ON THE BEACH
IT'S JUST A MOVIE - RIGHT????
by Dee Finney
There is no cure
On the Beach at Night
ON the beach at night,
Up through the darkness,
From the beach the child holding the hand of her father,
Weep not, child,
Then dearest child mournest thou only for jupiter?
Nuclear Arms Reduction
The number of nuclear weapons world-wide has been cut in half
Note from Dee: One would think that I'd be used to dreaming negative subjects by now since I've been journaling my dreams for over 20 years. But one never gets used to having one's dreams come true, especially when the news isn't good.
This is one dream we all need to pray doesn't come true.
When I had this dream this morning - 5-28-2000, I didn't know what to make of it. I almost didn't write it down because it was incomplete in my memory. But, I'm always sorry when I do that, so I wrote down what I remembered.
5-28-00 - DREAM - (This dream left me feeling disturbed somewhat because I don't understand it. )
I was at the crossroads of 12th St. and Center Streets in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, facing south. The High School I went to (named North Division) was on the East side of the street. I graduated from that school in 1956. On the West side of 12th St., a farmer or someone was plowing up the entire area and the soil was like yellow powder or sand. It seemed like he was plowing it uselessly. There was nothing growing there or as far West as I could see.
I then went to an outdoor bathroom somewhere and changed clothes. I put on a man's pair of black and white checked shorts with straps to hold them up. They also had a series of large black buttons down the front which seems superfluous but they all had to be buttoned. I had to step into these shorts from behind, through the straps. It was kind of confusing but once they were on and I buttoned them, they fit pretty good.
I then went to a shopping mall where women were dressed like women in suits and high heeled shoes and for some reason I was angry at how fancy they were dressed and all their fancy hairdos and makeup and I started throwing shoes at them like I was angry.
I then saw the word 'moire' in a vision.
I woke up feeling rather angry and very disturbed.
I looked up the word 'moire' which I had never heard before. There were several definitions for the word. It seems to be part of a French word which means memoirs. It also seemed to be a European word for the name 'Mary'. I found the word to mean the Greek Goddesses, "The Three Fates". I also found it to be a pattern of black and white, and it is part of physics experiments.
I found this to be interesting but didn't save any of the information because it didn't seem relevant to anything I was doing or was interested in particularly.
About 6 p.m. Joe Mason and I were watching television and decided to change channels. We looked to see what movies were on and Joe noticed that 'On the Beach' was playing. He had seen that movie in 1958 or so and liked it a lot, so he suggested we watch it, even though it had started at 5 p.m. He remembered the old black and white film with Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner.
There was nothing better on television I was interested in and when we turned the channel to the movie, we saw that it was new version of the movie Joe had never seen before and neither had I. The subject is about what happens when nuclear war takes place between Russia and the United States and Australia is the only place left where people are left alive.
We started to watch the movie and it wasn't until I heard the male star of the movie call the woman star "Moira" that something clicked in my head and I said, "Oh my God! My dream!"
From that moment, when I heard the woman's name, other dreams started clicking into my memory which I'll post below. If this dream was a warning, we'd all better heed it's message. We don't want the movie "On the Beach" to come true.
|Note: I've posted the following dream on several pages since I had it. It's also posted on David Icke's website. It still bothers me. A lot!!!|
RED LINE BLUE LINE
I was quite shocked by the news that follows:
First see the vision I had on 7-9-99:
I saw a hand with soil on it presenting me with a white cameo like it had been dug up out of the dirt. It was very small like a charm for a bracelet. The cameo was the face of a woman looking toward the left.
I then saw a portion of a web page with the words
RED LINE (This was underlined in red)
BLUE LINE (This was underlined in blue)
That had links to another page and were very small.
Then the RED LINE and BLUE LINE flipped upside down next to a large white rectangle and they were like attached to it but upsidedown and hanging precariously off the edge.
I spent weeks trying to figure out what that meant and couldn't come up with anything that made any sense though there are many things that it could be.
On the morning of 8-26-99 I had another dream which started out normally but I knew it was symbolic and I sent it to a few people .
8-26 -99 - DREAM - I was living in a large apartment with other people. Everyone wanted to go to the movies and we were working hard to get the housework done first. Some of the people left, so I worked even harder to finish the work. Finally, I finished the last of the dishes in the kitchen and went into the livingroom.
The house was completely clean and a woman friend with short dark hair went to the window to watch a parade or something go by. Instead of walking around the golden-brown couch, I stepped up on the couch, put my foot against the back and pushed so that the couch tilted over backwards. I was hoping my Father wouldn't walk in and see me do that. After I stepped off the back of the couch, I reached back and raised the couch back up into it's original position.
I went to look out the first window where I had placed a white barked tree in a pot outside. The maintainance man, Lee, came up behind us and said, "That tree isn't supposed to be there", and reached out the third window and pulled the tree over so that it was between the third window and the fourth. I was a little stunned, but left it there and walked back to the kitchen.
Some people came and asked me if I would care for their child while they went to the movies. I think her name was Kathie. She was like a golden child, about 3 years old or a little more... like 3 1/2 . I picked her up and held her in my arms. She had beautiful golden hair which hung to her shoulders in ringlet curls. Her dress was a similar golden color.She was lightweight, not heavy.
I and my son Ken offered her something to eat... like cookies or something and she said, "No!' So I took her to a cafeteria-like area where people were gathering for lunch. I was carrying the child and went to sit down at the long table where my friend Donna sat at the head of the table.
Donna was dishing out fruit salad on each plate. Instead of a red cherry on each salad, there was one black pineapple piece on top. She finished three of them and was about 1/2 done with the fourth one when I said, "They were unprepared for us, so we'll have to get fed somewhere else."
We then went to the movie theatre where a bunch of women were hanging out in the lobby. I knew all these people too... all women.
My friend Sandy was there (a psychic woman) and two other psychic-type women friends stood next to her. I was stunned when one of them said sarcastically to Sandy, "You have a hole in your right eye. I can see right up through your eye. There is like a light and three red nerves that go up towards your right temple area." I was upset that my friends would point out so-called defects in each other because Sandy said back to her, "I can see into your eye too and you have the same three nerves going up to your temple." Then they looked at the third psychic woman and they said they could see up into her eye also. They were so surprised to find that they were the same, they stayed together.
I then went to a farm house I don't know what happened to the golden girl child here, but there were other people in the house.
I went to the back door and looked outside. There was a huge apple tree right by the door. The apple tree was in full bloom and I could smell the apple blossoms. They were so sweet and beautiful pinkish white. The flowers were so large, they were almost like orchids. A female voice behind me said, "It's like this all over the world." I stood there and using my imagination, I could see the entire world covered in pinkish white apple trees, smelling like apple blossoms all at once. It was wonderful.
I looked behind the house and saw a small rain shower coming from a small white cloud. Then suddenly, warm snow began blowing across the whole area. It was like rainbow sparkly snow (not like real snow) and it covered everything.
The woman's voice, still behind me said, "Here is another cloud."
A larger white cloud came over and off the edge of the cloud, over the dried, brown drought colored (light tan) field to the south of the house, poured a shower of dark heavy rain water.. It wasn't the cloud raining, this heavy dark rain water came down over the edge of the cloud, actually bending the cloud over with it's heavy weight.
When the water hit the ground, it exploded back up into the air and became a ring cloud in the sky that was white on the outside, with a huge pitch black ring on the inside and blue sky in the center... like a donut. What was worse was, that there were names of cities in the white ring part. (I couldn't read any of them) (There were about 21 cities names listed in this ring). This happened 6 more times, so there were a total of 7 ring clouds, each one with the names of 21 cities in each ring.
I woke up feeling startled.
NOTE: (The number 21 is an estimate...not an exact known number)
The Book of Joel in the Old Testament has a similar type prophecy. The Book of Joel also was clued in a previous prophecy dream in June. "The Barked Tree" THE BARKED TREE DREAM - A PROPHECY OF JOEL The book of Joel is quoted fully on this dream page.
Three days after this dream, I got an e-mail which led to this web page:
Breaking News http://users.sedona.net/~redstone/bar.htm (The page has been removed)
July 29th, 1999
(The following is a special report unrelated to the information contained on the CUNBD web site. Justin A. Tribble of Citizens for UN Base Disclosure (CUNBD) Mr. Tribble is also mentioned on the following site: http://ufoinfo.com/roundup/v03/rnd03_28.html for reference.
CUNBD has been in direct contact with an agent within a powerful government intelligence agency. This agent's name, address, phone number and position with this intelli-gence agency has been obtained. Other validative info has also been obtained. .
The source reveals, if not confirms, that at least 50,000 U.S. citizens are to be "rounded up" and taken to "concentration camps" by the U.S. Government in collusion with foreign governments and bodies. This may take place sometime after or during September 9th through 13th, 1999.
This mass culling of people will be conducted in raid-like fashion as "targets" are covertly taken from their homes, placed in unmarked vans, transport vehicles, and large Chinook helicopters. NATO, United Nations, and foreign troops will be used for this "round up". The people targeted will be sent to "concentration camps", in the words of the informant, where they will be killed.
Those targeted likely include militia members, anti-government activists, conspiracy theorists, and so-called "patriots" and proponents of the U.S. Constitution.
This event will occur in accord with another "planned" event. Sometime during the dates of September 9th through 13th (these dates are tentative) at least ten Neutron bombs will be detonated in all major U.S. coastal cities. Cities named as targets include Seattle, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, New York, Boston and Miami.
The bombs, according to the source, were brought into the U.S. "two weeks ago", or in mid-July, through Port Arthur in Texas. This operation is being facilitated by the Russians.
However, factions of the U.S. and British governments are fully aware of it and will do nothing to stop it. In fact, in concert with the denotation of these nuclear weapons the named governments will plan for the "invasion" of a "peace-keeping" force in the U.S. These forces will also be used in Nazi-like fashion to seize dissidents and so-called "threats".
The informant mentions the "Red list", of which he and 50,000 others are included, along with the "Blue" and "Green" lists. "Those on the Red well be taken to FEMA concentration camps and immediately executed. The Blue will also be taken to FEMA camps and be given the choice between 're-education' or execution. The Green well be 're-educated' then returned to what is left of society", said the source.
The source has also indicated that various para-military personnel are currently being contracted by the Justice Department and the FBI to carry out specialized "assassinations" of key people within the militia and right-wing movements. These planned killings will begin on August 4th of this year and continue on quietly thereafter.
While much of this information has been known for years, we decided to publish it due to the fact that this information appears to be coming from a person deep within government intelligence.
August 19th, 1999
The source reports more information to us:
"To my knowledge it's still scheduled on 9/11/99. However, things change. We made the move on the militia/patriot groups so public that they 'rescheduled' that heinous event. Instead, they slowly move a little closer each week by staging maneuvers. They could be rushed in September, or in October. The militias in Michigan think they will be outright attacked in October. That is what all these rainstorms and landslides are about 'up here'. All man made, and they are used as cover within which to move men, supplies, etc. closer into position. And they practice containment exercises."
We cannot vouch for the accuracy of the above claims!
NOTE: Just because it didn't happen YET, doesn't mean that it can't happen!
Moire pattern transparencies A double slit representation of Moire patterns from two sheets of semicircular ruled transparencies. When you overlap materials with repetitive lines, you create moire patterns.
( Moires, Moirae )
The Greek Fates. According to Hesiod, the daughters of Zeus and Themis. They were Atropos (the unbending, or the inevitable),Clotho (the spinner), and Lachesis (the caster of lots). As determiners of fate, they had supremacy even over the gods. Clotho spun out the thread of life, Lachesis determined its length, and Atropos cut it, resulting in death. The Romans called them the Parcae.
Greek divine personification of fate, to whom even the gods were subject.
( Latin Fata or Parcae, Greek Moirae )
Hesiod gives the Greek Moirae as Atropos, Clotho and Lachesis. Their Roman counterparts were Decima, Nona (goddesses of birth) and Morta (goddess of death).
"On the Beach"; 1959. Dir: Stanley Cramer
ON THE BEACH (1959)
"Who would ever have believed that human beings would be stupid enough to blow themselves off the face of the earth...?"
Director: Stanley Kramer
Starring: Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Anthony Perkins, Fred Astaire, Donna Anderson, John Tate, Lola Brooks, John Meillon, Peter Williams
Screenplay: John Paxton, based upon the novel by Nevil Shute
Synopsis: A nuclear war has devastated the Northern Hemisphere, with Australia the only country as yet untouched by radioactive fallout. A nuclear powered American submarine, the Sawfish, commanded by Dwight Towers (Gregory Peck) surfaces in Port Phillip Bay. In Frankston, just outside Melbourne, Mary Holmes (Donna Anderson) questions her husband, Lieutenant Peter Holmes (Anthony Perkins), about his appointment with Admiral Bridie (John Tate). When Holmes meets Bridie, he learns that he has been chosen to join the crew of the submarine on a reconnaissance mission. Worried about leaving his wife and baby, Holmes asks the admiral how long the mission will be. Bridie tells him four months, then reveals that scientists have calculated that it will only be five months before a deadly radioactive cloud will reach Australia. Holmes reports to Towers, who cannot tell him anything about their mission. Later that day, Holmes tells Mary that he has invited Towers to spend the weekend with them, suggesting that they have a party. Mary agrees, planning to invite Moira Davidson (Ava Gardner), a single friend of theirs, as a date for Towers. When Towers arrives at the local railway station, Moira meets him and takes him to the party, which goes well until British scientist Julian Osborn (Fred Astaire), who has had too much to drink, takes offence at another guest’s statement that the global catastrophe was the fault of the scientists. As Osborn rails at his adversary, Mary shrieks at him to be quiet and rushes from the room. As Holmes tries to comfort her, Mary confesses that she cannot bear to hear anyone talk about their impending doom. After the party, Towers and Moira talk. Towers tells her how he and his crew survived the devastation, being submerged at the time of the disaster. Drunk, Moira makes a play for Towers, but then passes out. Towers puts her to bed. The next day, at the headquarters of the Department of the Navy, Professor Jorgenson (Peter Williams) explains his theory that heavy rain and snowfall in the Northern Hemisphere may have grounded some of the atmospheric radioactivity, lessening the threat to the existing survivors. Admiral Bridie tells Towers that his mission will be to travel north as far as possible to test this theory. Moira visits Towers on board, becoming increasingly disturbed by his habit of speaking of his family in the present tense. Moira sees Osborn, with whom she was once involved, and learns that he is also going on the mission. Towers is called into a meeting with Bridie, who reveals an astonishing fact: that a radio signal has been detected coming from the vicinity of San Diego, where it was believed that no life still existed….
Comments: Stanley Kramer’s On The Beach is ultimately a failure, but a brave failure, none the less. Perhaps its greatest triumph is that, in the midst of the Cold War, it was made at all. It is hard to imagine anyone but Kramer having either the power or the inclination to tackle Nevil Shute’s bleak, moving novel about the consequences of full-scale nuclear war. At this stage of his career, it was Kramer’s practice to load his films with big-name stars, thus ensuring that his productions were deemed sufficiently "important" to go into general release, despite their sometimes controversial subject matter. While this approach worked well in some films, particularly Judgement At Nuremberg, in others it proved disastrous. While the casting in On The Beach never sinks the production to the level of, say, The Pride And The Passion, it ultimately negates any chance the film has of being a complete success. Casting Gregory Peck as the naval officer trying to cope with the loss of his world is fair enough, but Ava Gardner as a Melbournian party girl finding love too late is just ridiculous. The relationship that develops between these two is close to cliched; we’ve seen it in too many other films for it to have the intended impact here. Worse, Kramer chooses to focus upon this couple in preference to the film’s other characters. Consequently, the slow building of atmosphere that the film requires never occurs. Instead of developing an appropriate sense of tragedy and impending doom, the film dissipates its tension by continual cuts to the tribulations of Dwight and Moira. Another of the film’s problems is its jarring mixture of accents. Apart from Dwight Towers, the other leading characters are all meant to be either Australian or English, but in Kramer’s world are naturally all played by Americans. Anthony Perkins’ shot at an Australian accent isn’t too bad (at least, I’ve heard a lot worse – and yes, I am looking at you, Robert Downey Jr), but he abandons it about halfway through the film. Ava Gardner, probably wisely, doesn’t even attempt one. The worse vocal acting comes from Fred Astaire, whose accent – meant to be British – is quite indecipherable (the fact that his dialogue is scattered with terms like "ass" - pronounced "ahss" - doesn’t help one bit). Just to complicate things even further, a bizarre piece of equal opportunity miscasting has the American crew of the Sawfish played predominantly by Australians! (In the midst of all of this, the effective, understated performance of John Tate as Admiral Bridie – an Australian playing an Australian – is a distinct relief.) The script also suffers from a similar kind of confusion, with such things as the scrupulous pronunciation of "Melbourne" and "Brisbane" (Mel-b’n and Briz-b’n, not Mel-borrn and Bris-bayne) cheek by jowl with careless Americanisms (as when Moira tells Dwight that she had to "take algebra twice"). The final major problem is the depiction of the locals. Given that this is supposed to be a story about ordinary people confronting their own annihilation, it might have been nice if a bit more care had gone into the depiction of those people. Contrary to popular belief (or Stanley Kramer’s belief, whichever) Australians do not generally spend their leisure time sitting around in groups singing "Waltzing Matilda" for hours on end! Taken together, these production flaws continually jolt the viewer out of total involvement with the story. As a result, On The Beach never reaches the emotional heights that its story demands. The great pity of all this is that when the film concentrates upon its central thesis rather than its soap opera-ish aspects, its power is undeniable. Although On The Beach works best when it focuses upon the "ordinary people", a couple of star-heavy scenes do retain their impact. In terms of the film’s message, perhaps the most important is when Dwight Towers finally describes his feelings about the loss of his family. Here, Gregory Peck conveys successfully the utter bewilderment of the professional navy man at the outcome of this unintended war, where the casualties have been the previously untouchable: the civilians on the American mainland. Also moving is the scene in which Peter Holmes, about to leave on his mission, must finally tear off his wife’s psychological blindfold, and force her to confront the future. Nevertheless, it is not until the Sawfish leaves upon its final mission (in a nice irony, the submarine can still function because it is nuclear powered) that On The Beach really begins to build some momentum. The scenes of an utterly deserted San Francisco are quite unsettling (the decision to shoot this film in black and white was absolutely correct), while the search for the source of the radio signal, and the truth about its origin, have just the right haunting quality. It is during this sequence that perhaps the film’s most poignant scene occurs, when a native San Franciscan chooses to jump ship and die in his home town rather than prolong his life by returning to Australia. (Inevitably, the crewman is played by an Australian: a very young John Meillon.) When the Sawfish returns to Melbourne and the first case of radiation sickness is reported, the story becomes deeply disturbing in a way not even Dwight and Moira can touch. The streets of Melbourne, which earlier we had seen filled with people going about their normal business, become crowded again with two opposing camps: those turning to the Salvation Army for spiritual guidance, and those queuing for government-issued suicide pills. During this final section, the film hits closer to the mark in its depiction of the Australian character. Perfectly believable are two old club-dwelling duffers, bemoaning the fact that they will not possibly have the time to polish off the stocks of their favourite vintage before the end. Even better is the obstinacy with which sporting events (in this case, the Grand Prix on Phillip Island) continue to be staged even in the face of obliteration. But ultimately, Melbourne’s turn must come. The final scene shows her streets, like San Francisco’s, deserted for eternity. And how has this come to pass? When the crew of the Sawfish gathers around Julian Osborn begging for an explanation of their fate, it is revealed that no-one left alive knows who pushed the button, or even why. As to the deeper blame, the script of On The Beach displays a distinct uncertainty of tone. The film’s dialogue seems intended to argue the case either way, but the case of the scientist is put in the mouth of Osborn, who is such an ineffectual character that his words never carry the necessary weight. Thus, while the screenplay makes clear that the disaster was the direct result of military conflict between the Americans and the Russians, and that the ultimate tragedy was the result of an attempt to "show the Russians", the burden of guilt is nevertheless left with the scientists. When an angry party guest points the finger, Osborn justly cites the many in the community who fought against the development of the bomb, often at great personal cost. However, instead of a measured response, his reply comes off as drunken bluster, and is dismissed as such. There are other jibes at the profession throughout, and also a dated, jeering reference to "those long-haired scientists" (which, given the casting of the aged and balding Fred Astaire, is quite ludicrously inept). In contrast, much of the story is told from the viewpoint of sympathetic naval men. This taking of sides, intentional or not, gives the film as a whole an unbalanced feeling that again detracts from its impact. Before giving a final verdict on On The Beach, however, it is worth remembering that the film was intended as a warning, not as history. It is, in fact, speculative science fiction, daringly set five years into the future during a political era when it sometimes seemed that the world would not last another month. The action is played out against events that were all too real. The escalation of tensions between the US and the Soviet Union are described here unexaggerated; but in this alternative time stream, a nightmare moment of overreaction or panic or hubris comes, and the button is pushed. It is significant, I think, that reviewers who lived through the era portrayed tend to rate On The Beach higher than those of us who come to it full of hindsight and quite ready to be wise after the event. That the fatal button was never pushed is today a matter of fact. But that there were moments when it was only a hairsbreadth away from being pushed is also a matter of fact. The worldwide nuclear threat may be diminished today, but it still simmers. The use of "safe" nuclear power has given us Three Mile Island and the tragedy of Chernobyl. While these circumstances exist, On The Beach will continue to hold a worthwhile message for those of us not entirely convinced that human beings aren’t stupid enough to blow themselves off the face of the earth.
Footnote: And lest we forget:
"That’s the place for it."
Ava Gardner’s legendary – and almost certainly apocryphal – reaction to setting a film about the end of the world in Melbourne.
"On The Beach"
Armand Assante's newest movie on American TV
2-part TV movie
part 1: 95 minutes - May 30, 2000
on SHOE Showtime Channel
In early September 1999, Showtime cable network announced a new movie project, a remake of Stanley Kramer's 1959 movie On the Beach which was based on Nevil Shute's bestseller.
Big-name stars of the original movie were Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Anthony Perkins and Fred Astaire.
Armand stars in the movie of the same title, which was planned originally as a four-hour miniseries.
Russell Mulcahy (Highlander, Tale Of The Mummy) directs a cast which includes Bryan Brown and his wife Rachel Ward, both of TV Series blockbuster The Thorn Birds fame.
An American submarine has to reach Australia as the last safe place on earth in the aftermath of an atomic war.
The survivors in the submarine have to wait out the end of mankind as the whole world is contaminated with radiation...
After The Hunley, this is the second movie in which Armand takes to the deep in a submarine, although he said he wasn't too excited by the experience the first time round.
From Atoms to Apocalypse
With the splitting of the atom in the middle of this century, humanity finally achieved the technical potential to destroy itself and bring about a literal realization of eschaton, or telos, hitherto regarded as mytho-philosophical constructs inherent to most social structures.1 The profound cultural effects of this phenomenon are being vigorously debated in several arenas and although some attention has been paid to the latest cycle of nuclear films to come out of Hollywood, these issues have already been staged in a vast body of popular film, virtually ignored, during the past forty or so years.2
This text attempts to situate these earlier films into a coherent historical context; to provide an overview of a genre (identified by subject matter and narrative structure) concerned with the depiction of nuclear materials and/or warfare; and to suggest their extra-cinematic relationships, mythological intent and ideological implications.
In his BFI monograph, Stephen Neale locates the function and identity of genre as mainstream narrative cinema's coherent balance between process (enunciation) and position (announced), and the variety in structure of genre's economic address.3 The relevance of narrative form to genre is essential in locating the dynamic between the commercial cinematic production (story, production, marketing) and the mass audience reaction (preconception, consumption, pleasure).
Early cinema, for example, borrowed its narrative structure and subject/story material heavily from established popular media while inheriting the commercial publicity apparatus and the related cultural expectation of dramatic treatment and presentation. Prolific neophyte silent studios churned out hundreds of Westerns, Biblical Epics, Comedies etc., which capitalized upon the fascination of a mass audience encountering old and familiar themes newly realized by the infant cinema.
The economic opportunism to repeat successful films impelled the creation of Hollywood generic repertories, efficiently reproducing profitable formulae, resulting in not only generic repetition but also a high incidence of individual films being remade within incredibly brief periods (e.g. the apocalyptic The Last Days of Pompeii was filmed internationally at least four times within the decade 1903-13).
Hence, socio-historical and economic considerations are fundamental in conceptualizing the function of genre. As Thomas Schatz has pointed out:
In terms of nuclear cinema, therefore, one might logically expect to locate the origin of this genre at the close of the Second World War with the explosion of the first atomic bombs. However, this would immediately negate any consideration of genre preconception prior to 1945, and it is clear that mythology, religious literature and popular fiction provided easily accessible referents for the new technology and weapons. Surprisingly, authors George Griffith and H.G. Wells had both envisaged the uses of atomic devices and the resultant catastrophic destruction of civilization prior to the Great War!5 Later, during the late Thirties and early Forties, as the (then) contemporary physics began to penetrate the lay imagination, some authors actually incurred the suspicion of the intelligence establishment and some material was actually suppressed due to the military sensitivity surrounding the Manhattan Project.6
Apart from naively celebrating the new-found wealth individuals acquired when discovering radium or uranium deposits on their land (Broadway or Bust (1924), Danger Island (1931), Phantom Empire (1935), pre-Hiroshima atomic dramas usually adopted stereotypical imagery of the mad scientist toying with the fabric of the universe, often using the newly discovered radium-based inventions for militaristic purposes (The Greatest Power (1917), The Great Radium Mystery (1919), Batman (1943)). In Gold (1934), a scientist realises the ancient alchemical dream when he builds an atomic reactor which turns lead into gold. The Tunnel (1935) depicted a giant radium-tipped drill boring a path under the ocean floor, whereas Dr. Cyclops' (1940) application of radium based energy was harnessed for bizarre miniaturising experiments. Other scenarios depicted the element's destructive potentials such as radium or isotope rays becoming the quarry of criminals in The Invisible Ray (1920), Queen of the Jungle (1935), Ace Drummond (1936), Ghost Patrol (1936), and The Invisible Ray (1936)).
Just as the mystique of radium fired the imagination of scriptwriters in the Twenties and Thirties, the post-war quest for uranium became a common arena for depicting domestic and interpersonal conflicts stemming from the desire to exploit the mineral, evident in films such as Ma and Pa Kettle Back on the Farm (1951), Beat The Devil (1953), Canyon Crossroads (1954), Uranium Boom (1956) and The Syndicate (1967) through to the Seventies and Eighties scenarios of corporate corruption and deception in The Uranium Conspiracy (1978) and Where the Green Ants Dream (1984).
Significantly, those who had witnessed the original atomic detonations found that they could best describe the events and their emotional responses in purely religious metaphor -- equating nuclear energy with the awesomeness of God. From Robert J. Oppenheimer's famous Bhagavad Gita quote after watching the original 'Trinity' test at Alamogordo (both names have mytho-religious connotations), to the Moral Majority Armageddon theology espoused in President Reagan's diplomatic rhetoric, religious allusion has clearly infused the psychic conception of the Bomb within a popular mythic heritage.7 In his fine analysis of nuclear language, culture and propaganda, Paul Chilton describes this condition:
In religious cultures the awful and anomalous are allied with the supernatural, and the supernatural is both dangerous and sacred. Such familiar patterns of thought somehow seem to have made the bomb both conceivable and acceptable.8
Similarly, the imagery of religious apocalypse is inseparable from the cinematic portrayal of global disaster, predating D.W. Griffith's Intolerance (1914), August Blom's The End of the World (1916) or Abel Gance's La Fin du Monde (1930) and still evident in the spate of Disaster epics that emerged at the beginning of the Seventies -- phenomena given credence by ex-weapons physicist Joseph Rotblatt's assertion that "while everybody agrees that a nuclear war would be an unmitigated catastrophe, the attitude towards it is becoming similar to that of potential natural disasters, earthquakes, tornadoes and other Acts of God."9
It is precisely this rich interweaving of thematic and generic materials which makes the nuclear film so interesting. One can readily establish overlapping tropes from a variety of other genres. As Raymond Durgnat's neat analogy illustrates:
Ultimately, the idea of genre corresponds to that of a breed, or of a species. Some films are pure Westerns just as some dogs are pure Dalmatians. But most films are hybrids, just as most dogs are mongrels... Most mongrels -- or litters! -- are one-offs, but if enough one-offs of a particular kind are in demand it becomes a new breed. A genre like a species, responds to changes in its environment. It may evolve or acquire a new ecological niche (the Western briefly becomes a hicktown-and-children's genre), or it may become extinct.10
Consequently, War, Science Fiction, Horror and Disaster movies all contribute to the history and evolution of this category, so films such as Dr Strangelove (1963), Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970), Them! (1954) and The Day After may each employ narrative strategies attributable to the individual, respective genres above, yet paradoxically remain firmly within their own generic niche. Occasionally a film will encompass many such elements within the one complex scenario, such as The War of the Worlds (1953). More recently, postmodern nuclear movies have embraced narrative and visual strategies of intertextuality, pastiche and generic interplay, clearly evident in Mad Max III: Beyond Thunderdome, from its structural borrowings of the Western, Biblical epics and TV gameshows, through to its overall production design where style is bricolage.11
After US President Truman's 'revelation' to the world press in August 1945 of the new superweapon and its devastating effect upon the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, some filmmakers responded to the news with remarkable speed, especially considering the long lead-time usually required from film scenario development to exhibition of the product. Naturally, the press and radio were better suited to address the spontaneous public reaction, but a few films did manage to make some sort of reference to the new bombs and the shroud of secrecy surrounding their development.
Director Henry Hathaway experimented with a documentary approach for his mise-en-scene in order to evoke a heightened sense of realism and immediacy for his spy thriller The House on 92nd Street (1945, released only six weeks after Hiroshima). Set in the early stages of the Second World War, it involved the FBI thwarting a plot by Nazi agents operating clandestinely in New York City to obtain "Process 97, the secret ingredient of the atomic bomb", with dialogue quickly added to the post-Hiroshima print.12 Another movie to cash-in on the early atomic mystique was Shadow of Terror (1945), featuring a scientist traveling to Washington with the formula for a new weapon, set upon by foreign agents. Only in a narrated epilogue is it established that his secret calculus was for the Atom bomb, voiced over a newsreel clip of the first atomic test.13 A typical film from the 'z-grade' Producer's Releasing Corporation, Shadow of Terror has been described aptly but chronologically innacurately by Michael Weldon:
In true exploitation manner, this film was released right after the bombing of Hiroshima, beating out the competition. The mushroom cloud footage was added at the last minute.14
In fact it was RKO's First Yank in Tokyo (1945) which first took advantage of the declassified film of atomic explosions in its depiction of an American pilot, who after plastic surgery, operated clandestinely behind Japanese lines in order to obtain vital information on nuclear fission from a captive inside a prisoner-of-war camp. Two years earlier in Batman (1943) the association between nuclear materials and Asian foes was personified by the character of Dr Daka who attempted to steal Gotham city's radium reserve for use by the Axis powers.
Stronger dramatic explanations of and justification for the military-scientific endeavour to make the bombs came the following year from both British and American studios, and all cited fears of a Nazi acquisition of the technology before the Allies.
Espionage thrillers Cloak and Dagger (1946) and the British Night Boat to Dublin (1947) adopted a guise of historical authenticity to demonstrate covert Allied intelligence efforts in sabotaging Nazi development of a nuclear capability before them.15 Lisbon Story (1946), however, comically depicted British efforts to smuggle a French nuclear scientist out from under Nazi scrutiny. Alfred Hitchcock employed as his 'MacGuffin' in Notorious (1946) hidden Nazi samples of Uranium 235 in South America, discovered by American agents.16 Similarly, in Rendezvous 24 (1946), a group of Nazi scientists hiding in the Harz mountains after the war are captured by American agents before they can complete their experiments in atomic fission.
The scenario of intelligence agencies protecting the Western world from nuclear annihilation by groups of fascists, communists, corporate criminals, terrorists or religious zealots has become a staple of the genre, including virtually all of the James Bond films through, most recently to The Fifth Protocol (1987), Terror Squad (1987), Iron Eagle II (1988), The Emissary (1989) and The Russia House (1991).17
The most awaited film on the topic, however, was the ominously titled MGM production, The Beginning or the End? (1946), a diluted 'official' history of the Manhattan Project, carefully censored by Pentagon PR staff. Even at the time of release it was regarded as a biased pseudo-documentary claiming to authentically chronicle the events leading up to the development and use of the first atomic weapons. Woefully inaccurate on several scores, the film deliberately creates the misleading impression that the Japanese were near to completing their own atomic bomb.
What remains compelling in these early, post-Hiroshima films is the insistence of the threat of Nazism spurring on the research and development of the Allied atom bomb, yet paradoxically, once that original motivation had eroded after V-G Day, the two billion dollar technology remained incomplete and untested. Once the tangible German threat had diminished, many of the nuclear scientists, especially the European immigrants, lost interest in the project.18 Indeed, several of the physicists like Szilard whose work was completed earlier than the teams at Los Alamos actually began efforts to halt its war use.
Curiously, there is to this day a reluctance in American dramatic film to come to terms with the atomic bombing of Japan (even Above and Beyond (1953) is more concerned with the marital melodramatics of Enola Gay pilot Paul Tibbets, played by Robert Taylor).19 There is occasionally expressed an undercurrent of 'payback' for the Pearl Harbour surprise attack, articulated overtly in The Beginning or the End? where one member of the fictionalized Enola Gay crew says (clearly at odds with the historical facts): "We've been dropping warning leaflets on (the Japanese) for ten days now. That's ten days more warning than they gave us before Pearl Harbour."20
It seems as though the prevalent imagery of the Germans as treacherous monsters hell-bent on espionage, fostered before and after America joined the war in propaganda films like Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939), Casablanca and Nazi Agent (both 1942), was a more potent psychological 'other' to provide the viewing public. Therefore it is not really surprising that Hollywood continued to evoke the horror of the Nazis in its post-war espionage films, as there was a pre- existing and credible genre enemy who conveniently served to simultaneously disavow the actuality of Japan facing the direct consequences of the Allied nuclear research.21
A more subtle evocation of nuclear dread began with characters actually articulating their fears of an imminent atomic war. In The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), The Lady from Shanghai (1946), The Boy with Green Hair (1948) and I Want You (1951) overt reference is made to such a frightening potential. A manic George Grisby (Glen Anders), in The Lady From Shanghai foresees the end of the world approaching, claiming that he can "feel it", and plans to escape to a Pacific island (ironically the same year the US began its Atomic testing at the Bikini Atoll!) to live out his years away from the threat. Later, on a boat moored in San Francisco, Grisby becomes increasingly psychotic, saying that he wants to be "as far away as possible from that city -- or any city -- when they start dropping those bombs!"
Upon his return home after serving in Europe, an ignorant and perplexed Fredric March in The Best Years of Our Lives is confronted abruptly by his children's concerns over radiation at Hiroshima and the possibility of a future atomic war. Similarly, inside a small town drugstore in Joseph Losey's The Boy with green Hair, three women unwittingly terrify a war orphan (i.e. the boy with green hair) by their surmise that the next war will not only be an atomic one, but will possibly bring with it the end of all life. The horrified child later seeks reassurance from his adopted grandfather, asking rhetorically, "Gramp, the world isn't going to be blown up and everybody killed, is it?"
By constructing a group who psychologically expect a terminal war, the terror instilled in post-war generations of children (especially those subjected to incessant civil defence exercises, brilliantly rendered so matter-of-factly in Desert Bloom (1986) or frightened by apocalyptic mass media imagery, as in Great Balls of Fire (1989)), has continued to be one of the most prolific themes the genre has addressed, and arguably the punk and nihilist sensibility demonstrated in the new wave of western cinema may be attributable to the current demography of baby- boomer directors and scriptwriters, all born beneath the shadow of potential omnicide.22
Throughout the Forties, the stereotypical imagery of the Nazi threat was personified by treacherous spies operating 'at home' and abroad, and continuing to do so 'underground' even after the war. Although aware of the atomic bomb, and indeed working towards their own capability, as Western allies, the Soviets had from the outset been totally excluded from the joint research and development. The British and Americans wanted to keep the bomb their secret. Not surprisingly, as the Russians began protesting the monopolization of the new technology amid the victors' rush to carve up the conquered militarized zones of Europe, Asia and the Pacific -- continuing and expanding their post-war spheres of influence (although the converse resulted for the British, with violent struggles for national independence on the Indian subcontinent, and in the Middle East) -- the cultural representation of Russia became increasingly akin to the evil Nazis, lusting for totalitarian world domination.
Hence, the wartime pro-Soviet cinema of the early 1940s (Mission to Moscow, Song of Russia and The North Star (all 1943)) eventually gave way to charges of the visible work of communists within Hollywood.23 When accused by the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947, studio heads like Jack Warner, Louis B. Mayer and Sam Goldwyn maintained that such films were only part of the war effort and should be regarded merely as expedient propaganda exercises.24 In the ensuing few years, the notorious Hollywood Ten were gaoled and something of a witch-hunt swept through the film industry, resulting in the open blacklisting of actors, scriptwriters and technicians for 'un-American' political sympathies. Ironically, as Nora Sayre has suggested in her analysis of American Cold War cinema, judging by their track record, "almost no-one wrote more passionately patriotic movies than American Communists did in wartime."25 Yet Goldwyn even went so far as to cannibalize The North Star, changing its emphasis by slight editing and dubbing modifications to suggest that the tiny patriotic Russian peasant hamlet under siege by the Nazis in the original print was now East European, and under attack by equally brutal Soviet forces!26
Almost as if planned to remove the tarnish of accusations that Hollywood was a breeding ground and refuge for subversives, the studios responded quickly by employing precisely the type of propagandist technique the HUAC hearings had earlier condemned them for during the war. This time, however, the films overtly conformed with the agenda of the political right, with the release of Zanuck studio's The Iron Curtain (1948). Ostensibly the film is based on the autobiography This Was My Choice by Igor Gouzenko, a junior cipher clerk with the Soviet Embassy in Canada, who defected to the West in February 1946 with information that led to the arrest of twenty-two people with charges of belonging to a war-time spy ring aimed at gaining atomic secrets.27 The most damaging revelation resulted in the conviction of Dr Alan Nunn May, a British atomic scientist who had worked at the Canadian Chalk River Plant.28
Soon after, other producers followed suit and so began a spate of anti-Soviet propaganda films such as The Red Danube, The Red Menace (both 1949) I Married a Communist (1951), I Was a Communist for the FBI and Red Planet Mars (both 1952). For their part, the Soviets responded in kind, producing anti-American propaganda features like Court of Honour (1948) which exposed a fictional cadre of Russian scientists passing research secrets to the USA. Amongst others, Secret Mission (1950) alleged a conspiracy between the Vatican and the CIA to subvert the conversion to communism in Eastern bloc countries.29
This was a period of remarkable geopolitical upheaval and transition. In 1946 Winston Churchill delivered his anti-communist "Iron Curtain" speech in Missouri. The next year, the Truman Doctrine employed military and economic aid to suppress opposition to the staunchly conservative regimes in Turkey and Greece. In 1948, the Soviet Union orchestrated the blockade of Berlin and the takeover of Czechoslovakia, which was followed in 1949 by the defeat of General Chiang Kai- shek's 'nationalists' by Chinese communists.
Amidst the resultant Cold War sparring and deliberate cinematic distortion came two severe blows for the Western Alliance. On August 29th, 1949 the Soviet Union detonated its first atomic bomb. Four weeks later the news was announced to the world, sending shock-waves through the US Administration and resulting immediately in accusations of Russian espionage to soothe the domestic political and technological embarrassment. "Much of this was sour grapes," Pringle and Spigelman have commented. "Western analysts, reluctant to admit Soviet expertise, were also quick to suggest that the atom spies must have made success possible."30
However, even before Truman's shocked admission to the world press, Western films were replete with spies (usually from unnamed 'foreign powers') desperate to obtain atom secrets and its associated technologies. Flight to Nowhere (1946) featured a hire pilot flying a party of vacationers to a desert resort who are -- unknown to him -- a pack of enemy spies conspiring to steal atomic secrets. In 1947 the 13 chapter Republic serial The Black Widow, depicted an Asian femme fatale aided by a gangster attempting to steal plans for a new atomic rocket engine held by an American scientist. Similarly, Columbia serial heroes Jack Armstrong (1947) and Brick Bradford (1947) fought against enemy spies also trying to obtain new atomic technologies. A slightly less veiled reference to communist foreign agents chasing secret plans of a uranium mine in My Favorite Brunette (1948) witnessed Bob Hope parodying a Chandleresque sleuth to comic effect. Utilizing the previously familiar anti-fascist narrative trope of nuclear physicists being held against their will (e.g. Cloak and Dagger, Night Boat to Dublin), an ex-OSS agent was portrayed in Sophia (1948) operating behind the 'iron curtain' in a bid to free imprisoned atomic scientists, one of whom is a former lover. Controversial in its time for overtly naming the Soviet Union as the culprit, the hero successfully shuttles them back to the freedom of working in the West with the help of a double agent. Released the same year, Walk a Crooked Mile (1948) adopted a semi-documentary style in its tale of a US nuclear scientist -- of his own volition -- working for the Russian bomb effort while assigned to the Lakeview Nuclear Project while agents from both the FBI and Scotland Yard investigate.
As James Parish and Michael Pitts have argued, "Following the Allied victory in World War II, the viability of using Axis agents in spy films was at an end, at least for a while. Motion pictures employing the espionage motif began moving with the headlines into the Cold War era and, like their feature film counterparts, the cliff- hangers replaced the Nazi and Japanese villains with spies working for other world powers."31
After the damning confession in late 1949 of nuclear scientist Klaus Fuchs, who admitted giving atomic secrets to Russia during and after the Manhattan Project, it took a couple of years for the impact of his admission and the fermenting 'spy hysteria' to gain momentum in the West, culminating in a witch-hunt among Atomic Energy Commission employees, Richard Nixon's charges of espionage in Government, mandatory FBI 'loyalty' security screenings, Senator McCarthy's red scare, and the trial and execution of the Rosenbergs for allegedly giving H-bomb secrets to the Soviets. As Michael Rogin summarises:
The atomic spy trials of the late 1940s merged with the House Un-American Activities Committee investigation of Communist influence in Hollywood. Since HUAC exposed both Alger Hiss and the Hollywood Ten and since the accused spies, writers and directors, all went to jail, the distinction collapsed between microfilm and film. The celluloid medium of secret influence became the message. The Red scare joined together as one danger atomic spying, revelations of confidential government proceedings, Communist party membership, membership in "Communist front" organizations, manipulation of mass opinion, and subversive ideas. In that chain reaction of guilt by free association, ideas became the source of atomic contamination. As if to reverse the only actual use of nuclear weapons, the one by the United States, the Red scare made un-American ideas radioactive.32
The catalytic year of 'atom spy film' fear was 1952. The most significant films dealing with such themes frequently featured atomic scientists or their inventions being appropriated by subversive communist elements working in America or Europe. The prototype of this genre sub-group was Paramount's The Atomic City (1952) starring Gene Barry as a leading Los Alamos physicist, Dr Frank Addison, whose son Tommy is kidnapped by communist spies, blackmailing him into trading Hydrogen bomb secrets for his child's life.33 The Atomic City is an exemplary site for cultural and ideological analysis due to its deliberate infusion of (state sanctioned) documentary realism with traditional family melodrama. In order to evoke an authentic milieu which serves to blur the distinction between domestic relationships and the top secret research, newsreel footage and actual location shooting within and outside Los Alamos imbues the narrative, in a peculiarly effective way, with a feeling of active participation in -- and indeed collusion with -- the machinations of the state's atomic program cloaked in secrecy. There is no debate of censorship, as the film slickly crosses between dramatic and documentary structures. Again, as Michael Rogin has aptly put it:
The same year another compromised nuclear physicist (this time on the communist pay-roll, as in Walk a Crooked Mile) was played by Ray Milland in United Artists' The Thief (1952). However, the British response to Communist atom spying was both comedic and serious. In Mr Potts Goes to Moscow (1952) (released in the USA as Top Secret), a sanitary engineer of the fictitious Barworth Atomic Energy Research Centre (presumably a reference to Harwell where Fuchs had spent his post-war years), mistakenly takes the wrong suitcase with him -- full of secret plans -- on a holiday. Believing him to be an important atomic scientist, the KGB lure him to Moscow. Tackling the same communist abduction theme, Escape Route ((1952) released as I'll Get You in the USA) adopted a noir style for its suspenseful tale of trans-Atlantic espionage. An FBI agent (George Raft) illegally enters Britain in search of several leading atomic scientists who have recently disappeared from the States and finds a communist agent planning to take the group into Eastern Europe.35
Indeed, during the Fifties the nuclear scientist became, if not a popular culture icon, at least a recognizable movie icon.36 The dichotomy in representation of atomic physicists ultimately became one then of those who worked (unquestioningly) for and with the government or those who (greedily) undermined the government by working for foreign powers.37
A couple of years later Mickey Rooney produced and starred in his own comedy vehicle The Atomic Kid (1954), scripted by Blake Edwards, which took innocuous swipes at public naivety on all matters atomic, but still careful to maintain the status quo. Blix Waterbury (Rooney) accidentally encounters an Army atom bomb test while prospecting for uranium in the desert. Despite attempts to halt the detonation, in the final seconds the bomb goes off. Inexplicably, the prospector emerges from the rubble after the blast, highly radioactive, yet apparently normal and he becomes an overnight media sensation. Posing as a publisher a communist spy tries to get the Kid out of the West for examination by Soviet scientists. Another comedy the following year dealt with spies chasing atomic secrets. Carolina Cannonball (1955) was one of those curious low-budget features Hollywood designed for a specific regional consumption. Using an atomic rocket from a guided missile to propel an old steam engine in an attempt to rejuvenate tourism and commercial interest in their ghost town, singer Judy Canova and her grandpa are waylaid by three Communist agents in search of the device. The same year in A Bullet for Joey (1955) George Raft returned to Cold War adventure, but unlike his earlier role in Escape Route, on this occasion he was typecast back into the anti-social mould of American gangster. Another famous Thirties mobster actor, Edward G. Robinson, led the cast as a Canadian Police inspector hunting down communist spies based in Montreal, who are plotting to kidnap an atomic scientist and force him to carry on his experiments overseas.
The overlap between the post-war world of film noir, communist atom spies, federal agents and gangsters met its cinematic zenith in Robert Aldrich's tour de force adaptation of Mickey Spillane's Kiss Me Deadly (1955).38 Producer- director Aldrich evoked for the screen persona of Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker) a believable transformation of Hollywood's hard-boiled private eye, now turned rotten egg. Unlike the charming individualism of Forties Chandleresque gumshoes, it is Hammer's pigheaded and offensive "what's in it for me" attitude which abrasively sets him apart and acts against the cold war collective social ethic. In many ways the film reflects a microcosm of post-war anxieties, in essence heralding the end of an era (and genre). As Bill Warren aptly commented, "Mike Hammer's world seems to be on the verge of apocalypse, but he's not fighting it; he's part of it."39
Kiss Me Deadly demonstrates better than any other film of the Fifties what characterizes the nuclear age -- a pervasive sense of paranoia (both personal and social) lurking beneath its associations of fear, suspicion and guilt, all of which fuel self-destructive urges. Ultimately, the film's central theme announces the political death of individualism operating outside the clearly defined strictures of post-war national security consensus. Indeed, as a morality tale, Mike Hammer is constructed as a brutal and opportunistic quasi-fascist, an authentic Eisenhower anti-hero for the Atomic Age.40 So offensive are his actions and philosophy that Hammer becomes a virtual social leper. Everyone he comes into contact with dies, regardless of disposition, almost as if exposure to the private eye's ideology of self-before-community is as lethal as the mysterious radioactive "whatsit" contained in the lead box. As Peter Biskind suggests, for these filmmakers "the post-war world was no place for people with personal agendas":
|Living on the edge of the law is no longer romantic; it's dangerous to society... By 1955, the stakes had become too high for the down-and-out shamuses doing their own thing. Kiss Me Deadly is a cold war cautionary tale, and the message is clear. There's no room for neutrals playing both sides of the street. Either join the team or step aside. Hammer is squeezed between big crime and big government. The age of the private eye had ended.41|
Towards the end of the Fifties, the communist atom spy motif had all but disappeared from the silver screen, only occasionally re-emerging in the decade's fecund science fiction fare. A mutated sea monster with a deadly radioactive ray guards an underwater deposit of uranium sought by a communist Mata Hari in The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues (1956). A wounded, highly-radioactive nuclear physicist spying for a foreign power is sent seven-and-a-half seconds into the future in The Atomic Man (1956), whereas The Amazing Transparent Man (1955) depicts a compromised scientist helping an enemy spy in his bid for world domination by using an atomic-powered invisibility invention, a theme dating back to The Invisible Ray (1920).
By the mid 1950s, the Soviet Union had also developed and tested its own thermonuclear H-bomb, three years after its American counterpart. Public anxieties about the genocidal weaponry diminished to some extent, while attention was transposed onto the weapons' strategic and tactical delivery systems, ranging from ground-launched intermediate range ballistic missiles (1955 witnessed IRBMs stationed in England, Turkey and Italy by the USA and Russian SS3s targeting Europe) and later intercontinental missiles (Soviet SS6 in 1957 and American Atlas ICBMs in 1958), long-ranged bombers (US B-52s and Soviet Bear class aircraft, both 1955), and America's Polaris nuclear submarine-launched ballistic missiles in 1960 (although it took the Soviet Union nearly eight years to deploy a comparable system).
Essentially, there were four films at the start of the 1950s which focused upon fears of an impending atomic war which would destroy humanity. Employing the archaic construct of the 'scientist as madman' in the portentous British production Seven Days to Noon (1950), a crazed physicist wracked with guilt over his collaboration in building the nuclear devices holds London to ransom with a miniature A-bomb, demanding that the country destroy its 'immoral' stockpile of weapons (themes later employed in Tarkovsky's Stalker (1979) and the TV 'hoax' Special Bulletin (1982)).42
In America, Rocketship X-M (1950) depicted an exploratory crew landing on Mars only to discover evidence of an extinct technological civilization that destroyed itself in a holocaust but leaves a primitive mutant legacy (another theme that would be returned to often throughout the genre). In Unknown World (1951), a group of concerned scientists fearing impending nuclear catastrophe form the 'Society to Save Civilization' and arrange an expedition to locate a subterranean cavern capable of preserving humanity from fall-out effects. Ironically, the ideal labyrinth (itself a metaphor for repression into the unconscious) turns out to be poisonous and just as deadly to any future generation. In the end, the scientists agreed that the way to overcome annihilation is not by hiding from the issue. The same year Arch Oboler adapted his controversial radio drama "The Word" to make Five (1951), the first movie to depict 'the unthinkable' by having the world destroyed in atomic conflagration at the film's opening sequence and then concentrating on the plight of the five remaining human survivors.
The metaphoric and allegorical power of the nuclear theme, however, can also be seen in two early Fifties productions. The Thing from Another World (1951) and Superman and the Mole Men (1951) both demonstrate communal fears and hostility when confronting the alienation of the atomic age. The horror generated by a vegetable super-intellect which threatens an Alaskan airforce outpost in the former film is skillfully rendered via a clicking geiger-counter, overtly embodying the dangers of radiation. In the latter movie, xenophobia is itself critiqued, as Superman defends an advanced subterranean civilization of "mole men", who happen to be radioactive and thereby also personify the nuclear threat, but are revealed to pose no danger unless aggravated by the paranoid locals hell- bent on forming lynching parties. Superman and The Mole Men stands out amongst much of the genre as a parable advocating peaceful co-existence with and tolerance of the alien 'other' at a time of heightened anti-communism.
In general, however, the Fifties produced a curious amalgam of serious and exploitation films concerned with atomic war and the perils of accelerated nuclear experimentation (especially the polemic surrounding the development of Hydrogen fusion weapons). In view of these films it would seem that the initial cinematic reaction after Hiroshima was a direct, yet highly sanitized, rationalization of the need for the weapons, followed by isolated concern, a little guilt and then a concrete fear of apocalypse.
The 'beneficial' or civilian usage of nuclear fission was promoted in several early films, generally via atomic propulsion systems, but nevertheless the nuclear material and experimental technology itself were often treated ambiguously. In 1950, Hollywood depicted American know-how launching a manned atomic-powered rocketship in Destination Moon in order to gain a strategic advantage over "you-know-who", just as suspicion fell on the Soviets in The Flying Saucer (1950) when a security chief announces that the mysterious saucer "appears designed for one purpose -- to carry an atomic bomb".
When an atomic rocket flies over an uncharted island in The Lost Continent (1951) and is brought down to earth by an unknown radioactive-volcanic force whose potential explosive might is equated to that of a stockpile of H-bombs, one scientist suggests that when the ship ran out of fuel, it was drawn inevitably towards fields of uranium! This naivety towards all things radioactive also served to underpin one of the first deliberate nuclear comedies, Mr. Drake's Duck (1951) (later reworked by Disney as the Million Dollar Duck (1971)), in which the goose that lays the golden egg fairytale is upgraded to a duck that produces radioactive eggs of almost pure uranium. Similarly, a year earlier Laurel and Hardy's comedic 'last hurrah' witnessed Stan and Ollie inheriting a uranium-rich Pacific island in Utopia (1950).
The ensuing popularity of the monster-mutation cycle which commenced with the dinosaur in The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953) and the giant ants in Them! (1954) saw the emerging genre display a combination of both resistance to overt discussion of the nuclear status quo and an active promotion of alternative responses to it via deeply sublimated and mythologically based "others".43 The fecund movie monsters that dominated horror and science fiction films during the decade were inevitably the result of some individual, corporate or military nuclear experimentation (and still as relevant to contemporary audiences with the return of Godzilla in Godzilla 1985 (1985), C.H.U.D. (1984), Hydra (1985), Deepstar Six (1989) as well as the pastiche, nuclear-irradiated Toxic Avenger (1986-90) and Class of Nuke'em High (1987-91) series from Troma and parodies such as Zadar! Cow From Hell (1989))44.
As Susan Sontag argues in her seminal essay on post-World War II science fiction cinema:
|One gets the feeling, particularly in the Japanese films but not only there, that a mass trauma exists over the use of nuclear weapons and the possibility of future nuclear wars. Most of the science fiction films bear witness to this trauma, and, in a way, attempt to exorcise it. The accidental awakening of the super-destructive monster, who has slept in the earth since prehistory, is, often, an obvious metaphor for the Bomb. But there may be explicit references as well... Radiation casualties -- ultimately, the conception of the whole world as a casualty of nuclear testing and nuclear warfare -- is the most ominous of all the notions with which science fiction films deal. 45|
Ranging from the prehistoric Rhedosaurus awoken from its Arctic slumber by a (bad) American atomic test and subsequently killed by a (good) radioactive medical isotope in The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (which effectively polarized the scientific dualism of the nuclear genie and the bureaucracies who command it), through to the bird-like "thing which can kill by its touch" in Roger Corman's meta-neolithic parable Teenage Caveman (1958), the unnatural (though previously wholesome) nuclear victims, usually subjected to fall-out, provided a staple metaphor of runaway technology and nuclear paranoia for a generation.46 Other movie monsters unleashed, mutated or destroyed by nuclear energy throughout the decade comprised: dinosaurs Godzilla (1954), Angurus (in Gigantis (1955)), Rodan (1956) and Behemoth, the Sea Monster (1959); spiders (in Tarantula (1955) and Earth vs the Spider (1958)); giant octopii (Monster from the Ocean Floor (1954) and It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955)) and crabs (Attack of the Crab Monsters (1956)); as well as sundry giant insects -- ants in Them! (1954), locusts in Beginning of the End (1957), a fly in The Fly (1958), and equally self-evident, The Black Scorpion (1959).
The Revenge-of-Nature has been a predominant theme throughout human mythology and it is hardly surprising to find film scenarists depicting Mother Earth fighting back against the obscenity of the atomic forces unleashed by mankind's folly. Cataclysmic wars had been prophesied in a number of pre-atomic films (Intolerance, Things to Come (1936)), just as global catastrophes had thrilled audiences world-wide (The Comet (1910), Deluge (1933)) and legendary or primal monsters (Der Golem (1914), King Kong (1933) -- which significantly had greater box-office appeal on its second release in 1952) threatened the very root of civilization with their wanton destruction, all effectively demonstrating what Freud described as our individual and collective social "discontents".47
However, nuclear films incorporating the monster theme tend to differ from the staple of the genre, especially the Gothic, in that frequently the narrative process which searches for what Neale describes as the "discourse, that specialized form of knowledge, which will enable the human characters to comprehend and control that which embodies and causes its 'troubles'" is either left undiscovered or often remains unresolved at the conclusion.48 For instance, the concerned sentiment voiced by the scientist at the end of the prototypical nuclear monster movie Them! after the pyrotechnic destruction of the mutant ants (imagery and thematics clearly duplicated in Aliens (1987)) contaminated by the original, pre-Hiroshima Trinity test, is both prophetically ominous whilst simultaneously denying traditional closure:
|Graham: Ý If these monsters got started as a result of the first atomic bomb in 1945, what
about all the other ones that have been exploded since then?Ý Ý
Medford: Ý When man entered the atomic age he opened a door to a new world. What we'll eventually find in that new world nobody can predict.
Coinciding with these sentiments, Japan's Toho studios created one of the most successful and enduring movie monsters -- Godzilla -- which was greatly influenced by the (re)release of King Kong and The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. So popular, in fact, that the creature has returned in over 16 features, and like his Western counterparts, Godzilla is awoken by an (American) atomic explosion and came from the sea to wreak havoc on Japan.
The initial film was such a box office draw that Toho began churning out formulaic monster movies in successive years, adding additional creatures such as Angurus (1955), Rodan (1956) and then Mothra in 1961, while other studios cloned these successes with Gamera (1966) etc. In each case, the monsters are awoken by, irradiated from, or (later in the series) do battle with nuclear and/or alien forces (as in Ghidora and Invasion of the Astro Monster (both 1966)).
Japan also produced a series of nuclear related science fiction movies paralleling American and European ventures. In The Mysterious Satellite (1956) benign aliens implore the world powers to direct their atomic hostility away from each other and vent it towards a planet destined to collide with the Earth. However, extraterrestrials bent only on destruction appeared in The Mysterians (1957), arriving here to breed with healthy Earth women after their own planet has been obliterated by a nuclear catastrophe. Genre scenarios even focused upon regional nuclear testing and fallout effects which provide the source of conflict and horror in The H-Man (1958) after a ship is accidentally irradiated, turning the crew into oozing blobs. In Dogora, the Space Monster (1963) cells exposed to and mutated by radiation return to Earth as giant tentacled monsters and attack Japan.
Yet, if these Japanese monsters are to be read as metaphors for the Bomb and concomitant nuclear destruction, while symbolizing America (as a victorious, occupying and economic force literally re-shaping the country), it remains contentious as to why the films are so popular on both sides of the Pacific.49 One possible explanation may be the frightening ease in which Western audiences project their own nuclear fears onto another culture's repetitious scenarios of sublimated nuclear cataclysm -- historically recasting experienced events for them, while cathartically depicting an imaginary, yet potential fate for us all.
Significantly, human victims in Western cinema traditionally have to reconcile the trauma of radioactive mutation in chosen or enforced isolation. The potency of exposure to nuclear materials often had bizarre consequences for the men subjected to it (significantly rarely women, except in an act of retribution like the combustive Pandora's Box of Kiss Me Deadly (1955)), all indicating a subtext of sexual alienation. The Incredible Shrinking Man's (1957) title alone connotes an association of castration anxiety, after the main protagonist has passed through a phosphorescent atomic cloud. In The Atomic Kid, Mickey Rooney develops a tell-tale radioactive glow when sexually aroused, whereas being caught in the aftershock of a detonation leads to the frustrated impotence and compensatory violence of both The Amazing Colossal Man (1957) and The Most Dangerous Man Alive (1958; not released until 1961). Similarly, a defecting Soviet rocket scientist caught in a nuclear blast inexplicably turns into a menacing sex fiend in The Beast of Yucca Flats (1960), just as the sexually perverse, cannibalistic patriarch of The Hills Have Eyes (1977), left to die on an atomic testing ground, continued this genre theme well into the Seventies.
Interestingly, an early (albeit dismissive) portrayal of psychological trauma, i.e. the possibility of nuclear guilt turning a man into a 'monster', came in the form of a sanitized Hollywood bio-pic in Above and Beyond (1952) which, like the earlier The Beginning or the End?, embraced pseudo-historical authenticity above a veneer of melodrama for its re-telling of Paul Tibets' selection and training to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. The scenario was later revised at greater length in Enola Gay (1980).
Apart from the often illogical and histrionic filmic approaches to atomic war, nuclear anxiety also manifested itself in guises other than the terrestrial monster. As Carl Jung has demonstrated in his pioneering study of the modern UFO, a phenomenon commencing almost immediately after World War II, flying saucer reports reflected a psychological projection of nuclear and cold war fears (still apparent in Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1978) and E.T. (1982)), where the subject constructed omnipotent alien forces who dwarfed our technology and morality, warning the Earth that human aggression and nuclear weapons could not co-exist for long.50 This scenario was best embodied as early as 1951 in the role of Klaatu (Michael Rennie) in The Day the Earth Stood Still who issued his authoritarian ultimatum to a group of international scientists after political leaders paid little heed.51 However, Klatuu's statement can also be read as a then-contemporary metaphoric interpretation of American foreign policy -- a sort of post-World War II proclamation from the United States to the global community, having monopolized (and demonstrated its willingness to use) nuclear weaponry:
|"The universe grows smaller every day and the threat of aggression by any group anywhere can no longer be tolerated. There must be security for all or no one is secure. Now this does not mean giving up any freedom, except for the freedom to act irresponsibly. Your ancestors knew this when they made laws to govern themselves and hired policemen to enforce them. We, of the other planets, have long accepted this principle. We have an organization for the mutual protection of all planets for the complete elimination of aggression. The test of any such higher authority, is of course the police force that supports it. For our policemen we created a race of robots. Their function is to patrol the planets in spaceships like this one and preserve the peace. In matters of aggression we have given them absolute power over us. This power cannot be revoked. At the first signs of violence they act automatically against the aggressor. The penalty for provoking their action is too terrible to risk. The result is we live in peace without arms or armies, secure in the knowledge that we are free from aggression and war, free to pursue more profitable enterprises. Now, we do not pretend to have achieved perfection, but we do have a system, and it works. I came here to give you these facts. It is no concern of ours how you run your own planet, but if you threaten to extend your violence, this Earth of yours will be reduced to a burned-out cinder. Your choice is simple: join us and live in peace, or pursue your present course and face obliteration."52|
Similarly, films such as The Stranger from Venus (1954), The 27th Day (1957), The Space Children (1958) and The Cosmic Man (1959) all concocted versions of the alien 'other' to foreground (after the initial xenophobia dissipates) the destructive force of these atomic weapons, our paradoxical blind allegiance to the false ethic of deterrence and a gloomy, prophetic fate if ignored.
Just as Hollywood has avoided either naturalistic or dramatic depictions concerning the direct consequences of their atom bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki, surprisingly, as their Western-inspired monster and alien invasion movies attest, the Japanese also employed less direct means of rendering these historical calamities. However, in the early 1950s a brief sub-genre of (melo)dramas sought to address the personal and individual affects of the atomic warfare. In his provocative 1961 essay, Donald Riche typifies the dominant Japanese post-war sentiment as mono no aware, a type of resigned fatalism combined with a melancholy sense of transience: "what we feel today we forget tomorrow; this is not perhaps as it should be, but it is as it is".53
This malaise is evident in the sentimental film account of Dr. Takashi Nagi's dealings with survivors of the second A-bombing in The Bells of Nagasaki (1950). The 'kiss and make up' nation-state attitude of Japan and the USA was personified dramatically by the allegorical romance in I'll not Forget the Song of Nagasaki (1952) between an American GI who visits the city and stays to help A-bomb refugees, eventually falling in love with a blind victim. More elegiac was The Children of Hiroshima (1952) which revealed the before and after perspective of life in Hiroshima via flashback/reconstructions, recounted by a young school teacher who returns to her native city seven years after its destruction.54
The docu-drama Hiroshima (1953) transformed its own historical re-enactments of the explosion and effect of the bomb (footage from which was later used in Allain Resnais' Hiroshima Mon Amour (1958)) into a continuing and contemporary tragedy by emphasising the nuclear legacy of lingering radiation sickness. The slow poisoning wrought by the invisible radioactivity also underscored the romance between a terminally ill young woman and her delinquent lover in A Story of Pure Love (1957), a theme recently returned to in Yumechiyo (1986). Although the immediate, visible effects of the A-bombs were almost totally removed under post-war occupation and reconstruction, the theme of abnormality from radiation has recurred throughout mainstream Japanese dramas in the ensuing years. In Lost Sex (1966), for example, a young man struggles with the realization that he has become impotent from exposure to radiation, whereas more recently Sensie (1982) featured a school teacher who contracts leukemia and then movingly informs her pupils of the traumatic period she spent in Nagasaki -- an event which has continued to haunt her.55
Adopting the psychically destructive aspect of atomic weapons, Akira Kurosawa depicts a businessman planning to emigrate to Brazil with his family in order to escape an irrationally(?) expected, imminent thermonuclear holocaust in Record of a Living Being (1955). His personal obsession and family resistance eventually drives him insane (a situation also covered allegorically in The Mosquito Coast (1986)). The Japanese also gave dramatic representation to the lethal characteristics of atmospheric nuclear testing in the ironically titled Lucky Dragon No. 5 (1959), based upon and named after actual events in which a Japanese fishing vessel and crew were exposed to massive fallout from the Pacific "Bravo" H-bomb explosion.56
Towards the end of the decade a correspondingly more sobering rendition of nuclear concerns also illuminated the screen in the West. No longer were giant insects and reptiles or other unconscious remnants of our collective nightmares dredged out quite as often to threaten the survival of our species. With the release of Marguerite Duras and Alain Resnais's profound Hiroshima Mon Amour (1958) to critical acclaim, a new modernist sensibility was found for the depiction of the horror of atomic weapons, which could only serve to counterpoint the naive optimism of racial and sexual harmony demonstrated in the closing sequences of The World, The Flesh and the Devil (1958), and the resigned fatalism of On The Beach (1959) with its ironic and pitiful end message of "There is Still Time Brother" after we have witnessed the gradual, though absolute, demise of our species.
Both The World... and On the Beach employ imagery of the deserted metropolis which has become a staple in the iconography of the science fiction genre, frequently as a result of global war (The Omega Man (1971)) or technological preparations for such (The Quiet Earth (1986)). Like Sontag, Philip Strick has identified the individual and collective response to 'disaster' as a means of collapsing the complex social macrocosm into an individually intelligible and accessible form:
|The landscapes of disaster carry a powerful symbolic charge, representing not only the summation of former mistakes but also the prospects for rebuilding ... Above all, Armageddon simplifies: questions of morality and responsibility may legitimately be set aside in favour of basic matters like survival and the perpetuation of the species. Inner strengths are confirmed by external emergencies.57|
Whereas Hiroshima Mon Amour found a disjunctive yet poetic narrative mode to engender empathy towards its humanist perspective of the 'unthinkable' historical event, The Word, The Flesh, and The Devil, like Five had before it, opted for the familiar convention of vicariously obliterating oppressive social regimes -- personified in the matrix of our institutions and fellow co- inhabitants -- while keeping undamaged the empty physical structures appropriate for an eventual rebirth (which generically was often literal).58 Ironically, the scenario prefigures the actual capacity and development of enhanced radiation weapons (neutron bombs) to 'maintain the real estate' but destroy the occupants.59
On the Beach, however, produced a more contemplative, yet nevertheless melodramatic rendition of the 'end of the world' which paradoxically proved to be successful at the box office. Its motif of individual suicide (government prescribed pills, asphyxiation, alcoholism etc.) enhanced its grander metaphor of global extinction. As the film's nuclear physicist reflects, "The war started when people accepted the idiotic principle that peace can be maintained by arranging to defend themselves with weapons they couldn't possibly use without committing suicide".
The success and influence of these films during the 1950s coincided with rapid technological advances (ICBMs, nuclear fleets, satellite reconnaissance), simultaneous political events (Korean War, invasion of Hungary), and a growing public awareness of and concern with political and strategic postures such as MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) and Flexible Response.
Such issues were no longer the domain of the boffin. They pervaded the very forefront of our cultural consciousness, and, as the sadly humorous archival compilations The Atomic Cafe and No Place to Hide (1982) demonstrate, elaborate propaganda campaigns were initiated by governments and industry to dilute nuclear anxieties. Other popular media were responding to these social uncertainties and in many ways became the critical reflectors of our zeitgeist. For example, Tom Lehrer's satirical songs (e.g. "We Will All Go Together When We Go") and several episodes of Rod Serling's television series The Twilight Zone featured nuclear themes ("Third from the Sun", "The Shelter", "Time Enough to Last" etc.) which also contributed to the perspective of dystopia.60 In Britain television drama was full of nuclear tales during the late Fifties and early Sixties, which reflected the high level of public concern that ultimately led to the establishment of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). The majority of the narratives such as Number Three (1953), I Can Destroy the Sun (1959), The Test (1961) and The Burning Glass (1956, remade in 1960) concerned nuclear physicists torn between the importance of continuing their scientific enquiry and the potential horrors the technology could inflict if adversely exploited. Others depicted the events leading up to and after nuclear war, as in Course for Collision (1957, remade in 1962), Doomsday for Dyson (1958) and The Offshore Island (1959).
However, it proved to be the new decade's superpower Cold War clashes in Berlin and Cuba that violently reintroduced the sublimated nuclear menace, and again the commercial cinema responded with a brief, albeit prolific, wave of films. Respectively echoing both the resignation and rebirth themes of On the Beach and The World..., the Yugoslavian production Rat (1960) and Roger Corman's low budget The Last Woman on Earth (1960) depicted couples facing awkward ethical and sexual dilemmas in strange post-nuclear terrains. More explicit in their renderings of a global nuclear holocaust were two Japanese films of the period. In The Final War (1960) an accidental American atomic explosion over Korea escalates from a regional conflict into global war, just as pre-existing tensions in The Last War (1962) lead to an inevitable Superpower collision after a series of false alarms and near misses. Simultaneous nuclear testing at both poles by the Soviets and Americans sent the Earth off not only its axis but also its orbit, plummeting the globe towards the sun in The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1962). The build up to an anticipated war, its confusion and the difficulty of maintaining social cohesion was foreshadowed in microcosm in This is not a Test (1962) which featured a State trooper sacrificing his life in order to protect a small band of travellers along a highway after an incoming attack is announced over the radio.
A nuclear strike turned even the most 'innocent' of victims into atavistic barbarians, as witnessed in the patriarchal family fleeing Los Angeles during Panic in the Year Zero (1962) and the marooned public schoolboys' regression to savagery in Lord of the Flies (1963), (a motif recently returned to via the stranded children in Mad Max III: Beyond Thunderdome (1985) and the subterranean street urchins in Doris Lessing's entropic Memoirs of a Survivor (1981)).
Even the potential of nuclear war was shown to be catastrophic, especially for the younger generation. In These are the Damned (1961) children who have been accidentally (?) exposed to radiation are held captive and conditioned to be the sole inheritors of civilization.61 Similarly, two East European productions from 1962 depicted bleak futures. In Poland's The Great Big World and Little Children, two children are abducted by aliens who prophesy a catastrophic war, whereas in Sun and Shadow from Bulgaria, two teenagers attempt a relationship but are thwarted by the girl's recurring dreams of nuclear oblivion. In Ladybug, Ladybug (1963) a group of traumatized school children hide in family fall-out shelters awaiting a predicted attack, and argue over who is ganted entry.
Public concern over the possible inadequacies of C3 (command, control and communications) were graphically revealed by the ineffectual attempts to recall American planes laden with H-bombs before reaching their Soviet targets in Dr. Strangelove and Fail Safe (1964). Both films depict intrinsic weaknesses of the military and political safeguards meant to avert any possibility of unauthorized pre-emptive strikes against Russia, whether by a paranoid lower-echelon commander in the former movie, or via mechanical breakdown and Murphy's Law in the latter.62 Similarly, the diplomatic machinations of the US President's disarmament effort were jeopardized by covert military and intelligence collusion to overthrow the elected government through the Joint Chiefs' coup d'etat of Seven Days in May (1964), a theme reworked most recently in Dreamscape (1985). Salt & Pepper (1968) also portrayed a crazed colonel trying to replace the British Parliament with a military junta by threatening to use nuclear weapons at his command. Even more hazardous was the potential for catastrophic error depicted in The Bedford Incident (1965) where the conflation of technological innovation, an ideologue commander and crew stress factors turned a routine NATO/Soviet cat-and-mouse naval engagement into irrevocable nuclear exchanges.63 These films directly contrasted the technological fetishism and occasional jingoistic sentiments expressed in the Armed Forces melodramas Strategic Air Command (1955), Bombers B-52 (1957) and A Gathering of Eagles (1963) which argued their case for a strong and ever-vigilant nuclear deterrent.
Surprisingly, few movies adopted direct nuclear themes regarding the Chinese and North Koreans during that war, especially considering President Eisenhower and General MacArthur's public overtures concerning the potential use of atomic bombs in the conflict; exceptions being I Want You (1951) and Hell and High Water (1954). However, two events in the early Sixties (US intervention throughout Indo-China and the detonation of a Chinese A-bomb in 1964) helped frame a series of dramas which drew attention away from traditional US/USSR rivalry. Hence, Chinese communism under Mao became the focus of many Western scenarios of nuclear treachery and terrorism.
Even before the first Chinese bomb was detonated, a depressed pacifist cleric in Ingmar Bergman's Winter Light (1962) is driven insane by contemplating this outcome after one of his congregation commits suicide. In Operation Atlantis (1965) US and Russian agents team together to destroy a clandestine Chinese uranium enrichment plant operating in Africa. Similarly, the two superpowers work against Chinese nuclear capabilities in The Kremlin Letter (1970), and an independent international team race to prevent an orbiting Chinese warhead from disrupting the delicate detente in Earth II (1971). Other nuclear espionage movies depict Chinese acts of nuclear destruction (Kiss The Girls and Make Them Die, Dimension 5 (both 1966), The Doomsday Machine (1967)), invasion (Battle Beneath The Earth (1968)) or technological advances (The Black Box Affair, Fathom, Goldsnake: Ammonia Killers (all 1966), The Blonde from Peking (1968)).64
Similarly, as early as 1946 in the serial Lost City of the Jungle, an "antidote" to atomic fission (Meteorium 245) was naively envisaged in much the same way President Reagan predicted an SDI "nuclear shield" would make nuclear weapons "obsolete". In the mid-Sixties, both Russia and America were experimenting with rapid-launch missiles to counter approaching nuclear warheads in the event of an attack. The development and reported deployment of an anti-ballistic missile system (ABM) also fuelled the imagination of scenarists looking for topical treatments in espionage dramas. Films which responded to such developments include OK Connery (1967), The Unknown Man of Shandigor (1967), Hammerhead (1968) and Assault on the Wayne (1971).
Fear of atomic energy and weaponry was widespread throughout the world not long after the Second World War, and is reflected in the early movies of the period where secret government agents countered evil geniuses, such as Sir Eric Hazarias (Lionel Atwill) the arch-villain of Universal's aforementioned Lost City of the Jungle, and other saboteurs hell-bent on domination by employing nuclear technology.
Indeed, nuclear fear helped spawn the very forerunner of James Bond -- another British agent -- Dick Barton (Don Stannard).65 Three feature films based on a popular BBC radio serial were produced for the newly formed Hammer Film group in successive years from 1948-50. After the initial foray Dick Barton, Special Agent (1948), the hero reappeared in Dick Barton Strikes Back (1949), foiling a plot by international subversives who have decimated British villages using a sophisticated atomic device which projects radioactive rays at its target from atop the nearby Blackpool Tower.
Following from pulp magazine and newspaper fiction, movies began concocting bizarre plots of foreign invasion and hostile acts against the Western Alliance by communist agents, often employing atomic weapons or some type of advanced nuclear technology. Indeed, such international fears were the raison d'etre for the existence of super-secret agencies (e.g. the CIA and NSA), either created shortly after the war or revamped by international intelligence exchange partnerships (such as the 'UKUSA agreement' between Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Britain and America). As psychologist Joel Kovel maintains, the paranoia of the cold war commenced with the suspicions over atomic secrets, and "in this sense, the atomic bomb created the CIA."66 Correspondingly, Phillip Knightly argues that after the Russian atomic test of 1949 :
|it was not the fact that the Soviet Union had developed the bomb that caused panic in American intelligence, it was the CIA's own failure to predict when this would occur. The CIA owed its very existence to its promise to prevent surprises of this nature... Given all the available information, any competent nuclear scientist would have realized that intelligence predictions of no Soviet nuclear bomb for ten to twenty years were ludicrous... But the device of shifting blame for this intelligence failure to betrayal from within, allowed the CIA not only to survive, but actually to expand.67|
As a means of demonstrating the real, proximate threat of nuclear weapons and the effectiveness of Canada's 'cleaning-up' of an infamous and well-publicized communist spy conspiracy, a Republic serial Canadian Mounties vs. Atomic Invaders (1953) portrayed an undercover sergeant out to bait a Soviet espionage ring working in the frozen north. By highlighting American territorial fears and reliance upon Allied support, this precursory serial envisaged the spies planning to build rocket-launching platforms from which to rain nuclear missiles down upon American and Canadian cities foreshadowing the Cuban Missile crisis a decade later.68
Overt attack by the Russians from outside American boundaries was, on the whole, an infrequent narrative ploy in Fifties cinema relegated metaphorically and euphemistically to the previously mentioned extraterrestrial invasion films. More attuned to the introspective domestic fear-mongering was the device of discovering communist operatives planning to destroy American cities from within. Such scenarios were commonly forecast in the immediate post-Hiroshima climate.
In 1946, when asked by Congress for an instrument to detect atom bomb components being smuggled into the country, Robert Oppenheimer replied that there already existed one: the screwdriver, which would be needed for every crate and every container brought into every American port. The first feature to adopt this premise was The 49th Man (1953), an effective thriller which featured a Security Investigation agent trailing enemy subversives who plan to detonate an atomic bomb in a sensitive area of the USA. Similarly, in Port of Hell (1955) a Los Angeles Harbour Inspector and his partner discover a docked freighter contains an atomic bomb, to be detonated off-shore by foreign agents.
The same theme of internal defence vulnerability occurred later in post-Bond influenced treatments such as Dimension 5 (1967) in which a US secret agent and his Asian assistant are transported a few weeks into the future using time-travel belts in order to save Los Angeles from a communist Chinese atomic bomb. A year later Panic in the City (1968), had downtown L.A. again targeted for nuclear destruction by communist conspirators in an attempt to start World War III. Of all films tackling the theme, a neo-cold war film of the Eighties, Britain's The Fourth Protocol (1987) adapted by Frederick Forsyth from his own best-seller, was perhaps the most ideologically odious.69 A British agent (Michael Caine) desperately tries to locate and halt a ruthless KGB assassin from assembling a nuclear bomb next to a NATO airbase, triggered to explode during a peace rally and designed to force the collapse of the Western Alliance due to the expected outcry. The whole premise of the film posits the existence of a secret non-proliferation protocol forbidding both superpowers from any such covert action, but a renegade Soviet KGB official breaks the rule.
Without doubt Ian Fleming's literary spy figure of James Bond as British secret service agent 007, and his subsequent transformation into celluloid screen persona, has made this character the most enduring and popular of post-war heroes. What is perhaps most remarkable about Bond, especially in the film arena, is his international and cross-cultural appeal, attaining the near-real status of celebrity, seldom achieved by a fictitious character.70 For its time, Fleming's creation was by no means novel, as there had been a long tradition of spy literature celebrating the exploits of worldly British 'men of substance' protecting the Empire from traditional foes and projecting the noblest features of hegemony. Although borrowed from this established tradition, the formulaic character of Bond as devised by Fleming, and later remolded by film producer Albert R. Broccoli, diverged to form a modern super-hero, more reliant upon technological aids and raw, athletic instinct than innate intellect and finesse. Bond became the status quo's indestructible foil pitted against the oppressive forces threatening Western establishment with domination. At a time when Britain was rapidly losing its position as a world powerbroker, ironically, by depicting Bond single-handed and clandestinely defending the geopolitical course, Fleming's imaginary creation (first published in 1953) recaptivated a popular sense of English pride in its capacity to shape international affairs.
Paradoxically, the complex figure of 007 in both novel and film personified one (extremely popular) possible direction for change, particularly in post-war Britain. As Bennett and Woollacott suggest in their impressive study of the Bond phenomenon, Bond and Beyond, the secret agent has frequently represented opposing cultural and ideological values; his very social malleability as a "moving sign of the times", the authors argue, has ensured continued success:
|Bond's popularity has consisted in his ability to co-ordinate... a series of ideological and cultural concerns that have been enduringly important in Britain since the late 1950s. The primary ideological and cultural co-ordinates within which the figure of Bond has functioned have been, firstly, representations of the relations between West and East or, more generally, between capitalist and communist economic and political systems; secondly, representations of the relations between the sexes, particularly with regard to the construction of images of masculinity and femininity; and thirdly, representations of nation and nationhood.71|
Acting as a member of Her Majesty's Secret Service, however, did not mean total autonomy. Another important factor was that James Bond operated within the established network of Western intelligence, often on joint exercises, or at least with the aid of the American security system. Usually such references only required brief expositionary dialogue and the occasional appearance of a CIA agent such as Felix Leiter to cement the co-operative intelligence Bond-ing, so to speak (as in Dr No, Goldfinger (1964), Thunderball (1965), Diamonds are Forever (1971) and Live and Let Die (1973)).
The implicit, contradictory nature of Bond films and their respective ideologies can be traced via an historical alignment with (or deviation from) cold war sentiment. Like the early post-war adventure serials, the Bond films traditionally posit the Western world as threatened by demented individuals or organized groups bent on either financial reward or global power, frequently resorting to nuclear blackmail. Of all the Bond films to date, the great majority of scenarios employ nuclear technology or a conflict over such as providing the raison d'être for 007's mission (i.e. Dr No, Goldfinger, Thunderball, You only Live Twice (1967), Casino Royale (1968), Diamonds are Forever, The Spy who Loved Me (1977), For Your Eyes Only (1981), Octopussy (1983), Never Say Never Again (1983), A View to a Kill (1985) and The Living Daylights (1987)).
Apparently part-German and part-Asian, Doctor No signifies a submerged fear of the potential threat from ex-Axis powers, now Western Allies, acquiring nuclear competence and technological independence after gaining massive post-war American aid to rebuild their vanquished nations. And, like Doctor Strangelove, he too symbolically personifies the symbiosis of the machine-man, complete with black mechanical hands (which were replaced after a radiation accident). Goldfinger's ploy is to break into Fort Knox, not to rob it but to explode a 'dirty' A-bomb (supplied by Communist China) and contaminate America's domestic gold supply for at least a half century, resulting in economic chaos for the United States, and simultaneously increasing the master criminal's own private gold bullion stocks' value.
In Thunderball SPECTRE's plan involves the murder and substitution of an Italian NATO pilot who crashes a nuclear laden jet bomber at a pre-arranged Bahaman location so that SPECTRE can steal its two H-bombs. The hijackers later demand a huge ransom, threatening to destroy Miami if their directive is not met. The next movie, You Only Live Twice, featured SPECTRE again involved in acts of international 'terrorism', in this instance contracted by Communist China to create a nuclear war between Russia and America. The ploy involves a vast strategic hoax which politically manipulates the superpowers' mutual suspicions and their assumed monopoly of space technology by SPECTRE's hijacking manned spacecraft from both nations in low-orbit, using an intercepting rocket launched independently from a small island off Japan.
Influenced by both the anti-war activism of the late Sixties and the vast technological spin-offs from the Apollo lunar program, Diamonds are Forever depicted another SPECTRE consortium plot to apparently force immediate international nuclear disarmament by threatening various large cities across the globe with destruction from a diamond laser weapon aboard an orbiting satellite.
With Roger Moore in the lead, The Spy Who Loved Me transformed you Only Live Twice slightly by substituting the plot device of hijacking space capsules in the latter film for nuclear submarines in the former. In both instances the plan is to bring about a nuclear holocaust by creating false acts of aggression between the East and West. In For Your Eyes Only (1981), after a British spy ship is sunk off the coast of Albania, both Soviet and British intelligence race to find a vital piece of technology called the ATAC system, a computerized keypad which counteracts the automatic commands to the British nuclear Polaris submarine fleet.72
For Octopussy (1983) the Soviets were again the focus of Bond's espionage interests; this time a renegade Russian General plans to start World War III by secretly exploding a nuclear bomb near a West Berlin NATO base, appearing deceptively to be an American accident. Basically a plot update of Thunderball, the second Bond movie released in 1983, Never Say Never Again, depicts SPECTRE breaking through the NATO cruise missile security system to divert a couple of nuclear missiles from their test flight and land at a pre-arranged Bahaman location. Like its predecessor, by threatening to detonate the first bomb under the White House and a second in Middle East oil fields, nuclear blackmail is again SPECTRE's rationale.73
Roger Moore's final foray as 007 came via the release of A View to a Kill (1985). The nuclear MacGuffin in this case comes by way of the American 'star wars' Strategic Defence Initiative and the economic R & D carrot offered by the US military-industrial complex funding allied nations willing to participate in the project. The opening sequence depicts Bond rescuing from delivery to the KGB a new super-secret computer microchip created by British industry capable of resisting the effects of electro-magnetic pulse which would render traditional command and control systems inoperable in a time of nuclear attack. Appearing as the new (monogamous?) Bond, Timothy Dalton replaced Moore in The Living Daylights (1987). In this scenario 007 is involved in a Soviet plot designed to provoke World War III, details of which are obtained from a Russian agent who defects to the West.74
If the Bond genre is a changing sign of the times as Bennett and Woollacott suggest, it would therefore appear the Eighties secret agent has returned to the conventions of cold war action and diplomacy. Whatever concessions to detente may have been deliberately constructed for earlier projects, Bond as symbol for the maintenance and/or rehabilitation of the Western status quo personifies emblematically the very power of force created to support this hegemony -- nuclear deterrence.75 And if the actual gadgetry from film to film has become more and more outrageous, it too accurately reflects the scientific fetishism associated with, and produced as spin-offs from, the whole international gamut of nuclear defence industries. Indeed, the miniaturized marvels that Bond employs to disarm and destroy a succession of adversaries serve to symbolize the implicit superiority of Western technological achievement. The Russians, Chinese, SPECTRE or insane master criminals may all threaten the West with nuclear weapons and acts of international terrorism but ultimately the alliance will prevail via its defensive enshrinement of phallocratic logic and materials. In this way Bond not so much represents the agent for detente, but more so the embodiment and ability of Western power (nuclear deterrence) to pressure for or reject such, depending on its complex, yet dynamic, geopolitical doctrines and its capacity to remain strategically ahead of its opponents.
By the time Dr. Strangelove had emerged it was apparent that a mass audience would accept a deconstructive critique of the genre process. Stanley Kubrick's marvellous satirical "nightmare comedy" was precursory in that it immediately altered the cultural perception of social stereotypes with such a quantum leap that any post-Strangelove nuclear movie had to re-evaluate its generic imperatives. As Schatz maintains, only a newborn genre's status as social ritual generally resists any ironic, ambiguous or overly complex treatment of its narrative message.76 This perception that the genre was sufficiently established to allow for such transformations helps explain the subsequent radical divergence of technique in British productions like Peter Watkins' meta-docu-drama The War Game (1966), and the absurdist comedy treatment mutually adopted in the pop-European farce The Day the Fish Came Out (1967), based on an actual nuclear accident and contamination in the Mediterranean, and the Goonish humour of The Bed Sitting Room (1969).77
Similarly, the cult of James Bond/Sean Connery spawned a myriad of parody imitators. In America, suave and seductive secret agents foiling schemes of nuclear mayhem ranged from Dean Martin as Matt Helm (The Silencers (1965)), Robert Vaughn and David McCallum as the Men from U.N.C.L.E. (in The Spy With My Face (1966) etc.), James Coburn (In Like Flint (1967)) and Vince Edwards as Hammerhead (1968). European studios were equally prolific during the late Sixties when it came to combatting nuclear terrorism on screen, churning out parodic exploitation Bond clones to the extent that Sean Connery's younger brother Neil starred in the Italian spy farce OK Connery (1967). Indeed, from 1964 to 1967 a wave of continental nuclear espionage films were released, usually deliberate parodies, including: Le Monocle (1964) and Feu a Volonte (1965) from France; and West Germany's The Man with a 1000 Masks, Mission Hell (both 1965) and An Affair of State (1966). Italy was also involved in a number of co-productions, such as Superseven Calling Cairo (1965), Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs, Operation Lady Chaplin, Superago Versus Diabolicus, That Man in Istanbul (all 1966), and Diabolik (1967).
Emphasising the role of evolution in generic sensibility, Christian Metz has traced such developments through successive periods denoted as 'classic', 'parody', 'contestation' and 'critique', arguing that this linear progression requires a mutual sophistication and self-consciousness from both film-maker and audience.78 Undoubtedly, the persisting Vietnam confrontation and domestic opposition engendered a heightened social and political malaise which helped spawn our cultural acumen; a theme well reflected in the dissolution of bipolar brinkmanship into an omnipotent form of 'benign' technological fascism when the superpowers' strategic computers merge to form a single supreme intelligence in Colossus: the Forbin Project. The metaphor of nation-state rivalry was also present in Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970), where primitive simian brawn combated the remnant human mutant intellects, which led to the terminal and resoundingly iconoclastic obliteration of the entire Earth a thousand years hence.
The early Seventies' Nixon-Brezhnev superpower co-operation was reflected in the near-futuristic scenario of Earth II (1970) whose multi-racial space station crew disarms an orbiting Chinese nuclear MIRV threatening the stability of Earth's tenuous state of peaceful co-existence. While the following few years of detente displaced the overt fear of apocalypse from immediate social consciousness, but it reappeared under the sublimated guise of the modern Disaster epic (e.g. Airport (1970), The Poseidon Adventure (1972), Earthquake, The Towering Inferno (both 1974) etc). As psychologist J.E. Mack has argued:
|the great interest in the last few years in disaster films about air crashes, earthquakes, tidal waves, and fires in tall buildings, grows out of an unconscious need to displace the larger terror contained in the threat of nuclear disaster and annihilation to a smaller, more finite, comprehendable and manageable catastrophe.79|
The post-Vietnam/Watergate features of the Seventies mirrored increasing cultural disenchantment with military, political and corporate corruption. In Dark Star (1974), an updated homage to Dr Strangelove, hippy astronauts were depicted gleefully cruising about the galaxy, disintegrating entire planetary systems with sentient "thermostellar" bombs (one of which hilariously self-destructs in a moment of Cartesian frenzy). Both Damnation Alley (1977) and A Boy and his Dog (1975) examined the problem of post-nuclear survivability. After battling giant scorpions and killer cockroaches, an idealized neonuclear family reaches a pocket of civilization in the former film; in the latter it is precisely this continuity of 'wholesome' American society and ethics (now residing in a sterile underground city) from pre- to post-war environment that is shown to be not only ridiculous but ultimately diabolical. The level of disillusionment, however, was perhaps best articulated in Robert Aldrich's pensive drama Twilight's Last Gleaming (1977) in which a bitter General seizes an ICBM silo and threatens to launch missiles unless the Pentagon and President reveal to the public the hidden agendas for American involvement in Vietnam.
Other films not only rekindled fears of radioactive contamination, but also began questioning the competence of local nuclear power utilities, alluded to via the deadly (i.e. radioactive) black cloud of killer bees that attack a missile command post and then a nuclear powerplant in The Swarm (1978). The frightening dramatization of a civilian nuclear accident and the corresponding conspiracies of silence were tackled head-on in Stronger than the Sun (1977), Red Alert (1977), The Uranium Conspiracy (1978), The Chain Reaction (1979), The Plutonium Incident (1980) and The China Syndrome (1979). The latter's release (un)fortunately coinciding with the near-meltdown of the Harrisburg plant, Three Mile Island, and was championed by the anti-nuclear lobby.
However, an often ignored feature of the decade's detente was a massive arms race, virtually doubling the number of warheads of the superpowers. Against the significant advances in arms control during the period (Salt I, ABM Treaty, Salt II etc.) the cinematic emphasis began to shift overtly from the communist invader to the fanatic, terrorist or master criminal (Madame Sin (1972), Ground Zero (1973), The Big Bus, Kingston: Power Play (both 1976) and H-Bomb (1977)).
Although a marked decrease in Seventies films dealing with nuclear themes may be apparent, curiously, a brief wave of comic book superheroes were adapted for feature film dramas to combat contemporary evils comparable to their initial serial incarnations during and immediately after the Second World War. This sub-genre began appropriately with the made-for-TV pilot movie of The Six Million Dollar Man (1973) which depicts the ultimate symbiosis of the machine/man in our atomic age by rebuilding a mutilated astronaut with nuclear-powered bionic limbs and organs. Other pilots dependent upon miniature nuclear technologies regulating human biochemistry were The Gemini Man (1976) and The Bionic Woman (1976), both of which spun-off TV series. 1977 saw the arrival of Spider-man, who was given special abilities after being bitten by an irradiated spider. He returned the next year in Spider-man Strikes Back to foil an extortion plot using an amateurly constructed atomic bomb. Another scientist, this time deliberately exposed to radiation, became The Incredible Hulk (1978, returning a decade later in the Trial of the Incredible Hulk (1989). Similarly, both Dr. Scorpion (1978) and Captain America (1979) appeared on screen to halt madmen threatening destruction with stolen nuclear weapons.
However, the most popular of these characters -- the pre-nuclear Superman -- combined a variety of genre concerns. As an extra-terrestrial and sole survivor of a technologically superior but extinct race whose home planet was destroyed cataclysmically, he is given super powers via the radiation emitted from Earth's yellow Sun. Significantly, his only weakness is the radioactive properties contained in fragments of his demolished Krypton. Of the four Superman films to date, the 'Man of Steel' fights criminal geniuses and/or nuclear terrorists in each film -- a theme so potent that in Superman IV: The Quest For Peace (1987), after eliminating all of Earth's atomic arsenal, he is yet confronted by an evil super- adversary/alter ego (cloned from his hair by Lex Luthor) named Nuclear Man.
Coinciding with increasing domestic American political disenchantment, the threat of international communism reflected in nuclear cinema began to wane and was replaced with a more novel allusion -- international terrorism -- manifest often in the marginalized guise of demented individuals (Bette Davis steals a nuclear sub in Madame Sin (1972)) bent on financial profits through extortion (Burgess Meredith creates a nuclear juggernaut for ransom in Golden Rendezvous (1978) and Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor attempts to "nuke" the San Andreas fault to improve his desert property value in Superman: The Movie (1978)). Just as bizarre in The Man who Stole the Sun (1980) was a young science teacher's threat to detonate a home-made nuclear device unless the Japanese government permitted the Rolling Stones to perform live, and telecasts of baseball to be screened without commercial interruption! Into the Eighties, nuclear terrorism came to the fore in, among others, Whoops! Apocalypse (1981), The Soldier, Return of the Man From U.N.C.L.E. (both 1983), The Glory Boys, Time Bomb (both 1984), The Edge, The Patriot (1986), Terror Squad (1987), The Rainbow Warrior Conspiracy (1988) and continues into the Nineties with features such as American Ninja 4: The Annihilation (1991).80
By the end of the Seventies, the West had consolidated its return to conservative politics which heralded the death of detente. A new Cold War chilled the international arena with bellicose rhetoric darting across both sides of the Atlantic, and once again missile/counter missile deployment reanimated the nuclear bogeyman (with 'counterforce' and 'first strike' technologies abruptly displacing strategic complacency), resulting in a new wave of films reminiscent of the earlier Sixties cycle, but seemingly bleaker and no longer prepared to cinematically evade the destructive capacity of atomic weaponry, ionizing radiation and the 'civilian' nuclear industry.
In a brief analysis of this trend, the editors of American Film recognized both the social climate, the commercial incentive and Hollywood's response:
|Nuclear holocaust is not a subject calculated to bring audiences pouring into the theatres, and the studios have generally stayed away from it... Now, that too is changing. 81|
Of the films concerned with nuclear themes released in the Eighties, each can be read as a reaction to and an elaboration of the generic corpus preceding it, since any genre's continuance is dependent upon audience perception of variations in convention, observable from one film to the next. Unlike the rare and inept early attempts to depict the horror and tragedy of global nuclear conflict via stock footage of fires and conventional warfare (as in Invasion USA (1952), the Eighties equivalent invest their scenarios with an almost pathological attention to detail. Hopelessly compromised, The Day After (1983) fuses pyrotechnic disaster spectacle with a familiar TV soap discourse and wallowed in its own 'event' celebrity status, whereas Threads (1985) misappropriates Watkin's tenor in The War Game to produce a Day After effect.82
Conversely, Testament utilizes a simpler, disquieting narrative, which focused solely upon a single family/community milieu. The microcosmic referent also frames One Night Stand as it examined the response to nuclear war from the viewpoint of four youths, unfortunately played out with an ineffective theatrical and absurdist mode of address. The Atomic Cafe satirically juxtaposed archival Cold War newsreel footage into its own form of propagandist docu-montage, while Wargames relies upon the spectacular visual capabilities of newtech computer graphics whilst appealing to the highly exploited, monolithic youth market. The Dead Zone demonstrates exemplary intelligence and constraint but is overshadowed by the cult of Stephen King's literary horror dynamo, adopting a literally prophetic-interventionist narrative. Similarly, The Terminator relies on appropriating apocalyptic discourse for its microcosmic battle of Armageddon in LA, already catastrophically played out in a post-holocaust future, revealed by time-travelling messianic warrior. As in Dante's Devine Comedy, Miracle Mile (1988) chronicles one man's decent into hell as he bears witness to the approaching nuclear onslaught.
Apart from the above-mentioned, highly visible cycle of the early Eighties, nuclear cinema began to adopt an overtly apocalyptic tone, closely related to the social malaise espoused in the modern horror film, particularly George Romero's irradiated zombie trilogy, which flourished in the mid-to-late Seventies.83 Instead of the borrowings from classical and gothic literature which often informed the posture of 1930s-50s horror films, a "duck and cover" generation of cineastes began to reconstitute earlier Hollywood generic formulae (as did the early French nouvelle vague before them) for self-reflexive, ironic effect, or as homage and pastiche. Similarly, filmmakers tackling nuclear themes renegotiated the familiar generic tenets by a curious combination of punk nihilism, resignation/expectation of death via nuclear holocaust and a nostalgic yearning for 1950s/60s naivety and innocence (e.g. Full Moon High (1981), Repo Man (1984), Back to the Future, Return of the Living Dead, My Science Project (all 1985) and Radioactive Dreams (1986)). Others tried to envisage the catastrophic physical consequences of thermonuclear warfare through the imagery of fantasy (Superman II (1980), Dreamscape (1983), Wrong Is Right (1984), When the Wind Blows (1987), Rock and the Alien (1988), Akira (1989)). But, ever increasingly, nuclear cinema began to adopt post-holocaust and/or survivalist scenarios.84
During this new wave a number of movies appeared which shifted the bulk of their narratives explicitly into the day (or days) after, depicting the bleak prospects of the survivors 'envying the dead'. Cross-culturally these films included the French productions Malevil (1981), Le Dernier Combat (1983), Poland's O-Bi, O-Ba: The End of Civilization (1984), the Soviet Letters from a Dead Man (1985) and Masseba (1989) from Czechoslovakia, all describing the trauma of (underground) survival and its ethical dilemmas.
On occasion throughout the genre, warnings of a possible post-nuclear future were usually psychically distanced from the spectator both spatially and temporally by transposing fears of atomic conflagration as having already occurred on an alien world (Rocketship XM, This Island Earth (1955), Not of this Earth (1956 -- refilmed in 1988), The Mysterians (1959)). More common was the realization of a radically altered post-war Earth visited in a future time populated by mutants and/or remnant 'societies' in underground shelters (World Without End (1955), Teenage Caveman (1958), The Time Machine (1960), The Time Travellers (1964), all of the Planet of the Apes (1968-73) films, Genesis II, The Idaho Transfer (both 1973), Planet Earth (1974) and A Boy and His Dog (1975)).85 This cinematic concern of an immutable historical course towards Armageddon has been consolidated during the past decade. Although messianic heroes intervene in The Dead Zone, The Terminator and Future Hunters (1985) to usurp a seemingly predetermined nuclear fate which effectively grants humanity a temporary stay of execution, the victories seem at best pyrrhic.
Reintroducing the cyclical genre theme of homo sapiens escaping the holocaust by physically leaving the planet, in The Martian Chronicles (1980) a group of human pioneers witness the thermonuclear destruction of Earth from their small colony.86 During a joint Soviet-American mission to explore an ancient alien intelligence in 2010 (1986), the distressed crew watch transmissions describing preparations for a global war to be waged back home on Earth as hostilities in Central America escalate. Earlier, in both Operation Ganymed (1977) and Aftermath (1980), upon returning from deep space, astronauts cannot raise communications with Earth, and fearing a devastating nuclear exchange has occurred, make emergency landings. Similarly, in Def Con 4 (1983) an orbiting nuclear weapons platform (an interesting coincidence with the 'star wars' Strategic Defense Initiative), which after actively participating in the terminal war, returns to Earth only to encounter a brutal regime of survivors, and vicious post-holocaust rulers also confront an astronaut in The Survivor (1988) upon his return to Earth.
Just as the nuclear proliferation and ABM espionage movies of the Sixties had their filmic precursors prior to the actual technologies' development, Reagan's Star Wars program had been anticipated by films such as Diamonds Are Forever (1971). Indeed, such movies no doubt provided the original germinating idea appropriated from popular culture as early as Buck Rogers serials replete with their death rays and laser beams. In this way, SDI notions had been foregrounded on celluloid long before March 1983 or George Lucas began his Star Wars trilogy in 1977.87 Nevertheless, shortly after the defence program became official US policy, a number of films were released broaching the issue (e.g. Velvet (1984), Code Name: Foxfire, Spies Like Us (both 1985), Manhattan Project: The Deadly Game (1987)), eventually drawing political satire in Robocop (1987), where grabs from the television news of tomorrow depict a US President clumsily floating about a future Star Wars orbital platform before an "accidental" firing of the laser system incinerates a small part of California, home chiefly of retired Presidents and the megarich.
Following the enormous international popularity of Mad Max (1979) and The Road Warrior (1981) a spate of 'after the blast' movies began to relegate reference to their cataclysmic nuclear wars with either a few brief opening shots of atomic deluge (budget permitting), an introductory narration, or a short title, expeditiously dispatching the holocaust into the realm of an historical past (e.g. The Ravagers (1979), Cafe Flesh, Survival Zone (1982), Endgame, Human Animals, The New Barbarians , Stryker, 2019: After the Fall of New York, Exterminators of the Year 3000, Yor: Hunter from the Future, Metal Storm (all 1983), Last Exterminators, City Limits (both 1984), The Load Warrior (1984) America 3000 (1985), In the Aftermath, Lunar Madness, Rats: Night of Terror, Eliminator 2000, Exterminator 2000 (all 1986), Hell Comes to Frogtown, Robot Holocaust, Rock & Rule, Cherry 2000, Creepzoids (all 1987), Badlands 2005, Steel Dawn, World Gone Wild (all 1988) and Desert Warrior, Cyborg, Robot Jox (all 1989).88
Apart from the exploitation clones, a number of Eighties films have followed Mad Max III: Beyond Thunderdome (1985) into the realm of postmodern representation, relying heavily upon strategies of pastiche and intertextuality to depict their post-nuclear holocaust futures, such as Radioactive Dreams (1986), Spirits of the Air, Gremlins of the Clouds (1988), Deadly Reactor, Tin Star Void and young Einstein (all 1989).89
The apocalyptic imagination embodied in a terminal nuclear metaphor has seeped into the very zeitgeist of contemporary cinema, making some sort of reference or allusion virtually de rigeur. For example, in Raising Arizona (1987) the writing is literally on the wall in the form of the Dr Strangelove "O.P.E." recall code in one scene, as well as a Mad Max 'road-biker of the apocalypse' homage rendered initially as a dream revelation.90 The teenage protagonists of My Science Project (1985), trapped in an alien time vortex, fight disfigured beings whom they (naturally) rationalize as "mutants from after the apocalypse!"91 Paradoxically, this sensibility may also be present in the Eighties 'teen' cycle celebration of neo-conservative ethics and 'yuppie/ultra' materialism, arguably as a reactionary denial of nuclear fatalism overtly expressed in the abject nihilism of River's Edge (1987) and its portrayal of modern youth dispossessed of a future.92 As one teenager exhorts in the movie to his gang after exposure to a friend's remorseless act of murder, "You've got to make the best of it while we're still alive because any day now -- BOOM -- and we're dead ... Russia could send up a whole batch of nuclear bombs". Other films in which youths articulate kindred sentiments include Future Kill (1985), Brain Damage (1988) and The Unbelievable Truth (1988), and by teachers concerned about their pupils' nuclear age despair in Heaven and Earth (1987) and Summer Nights on the Planet Earth (1988).
There is a growing body of clinical research to suggest a wide cross-cultural discord with perceptions of normative social interaction implicating as its source the child and adolescent's fear of an impending nuclear war.93 As J.E. Mack believes:
|We may find we are raising a generation of young people without a basis for making long-term commitments who are given over, of necessity to doctrines of impulsiveness and immediacy in their personal relationships of choice of behaviours and activity. 94|
Sontag's 1950s 'Imagination of Disaster' may still be with us, but it would appear the mass catharsis of witnessing and living through the cinematic nuclear holocausts of the 1980s has 'mutated' the emphasis of this genre away from catastrophic spectacle, toward the conflict of prenuclear sentiments surviving incongruously in the brutal milieu of post-holocaust atavism. The inability of most contemporary movies to approach the complexities of social relations in the nuclear age, whether by a nostalgic yearning for a less complicated life in some imaginary childhood past, or embracing a more distant historical milieu via an apocalyptic future, constructed as a pioneering, frontier or survivalist "second chance", suggests a continued determination to avoid coming to terms with the present.
Even the less overtly alarming direction this genre is taking, which literally sub-merges nuclear fears into the realm of an (unconscious) fantasy underworld, whether it be beneath the earth (as in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988) or under the sea (e.g. The Rift, The Abyss or Deep Star Six (all 1989)), suggests that the relative geo-political comfort afforded in the post-cold war rapproachment has not yet rid audience of their nuclear anxieties.
THE HUNDREDTH MONKEY
END OF THE WORLD BOOKS
U.S. - RUSSIA - RELATIONS
Problems of Strategic Nuclear Arms Reductions
Pursuing a Strategy of Mutual Assured Safety
The Prospects for Global Disarmament
NATIONAL MISSLE DEFENSE
Strategic Arms Reduction Talks
DISARMAMENT. Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START), nuclear arms reduction talks started in 1982; signed as a treaty in 1989 by George Bush
LT Jacobson's Essay - MORALITY OF NUCLEAR DETERRENCE. AND MISSILE DEFENSE. by. Lieutenant Ron G. JACOBSON. United States Navy.
In Focus: U.S. Nuclear
Weapons Policy at the End of the Century:
Lost Opportunities and New Dangers
NUCLEAR WEAPONS AND CANADA
NUKES IN SPACE - THE FINAL FRONTIER?
TRIDENT PLOUGHSHARES - 2000
Lost and Stolen Nuclear Materials in the United States
NUCLEAR SURVIVAL IN THE YEAR 2000
NUCLEAR ARMS TALKS AND A PROPHECY
DREAMS OF THE GREAT EARTHCHANGES
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