When producer Albert R. Broccoli bought the rights to John Wyndham’s popular sci-fi novel Day of the Triffids in 1957, he thought this would be the film to launch his career into outer space, but he didn’t count on hiring a screenwriter who always said he wasn’t a screenwriter—sad-sap horror writer Jimmy Sangster—and the project fell into ruins, leaving Broccoli to get by on his little side project, James Bond. It wasn’t until ’62 that the Steve Sekely-directed plant-monster film we know and love went to public. And, strangely enough, those triffids bear a striking resemblance to broccoli…
With a screenplay adapted by blacklisted writer Bernard Gordon, the original intents and frustrations of John Wyndham seemed to fall away, especially the polygamy and gender-role aspects. Also, Wyndham’s novel keeps the action in Britain and portrays the USSR as the possible evildoer creator of the triffids, though we’re never told for sure. In Gordon’s version, the action takes off to Spain, a strange maneuver for the story, but when you look more deeply at the themes, you’d be hard pressed not to wonder if this wasn’t Gordon’s secret anti-Franco and anti-US propaganda moment. After all, he had an axe to grind. Thematically, the story tells us that a meteoric occurrence lured the world’s eyes, and all those who saw it went blind, while a small handful of those who didn’t look at what everyone else was looking at retained their sight. Put into allegorical terms, it’s easy to see that moving everything to Spain, which was vehemently anti-communist and in solidarity with the US throughout its Franco years, is about homogeny, violence, and taking advantage of others who are incapacitated. Or not?
Either way, Gordon was only posthumously credited for the writing on that project and many others because of the Hollywood blackball, including Ray Harryhausen masterpiece Earth vs. the Flying Saucers. And this is one of the few things he has in common with the novel’s author, because John Wyndham’s actual name is John Wyndham Parkes Lucas Beynon Harris, and the publication of Triffids marked the first time he’d been credited as John Wyndham and not a random combination of his real names. (Later, he wrote multiple novels under that lucky name, including The Midwich Cuckoos, which was later thrice-adapted into the films Village of the Damned and Children of the Damned.)
And yet another man who did not get his full credit during the production of Triffids, the original composer Ron Goodwin, had his cues replaced by the equally prolific Johnny Douglas, who insisted on making everything MORE ROMANTIC. This may or may not have been a good choice, but it seems the score would have been far more influenced by creepy organs and Spanish guitar had Goodwin’s score been included. Douglas, who was originally hired to write the music for a character who had a much smaller part in the first cut—Kieron Moore—wrote roughly half of the film’s score in the end.
Still, despite all the miscredits and false starts with this film, the color, acting, and cinematography keep Triffids a classic. Some people complain the triffids are cheesy and poorly filmed, but keep in mind that this film was a large inspiration for Sam Raimi’s skeleton army scenes in Army of Darkness, and that’s not a half-bad accomplishment. Until recently, Raimi was signed on to direct a new adaptation of the Wyndham novel, but he’s since moved over for Four Weddings and a Funeral director Mike Newell. Who knows which white guy will end up directing, though, especially when Danny Boyle can credit the opening scenes of Triffids for inspiring his own horror classic 28 Days Later.