Last night, in preparation for the upcoming Keanu-centric remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still, I watched the 1951 original, which I had never seen. It's much more thoughtful than most of the men-from-outer-space B-movies that filled the era's drive-ins, emphasizing its message more than its special effects or suspense (though those elements are well represented too). It holds up pretty well for being 57 years old. I probably won't be nearly as interesting when I'm that age.
One scene made me laugh, though, and while I realize I'm not the first person to notice it, I wanted to share it in case you hadn't. It comes about 18 minutes in, when a humanoid alien has arrived and been under observation at a military hospital. Two doctors have this conversation about him and his home planet:
DOCTOR ONE: How old do you think he is?
DOCTOR TWO: Oh, I'd say 35, 38.
DOCTOR ONE: He told me this morning while I was examining him. He's 78.
DOCTOR TWO: Oh, I don't believe it.
DOCTOR ONE: Life expectancy is a hundred and thirty.
DOCTOR TWO: Well, how does he explain that?
DOCTOR ONE: He says their medicine is that much more advanced. He was very nice about it, but he made me feel like a third-class witch doctor!
And as they're having this conversation, both doctors are lighting up cigarettes. If you were writing a comedy sketch, you couldn't do better than having 1950s doctors appear mystified by another planet's advanced medicine while smoking cigarettes themselves. In fact, Saturday Night Live did something very similar to that in a 1993 sketch called "Trent Markham, Lung Doctor," where Phil Hartman played a chain-smoking 1950s TV doctor who had no idea how his patient had gotten "lung fever."
What's especially funny about the Day the Earth Stood Still scene is that in 1951, it wasn't funny. It wasn't intended as a joke. In those days, doctors routinely endorsed cigarettes in magazine ads (here's a gallery of them). Having the docs light up while discussing health matters was simply an ordinary piece of actors' business, no more relevant to the scene than if they'd been reading the paper or pouring a cup of coffee.
But it got me thinking. There must be some equivalent in modern films. What do doctors, scientists, and other supposedly smart people do in movies today that audiences 50 years from now will laugh at? I bet it's something we can't even imagine. It's really trippy to think about, especially if you're stoned, which I assume the doctors in the remake will be.