Like the creations of the late Oliver Postgate, Edward Judd haunts my childhood imagination via the handful of very British science fiction and sf/horror movies he starred in during the 1960s. He did a great deal of acting before and after this—in the Seventies he was a very ubiquitous TV character actor—but it’s his run of genre films which remains notable. In these roles he was always the stalwart Everyman, usually with another older actor as co-star who supplies the requisite scientific explanations.
The first of these, The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961), was a Val Guest production which followed the success of Guest’s Quatermass films in visiting another space-born calamity upon the world, this time an unprecedented heatwave caused by nuclear tests which throw the earth off its orbit. The film opens with a Ballardesque view of the River Thames parched to a thin stream, and features some great shots later of Judd stumbling through an abandoned, dust-strewn capital. The location work in the Daily Express building on Fleet Street adds to the realism, as does a strong script and decent performances.
Diving suits on the moon: Edward Judd and Lionel Jeffries.
First Men in the Moon (1964) was my favourite of these when I was younger, unsurprisingly because it was a) an HG Wells story, and I was a Wells fanatic at the age of 11, and b) a Ray Harryhausen film. Judd plays Arnold Bedford who voyages to the moon in 1899 with Joseph Cavor—inventor of the gravity-repelling Cavorite—and a token woman, Kate Callender, who isn’t present in Wells’ novel. There’s a further Quatermass connection with the screenwriting credit for Nigel Kneale. This isn’t necessarily the best Wells adaptation nor the best Harryhausen film although Harryhausen’s animated creatures retain an insectile mystery and I always liked the scenes of their crystalline world. Searching around I see this film has now found its way onto lists of Steampunk-themed films which no doubt guarantees it a continued audience.
Invasion (1965) was a minor sf film with Judd as a doctor at a country hospital which receives as patients the occupants of a crashed alien spacecraft. Once again it’s surprising what emerges when you look at the history of these things; screenwriter Robert Holmes rehashed the idea five years later for the first of the Jon Pertwee Doctor Who stories, Spearhead from Space. The Autons in that series were satisfyingly chilling and I wouldn’t mind watching both these dramas again to see how they compare.
And speaking of chilling, the Silicate creatures in Island of Terror (1966) are distinctly unnerving, being blob-like things which crawl around the island in question sucking the bones out of animals and people. Judd plays a doctor again, as does Peter Cushing. The director was Hammer regular Terence Fisher. Web search revelation with this particular title: you can buy models of the Silicates from a company called Ultratumba Productions. And this film apparently belongs in the sub-genre of “pub invasion movies“, where human schemes to counter an alien invasion are discussed in the local pub.
Of all these films, the one I used to find least-interesting was the first, probably because there was too much solid drama and not enough weirdness. Also no monsters or aliens. From our current perspective of rising temperatures, The Day the Earth Caught Fire looks more unsettlingly prophetic than most other sf films of the period. It came to mind for me in 2006 whilst trudging along the banks of the Seine during that summer’s heatwave, especially the memorable scene of London immersed in fog as the Thames begins to evaporate. We don’t need to worry about the threat of aliens when we’re perfectly capable of destroying the planet on our own.
PS: hello Deborah.