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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » The 27th Day
The 27th Day
Sony Screen Classics by Request // Unrated // September 15, 2010
List Price: $19.99 [Buy now and save at Sonypictures]
Review by John Sinnott | posted November 18, 2010 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:
With the success of the Warner Archive program Sony decided to jump on the MOD (Manufactured On Demand) bandwagon and has started to release catalog titles from their Columbia archive under the Columbia Classics banner.  It's a great idea, and a wonderful way to get movies that otherwise wouldn't warrant a full DVD release into the hands of fans.  The movies are all barebones (except for a trailer) and are made to order on burned DVD-R discs, but they do come with full cover art.  The first of the series that I've had a chance to get my hands on is 1957's The 27th Day, a rather obscure SF film that deserves a wider audience.  An intelligent and well made film, it stands apart from many of the other SF films of that era, even if it stumbles badly at the end.

Five people, two women and three men, from all over the world (including one from Russian and one from China) are greeted by a mysterious stranger and then wake up on board of a spacecraft.  The stranger, who only identifies himself as "the alien" explains that his world is going to die.  Their sun is about to go nova and wipe out there race in 35 days.  They need to find a new place to live, but their morals prevent them from harming any intelligent creature so they can't just invade Earth.  Instead, they've come up with a unique plan:  the five people are each given a sealed container with three vials.  Only the assigned person can open the container, but once they do anyone can use the contents.  The three vials are devastating weapons.  Each one will kill every human in a 1500 mile radius from any coordinates that are given to it.  Together the vials can destroy everyone on Earth, leaving the rest of the plants and animals unharmed.  The alien explains that the capsules will be rendered inert in 27 days, or if the owner of the container dies, and that the people he's selected are free to do whatever they wish with the vials.
The five people then find themselves back on Earth, with no time having passed.  One of the five kills herself, making the safest choice for the human race, and another throws her container into the sea.  The others go about their business as if nothing happened. 

That plan doesn't work for long.  The alien interrupts all TV and radio broadcasts all over the world and informs humanity that he has spoken with five people, and gives their names and cities of residence, and that he's given them some very important information.  Panic ensues along with a massive manhunt for the five people.  One of the group, a German professor visiting the US, is hit by a car accidently and ends up in the hospital, and other pair who happen to be in the US go into hiding together.  The Russian is quickly apprehended.  He's tortured and drugged to find out what he knows.  The hysteria among the populace is only exceeded by that in the various governments who now realize that the balance of power in the world may have been dramatically altered.
This movie gets a lot right.  It was a low budget affair, as was the case for most SF movies of that era, and they wisely concentrated on plot and characterization over special effects and impressive sets.  The spaceship interior is basic but still has the 50's SF feel to it, and much of the action takes place inside rooms.  The action also seems rooted in reality, with the governments of all countries trying to get their hands on what they hope to be major weapons.  It's a more cerebral SF film that works very well, until the very end.

[Spoilers]  The Russians have their citizen open his box, while drugged, and let the rest of the world know that they have a weapon.   The demand that the US pull all of its troops out of Europe and the rest of the world, and confine them to the continental US.  America starts the pull out, but the Russians are planning to kill everyone in North America seconds before the deadline so that there will be no chance of retaliation.  At the end of the movie, in pure deus ex machine fashion, the German scientist discovers a series of mathematical formulas written on the outside of the capsules.  Having a total of five in his possession, he's able to decipher their meaning (in under an hour no less!) and reprogram the vials so that they'll kill "every person throughout the world known to have been a confirmed enemy of human freedom."   What exactly does that mean?  So all of the bad guys die, and all the good guys live, as if by magic.  What a horrible cop out!  How is that better than what the Russians were planning?  It was a very cheap and simplistic resolution to an otherwise excellent film.  [End Spoilers] 
The DVD:

This DVD-R comes in a standard keepcase with a full color cover insert.  The disc itself is white with the movie title printed on it, but no other art.
 The mono soundtrack is surprisingly solid.  It's very clean for a film this old, and while there was some evidence of background noise, it's only apparent at high volumes.  At regular listening ranges you won't even notice it.  The dynamic range is a little limited, but that's to be expected from a 1957 movie.  The dialog is clear and the background music sound fine.  A nice sounding disc.
I was pleasantly surprised by the anamorphic 1.85:1 B&W video quality.  The film hasn't been restored, but it still looks excellent.  The blacks are deep and murky, the white aren't crushed and don't bloom, and the level of detail is very, very good.  The lines are sharp and tight and there's just a faint touch of aliasing in a couple of scenes.  There are a few (and I mean a very few) spots on the film that was used for the transfer, but the image is fine otherwise. 
Just the theatrical trailer.
Final Thoughts:
This is a very auspicious beginning to the Columbia Classics program.  The film is a forgotten gem, even with it's less than appetizing conclusion.  In addition, the image and sound quality are both very good for a 50+ year old film that hasn't been restored.  This gets a strong Recommended rating.
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