Saturday, August 09, 2008

Movie of the Week: When Worlds Collide!


So it's the second of three George Pal movies I'm presenting this month on "Movie of the Week," this time it's "When Worlds Collide"!

Plot summary, as always, from the Wikipedia entry

Pilot David Randall (Richard Derr) is paid to fly mysterious photographs from South African astronomer Dr. Emery Bronson (Hayden Rorke) to Dr. Cole Hendron (Larry Keating) in America. Hendron, with the assistance of his daughter Joyce (Barbara Rush), confirms their worst fears—that a gas giant rogue planet named Bellus is on a collision course with Earth. However, they believe that its Earth-sized companion, Zyra, could support human life.


Hendron warns the delegates of the United Nations that the end of the world is little more than eight months away and pleads for the construction of spaceships to transport a lucky few to Zyra in the faint hope of saving the human race from extinction. However, other, equally distinguished scientists scoff at his claims, and he is not believed.


Hendron's group is forced to turn to wealthy, self-centered, wheelchair-bound industrialist Sidney Stanton (John Hoyt) to finance the private construction of an ark, in exchange for taking him along. The ark is a rocket designed to take off along a mile-long track built on a mountainside and land as a glider.


Joyce becomes attracted to Randall and prods her father into finding reasons to keep him around, much to the annoyance of her boyfriend, medical doctor Tony Drake (Peter Hansen).



The ship's construction is a race against time. Groups in other nations also begin building ships. As time begins running out, formerly-skeptical scientists admit that Hendron was right, and governments prepare for the inevitable.


Zyra first makes a close approach, its gravitational attraction causing massive earthquakes and tidal waves that wreak havoc. In the aftermath, Drake and Randall travel in a helicopter on a mission of mercy to provide assistance to survivors. When Randall alights to rescue a little boy, Drake has to resist a strong temptation to strand him.


As the day of doom approaches, the ship is loaded with food, microfiche copies of books, equipment, and animals. Finally, most of the passengers are selected by lottery, though Hendron exempts a handful of people: himself, Stanton, Joyce, Drake, pilot Dr. George Fry (Alden Chase), and Randall, for his daughter's sake. Randall refuses his seat and only pretends to participate in the lottery, believing that he has no useful skills.


For Joyce's happiness, Drake deceives Randall by fabricating a "heart condition" for Fry, making a backup pilot necessary. Randall is the obvious choice.


The cynical Stanton becomes more anxious as time passes. Knowing human nature, he fears what the desperate lottery losers might do. As a precaution, he has stockpiled weapons. Stanton's fears prove accurate after the results are posted. First, his much-abused lackey, Ferris (Frank Cady), tries to get himself included in the crew at gunpoint, only to be shot dead by Stanton. Then, in the final hour, many of the those to be left behind riot, taking up Stanton's weapons to try and force their way aboard.


Hendron stays behind at the last moment, forcibly keeping the crippled Stanton and his wheelchair from boarding as well in order to lighten the spaceship. His sacrifice proves to be crucial as the fuel runs out too soon and the ship barely manages to glide to a rough landing on Zyra. The passengers debark and find the new planet to be (miraculously) hospitable. David Randall and Joyce Hendron walk hand-in-hand to explore their new home.


OK, me again... you know, it's been so long since I've seen When Worlds Collide, all I can say is that I remember enjoying watching it very much!

But next week, the third of the George Pal movies on "Movie of the Week," that's a different matter... it's my favorite George Pal movie of all time, "The Time Machine"!



  1. Jon,
    You're right, this was a terrific film. It doesn't seem like anything else from the decade, except perhaps 1950's Destination Moon (inspired by Robert Heinlein). Part of that is because the story had been sitting on a shelf at Paramount since Cecil B. DeMille optioned it in the 1930s.

    1. Well, however it got made, I'm glad it did!


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