When Worlds Collide

Rating: 6 out of 10.

When a rogue planet threatens to collide with Earth, a small team of pioneers start building a space ark in order to begin life anew on a new world. George Pal produces and Rudolph Maté directs this classic from 1951 in nostalgic Technicolor. The script’s weak love triangle and biblical pathos suck some of the juice out of Philip Wylie’s crisp novel, but the visuals and effects are stunning, and the action exciting despite some slow spots.

When Worlds Collide. Directed by Rupolph Maté. Written Sydney Boehm. Based on a novel by Philip Wylie and Edwin Balmer. Starring: Richard Derr, Barbara Rush, Peter Hansen, John Hoyt. Produced by George Pal for Paramount Pictures. Tomatometer: 77 %. IMDb score: 6.7

1951 was a special year for science fiction: it produced three of the major classics of the fifties’ sci-fi films. The Thing from Another World (review) came out in May, The Day the Earth Stood Still (review) was released in September and When Worlds Collide (review) got its premiere in November. The first two dealt with aliens, one hostile, the other benign. But producer George Pal wouldn’t touch that subject until 1953. Instead he continued where he left off in 1950 with the first American moon landing film, Destination Moon (review). In When Worlds Collide he takes us to a different planet. And if you think the title is a witty metaphor for two different world views or social classes colliding in the movie, you should’t expect such subtlety from the Michael Bay of the fifties. No, when George Pal says two worlds are going to collide, he is being literal.

Astrologer Dr. Bronson (Hayden Rorke) in South Africa discovers that a sun (Bellus) and an accompanying planet (Zyra) are moving with tremendous speed toward Earth. The first will brush by and cause devastating natural disasters. The second will more or less crash with our planet, causing complete annihilation. He enlists pilot David Randall (Richard Derr) to fly his photos of the two astral bodies to a Dr. Cole Hendron (Larry Keating) in the US – without telling him of the impending doom. There, he encounters Dr. Hendron’s beautiful daughter Joyce (Barbara Rush), also a scientist, and girlfriend of a Dr. Tony Drake (Peter Hansen). She accidentally blurts out something of the end of the world, which gets Randall intrigued, and he wrangles his way into the little group of scientists that start to plan for the future, namely the building of an interplanetary Noah’s Ark, that will jump from Earth to Zyra just before Bellus crashes into Earth.

Richard Derr, Peter Hansen and Stephen Chase.

The American scientist is laughed out of the UN council meeting when stating his and Bronson’s claims, but his venture is financially backed by the sinister, wheelchair-bound business man Sidney Stanton (John Hoyt). Our heroes gather their utensils and move out to a secluded base, along with a few hundred of America’s top young scientists and engineers, all white and all looking like fashion models, who are neatly divided into groups of boys and girls. The rocket ship they are building will only hold 40 people, along with a number of domestic animals. Along goes some food and medicine, and presumably other necessities that we aren’t shown, as well as the combined important books of mankind, all copied onto microfilm at the hangar – the holy bible first of all, of course.

Crowding the rocket with stuff means that the hundreds of scientists working in the hangar will have to take part of a lottery to choose the 20 men and 20 women who can come along – minus, Dr. Hendron, his daughter and her boyfriend, the bush pilot, and the business man who finances it all, who have guaranteed seats. Oh, yes, and then there’s also the little boy they pick up along the way. Oh and yes, a stray dog. Yes, seriously. This lottery, of course, causes some stir at the final hour, when the ones left out try and storm the rocket with guns. It probably isn’t too much of a give-away to mention that at least some of our heroes actually do make it to Zyra, it is after all the story of Noah and the Ark. And whaddayouknow, the living conditions turn out to be perfect for humans. This is revealed with an angel choir and church bells.

The rocket.

Interspersed with this is a very awkwardly written romantic triangle between Joyce Hendron, Tony Drake and David Randall, much doomsday babble and very little actual science, and it is perhaps better that way. George Pal seems to have learned the lesson from his previous film Destination Moon), that was completely techno-babbled to death. Now we get fiction instead of science. And in many ways, it is better that way. Things actually happen in this film, and it definitely pulls you along for a wonderful ride. Ever since Daniel Defoe dropped Robinson Crusoe in our lap in 1719, we have been fascinated with stories of survival, watching a small group of people work relentlessly and use all their ingenuity to pool up resources and make plans for a harsh future ahead. One of the best examples is Jules Verne’s The Mysterious Island, released in 1874, where five people create a little colony on a desert island – with what little they have to work with and what flotsam and jetsam they can find. The book gives detailed accounts of how they work out the problems of food, lodging and protection, and has detailed accounts of how their stores and gardens are stacking up. Likewise, the scenes of preparation before the leap into the unknown are some of the most gratifying to watch in this film, the same way outdoorsy people always love planning and packing for long hiking trips.

New York drowned.

When Worlds Collide is based on noted US author, screenwriter, patriot and pop psychologist Philip Wylie’s book When Worlds Collide, co-written with Edwin Balmer, first published as a newspaper serial in 1932 and released in book form in 1933 (quickly followed by the other half of the serial as the “sequel”, After Worlds Collide, in 1934). The film rights were originally bought by Paramount that same year, intended as a project for legendary epic director Cecil B. DeMille (executive producer on this film), but nothing became of it, and the thing then sat for over 15 years, until the great sci-fi boom of 1950. When George Pal stunned Americans with his Technicolor space adventure Destination Moon, Paramount saw their chance and hired him as producer, and put Polish-born director and cinematographer Rudolph Maté in the director’s chair.

Peter Hansen, Barbara Rush and Richard Derr.

The basic premise of the book is there in the film, as are the outlines of the plot, but much is changed. The changes made are partly the normal type of editing that goes into turning book to film – simplifications, omissions, removal of non-essential characters, highlighting conflict, action and romance, etc. One of the main problems for screenwriter Sydney Boehm seems to have been the lack of a clear-cut villain and a certain lack of personal drama and tension. Wylie’s and Balmer’s novel was one in which the best minds of a generation came together and collaborated for a better future, rather than competed over it. Absent in the book is the evil industrialist throwing wrenches in the wheels. Another fabrication by Boehm and Pal is the whole “passenger lottery” plot. In the book, Dr. Hendron originally plans for a rocket to take 100 people, which he chooses beforehand, but winds up making a second rocket with room for 1,000 people.

1st edition copies of When Worlds Collide and After Worlds Collide.

Then there’s the fact that both Wylie and Pal were artists who infused their work with their personal moral convictions. In some regards, the two were quite similar, but in other very dissimilar. Both, for example, were fiercely patriotic, anti-fascist and anti-communist. Both also liked to tout the idea of overcoming obstacles through intellectual collaboration, and through an upright, unwavering moral backbone. However, Wylie was the son of a strict Presbyterian minister, and loathed organised religion. Pal, on the other hand, was a devout Christian who infallibly heaped Bible quotes and Christian imagery on top of his scripts, often completely reversing the religious attitude of his source novels, most blatantly so in War of the Worlds (1953, review). When I got around to reading When Worlds Collide, I was surprised by the complete lack of religious pathos, despite the fact that the book is re-imagined adaptation of the biblical Flood story. Pal, on the other hand, both starts and ends the film with Bible quotes, ramping up the religious gears to the max toward the end.

George Pal.

There’s also an interesting character switch. The main character of the book is not the pilot David Randall, but rather Tony Drake. The Tony Drake of the book is far removed from the mild-mannered physician of the film, but rather a specimen of manhood, a heroic stockbroker of almost Aynrandian fashion. In the world of Wylie, it is the virtues of American capitalism that saves humanity, whereas the film presents Capitalism in the shape of the crippled egomaniac Sidney Stanton. Instead of promoting the businessman as the hero (which Pal already did in Destination Moon), Boehm focuses on the everyman, the pilot Randall, literally only a message boy in the beginning of the film. Still, both characters are reluctant heroes, morally upstanding and willing to sacrifice themselves for the greater good. And Boehm and Pal have stuck to the source material to the extent that the frictions within the core group are all solved with mutual understanding, even if the film provides a bit more sparks than the novel. On the other hand, Wylie and Balmer paint a somewhat bleaker picture of the outside world’s reaction to the notion that an elite group sets out to save themselves, leaving the rest of humanity to a certain death. In a word, the novel is far darker than Pal’s uplifting Technicolor spectacle.

There are also major differences in the approach to science, but these are hardly significant, as they are equally nonsensical in both cases.

One thing that does strike a modern viewer is the complete absence of non-white people in the film. It is as if the world inhabited by When Worlds Collide is one where black and Asian Americans, or indeed any other non-Caucasian ethnicity simply do not exist. For all George Pal’s hatred of Nazism, the yankee-doodle-dandy outfit of fit, blue-eyed, young Caucasian Americans taking part in the building of the rocket – complete with gender separation — is like something straight out of a Leni Riefenstahl propaganda movie. Blink and you’ll miss it, but there may be a Latino or two among the crew. Wylie may not score highly on the diversity test with his racialised eager-to-serve Japanese manservant, but at least he included the notion of a diverse USA in the novel. Then of course there’s the matter of women. Both Wylie and Pal had to include an equal number of men and women on the Ark, for obvious reasons of re-population, but both leave women more or less to the sidelines. Both include the character of Ms. Hendron as a capable scientist, but still manage to go about it in a misogynistic way, concluding that being intellectual is “un-feminine”. There’s also the notion, more in the film than in the book, that a woman is something to be “conquered” and “possessed”, as the triangle drama is painted not as a matter of Ms. Hendron choosing between Drake and Randall, but rather as the two men competing over a prize. Thankfully, the film at least isn’t as terrible as Rocketship X-M (1950, review), which concludes that one cannot per definition be both a woman and a scientist, regardless of biological gender.


Still, more than anything, former puppet animator George Pal was a special effects man, and the film is more than anything else an effects film, a visual adventure. It was filmed in rich Technicolor, which gives it its tell-tale fifties fairy-tale look with explosions of colour and, well, explosions. Lots of them. The visuals kick in about one third into the film, when a new team of recruits arrive at the rocket base, and their bus drives past a half-finished rocket and its long, peculiar take-off ramp, in what looks like a miniature-matte painting-live action composite shot. We later get some really cool composites with the huge rocket in the background, holding up fairly well even today, even though the rocketship looks a bit ”miniaturey”.

In the last third of the film Bellus passes Earth and we are treated with what is probably the most memorable sequence of the movie, showing a multitude of natural disasters wreaking havoc on the planet. The miniature and maquette team have had a field day creating buildings on fire, earthquakes, landslides and flooding. Farmhouses and forests are swept away, dams break, earth crumbles, and we even get a shot of a full-scale flooding of New York. Many of the shots do bear that unmistakable miniature look, but they are made in such a scale, that for an audience not used to seeing this kind of thing on the screen, they might even have passed as real. Interspersed with the miniature work, the filmmakers have added a few not very convincing still shots and matte paintings, as well as all the Technicolor shots they could find of earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, burning buildings, glacier ice breaking, and so forth. The sequence is several minutes long and is some very impressive film making. The effects team were rightly awarded with an Oscar for best visual effects.

Working the miniature rocket on set.

A bit less convincing are some of the effects of the disruption the earthquakes cause at the rocket base, partly due to bad scaling of fire and smoke – probably the most difficult elements to get right on film without doing it full-scale for real, even today. A crumbling miniature crane looks a lot like a miniature crane. There’s also some funny physics. At one point the workers pick up a bunch of steel beams to use them to reinforce the rocket ramps – in one shot we see two guys picking up one of these three, four meters long beams and skip away with it past the screen. I grew up next to a steel factory, and I know what those beams weigh. And let me tell you: I don’t care if you’re Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone, two guys don’t even budge a beam like that.

I have written earlier about Destination Moon as being the first serious American big-budget sci-fi film. This must be understood against the background of the shoddy low-budget science fiction films of the forties, often made on budgets of under 100,000 dollars, sometimes under 10,000. Destination Moon still cost only around 600,000 dollars to make in 1950, compared to the historical epic Quo Vadis in 1951, that cost, 6.2 million dollars, the equivalent of 56 millions today (project-adjusted inflation). Compared to this the budget of When Worlds Collide, a little over 900,000 dollars (6.7 millions today), was a rather modestly priced film, although produced by major studio Paramount. George Pal had envisioned the film as an even bigger special effects extravaganza, but the money he had available didn’t allow for that. For example, in the book the protagonists watch the moon being destroyed by the passing planet, a scene omitted in the film. The destruction of Earth also happens off-screen.

Bonestell’s crude sketch of the final scene, which ended up in the movie.

The biggest visual faux pas of the movie is the crude matte painting in the very last scene showing the new world of Zyra. It seems odd that Pal would have settled for such an amateurish matte to end the film with, and of course that wasn’t his intention. Pal had originally wanted to create the landscape as a miniature, but time and money ran out. On board he had astronomical expert and painter Chesley Bonestell, who had created the breath-taking lunar landscapes of Destination Moon, but he was on board only as ”technical consultant”, and painted a rough sketch of the landscape of Zyra, intended as a blueprint either for a miniature or for matte painter Jan Domela (Dr. Cyclops [1940, review]The War of the Worlds [1953], Conquest of Space [1955, review]) to work on. But Domela never had time to paint the huge landscape, so Pal was stuck with Bonestell’s sketch.

When Worlds Collide met with largely mixed to good reviews upon its release. Bosley Crowther at the New York Times had positively skewered George Pal’s previous film, Destination Moon. He had no better grades for When Worlds Collide: “the actual departure of the rocket and its arrival on a new and frozen world are largely anticlimactic. Except for a rustle of applause to salute a perfect pancake landing, the drowsy audience at the Globe, where the film opened yesterday, showed slight interest. It appeared skeptical and even bored. Mr. Pal barely gets us out there, but this time he doesn’t bring us back.” However, Variety had kinder words to say: “Top honors for this inter-planetary fantasy rest with the cameramen and special effects technicians rather than with performances of the non-name cast. Process photography and optical illusions are done with an imaginativeness that vicariously sweeps the spectator into space.” The Saturday Review called the movie “good cataclysmic fun”, and Bob Thomas at the Associated Press called it “one of our better” science fiction films: “These fantastic goings-on are performed by a serious group of actors, who are hampered only by one of those little love plots which seem standard for these films. Aside from that drawback, the film generates some fair excitement. The trick stuff is well done.”

Richard Derr and Hayden Rorke.

It is interesting to read, when you can come across them, the comments on early SF movies by the actual SF press at the time. The SF community was endlessly frustrated with the way Hollywood neglected the genre, dumbed it down, and often completely misrepresented the source material for the films. Thus it could often be extremely harsh on new SF movies. On the other hand, whenever a good – or even decent one – came along, the SFF press would enthusiastically cheer it on, despite its flaws. Startling Stories magazine also analyses this dynamic in an unsigned review from 1951: “From the standpoint of the stf [“scientifiction”] reader, any movie which visualizes in smashing color the things he has so far only imagined from words on a printed page is all to the good. Acknowledging that it is slanted to a mass audience, not a specialized one, the inevitable corn; the faked props, the space flight lasting ten minutes—all these things must be allowed. […] The final word you’ve probably-anticipated. Good, better or best—you can’t afford to miss it.” Much less critical was an editorial in Fantastic Adventures, signed “LES”, possibly an acronym for Lester del Rey, which stated: “The dialogue is fresh, and the cast of comparative unknowns do an excellent acting job. The love story, the characterizations, are perfect. Nobody is righteous, nobody is too heroic. In a time of panic, each person reacts just as they would In real life, not as they usually do in second-rate thrillers. Sydney Boehm deserves applause for his capable writing of the screenplay. The technology is beautiful, while the interspersed black-and-white shots add much to the setting of the mood. Paramount Studios—for When Worlds Collide we salute you—and thank you.”

Barbara Rush and Rich

The film was a moderate commercial success, but not successful enough for Paramount to produce an intended sequel based on After Worlds Collide. The movie must to some extent be considered an artistic success as well, as it took home the Oscar for best special effects and was nominated for best colour cinematography.

Currently When Worlds Collide has a 6.7/10 rating on IMDb based on 7,000 user ratings, and a 78/100 Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 23 reviews. AllMovie generously gives it 4/5 stars, with Mike Cummings writing: “Even though the acting in this 1951 production is mostly average, the film is nonetheless praiseworthy for its special effects and lickety-split pacing”. Steve Simels at Entertainment Weekly wrote that the movie was “essentially 81 minutes of bad emoting by future TV actors”, but nevertheless awarded it a B- rating, or roughly the equivalent of 6/10 stars. TV Guide gives it 2/4 stars, writing: “If the naive dramatic situations and trite idealism can be ignored, the viewer is in for an amazing spectacle of special effects”. And Time Out says: “George Pal’s production is better remembered for its apocalyptic special effects than for the perfunctory dialogue, but the gripping story keeps you watching”.

The takeoff ramp.

Critics in the blogosphere seem to echo the sentiments from both the critics of 1951 and the big media outlets, with most of the verdicts landing somewhere between 2/5 (At-A-Glance Film Reviews) and 4/5 stars (Derek Winnert). Both Glenn Ericson at DVD Savant and Dario Lavia at Cinefania rip the movie’s logic and science, bit still concede it’s an entertaining yarn. Crippa at Disaster Movie World awards it 3/5 stars, calling When Worlds Collide “in many ways a charming film, though quite dated in most ways”. Richard Scheib at Moria gives it 3.5/5 stars, quite neatly summing up the reviews: “What George Pal and the directors who worked for him had, and in none of Pal’s films more so than here, was an eye for spectacle. […] Where When Worlds Collide falls down is its human element.” Derek Winnert concludes: “You could complain about some stilted dialogue and feeble characterisation in Sidney Boehm’s screenplay, some stiff performances and the movie’s occasional plodding pace. But the strong premise from the novel by Philip Wylie and Edwin Balmer and the movie’s general air of loving care and amateurish enthusiasm keep it going enjoyably for the many fans of the sci-fi films of the 50s.”

Spanish, Danish and Belgian posters.

I’d say that When Worlds Collide is not as stiff and wooden as Destination Moon, but on the other hand not quite as inventive and ground-breaking either. The middle part is very talky in nondescript rooms and has something of a B movie feel about it. The film is filled with logical errors, such as why the group sets out on an aid run to people who are affected by the passing of Zyra, as they will soon be wiped out by Bellus anyway – especially as the team is lagging behind in the rocket construction schedule. Is it just so they can get the kid and the dog in the film? (Admittedly, the aid runs were present in the book as well.) The science is hokey and the characters rather flat. The love triangle is contrived and plays out in a very weird way. The film tries to add a feminist note, but fails, and the casual racism by omission gets thumbs down. However, it is one of the first apocalypse movies of Hollywood, and its strengths lie in the superb visuals and the special effects. It is a fun science fiction spectacle that pulls the viewer along on an exciting race against time, and the final scenes actually do have you at the end of your seat.

French photo storey

Director Rudolph Maté is best known as one of the foremost cinematographers in Europe in the twenties and early thirties, where he worked on films like The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) and the avant-garde cult classic Vampyr (1932), both directed by Danish experimentalist Carl Theodor Dreyer, as well as Fritz Lang’s Liliom and René Clair’s The Last Billionaire (both 1934). In Hollywood he filmed movies like the Dante’s Inferno (1935), Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent (1940), Zoltan Korda’s Sahara (1943) and Charles Vidor’s Gilda (1946). He started his directorial career with film noirs in 1947, and in 1950 released what is perhaps his best film, D.O.A, about a dying man, victim of radiation pois … sorry, luminous poisoning, trying to catch his killer. He directed 31 films and had a special love for historical battle dramas – best known is perhaps The 300 Spartans (1962), that inspired Frank Miller to create his graphic novel 300, which in turn inspired Zach Snyder to make his cult classic movie with the same name.

Richard Derr as the hero of the movie gives what is also the most memorable and sympathetic performance of the film, even though he resorts to a lot of hand-wringing and fist-clenching in lieu of other means of showing frustration and doubt. But he does a pretty good job of portraying Randall’s arc from money-loving adventurer to responsible man of the hour. This was one of Derr’s very few leading man roles, as he was mostly cast as second lead, and later in his career did more character work, often as authoritarian figures. He appeared on four episodes of the mystery series Lights Out (1949-1952, review) and in the sci-fi anthology series Tales of Tomorrow (1951-1953, review) and The Outer Limits (1964). He played two different small characters in the original Star Trek series (1966-1969), and appeared in the films Terror is a Man (1959) and the Clint Eastwood-directed Firefox (1982).

Barbara Rush and Richard Derr.

”Decorative” is a word that has been used about leading lady Barbara Rush, and although the term may be a bit demeaning, the truth is that she is a bit bland as the designated love interest of the movie, which probably has more to do with the script than anything else. The film gets off to a good start with a couple of nice scenes in which Randall is pretending to be in the know when Ms. Hendron starts blurting out secrets about the end of the world, and then later starts lighting his cigarettes with hundred dollar bills at a club after learning the truth. Derr and Rush have a few nice scenes and good chemistry here, but unfortunately the film becomes rather stiff when the story really gets going.

Rush isn’t at all bad though, and the paleness of the character can’t be blamed on her. Although she already had a few female leads under her belt by 1953, she was awarded with a Golden Globe as ”best newcomer” for her work in Jack Arnold’s It Came From Outer Space (review). In 1954 she got her first break in a bona fide A movie, but despite starring in some serious A dramas, she was naver able to cement her place as a top star, and more or less gave up film acting for TV in the late fifties. Her best remembered role is probably as Martha Russell in Peyton Place (1968-1969). She guest starred in both the original The Outer Limits series, as well as the remake in an episode in 1998. She played a visiting villain, the militant feminist Nora Clavicle, in two episodes of the Batman series in 1968 and appeared in The Bionic Woman in 1976 and Knight Rider in 1983.

Rush, Derr and Peter Hansen.

Peter Hansen as the other man in the film is likewise bland, but quite a sympathetic character. This was Hansen’s only major film role, as he turned to TV quickly after When Worlds Collide. He is best known for the recurring role of lawyer Lee Baldwin in the long-running soap opera General Hospital, a role which he played almost continuously, with a few years’ absence here and there, from 1965 to 2004. He appeard in a number of sci-fi anthologies in the fifties and sixties.

John Hoyt, playing the evil industrialist, is reliable as the villain. A respected and prolific character actor, he has some SF pedigree, as he appeared in such sci-fi films Lost Continent (1951, reviewAttack of the Puppet People (1958), X (1963), The Time Travellers (1964), Panic in the City (1968) and the soft-porn spoof Flesh Gordon (1974). He also appeared in a number of sci-fi series, and was almost part of the main cast of Star Trek, as he appeared in the first pilot for the series, which was turned down by NBC. He also appeared in an episode of the original Battlestar Galactica series in 1979. Hoyt was part of the cast of the controversial movie The Conqueror, with John Wayne, of all people, playing Gengis Khan. The movie was filmed downwind from a nuclear test site, and many of the cast and crew started getting cancer in the sixties, which started something of a controversy. 91 of the about 220 people on set contracted cancer over their lifetimes, including Wayne and Hoyt.(Whether or not the nuclear test site was actually to blame is a matter of some debate. For example, both Wayne and Hoyt died of lung cancer after lifetimes of smoking.)

The original Superman from the 1948 serial (review), Kirk Alyn, appears as one of the builders and engineers who lose out in the lottery and start rioting at the end. Alyn is the one who brings out the guns. Extra Stuart Whitman also turned up as an extra in The Day the Earth Stood Still, and slowly started working himself up in his career to an Oscar nomination for The Mark in 1961. He played the lead in the hilarious giant bunny movie Night of the Lepus in 1972, as well as in the sci-fi film Deadly Reactor (1989), and appeared in Omega Cop in 1990. He is probably best known to a certain generation as Superman’s adoptive father Jonathan Kent in the TV series Superboy (1988-1992).

Lead art director on the film was Hal Pereira, a legend nominated for 23 Oscars, for films including The Ten Commandments (1956), Vertigo (1958), Visit to a Small Planet (1960) and Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961). He won his only Oscar in 1955 with The Rose TattooPereira also worked on Pal’s other two sci-fi epics, The War of the Worlds and Conquest of Space, as well as on The Colossus of New York (1958), The Space Children (1958), I Married a Monster from Outer Space (1958), The Nutty Professor (1963), Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964), The President’s Analyst (1967) and Project X (1968). Set decorator Sam Comer won 4 Oscars and was nominated for 22 more. His team mate Ross Dowd was nominated for 2 Oscars. Costume designer Edith Head won a whopping 8 Oscars, and also worked with Pal on The War of the Worlds, alongside most of the design and effects team. One wonders, though, how she got the idea that the anorak would be the standard uniform for space exploration.

Filming a daring helicopter scene.

Hal Pereira was best known for his realistic urban landscapes, but also for his adaptability within a multitude of genres. His best remembered piece of design for When Worlds Collide is probably the interior of the rocketship, memorable but scientifically laughable. First of all the interior is huge – resembling a cathedral, more than anything else. Here the religious theme is present once again. Not only is the passenger compartment big enough to house a double-decker bus, also has an arced ceiling, almost like a dome. The seats are arranged in neat rows with an aisle between then, much like church benches, and the pilots, unusually, don’t have a cockpit, but sit some way away from the passengers on an elevated platform, like priests by a church altar, leading their flock. The dashboard seems to consist almost entirely of some huge buttons and a fuel gauge that says ”full”, ”half” and ”empty”.

The special effects team was led by Gordon Jennings, special effects legend who on two Oscars and was nominated for seven more. He also worked on two benchmark films of early Hollywood sci-fi, The Island of Lost Souls (1932, review) and Dr. Cyclops (1940).


The man responsible for filming the iconic disaster scenes, as well as for the sometimes seamless rear projection photography and composite photography was visual effects wizard Farciot Eduart, regarded along with people like John P. Fulton as one of the most influencial special effects gurus of early sound cinema. Eduart won two Oscars, including one for this movie, and a number of technical Academy awards. He was also responsible for the stunning front projections in the 1940 film Dr. Cyclops and worked on The War of the Worlds, Conquest of Space, The Colossus of New York, The Space Children, Robinson Crusoe on Mars and Village of the Giants. Eduart received an honorary Oscar for his work with visual effects in 1939.

Leith Stevens, who also scored Destination Moon, returns with a bombastic, if forgettable, score. Makeup artist Wally Westmore would return on a number of sci-fi occurances.

Janne Wass

When Worlds Collide. 1951, USA. Directed by Rupolph Maté. Written Sydney Boehm. Based on a novel by Philip Wylie and Edwin Balmer. Starring: Richard Derr, Barbara Rush, Peter Hansen, John Hoyt, Larry Keating, Rachel Ames, Stephen Chase, Frank Cady, Hayden Rorke, Sandro Giglio, Kirk Alyn, Kasey Rogers, Stuart Whitman. Music: Leith Stevens. Cinematography: W. Howard Greene, John F. Seitz. Editing: Arthur P. Schmidt. Art direction: Hal Pereira, Albert Nozaki. Set decoration: Sam Comer, Ross Dowd, Costume design: Edith Head. Makeup supervisor: Wally Westmore. Sound: Gene Merritt, Walter Oberst. Special effects: Gordon Jennings, Harry Barndollar. Visual effects: Farciot Edouart (process photography), Jan Domela (matte artist). Technical advisor: Chesley Bonestell. Produced by George Pal for Paramount Pictures.

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