Triffids are carnivorous plants widely believed to have been brought to Planet Earth by a meteorite, but until now have not been cause for much concern. That is until another meteor shower occurs in the atmosphere, creating a spectacular light show in the sky which the world's population watch with awe - well, not all the world as some, like sailor Bill Masen (Howard Keel) have an excuse not to see what is going on. He has his eyes bandaged after an accident and will soon be cured, so the doctors say, except he wakes up the next morning and there's nobody about...
John Wyndham's classic science fiction novel Day of the Triffids has many fans, but you'll likely find adherents to what was done with his novel here to be fewer in number, indeed not reading the book is a benefit for those settling down with this. Although it stuck lightly to the plot, there were enough changes to rankle with the purists that this was simply not faithful when the source was so fertile in its possibilities for thrills and horror, not to mention the more philosophical tone of the writer as he contemplated what the breakdown of society would bring about. However, such was the stength of the original that the production did not quite mess it up.
Although they had a damn good try, most notoriously finding their version ran too short and hiring Freddie Francis a good few months afterwards to shoot new footage to bulk out what they already had to more of a feature length. These scenes, needless to say, were not in the book as husband and wife scientists Kieron Moore and Janette Scott (earning herself a mention in The Rocky Horror Picture Show) battle the now man-eating plants in their lighthouse home, entirely superfluously in comparison to the rest of the action until they make a breakthrough at the finale, one which seems more than a little daft. Mainly, though, it was Masen who we followed, first around the streets of London.
There are others present, of course, but they have been struck blind by the meteors which made the Triffids evolve and grow to monstrous size. However, as Masen heads for the sea, he meets a young girl, Susan (Janina Faye), who can see as well as he can and they begin a father-daughter relationship as he looks out for her, something different from the text when she was older and became Masen's romantic partner, as if to appeal more to the younger members of the potential audience. That did not stop them from including some surprisingly savage scenes, not exactly shocking, but providing unsettling food for thought: the airliner running out of fuel thanks to the blind pilots not being able to land was a powerful concept.
Unlike Wyndham's story, Masen doesn't stick around in Britain and as soon as he can he escorts Susan from the country, across the Channel and into France, where he meets his other co-star, Nicole Maurey as Christine who can also see and is running an informal safe haven for the blind, one of whom is Carol Ann Ford who was about to earn television fame as granddaughter Susan in Doctor Who. Nevertheless, the Triffids are still about and spreading across the world, represented by a selection of ambitious but rickety puppets and costumes with visible wires, though they have a kind of makeshift charm and are impressively numerous when it counts. Imported star Keel made a dependable hero even if you half-expected him to break out singing, but aside from the more nightmarish scenes which captured some of the mood of the page this felt compromised overall. The BBC television series from 1981 was a far better adaptation; the 2009 miniseries was on a par with this.
A much respected cinematographer for decades, British Francis made his way up from camera operator on films like The Small Back Room, Outcast of the Islands and Beat the Devil to fully fledged cinematographer on such films as Room at the Top, Sons and Lovers (for which he won his first Oscar), Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, and The Innocents (a masterpiece of his art).