There are different types of actors, some who are famous stars, like Marilyn Monroe and some who have such a strong personality that it carries both on and off the screen, like Sylvester Stallone. Then there are character actors, those actors who can become whoever the Director needs them to become. The character actors can play many different types of roles, and most of them are minor, supporting roles. Character actors tend to stay in the background, supporting other lead actors in film. “Average moviegoers may be only vaguely aware of them because each of their roles is so different from the other that they see only the characters rather than the actors” (Goodykoontz & Jacobs, Chapter 3, Section 4, paragraph 6). Their versatility makes them invaluable as character actors. They may not be grand stars, however their performance is as important as the lead in that they are a part of the mise en scene and are there to further the plot of the story.
The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) was directed by Robert Wise, and starred Michael Rennie as Klaatu, Patricia Neal as Mrs. Benson and also Frances Bavier as Mrs. Barley.
Michael Rennie was not well known as a Hollywood actor, he was from England and his background was in theater. He is best known for his role as Klaatu, and he is a character actor. Character “actors are able to fit invisibly into a wide variety of disparate characters, adapting to the needs of each script and director they work with” (Goodykoontz & Jacobs, Chapter 3, Section 4, paragraph 6). Rennie actually appeared in over 50 films and several television shows.
There are times during the film that Michael seems stiff and rehearsed, almost unemotional. Of course, part of Klaatu’s characterization is that of an alien being of higher intelligence and his purpose for coming to Earth was to give a grave warning, stop the violence, or else! This is a serious matter indeed!
Mrs. Benson, played by Patricia Neal was a supporting role to Klaatu. Neal also has a strong background in stage acting, and it shows in her performance. Neal is also a character actor who makes an attempt at realism in her performance, but appears overly dramatic, or over acting throughout the film.
In many of her shots, (as seen in the photo above) she has worried eyes and this adds to the feel of paranoia, even though she befriends and even helps the alien. Neal spent her career moving back and forth from Broadway to film, playing many different roles. Neal was even cast to play Olivia Walton in the TV series The Waltons (1971), however she was not healthy enough to fulfill the role (IMDb.com).
In this You Tube clip she must speak the key phrase which will prevent the robot from attacking the Earth and will order the robot to save Klaatu.
Frances Bavier is Mrs. Barley, one of the boarders in the boarding house where Klaatu has decided to stay. Francis Bavier has a very long history of stage acting both on and off Broadway, she then acted in a few films and found her calling in TV sitcom on the Andy Griffith Show as Aunt Bea.
Bavier is also a character actor in this film, although she eventually became a personality actor who always played the role as an Aunt or a housekeeper. “Films with strong personality actors can make it difficult for audiences to differentiate between the actor and the character” (Goodykoontz & Jacobs, Chapter 3, Section 4, paragraph 3). Bavier was never able to shake that persona and she talked about that in her one and only interview after she retired.
Bavier’s role in The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) was important to further the Cold War theme of the film. Her big scene takes place where all of the boarders are sitting around the dinner table listening to the radio broadcast about the dangerous alien running loose in the city. She proclaims in her boisterous voice that the alien is really from the Soviet Union, alluding to the fears of Communist invasion during the 1950’s.
This is a You Tube clip of Bavier telling her husband to turn off the radio. It is the beginning of the scene, before she says the alien is from the Soviet Union. Notice that her husband says that Democrats are not people!
Francis Bravier retrieved from http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0062592/
Gort Klaatu Barada Nikto (1951) The Day the Earth Stood Still. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KqSIA2ISTvA
Goodykoontz, B., & Jacobs, C. P. (2011). Film: From watching to seeing. San Diego, CA: Bridgepoint Education, Inc.
IMDb (n. d.) Patricia Neal Biography. Retrieved from http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0623658/bio
Images retrieved from Google Search https://www.google.com/search?q=michael+rennie&client=firefox&hs=Kgw&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:unofficial&channel=sb&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ei=R_S0U_mgM8WDqgaxr4HICQ&ved=0CAkQ_AUoAg&biw=1366&bih=649
Klaatu’s warning (1951) The Day the Earth Stood Still Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_seKyGYlTHY