Pretty decent 50s sci-fi. No monsters, aliens, or even radiation; you might call this organic sci-fi. In fact, the appearance of that nasty ‘element 112’ has to do with our malevolent treatment of the earth–oil drilling and mining letting the element percolate to the surface. An advanced premise for the time, and played out with mostly good pacing, and better than average performances from the two leads, Kathryn Grant (as ‘Hutch’) and William Leslie (as Dr. Conway).
There’s a lot going on: earthquakes, tsunamis, flooding, and volcanoes. Many reviewers don’t much like the stock disaster footage, but I feel it works as good background. For one thing, to sustain disbelief, the events would have to be happening world-wide; they can’t be limited to the California and Carlsbad areas shown. These ‘outside’ events can only be experienced remotely; that also explains the need for a narrator. Actually, the scene in Greece (with the local TV guy getting wiped out by a landslide) is shown as a broadcast viewed by Dr. Conway and ‘Hutch’/Laura. That serves to draw us into the world-wide disasters just as the actors see them. The effects of ‘112’ are central to the main plot; it’s discovered, starts causing havoc, and is analyzed and described locally by Conway and his crew.
It’s usually a dilemma in sci-fi films of this type to keep the mayhem local, or to expand into different, broader settings. Many films stick to some isolated spot, which can work ok. In Them! a whole other story develops when the giant ants move on from the desert to L.A. Usually, though, an outlying area is just a point of origin for the monster/menace that spends most of the film thrashing a big city. In The Night the World Exploded the menace is global; so it needs this sort of dual (local and international) focus to make sense as a single story.
Another device that works well here is Dr. Conway as the take-charge character who moves the plot along. He meets skepticism along the way, but he’s convincing and authoritative enough. His background having been established early on, he’s not dismissed as a nutcase. He does seem to be everywhere, he’s always the smartest guy in the room; everyone ultimately defers to him. The ‘demonstration’ where he blows up the worldglobe is dumb–he’s already done a much more convincing demonstration for the ‘world scientists.’ The ‘infallible’ computer also makes Conway look impressive, even if he’s using it like a Ouija board or 8-Ball. Given these conceits, his character helps posit the film’s question: what would it be like if world leaders, and their specialists, did agree on something of vital importance? I guess there could be a dystopian version where disagreement led to the actual exploding world, but this film tries to show a more hopeful future.
What doesn’t work very well is all the time spent at Carlsbad. I remember giving up on this movie when it bogged down in the endless ‘lab’ scenes down there. Not to mention ‘Hutch’ freaking out with vertigo…It’s a cool setting in itself, but just have the crew find ‘112’ and get on with it. On the other hand, the volcano jumping up just behind the sheriff’s window was a bit abrupt. And bombing to create canals is a wild way to irrigate the right spots.
The Night the World Exploded is very original and very ambitious in scope. Its attempt to portray all of these ‘elements’ was fairly successful; it’s flawed and uneven in places, but worth a watch or two. 6/10.