The Night the World Exploded (1957)
Hi all, Nate here again. Thought I'd go back a few generations to an old b-movie about the End of the World as We Know It (eek!). This one actually has a pretty unique idea, though it's clear that the producers didn't want to spend a lot of time and money developing it. So they just slapped it together in a few weeks, bundled it with some other schlocky crapfest, and shipped it off to drive-in theaters across America for a quick buck (the 1950s version of direct-to-video release).
Columbia name, but not Columbia funding.
Let's look at the title, why is the Earth exploding this very night? Blame the newfound Element 112, which has the unique property of exploding with the force of an atom bomb when dried out, or exposed to the air for very long, or something, it's not really clear. Why is it called that? Because as of 1957, scientists only knew of 111 elements (we have 118 now). Where is Element 112? Apparently everywhere, it makes up a good percentage of the Earth's crust. Why is it exploding all of a sudden? Because it has chosen today to burst forth from the Earth's rocky depths, probably due to all that nookear testing the Commies are doing (damn Reds!). As with most of these Disaster Porn movies, it doesn't really matter where the MacGuffin World Destroyer comes from or if it has any scientific validity, just know that the situation is desperate and only white people in expensive clothes can save us!
And uniforms, too!
Who are these white people who are going to stop the world from exploding? Well, the first line of defense are some geologists in an office in Southern California who have developed some fancy machine that detect earthquakes and tremors, and by default, exploding Element 112s. Let's meet Dave Squarejaw, ace scientist and soon-to-be savior of the planet. He's very handsome. His partner (financial patron?) is an old guy, I forgot his name. Dave's lab assistant and coffee cup re-filler is a real purdy lady named Hutchinson ("Hutch"). Hutch is hilariously referred to as a "fellow scientist", which is just crazy talk because girls can't be scientists in 1957, they can only wear pearls and make donuts for the real scientists (ie the men). But this movie needs a love interest and she'll have to do for now.
Hutch being ignored by Dave (again).
Dave and Hutch (and to a lesser extent the old guy) are the ones who discover Element 112's properties and correctly deduce that the world is going to explode in a month or so because that's when enough of the stuff will have squeezed its way out of the various cracks and crevices around the planet to dry out and go boom. They know the deadline because they fed the data into a "supercomputer" the size of an apartment block and it gave them an exact date of the explosion to the minute (sure). But before that last night, things are going to get restless with the crust. Cue endless stock footage shots of disaster aftermaths and things going ka-pow, all to convince us that earthquakes are rattling the planet as the End is Near. Probably 20% of this movie is library footage, usually of extremely poor quality and almost always completely out-of-context, typical of most b-movies but really done badly here. There's one headscratching scene where they are talking about earthquakes and they insert a clip of RAF fighter planes strafing German convoys during WWII, makes no sense at all.
At least the prop newspapers are well done.
So they call the US Gubbmint, who calls the other Gubbmints of the world and all the scientists gather in New Mexico or somewhere and come up with a plan. What's the plan? Find all the places where Element 112 is poking through the crust and pour water, lots of water, all over it to keep it from going boom. This means flooding caves, diverting rivers into fissures, digging canals to sinkholes, all that jazz. That doesn't even sound remotely feasible from an engineering standpoint in the time allowed, but who am I to doubt human ingenuity in the face of crisis. The clock is ticking, the planet is in peril, will they make it in time???
Hurry, white people!
No one cares! Because the real story here is the love affair between Dave and the unfortunately nicknamed Hutch. You see, Hutch loves Dave with all her heart because he's so dreamy, though she's too shy to come right out and tell him. Dave, however, is so consumed with his scientific research that he barely notices the sultry/horny Hutch is there. Hutch decides that Dave is a dick and gets engaged to some poor sap named James who we never see, convincing herself that she can settle for second best and still be happy. She's really hoping that Dave will get notice her and get jealous and sweep her off her feet, but Dave's a bit distracted by being on the frontlines of the Looming Extinction of Humanity. I know, right, men, always choosing their work over their relationships, typical.
Just shut up and make some more coffee, woman.
It's up to the old guy to play matchmaker, a role he's perfect for with his homespun aw-shucks views on love and tingly naughty bits. He first gets Hutch to second-guess her decision to marry James by planting ideas in her head about how she'll die miserable and unsatisfied because she won't keep slogging through with trying to impress the unimpressible Dave. He also tries to appeal to her nature as a scientist to never give up on an idea, no matter how clearly it's doomed to fail. The old guy then corners Dave in an off moment (as if there would be one in the situation...) and earworms in his own ideas about what's best for him and Hutch. Dave, it seems, truly was oblivious to Hutch's love and he suddenly sees that they were meant to be together. But Hutch is still engaged to James, and even though it's clear that ship has sailed, she's still hesitant to switch up her wedding invitations. Of course that might also have to do with the fact that the entire planet is going to explode in a few days so what's the point of making everyone more miserable than they already are. Volcanoes burst out of the Nevada desert and Hoover Dam must be blown up to save the world, it's up to our heroes to pull the lever! It's in this moment that Dave and Hutch find common ground and agree to give their love a chance to grow and awwww! No one asks James' opinion of this, but I hope he kept the receipt for that engagement ring.
1950s smash-kiss, call a chiropractor!
Written in September 2014 by Nathan Decker.
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