When Worlds Collide (1951) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • South African bush pilot and carefree ladies man Dave Randall finds he has been let in on the greatest and most terrible secret in the world when an eminent astronomer pays him to deliver some mysterious photos from to an equally prominent colleague in the U.S. The recipient, Dr. Hendron, confirms the awful findings of the sender: the star Bellus will collide with Earth, destroying our planet. Despite widespread disbelief, Marston and Spiro, a pair of millionaire philanthropists, give Dr. Hendron all their assets to begin construction on a huge rocket ship that will, at least theoretically, transport a nucleus of survivors to Zyra, a planet which orbiting Bellus that may or may not be habitable. The funds aren't enough to complete the spaceship, and Dr. Hendron solicits a contribution from elderly wheelchair-bound tycoon Sydney Stanton, a wheelchair-bound old man who, unlike the selfless Marston and Spiro, demands a place on the rocket, even though space and weight will be too precious for anyone but young, skilled men and women. Even as doomsday approaches, Randall is surprised to find himself in a love triangle with Dr. Hendron's daughter and her fiancé. Humanity is in peril, and only a modern-day Noah's ark, and the continued need of a man for a woman, can save it.

  • What would happen if a rogue planet flew into our solar system and slammed into the Earth? That question is answered in this apocalyptic sci-fi tale. An astronomer discovers an object that has just entered the solar system. His calculations show him it's big and headed straight for the Earth. The only problem is convincing the rest of the world. The crisis brings out the best and worst in humanity.

  • A group of astronomers calculate that a rogue star is on course to slam into Earth; a few days before this cataclysm its accompanying planet will first pass close enough to the Earth to cause havoc on land and sea. They set about building a rocket so a few selected individuals can escape to the new planet.

  • As a new star and planet hurtle toward a doomed Earth, a small group of survivalists frantically work to complete the rocket which will take them to their new home.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • David Randall (Richard Derr), free-lance pilot and incurable womanizer, lands near the Mount Kennah Observatory in South Africa, to take a secret package, contents unknown (and chained to his wrist), to the Cosmos Observatory of Dr. Cole Hendron (Larry Keating). Dr. Emery Bronson (Hayden Rorke) orders his staff not to tell Randall what he's carrying. But when Randall demands advance payment, Bronson, in telling him that Herndon will pay him on delivery, advises him that a day might come, and that sooner than he thinks, when money is the least of his concerns. (He also gives Randall several pictures of Hendron for identification.)

    Randall is cheerfully confident that when that day comes, he will be dead. But he does not sell out the package to the newspapers that offer him several times his fee; at least he has *some* ethics. He tears up the radiograms that reach his flight, and lands at Idlewild Airport in New York on schedule. There Joyce Hendron (Barbara Rush) meets him and takes him to the observatory. Again the reporter from the New York Sentinel tries to buy the package, but Randall, smitten with Joyce, refuses.

    On the way to the observatory, Joyce babbles about the package, assuming, incorrectly, that Randall knows everything. Randall plays along, and is shocked to hear this lovely woman say how frightened she is of the end of the world! His curiosity having hooked him thoroughly, he keeps his appointment at the observatory, where he meets Dr. Anthony Drake (Peter Hanson), a physician, and Dr. Hendron. Randall confirms Hendron's identity and allows Hendron to unlock the package from him and open it.

    The package contains a number of photographic plates, plus the coordinates and vectors of two new astronomical bodies, a rogue star and its single satellite, that are on a collision course with the earth. Sadly, the coordinates and vectors check out, and reveal the horrible truth: the rogue star (Bellus) and its planet (Zyra), approaching from the direction of Scorpio, will enter the solar system within six months. Zyra will pass close to earth, close enough to affect tides and earthquake belts. Nineteen days later, Bellus will crash into the earth and destroy both bodies.

    Numbed with this realization, Randall collects his fee in cash, and then spends most of his time at an expensive restaurant, burning it, bill by bill, in the fire of the fondue set at the next table. Most of the guests think he's crazy--but not Joyce Hendron, who breaks off from dancing with her fiancé, Dr. Drake, to sit with Randall and keep him company. In fact, Joyce Hendron fell in love with Randall, probably when they met at Idlewild, and certainly now, when they share a terrible secret.

    Unaware of this complication, Dr. Hendron and his colleague, Dr. George Frye (Stephen Chase), present their findings to the United Nations Security Council. With the result that the assembled Ambassadors laugh them out of Turtle Bay. (The problem: other astronomers simply dispute the Herndon-Bronson findings.) They then go to the United States Congress, which likewise refuses to fund what they want to build: giant space lifeboats to lift a limited number of human beings, livestock and equipment to Zyra before Bellus crashes into the earth. But though Congress won't appropriate any funds, two industrialists donate funds and land for the establishment of a construction camp to build at least one of the space arks. The money is not even close to sufficient, of course, but an embittered millionaire, Sydney Stanton (John Hoyt), agrees to finance the project. He at first demands the right to select the ark's passengers and crew; Herndon refuses, and eventually wins his financing by offering Stanton one thing only: his own passage on the ark.

    (Before his meeting with Stanton, Joyce goes to Herndon and confesses that she does not love Drake anymore, and has feelings for Randall instead. Herndon firmly tells her *not* to marry *any* man whom she does not love, and offers to find any excuse to keep David Randall on his staff.)

    Construction, and the selection of large construction and preparation crews, begin. (Prominent everywhere are signs reading, "Waste anything except TIME. Time is our shortest material.") Preparation includes converting a large selection of books to microfilm to establish a library, and the gathering of crop seeds and livestock. From the 600 members of the project, Herndon will later select forty at random. Everyone understands this, but no one says anything--yet--about the implications. With two possible exceptions: Julie Cummings (Rachel Ames) and Eddie Garson (James Congdon), who have fallen in love on the bus taking them to the camp.

    Tony Drake has not realized Joyce' feelings for Randall, and Joyce' aloof attitude puzzles him. He has little time to think about that, however. After all, Zyra will pass close to earth in 88 days, with Bellus striking earth 19 days later. (In fact, the project junks the old Gregorian calendar in favor of a very simple double calendar, counting the days to the Zyra and Bellus encounters.) Stanton orders a box of guns brought to camp, predicting that at the last minute, the non-selected personnel will likely attack the ship to fight for seats off-planet.

    With the continued approach of Zyra-Bellus, the authorities now realize that Herndon was right, and now preparation is too late. As the Secretary of Defense prepares to implement martial law in America, Joyce continues to woo Randall. But she does not realize that Randall has already decided to stay behind. The reason: as an airplane pilot, he would have a skill set that would be utterly useless in the founding of a new civilization that would begin as a farming village only. Why take him, when they could take more livestock instead? Joyce is heartbroken, but determined to win him over, somehow, someway.

    Martial law begins, along with evacuation of all coastal areas. St. Peter's Square in Vatican City fills to standing-room only with the faithful.

    Finally, at about 1:00 p.m. on Z-Day, Zyra makes its close pass. The resulting earthquakes cause fires and other damage that threaten the ship. Randall leads a massive effort to shore up the ship's launch track--but then a crane falls, killing some of the senior scientists. The other damage is minor, and the space ark and its launch track remain intact, but now no doubt remains. Elsewhere on earth, tsunamis wash over the cities, and massive flooding occurs everywhere.

    Drake and Randall take off together to drop some medical supplies for some nearby evacuees. In the process, they take off a small boy who has climbed to the rooftop of his house and finds himself stranded. At first Drake tries to leave Randall behind--but then his conscience gets hold of him and he returns to take Randall off. They return, and now Drake has reconciled himself to losing Joyce to Randall and decided to accept Randall as a friend.

    Randall, however, is still not convinced that he has any business taking passage aboard the ark. So with Bellus 11 days away, when Herndon holds a lottery draw for the selection process, Randall pretends to take a number, and then puts it back. In short, Randall is refusing passage, though Herndon strenuously tries to persuade him to accept.

    With Bellus five days away, Drake notices how distracted Joyce really is. So the next day Drake goes looking for Randall, and finds him checking out the cockpit cameras aboard the ark. Drake then tells Randall that Frye, the designated pilot, has a heart condition that could kill him during the blackout phase of the launch, and therefore the ark *must* have a copilot, and Randall is the only man who can so serve on such short notice. Elated to find himself with such a vital role after all, Randall rushes to tell Joyce that he will accept passage (and, presumably, training as Frye's copilot).

    With Bellus two days away, the rescued boy, whom Herndon has already granted passage, now asks for passage for a stray dog he has adopted. Drake and Joyce weigh the dog (finding out that the dog is female) and agree to take the dog and off-load two chickens.

    On the final day, Herndon publishes the winning numbers. Eddie Gaston makes the cut, but Julie Cummings does not. A heartbroken Eddie turns his number in. Unknown to him, he has broken into an argument among Herndon, Frye, and Stanton, who wants another person to sacrifice his seat to give the ark a greater chance. In the middle of the heated argument, Stanton's personal assistant, Harold Ferris (Frank Cady), tries to shoot Stanton, but Stanton kills him instead. Randall walks in and orders Stanton to surrender his weapon to him. He then suggests that the women board the ark first, then the livestock, with the men to board last. Frye, on his own authority as captain of the ark, gives orders to grant Julie Cummings passage anyway and gamble that the ark's fuel will still suffice.

    Now with Bellus less than an hour away, the selected passengers don the cold-weather gear they will wear on Zyra and board the ark. Herndon asures Frye that he will bring Stanton on board last. But in the main bunker, the remaining personnel steal Stanton's guns and try to storm the ark. But a high fence keeps them at bay, so they cannot get close, though they start shooting at the ark. Herndon now reveals that he never intended to take passage, nor allow it to Stanton either. He pushes Stanton's wheelchair away from the boarding ramp, and then uncovers and throws a secret lever that closes the ark's hatch and releases the ark. Stanton desperately lurches to his feet, but to no avail.

    The ark goes down the slide, then turns up, under full drive, its passengers watching Bellus crash into the earth as they pass before they all black out. Minutes later they all come out of their stupor--including Frye, leading Randall to realize that Drake deliberately exaggerated the health hazard to Frye just to persuade Randall to come aboard. Randall has no more time to think about that, because he and Frye have their hands full with piloting the ark to an intercept with Zyra, and then to a safe re-entry. They run out of fuel after they complete re-entry, so that Randall must glide the ark in--but happily the ark comes down in a deep snow field. Drake wants Randall to wait to let him sample the air, but Randall insists on opening the hatch anyway, as if the air is not breathable, they would die of suffocation anyway. Happily, not only is the air breathable, but at lower altitudes Zyra is green and lush. The passengers disembark (together with the dog and her litter of pups) and take the livestock with them. Last to disembark are Randall and Joyce, who walk down the ramp, hand in hand.

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