Cinema History from the Cold War!

Atomic Attack
Motorola, Inc.
1954


"The show has an excellent cast and is entertaining as well as informative.  Technical inaccuracies are considered to be outweighed by the overall value of the film in arousing interest in civil defense."  This brief description, provided by a civil defense newsletter, expresses government support for Atomic Attack, a 50 minute episode of the short-lived Motorola Television Hour.  The segment stars Phyllis Thaxter as Gladys Mitchell, a Westchester housewife whose routine morning is interrupted when a submarine launched missile detonates a hydrogen bomb over nearby New York City.  While her neighborhood remains physically unscathed, Mrs. Mitchell must contend with a missing husband (who was working in Manhattan), an influx of refugees, possible saboteurs, and accumulating fallout contamination.  Atomic Attack also features a young Walter Matthau who appears as a doctor working with civil defense officials.

                             

As public concern of an enemy attack grew, so too did the nuclear apocalyptic, a sub-genre of fictional literature focusing on tales of destruction caused by nuclear war.  From this vein came Shadow on the Hearth, a short novel written by Judith Merril in 1950 which provided the basis for Atomic Attack.  In the television adaptation, Mrs. Mitchell initially reacts with panic, however, she regains her composure and follows civil defense instructions provided by a CONELRAD station (on a Motorola radio of course).  As the episode progresses, the surviving Mitchells face many hardships, though it is stressed that auxiliary police and radiological monitors have restored public order within hours of the attack.  Despite Atomic Attack's status as a fictional account, the government recognized the value of an entertaining and well publicized production highlighting the importance of civil defense.  Beginning in early 1955, the Federal Civil Defense Administration began to encourage screenings of the show and even lent out 16mm copies, provided that viewers would not be charged admission to see it.   By the later 1950's, however, greater emphasis was being placed on fallout protection.  Like many early civil defense films, Atomic Attack explains radiation away as a nominal threat, demonstrating that fallout could only be a danger when carried through water.  This dismissal led to the episode being deemed obsolete by the F.C.D.A. just three years after its initial release.

Atomic Attack may be viewed in its entirety HERE.