, are starting to rebuild upon whatever’s been left them, seemingly unaware that the big red object in the sky is Bellus getting ready to make a mockery of their self-congratulations at having survived the test of Zyra.

At some point (a bit of conversation that fits in somewhere, but where I forget exactly), Randall waxes poetic on sunrises (poor paraphrase, much truncated) and Joyce argues that it will be the SAME sun on the other world. (It won’t be, but never mind that.) Joyce just can’t get it through her head why Randall is having a trouble with this free ride business. She simply doesn’t comprehend how Queen Bee wanting him there is not enough to make him more important than the other workers, much less the billions of people out there who are about to be cremated. His inability to think of how he is more deserving than the rest, by reason of Joyce having tagged him as her primary drone, is beyond her.

Enter Tony, who tells Randall that Dr. Frye, the pilot, has a heart problem and won’t survive blast-off. Randall must go.

Randall has the sudden comprehension that everything is for a purpose. Wrestling with the ethics of the situation becomes a moot point in the face of destiny, for certainly fate has written he be on Noah’s ark. The actor playing Randall, faced with this turn of affairs, gives up any character analysis he’s employed that provided his role a smidgen of depth and simply dives for his IT’S FATE line. Dives for Joyce too. Tony watching on the ship’s viewing screen (which has a camera trained on the two-by-two warehouse) Randall goes rushing to Joyce and tackles her with a kiss.

Tony blushes, but it’s all right with him. Joyce is happy.

Indeed, he walks off whistling.

Doesn’t seem to occur to anyone it’s a waste of seats to keep Dr. Frye on the mission, just for the sake of not hurting his feelings?

Now appears the most fortunate little boy on Earth with a dog he’s found. Can the dog come along? Tony says, Sure! My guess is the audience is the child and they’re being assured that though they may not be Queen Bee, they could bring along a loved one just like her, as long as that loved one wasn’t heftier than two plump chickens.

Now it’s D Day and the winning lot numbers are posted. Julie’s no-name boyfriend has a winning number! But Julie does not!

Stanton wants to leave a few people behind rather than risk not having enough fuel for the trip. Hendron asks why doesn’t Stanton donate his own weight. Stanton points out he doesn’t want to do so any more than Hendron wants to donate his weight or his daughter’s. Plus he paid for this ship! “Without me you would have been wiped out with the rest of the world!”

The audience isn’t given an opportunity to think about the question of whether or not Joyce and Hendron deserve to be on the ship more than anyone else, Hendron launching into giving Stanton a good dressing down. “You tried to make this a personal enterprise! A private rocketship for your own special use. This project was started by real humanitarians…you’re not here under any special license. You’re always shouting facts not theories. Well, remember these facts! Our chance of reaching the new world is as thin as you becoming a humanitarian…men and women here have been praying for god’s help and guidance, not your kind of hypocritical praying…”

At which point Julie’s boyfriend shows up and turns in his lottery number and says he can’t go. Finally he’s given a name. Eddie. (How cool is that? My name is Juli and Marty’s middle name is Edward! Not so cool that our namesakes don’t make it on the ship, but, hey, she’s not out beating a bunk mate for her number and he’s willing to give up a new life on Zyra for sake of love.)

“There’s that extra fuel!” Stanton celebrates. But Ferris, proclaiming his hatred for Stanton, says that extra number belongs to him and pulls a gun!

Stanton shoots him dead.

The rebellion starts! Tony, rushing in, reveals just how bad and worthless humanity is with losers stabbing others and starting fights. They make plans to go ahead and put the women on board. Hendron tells Randall to find Julie Cummings and tell her that there’s been a mistake and her number is good. She and Eddie Carson are saved! (Well, that’s a relief!)

The women and animals are loaded aboard. Bellus (it’s name, I assume, drawn from Baal) looms big and red.

Fashion for the new world is something down the line of wrestling with the great white wale, Nantucket seafarer tan rain jackets and pants and black knit caps. This is possibly more to do with military rain fashion, but I’m unfamiliar with it. It just spelled BOAT to me. And this is Noah’s ark, after all.

The men begin to board, Hendron saying he’ll wait outside with Stanton. The workers are mutinying in the barracks. They rush to the ship with Stanton’s rifles and begin shooting. Hendron tells Stanton he was right and a better judge of people then pushes his wheelchair past the boarding ramp rather than on it. He unlocks the ship which begins to lift off, proclaiming, “We’re the extra fuel! The new world isn’t for us! It’s for the young!”

Stanton throws the lap blanket off his legs. He…STANDS. He takes a few steps forward!

It’s one of those praise god, I can walk moments…only the ship is taking off and next thing Stanton knows he’s hit with Bellus.

Which is the only reason I blogged this plodder.

Sidney Stanton is the model for Dr. Strangelove who had proposed a bomb shelter’s Noah’s ark, some individuals chosen by computer but top government and military men included as a matter of course (and of course Dr. Strangelove would be one of those men)! At the end of Kubrick’s film, Strangelove surprises himself by rising from his wheelchair,

STRANGELOVE
…Sir!
(stands up out of his wheelchair)
I have a plan. Heh.
(pauses, realizing that he is standing)
Mein Fuhrer, I can walk!

MULTIPLE SCENES OF EXPLODING BOMBS


Stanton stands. And blam! Earth is digested by Bellus.

As for the rocketship. Inside it looks like a cheap theater with folding chairs for seats.

Everyone survives the “pressure zone” and Randall realizes that Dr. Frye was never in any risk of dying. Ah, gee! “You invented those cardiographs for my benefit!” Randall yells at Drake. Then grins.

Hardee-har-har! Billions of people have just been blasted to smithereens along with lots of literature that WASN’T SHAKESPEARE, SHAKESPEARE, SHAKESPEARE! But who cares, we’re on an adventure and if we make it to Zyra then the SAME SUN will rise.

Below is the number two reason I blogged this plodder.

The rocketship flies in over the icy cold, mountains with glaciers landscape of Zyra. They land. You expect them to step out onto snow, but instead look at what greets them once they emerge from the ship.

Zyra’s got pyramids! And some third monolithic building barely seen to the side with two huge entrances. Now, no one exclaims, “Look, pyramids!” There’s no voice-over confirming for the audience, “Look, pyarmids!” But those are definitely pyramids. And some kind of third building.

SAME SUN RISE, SAME SUN, SAME SUN.

There’s your puzzle for the day. How do The Chosen Ones step off Noah’s ark, onto Zyra, to face the SAME SUN RISE. And pyramids. And remember that the film begins in South Africa.

Solve the puzzle and you get, uhm, to buy me a copy of the 1980 movie, “Flash Gordon”.

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