The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961)

35mm film, Dyaliscope, black and white, 2.35:1
mono, English

A British science fiction directed by Val Guest.

Plot Summary

Simultaneous at either pole by the USA and the USSR tilt the world off its axis and send it plummeting towards the sun. As the world's patterns change with catastrophic results, plans are laid to reverse the damage with more nuclear explosions – but will it work?


* = uncredited

Directed by: Val Guest
© 1961 by Melina Productions Ltd
Pax presents a Val Guest production. A British Lion-Pax release through B.L.C.
Produced by: Val Guest
Associate Producer: Frank Sherwin Green
Written for the Screen by: Wolf Mankowitz & Val Guest
Director of Photography: Harry Waxman
Editor: Bill Lenny
Musical Direction by: Stanley Black
Beatnik Music by: Monty Norman
Sound Recordist: Buster Ambler
Westrex Recording System
Costume Designer: Beatrice Dawson
Make-up: Tony Sforzini
Hairdressing: Joyce James
Special Effects: Les Bowie
Art Director: Tony Masters
Made at Shepperton Studios, Middx, England
Locations: Daily Express building, Fleet Street, , England, UK [uncredited]; Trafalgar Square, London, England, UK [uncredited]; Battersea Park Fun Fair, Battersea, London, UK [uncredited]

Janet Munro [Jeannie Craig]
Leo McKern [Bill Maguire]
Edward Judd [Peter Stenning]
Michael Goodliffe [‘Jacko' Jackson, night editor]
Bernard Braden [news editor]
Reginald Beckwith [Harry]
Gene Anderson [May]
Renée Asherson [Angela]
Arthur Christiansen [‘Jeff' Jefferson, Daily Express]
Robin Hawdon [Ronnie] *
Trevor Austin [Sir John Kelly] *
Peter Butterworth [second sub-editor] *
Charles Morgan [foreign affairs editor] *
Edward Underdown [‘Sandy' Sanderson] *
Ian Ellis [Michael] *
Jane Aird [nanny] *
John Barron [first sub-editor] *
Geoffrey Chater [Frank Holroyd] *
Verina Greenlaw [Trixie] *
Michael Caine [checkpoint policeman] *
Pamela Green [woman at desk at communal washing centre] *
Marianne Stone *
Terry Walsh [man] *

Alternative Titles

The Day the Sky Caught Fire – working title
…e la Terra prese fuoco – Italian title
Der Tag, an dem die Erde Feuer fing – German title

See also
Matinee (1993)


Daily Cinema 13 November 1961 p.5
The story of how the earth may bring about its own destruction is far too uncomfortably likely to be treated as straight fiction. And Val Guest's skilful use of newsreel clips, trick effects and fast-paced action makes the most of the alarmingly realistic catastrophe. […] The dialogue and script […] is sharp as a tack. And when it sticks to the probable facts, the film in the main respects the grave implications. […] The build-up to the four-point explosion that may save the world has tremendous dramatic impact. The feeling of the rising temperatures is horrifyingly convincing and the question mark ending is a telling climax. Controversial and highly topical it can't fail to attract the queues – even if they go away with a severe case of the shakes. – from a review by M.H.

Kinematograph Weekly no.2824 (16 November 1961) pp.19, 21
[A] vivid and salutary prediction of things to come if atomic tests aren't banned and [it] has a showmanlike, if not entirely conclusive, ending. […] Its romantic and small child episodes are agreeable and help to relieve the tension, but it is the realistic scenes of heat, fog, and tidal waves descending on London as a result of atomic tests, and the reactions of the populace that grip and will cause all classes, and women in particular, furiously to think. In short, the film does the work of a whole army of anti-bomb squatters.” Points of Appeal. Up-to-the-minute tale, sound acting, resourceful direction, masterly technical presentation, arresting title and terrific exploitation angles. – reviewer not credited

Amateur Cine World vol.3 no.5 (1 February 1962) p.174
[A]n intriguing mess, a hotch-potch of muddled morality, superficial realism filled transformation and skew-whiff contemporariness. […] The authenticity of the newspaper office scenes has already been widely remarked upon, and it's true that these look like rooms where the daily business of journalism is going on. But much of the realism is lost in Mankowitz's back-chat – a kind of wish-fulfilled transformation of the sick cynicism that passes for humour among the exhausted and corrupt. […] The special effects are generally fifth rate. A studio-built Piccadilly Circus looks absurdly artificial. Huge blow-ups of Hyde Park, Marble Arch and the Thames are wisely whisked off the screen almost as soon as they appear. […] Occasionally the film enjoys a moment of startling truth, most notably in its frighteningly accurate parody of the reassuring speech by the Prime Minister – cheerfully ending with a complacent quip about the British already being accustomed to extremes of weather. Leo McKern's science correspondent is an acceptable figure, too – almost an example of what the film might have been. […] Perhaps the oddest thing of all, though, is that a film so firmly entrenched in the routine commercial values of our industry had great trouble in finding a backer. If a production like this is considered too offbeat by most of the men who put up the money for British films, what hope is there for anyone with really fresh ideas? – from an illustrated review by Alec Gittings

Time Out 18-25 October 2000 p.193
[Val] Guest's trick is to make the film as if it is a dry, understated documentary. “I very deliberately didn't make it as a sci-fi film. I knew the more real we made it, the more believable it would become.” Alongside the apocalyptic storyline, the film also offers an insider's account of Fleet Street in its hey-day, complete with tyrannical editors and crumpled, weary (notably a very forlorn-looking Leo McKern) slurping watery pints in backstreet pubs as the world burns up around them. Guest even recruited several real-life hacks to prop up the supporting cast. – from an illustrated article (The B's knees) by Geoffrey Macnab

BFI Southbank Guide August 2014 p.7
With strong performances (Leo McKern is a stand-out), a vivid depiction of the world of newspaper journalism, and extensive location shooting on the streets of London, Val Guest delivers one of the best British sci-fi films. – author not credited



  • Amateur Cine World vol.3 no.5 (1 February 1962) p.174 – illustrated review (by Alec Gittings)
  • The Daily Cinema 13 November 1961 p.5 – review (by M.H.)
  • Infinity no.37 (2021) pp.18-23 – illustrated interview with Val Guest (Guest appearance by Richard Hollis)
  • Kine Weekly no.2824 (16 November 1961) pp.19, 21 – review
  • Time Out 18-25 October 2000 p.193 – illustrated article (The B's knees by Geoffrey Macnab)
  • Variety 22 November 1961 – review (by Rich)


  • Evening Standard Hot Tickets 2 July 1998 – note (by Alexander Walker)


  • Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Science Fiction by Phil Hardy (ed) p.207 – illustrated credits, review
  • Feature Films, 1960-1969: A Filmography of English-language and Major Foreign-language United States Releases by Harris M. Lentz III p.94 – credits
  • Hoffman's Guide to SF, Horror and Fantasy Movies 1991-1992 p.92 – credits, review
  • Kinematograph and Television Year Book 1963 p.115 – credits (Films trade shown 1961-1962)
  • Nuclear Movies: A Filmography by Mick Broderick p.63 – credits, review
  • by Walt Lee p.90 – credits
  • Science Fiction in the Movies: An A-Z by Roy Pickard p.21 – credits, note

Other sources

  • BFI Southbank Guide August 2014 p.7 – illustrated listing