As the Earth Turns (1938)

Look, I’m not sure I believe it either.

But everything I can find says that this is, in fact, a lost Independent short film from 1938, a silent film made almost a decade into the sound era.

The story is that Richard Lyford was an independent playwright and screenwriter who made nine award-winning Independent films before moving into a career in Film (where he would win awards for one of the documentaries he made for Disney).  He shot these films on a tiny budget, on his own equipment, and one suspects that this one is silent simply to cut the expense.  These films were never released but gathered an enthusiastic following from their showings in his fifty-seat basement theater.

Move forward almost Eighty years, and Ed Hartman inherited a treasure trove of film materials from Lyford’s estate, include this film.  He restored and reassembled it, then composed the very appropriate sounding score himself.

It’s been compared to the original Republic Dick Tracy serial (1937), which seems apt, as both films feature a villain who flies about in his own super aircraft, although the basic plot is a little like that of The Day the Earth Stood Still.

A girl reporter is sent off on a pointless assignment, listening to the broadcasts coming into the Naval Radio Station at Arlington.  While she’s there (thoroughly bored because very little ever happens there), a strange message comes in from a mysterious individual calling himself Pax, threatening to cause terrible catastrophes if the Nations of the World do not put an end to war.  To show his incredible power, he promises to make a day five minutes longer.

Naturally no one believes her, until all the observatories in the world report that July Seven was five minutes too long.

But the leaders still refuse to listen, the war continues, and the mysterious Pax sets off a series of calamities — lightning, earthquakes and snow in July.

But our plucky girl reporter, with the help of a reporter friend and her editor try to track Pax down…

This film is a nice reminder why I’ve always liked the rare science fiction films which came out of the Thirties.  As the Earth Turns reminds me a lot of those early Republic and Monogram Serials, even if Lyford’s models aren’t as good.  The basic plot is earnest — and yet more complex that we expect, once we learn who Pax is, and why he is doing this.  While his desire for peace is treated sympathetically, he isn’t glamorized or excused.

Which is somewhat refreshing these days.

It all has a very Thirties feel to it, with Lyford’s obviously minimal resources used remarkably well.

Richard Lyford not only directed and wrote, but he plays Pax as well.  He was twenty at the time but looks believably older, even if the makeup used for his injuries and scar are a bit variable in quality.

And, yes, we get a proper Mad Scientist film ending.

But I’ll let you discover that for yourself.

This is a lovely discovery, a fun slice of Thirties film history which has been lost for far too long, a treasure which may have inspired other filmmakers fortunate enough to get invited to those basement showings.

Now if only Ed Hartman will release Lyford’s other Eight films…

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2 thoughts on “As the Earth Turns (1938)

  1. Thanks for the great review. Two scenes films of Lyfords are on the DVD (The Scalpel and Ritual of the Dead). How all of this happened is here: The story is a movie, in itself. I would LOVE to find the rest of these films and the others. The films I do have from Lyford are mostly films he did later after working for Disney, etc. They were educational or historical. My short documentary, “It Gets in Your Blood” is also on the DVD. That explains a lot of it. I am working on a biopic screenplay about the first 20 years of Lyford. Hopefully, that will be made into a film that should be tremendously inspiring and entertaining. The logline is: “Andy Hardy meets Orson Welles.” There are many links on the film website for anyone that is interested.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. One more wonderful thing: “As the Earth Turns” made it’s broadcast premiere on Turner Classic Movies, Halloween 2021 with host Jacqueline Stewart introducing the film. It was shown before “Metropolis”, which is a spectacular honor, especially considering he made this film before he was 20 years old, and it was his 9th film! You gotta love it.

    Liked by 1 person

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