This little Columbia film double billed with The Giant Claw in June 1957. Both were produced by Sam Katzman and directed by Fred Sears. Night The World Exploded (NTWE) is actually the better of the two, but far less remembered. NTWE is one of the relatively rare sci-fi plots based on chemistry or geology, and in which the "monster" is not alive. This poses many challenges. Sears does a good job keeping the pace moving. Many of the usual B-movie features are present -- the droning narrator, ample stock footage, and a rocky love interest between the lead actors. Yet, amid all that conventionality, NTWE plays reasonably well.
Quick Plot Synopsis
Dr. Conway has developed a machine, the Pressure-Photometer, which he feels predict a big earthquake for California. The governor is reluctant to order evacuation. The big quake hits. Conway's machine predicts even more coming. Now Conway has funding. His lovely assistant, "Hutch" was about to quit the team and get married, but is persuaded to stay and help. (She and Conway have a star-crossed attraction to each other.) They descend into the depths of Carlsbad Caverns in an effort to be nearer the internal pressures. While down there, they find a strange black rock in the cave pools. Ranger Kirk, a rock hound, takes it back up to his office to study. Once in the air, it grows in size, gets flaming hot, then explodes. Only a smoking crater remains. Down in the caverns, Conway unwittingly does the same as Kirk. This time, the hot rock falls into a pool and is neutralized. Conway studies the rocks and declares that they're made of a previously unknown element, E-112. He demonstrates the mineral to a group of world scientists. The mineral absorbs nitrogen from the air, increasing it's mass and heat until it explodes. This is what's happening under the earth, because mankind has done too much mining. The loss of over-cover has allowed E-112 to migrate to the surface where it's getting contact with air, expanding, then exploding. The big computer named Datatron calculates that the earth has only 28 days, 4 hours left until the earth explodes. The only solution is to flood the world's mines with water, to neutralize the E-112 and provide pressure to force the rest back deeper. This is done around the world except for one area in southern Nevada. It's the driest place on earth and a volcano has erupted there. The only hope is to blow up Horseshoe Dam and flood the area. The military don't have bombs up to the task, so Conway decides to let E-112 do the job. Running against the clock, they haul a box of E-112 rocks into the base of the dam. They just barely get out in time before it all blows up. The water rushes down, apparently doing the job. The world is safe, for now, and does not explode. Hero and heroine embrace on a rocky hilltop. The end.
Why is this movie fun?
You don't often got to see a mineral cast as the villain. Writers and the director manage to keep it interesting. Even though most of NTWE follows routine B-movie practices, it's still fairly entertaining.
Cold War Angle
This is a subtle undercurrent, but present. Audiences in the 50s would have been more sensitive to it than 21st century audiences. A new and unstable element threatens to blow up the earth. No one is safe. The sense of inevitable doom in the chart room (family being together in case it's the end), is very much a Cold War mood.
Element 112 -- The lead character declares that there are only 111 known elements, even though some of the higher ones were only theoretical in the late 50s. For instance, only three atoms of E111, Roentgenium, were officially observed in 1994. E112 (unofficially called Ununbium (Uub)) wasn't synthesized until 1996 and even then just two decaying atoms. In 1957, the idea of a rare and dangerous E112 was clearly beyond known science.
Enviro-Moral -- Laura "Hutch" Hutchinson actually states the eco-moral of the movie. "It's almost as if the earth was striking back at us for the way we robbed her of financial resources." By this, she means extensive mining. It is the flooding of the world's mines which saves the planet. Nothing conjectured on how the loss of all these mines affects the global economy.
Gender Roles -- NTWE sells the frequent gender roles messages. Hutch is the pretty, but frightened girl. When she's frozen with fear on the rope ladder, Conway yells up at her: "Wouldn't you know a woman would pull a stunt like this? You're all scientists until there's the slightest bit of danger. Then you fold up. You want your mommy and daddy?" Oh sure, he says he was just saying that to get her mad enough to move, but she doesn't refute his insult. Ultimately, he's the heroic man and she's the damsel in distress.
Regular Obscurity -- Being a "star" in 50s sci-fi is pretty obscure in itself, nowadays. A minor actor playing bit parts is yet another step into obscurity. Just for fun, here's a look at one of them.
John Close started his acting career in 1950 as a 29 year old. He often got roles as a minor military character or policeman. He played an army captain in The Day the Earth Stood Still ('51), Johnny, the police pilot in Them! ('54), and a reporter in World Without End ('56). 1957 was a busy year for Close. He was Major Everett in Beginning of the End, Deputy Larry in Monster That Challenged the World and here in NTWE, he played a soldier. His last film in 1963, The Slime People was also a B-sci-fi.
Any Dam'll Do -- The climax comes as a volcano is erupting near the fictional town of "Los Arenos" Nevada. They decide to blow up "Horseshoe Dam" to flood the area. The real Horseshoe Dam is north of Phoenix Arizona, hundreds of miles from Nevada, on a river flowing away from Nevada. The model dam does not resemble Horseshoe Dam, nor any other in Nevada. It is an interesting bit of fiction, but doesn't hinder the story.
Bottom line? NTWE is a fairly typical 50s sci-fi B-movie. It won't impress anyone not already a fan of the genre, but it's interesting (to those who are in making a mineral be the monster/threat. If you are a fan of 50s B sci-fi, you can recreate a Saturday night at the Drive In, in the summer of 1957. Watch both The Giant Claw and Night the World Exploded back to back -- with lots of buttery popcorn and Coke. This is an experience to be savored.