How the CIA Learned to Worry About UFOs and Love Hollywood

The first UFO movie to feature a human-looking extraterrestrial came in 1951 with The Day the Earth Stood Still, in which the enlightened alien Klaatu and his indestructible robot Gort land their flying saucer in Washington D.C. Their mission: to warn of the dangers atomic weaponry poses not only to humanity, but to the denizens of other worlds in the universe.

The plot

How the CIA Learned to Worry About UFOs and Love Hollywood01The movie opens with Klaatu’s flying saucer being tracked on radar at high altitude before it lands on the President’s Park Ellipse in the nation’s Capitol. Not quite the White House lawn, but close enough, and hence the popular question: “If aliens really are visiting us, why don’t they just land on the White House Lawn?” The obvious response is that aliens are unlikely to model their diplomatic strategies on Hollywood entertainment.

No sooner has Klaatu’s craft touched down than it is encircled by US soldiers with itchy trigger fingers. As he steps out of his craft, Klaatu announces: “We have come to visit you in peace and with good will.” But the military doesn’t buy it, and, when the alien reaches into his flight-suit and produces a peculiar-looking device, a jittery soldier presumes it to be a weapon and opens fire on poor Klaatu, wounding him and destroying the object he was holding. In response to this act of aggression, Gort, Klaatu’s humanoid robot, emits a powerful beam from his visor which he uses to systematically disintegrate any and all military hardware on the scene – much to the horror of the military and civilian onlookers. Gort continues his defensive actions until Klaatu utters the phrase: “Gort! Deglet ovrosco!” at which point the robot ceases its attack and returns to its formerly placid state. Klaatu then explains to the military that the destroyed object was intended as a gift for the US President – a viewing device through which he could have glimpsed the wonders of life on other planets.

How the CIA Learned to Worry About UFOs and Love Hollywood02After Klaatu is taken into custody, the military attempts to unlock the secrets of his craft (which is still ‘parked’ just a stone’s throw from the White House). But these efforts prove futile as the metal skin of the alien saucer is utterly impregnable, withstanding cutting torches and even diamond drills. Soon enough, Klaatu escapes from his captivity and decides to lodge at a boarding house under an alias: “Mr. Carpenter.” It is at the boarding house that Klaatu befriends Helen Benson (Patricia Neal), a World War II widow, and her son Bobby (Billy Gray), both of whom are – initially, at least – oblivious to his extraterrestrial nature.

When Klaatu asks Bobby who is the greatest person on Earth, the young science fanatic tells him it’s the leading American scientist professor Jacob Barnhardt (Sam Jaffe), who happens to live in D.C. This leads to a meeting between Klaatu and Barnhardt in which the former tells the latter that the people of the other planets are deeply concerned about our recent development of atomic power and its destructive potential both on Earth and on other planets.

Robbie Graham - Silver Screen Saucers

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