Review: Unreleased 1938 silent sci-fi film ‘As the Earth Turns’ boasts analog ingenuity


Had Steven Spielberg been a 16-millimeter camera-toting teen in the 1930s, his home movies might have looked like “As the Earth Turns,” a black-and-white, silent 45-minute science-fiction film about a peace-crazed scientist named Pax who attempts to persuade the world to put down its weapons by inducing extreme climate change.

Made by Richard H. Lyford, a 20-year-old Seattle-based budding playwright and filmmaker who would go on to work as a Disney animator and Oscar-winning documentary director, the digitally restored 1938 original has been outfitted with a period-appropriate score by contemporary composer Ed Hartman.

Clearly influenced by the serials of his era, particularly “Flash Gordon,” Lyford also drew upon the 1915 sci-fi novel “The Man Who Rocked the Earth” to relate his pre-World War II story about an intrepid, Lois Lane-type newspaper reporter (Barbara Berger) who eventually tracks down the elusive, misguided Pax (Lyford, looking eerily like Matthew Modine’s “Stranger Things” villain).


Ultimately more a curio than a bona fide buried treasure, the forward-thinking production, with its animated opening credits and resourceful use of models, makeup and double exposures, nevertheless serves as a valuable reminder that imagination and creativity needn’t ever be limited by the going technology.

Lyford, incidentally, died in 1985, the same year as fellow innovator Orson Welles, and a year after Spielberg turned in the latest chapter of his own affectionate tribute to serials, “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.”

‘As the Earth Turns’

Not rated

Running time: 45 minutes

Playing: Starts Oct. 18, Laemmle Glendale