If you were an eleven year old kid in September of 1974, you were probably all set to watch the ABC Movie of the Week because The Day the Earth Moved promised excitement and a devastating earthquake.
Where we gullible.
Set in Bates, Nevada, pilot Steve Barker (Jackie Cooper) is heading back to Los Angeles after a weekend in Las Vegas. On his way home, he's pulled over for speeding in this non one light stop desert town. If you want to call it a town that is.
With a population of about 10, Steve is forced by the judge, Tom Backsler (William Windom) to do hard time cleaning Santa's Village (Bates touts itself as Santa's summer home) in the heat of the day. He's impounded Steve's car and once he can come up with the money to pay his fines, Judge Backsler will let him and his dog Pepper go.
While Steve's doing the time, back in Los Angeles, Steve's estranged wife Kate (Stella Stevens) and business partner Harley (Cleavon Little) are going over some photographs that he took a few days earlier. After she's developed the film, she notices that some pictures have a red streak in them and with creditors breathing down their necks, they have to wait for Steve to get back so that he can fly the plane over the "damaged" area.
On his second day of "incarceration" community waif/orphan Angela Tammy Harrington, helps Steve escape from the clutches of Backsler and once Steve's free, he leaves Pepper behind and promises her that he'll be back to get her.
Steve gets back to Los Angeles and he and Harley get back to flying and taking pictures for the land developer that they're working for.
Back on the ground, Kate develops the new photos and the streak appears again in different shots and not in the areas where it originally appeared.
Harley and Steve go up one more time and on this pass, Harley notices that a ranch has collapsed and points it out to Steve. Steve, at this time keeps his promise to Angela and flies over Bates and has Harley take some pictures of the town.
When they get back to the hangar, Kate develops the new film and the streak appears again. This time it is directly under Bates and they notice that in two photos of a ridge (one with the streak and one without) that an avalanche had occurred and they put two and two together indicating that the film has been picking up heat from the earth and an earthquake is bubbling under the surface.
It's now a race of against time as they have to get to Bates and warn the citizens of the impending doom. But there's one big problem.
Steve's plane has been impounded for non payment and now they have to steal it back in order to get out into the desert to warn the others.
Of course, they make it just in time before the big Bates Quake of '74 (which really is quite the yawn).
It's hard to say what the movie wants to be (and it even has it's own flashback to when a tremor destroyed the ranch so that we're reminded of the upcoming devastation). I'm not sure, but I think the movie has another flashback during the avalanche.
The earthquake could have been a subplot to the movie, since the townspeople of Bates are border line creepy.
They act as though they're in a cult, led by the judge, and the only revenue the town generates comes from unsuspecting motorists as they fly through town. After being arrested, the fees that are imposed are too high and the "prisoners" have to work on the decaying Santa's village, which Backsler tells his wife (Beverly Garland) will come back again someday soon.
Once Steve has escaped, there's a shot of Officer Pat Ferguson (Kelly Thordsen) walking and if you blink, you'll miss another detainee raking the earth in the village.
I truly think that if the movie focused on this town and the people, it would have been a better movie with a plot. This movie really doesn't have a plot.
And in true disaster porn fashion, it's weird to think that a former Little Rascal would be able to predict an impending earthquake and convince a town to evacuate, but the worst part of this movie is the overacting and given the right circumstances, it's a comedy gem.