Welcome to Retro Television Reviews, a feature where we review some of our favorite and least favorite shows of the past! On Sundays, I will be reviewing the made-for-television movies that used to be a primetime mainstay. Today’s film is 1974’s The Day The Earth Moved! It can be viewed on YouTube!
Sitting in the middle of the Nevada desert, there’s a town called Bates.
Bates was once a thriving community but the years and the hot Nevada winds have not been kind to it. Now, it consists of only a few buildings and a speed trap. Judge Tom Backsler (William Windom) is the most powerful man in this tiny community and he’s determined to return Bates to its former glory. His plan is to open up a Christmas park and to remake Bates as “Santa Claus’s home away from the North Pole.” In order to raise the money for that project, he and the police run an aggressive speed trap. When pilot and photographer Steve Barker (Jackie Cooper) is caught in the speed trap, it turns out that he doesn’t have enough money to pay his fine. So, his car is impounded and he’s put to work, sweeping up the dust and helping to get the Christmas park ready to open.
With the help of friendly little townsgirl, Steve is finally able to escape from Bates and return to his job. He works with his wife, Kate (Stella Stevens), and his best friend, Harley (Cleavon Little), as surveyors. When someone wants to buy a stretch of the Nevada desert, Steve and Harley fly over the land and take pictures. Looking over the latest batch of pictures, Steve deduces that not only is there going to be an earthquake but it’s going to destroy the town of Bates! Can Steve return to the town that once held him prisoner and convince the townspeople to leave with him before disaster hits!?
In many ways, The Day The Earth Moved is a standard made-for-TV disaster flick. Only Steve and Kate realize what’s about to happen and they struggle to get anyone else to believe them. Indeed, it seems like the world is almost conspiring to keep them from warning everyone about the incoming earthquake. The film’s story checks off all of the expected disaster movie plot points. That said, the town of Bates itself — with its gigantic Santa Claus standing in the middle of the desert — is a nicely surreal location and the repeated shots of a deserted farm being gradually destroyed by minor tremors achieve a certain ominous grandeur. Jackie Cooper and Stella Stevens are believable as a husband and wife who love each other despite the fact that they’re often very annoyed with each other. To the film’s credit, William Windom’s character is not portrayed as being a cardboard villain but instead as someone who simply wants to give his neighbors some place decent to live. The Day The Earth Moved is predictable but well-done.
Of course, the main reason anyone will have to watch this film will be for the earthquake. Unfortunately, this is where viewers will run into a common problem that has afflicted many made-for-TV movies. The low-budget earthquake is just not that impressive. For all the scenes of people yelling, it’s always pretty obvious that the camera is doing most of the shaking. But you know what? It’s a made-for-TV movie from 1974. Cut it some slack and just go with it.
Pingback: Lisa Marie’s Week In Review: 2/27/23 — 3/5/23 | Through the Shattered Lens