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Like the 1939 Jimmy Stewart classic, "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," Washington, DC residents can revel in the scenery of "The Day the Earth Stood Still," as virtually the entire film takes place inside the city, and you'll see numerous places you recognize, filmed 66-years ago (make sure you don't watch the 2008 remake, which is supposed to be pretty awful).

Except it wasn't exactly "Mr. Smith" who came to Washington in this film - not by a long-shot.

*** SPOILER ALERT ***

A spaceship, circling the earth at 4,000 mph, plops down in the middle of the mall in DC, and out strides Klaatu (Michael Rennie, whom I just saw in episodes 16 and 17 ("Fly Away Home, Parts 1 and 2") on "Route 66" - why Rennie didn't become more famous after playing Klaatu is beyond my comprehension. Klaatu is a tall, debonair, handsome alien, at first dressed in a twinkly spacesuit, and carrying some sort of baton-like instrument which makes all the soldiers panic, and one of them shoots it out of his hand. "It was a gift for your President," Klaatu said - it would have helped him study life on other planets. So, once again, our "shoot first, ask questions later" mentality implants the bullet directly into our own foot.

Unfortunately for Earth, after Klaatu is wounded, out comes the tremendously imposing Gort, an 8-foot tall robot with a "death ray" which he can shoot from his eye (sounds odd, but it's quite effective). After destroying the soldiers' guns (but leaving the soldiers unharmed), Gort picks up Klaatu, and carries him back into the ship, before reemerging to stand guard. Gort is made of the same, impregnable material as the spaceship - impervious to every known human weapon - lasers, diamond drills, everything. And now we wait.

The President of the U.S.A. wants to meet with Klaatu, but Klaatu doesn't care about America - he wants to address all the leaders on Earth simultaneously. When told that's impossible due to political conditions, he decides to give a harmless show of power in case they don't agree: For exactly 30 minutes, he shuts off all electricity on the planet - all electricity, that is, except for airplanes in flight, hospitals, and other situations that would bring harm to people. This causes worldwide panic.

Klaatu decides to integrate among the earth's population, so he sneaks out, looking dapper in a suit, rents a room in a DC house, and makes friends with a little boy, Bobby (Billy Gray who played Bud on "Father Knows Best" - you won't recognize him), taking him out for an entire afternoon of fun. He sees the problems in our culture, and only sees peace and harmony in this child. 

Klaatu sustains a relatively minor injury, and is immensely worried about Gort going into "automatic protection mode" - he gives Bobby's entrusted mother (Patricia Neal) a three-word order ("Klaatu barada nikto") to stop Gort from hurting anyone, and makes his way back to the ship. He turns towards the leaders of Earth, and gives a long, moral speech - his planet is a member of sort of an "interplanetary United Nations" that has been watching Earth. They didn't worry about the planet's own infighting, i.e., WWII, but now that they're nearing the ability to have space travel, they're worried that they'll take their newfound nuclear capabilities, and cause harm to other planets. He says, in no uncertain terms, that Earth's inhabitants have two choices: 1) Work out their violent tendencies, or 2) Face total destruction. 

Klaatu then gets back into the ship, after releasing his friend - the boy's mother - gives a friendly nod to Bobby, and takes back off into outer space, and the movie ends, with the Earth obviously left to ponder its ultimate future.

"The Day the Earth Stood Still" may not be a "great movie," but it's one of a handful of 1950s science-fiction films worth watching - it's an important and influential film.

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