Day the Earth Caught Fire, The (1961)

The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961), written, produced and directed by Val Guest.

First Review

Superb UK-based end of the world story. It reminds me of the science fiction catastrophe novels JG Ballard was writing in the 1960s.

Cynical, angry newspaperman Edward Judd is divorced, can't see his son very often, drinks too much and is losing his job. His pal, science writer Leo McKern, props him up. He meets and falls in love with the wonderful Janet Munro just as it looks like the world will end in fire.

Simultaneous atomic testing by the US and USSR has knocked the Earth off axis and out of orbit and now things are getting really hot. Yes, the science is absurd, but that's traditional in SF films and I always forgive them. It reflects the reasonable fears of the nuclear age, as well as the frustration of countries caught between the superpowers in their global conflict.

Great hard-drinking hard-working newsroom ambience, filmed on location at the Daily Express offices. One of the paper's editors plays himself. I wished for subtitles at some points because the patter flew by so quickly.

Judd and Munro have great chemistry and their scenes are very sexy, even when sweaty.

A memorable ending:


The newspaper pressmen are waiting for the go-ahead to run the latest edition, waiting for an announcement as to whether there will be a tomorrow. We see a sample front page with the headline: WORLD SAVED.

Then the camera pans to another: WORLD DOOMED.


The texture of the image on the DVD has a strange look. It goes beyond grain to some other process, as if the film were projected onto rough wood. It doesn't much matter except in the low contrast scenes, as during the fog.

Second Review

A reporter's life was falling apart anyway when wouldn't you know it: atomic testing sends the Earth spiraling toward the Sun. Ignore the bad science: this is an adult tale of heat death at the end of the world, an allegory of love and loss in the atomic age.

Finally losing patience waiting for an announced Blu-ray from Cohen Media, I bought the well-reviewed region B disc from BFI. [Later: Kino announced a North American Blu-ray for July 2020].


Available on region B Blu-ray from BFI. Now with subtitles. The commentary track -- a conversation with the director -- is brought forward from the DVD.

This is a fine upgrade over the DVD video. The disc includes a booklet and a rich set of extras, including three short atomic bomb films.