Cinema History from the Cold War!


An Expanding Archive!

A growing list of films!  Simply click the screenshots for summaries, video, and productions histories of the featured films.  If the film you're looking for isn't listed, please let us know, we may be able to track it down for you.

Pattern For Survival

Hosted by famed broadcast journalists Chet Huntley and William Lawrence, this very early film from 1950 approaches civil defense in a very conventional manner, recommending deep blast shelters for urban targets.  Featuring hypothetical atomic attacks, Pattern for Survival also explains the danger of radioactive waterbursts.  Although privately produced by Factual Films, Inc., the National Security Resources Board (then in charge of civil defense preparations in the United States) is listed as a consultant.


1951

-And a Voice Shall Be Heard

Sensing a marketing opportunity as the fear of an enemy atomic attack grew, General Electric created -And a Voice Shall Be Heard in 1951.  While highlighting the civil defense preparations of Syracuse, New York, the film focuses on the importance of keeping lines of communication intact.  The preferred method for achieving this is with GE brand two-way radios.  The value of such equipment is stressed during the film's climax, which depicts a hypothetical atomic bomb strike over the center of Syracuse.

Atomic Alert

Often subtitled "The Elementary Version" this 1951 film was created by Encyclopaedia Brittanica to aid teachers and educational administrators address the threat of a possible enemy atomic attack.  Targeted towards school-aged children, the film explains the ways in which an atomic bomb can harm humans, as well as what to do if a bomb strikes while walking to school, on the playground, or home alone.  Two siblings demonstrate the proper steps to securing their family's home after an atomic attack.

Fire Fighting for Householders

As one of the nine original commissions by the Federal Civil Defense Administration in 1951, this production holds a unique place in the first federally sponsored film campaign on nuclear civil defense.  Procedures for fighting wood, chemical, and electrical fires are presented as a both training process, and an incentive to keep property free of debris.  Utilitarian in script and drama, the film gives the viewer just enough taste of their expected responsibilities as to encourage further reading on the subject. 

The Waking Point

This British film from 1951 stars character actor John Slater as the perpetually tired Joe Mercer, who doesn't see the value of civil defense in the wake of World War II.  When his son is trapped in a sand pit, he quickly changes his view and joins a local rescue squad where he envisions a terrible future if more of his countrymen don't enlist in a civil defense program.  Creative storytelling and intriguing characters netted The Waking Point the Best Civil Defense Film award at the 1952 Cleveland Film Festival.


What You Should Know About Biological Warfare

This film looks at the effects of a biological, not nuclear, attack on the United States.  Based on a pamphlet of the same name, What You Should Know About Biological Warfare outlines the different methods in which a biological attack can occur and what the medical community is doing to halt the results if one occurs.  Urging obedience to health authorities, the film promotes the pamphlet for further information on the subject.


1952

Modern Minute Men

What would happen if A-Bombs fell on Ohio?  This is the question explored by Modern Minute Men, created by the Bell Telephone Company in 1952 specifically for the Buckeye State.  Harkening back to the days of the American Revolution, the film likens civil defense volunteers to the original minute men, who could assemble for battle at a moment's notice.  Through the use of home movies, a warden explains why industrial centers like Columbus and Cincinnati are no longer safe from the threat of an enemy attack.


Our Cities Must Fight

Premiered by the Federal Civil Defense Administration in January of 1952 as part of the first official government film campaign for civil defense, Our Cities Must Fight preaches a scathing message against the evacuation of urban areas.  Shot in a very unique way that is best described as a dramatic dialogue between two men, stock footage of traffic jams and civil defense drills are incorporated to make an argument against leaving American cities when the fear of enemy atomic attack is high.


The Price of Liberty

The creation of the Federal Civil Defense Administration in 1950, and the inception of the Alert America program the following year created a boost in civil defense awareness which ultimately resonated as a call for volunteers.  One manifestation of this call appeared in The Price of Liberty, a 1951 presentation from WNYC tailored specifically for New York audiences.  Adopting the motto later used for Alert America, the film sternly warns that "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty" while encouraging the viewer to volunteer.


1953

Emergency Action to Save Lives

In early 1951, the newly formed Federal Civil Defense Administration announced the creation of nine films concerning various aspects of emergency preparedness.  Each film was to be based off widely distributed pamphlets which had been in circulation for the previous year.  Emergency Action to Save Lives, which explains very basic first-aid techniques needed to keep civilians alive in the aftermath of an atomic attack, was released as part of this public information initiative in August of 1953.


One Plane, One Bomb

Famed broadcaster Edward R. Murrow once again lent his hand to civil defense officials when creating One Plane, One Bomb in 1953.  Shot in the style of his See it Now program, Murrow documents an experiment testing whether a flight of U.S. bomber planes, posing as Soviets, can fly across American soil and remain undetected until reaching New York City.  Featuring the trained volunteers of the Ground Observer Corps, the film paints a grim picture of America's state of preparedness.


Operation Doorstep

Over the course of three months in 1953, the United States detonated 11 atomic bombs in the Nevada desert.  Members of the press were invited to view the first detonation in order to report on Operation Doorstep, an exercise conducted by the Federal Civil Defense Administration to test the effect of a nuclear explosion on the standard American domestic scene, including homes, vehicles, and weighted mannikins.  Footage captured during Operation Doorstep was quickly edited into a short film of the same name.


U.S. Civil Defense in Action

Released in early 1953, this film was designed to champion the progress America was making in civil defense preparations.  Although the various films and radio programs created by the Federal Civil Defense Administration are highlighted in detail, a challenge is also presented to the population, who are accused of being apathetic towards the atomic threat.  Coming in the midst of the Alert America campaign, the film encourages volunteers to step forward and offer their skills to fulfill a civic duty.

1954

Atomic Attack

Often, the federal government would promote films and other productions which highlighted civil defense, even if it did not have a hand in their creation.  Such was the case with Atomic Attack, a dramatic fiction adapted into an episode of the Motorola Television Hour in 1954.  Phyllis Thaxter stars as Gladys Mitchell, a suburban housewife caught home alone when New York City is destroyed by a H-Bomb.  In spite of her initial panic, Mrs. Mitchell is able to regain her composure and follow CONELRAD radio instructions.

The House in the Middle

As a means of spreading public awareness of civil defense, the F.C.D.A. often invited various companies and trade organizations to test their products in the presence of an atomic blast.  Participation in this experimental marketing provided the National Paint, Varnish, and Lacquer Association with promising footage concerning the protective capabilities of finishing materials.  The resulting film, The House in the Middle, recommends a clean house, a tidy yard, and a fresh coat of white paint to keep homes safe.


Time of Disaster

In addition to urging preparation for a possible enemy attack, The Federal Civil Defense Administration and its successors also warned of the devastation which could come from natural disasters.  Time of Disaster, released in late 1954, shows how the forces of nature can buildings and utilities to rubble.  By focusing on a small town with a solid civil defense plan, however, the film demonstrates what steps need to be taken to keep a population safe during many types of emergencies, natural or otherwise.


Trapped

With very few exceptions, films used in American civil defense programs were products of American studios with financial backing from the government.  Trapped, released in the United States in early 1954, is unique in that it was created by the Swedish Civil Defense Office as a means to train rescue squads.  Originally titled "Raddning av instanga under bombade hus", the film follows a volunteer excavation crew as they struggle to free residents of a collapsed apartment building in the aftermath of an enemy bomb.


1955

A New Look at the H Bomb

The growing fear of an enemy attack was fanned in 1952 with the development of the hydrogen bomb, a move quickly matched by the Soviets the following year.  Rising to address the situation, F.C.D.A. director Val Peterson lectures viewers on the increased destructive power of the new weapons, focusing primarily on fallout dangers.  Set entirely within Peterson's office, A New Look at the H Bomb uses detailed photographs to show the dispersing nature of radioactive contamination and the best defense to it.


Frontlines of Freedom

Hypothetical projections of a nuclear attack against the United States often began with a flight of Soviet bombers crossing the North Pole before sweeping across Canada towards their intended targets.  Recognizing the mutual threat this scenario posed to each country, civil defense officials in Canada and the United States came together to produce Frontlines of Freedom in 1955.  The film was made to serve primarily as a propaganda piece, extolling the virtues of democracy and other Western freedoms.


Let's Face It

The Soviet Union's speedy acquisition of the hydrogen bomb came as a shock to many.  Seeking to address the new threat, the Federal Civil Defense Administration released Let's Face it in 1955, which bluntly explains the increased danger now posed to American cities.  The film further explains, however, that a robust civil defense program augmented with ample citizen participation, which is prominently highlighted throughout the film, can counter this danger.


Target You

By releasing Target You in 1955, The Federal Civil Defense Administration hoped to stress upon the audience that, as citizens of the United States, they were under the threat of enemy atomic bombs.  Using animation, the film becomes a literal checklist of responsibilities which homeowners must complete if warning of an impending attack is given.  At a brisk eight minutes in length, Target You focuses only on the immediate tasks needed to save lives and stop fires.


To Live Tomorrow

Produced in part by the Institute of Life Insurance, To Live Tomorrow begins with a speech by President Eisenhower calling for a solid civil defense program.  An insurance executive examines the ways in which humans react to sudden change, from minor disturbances to life-threatening disaster, all while on his commute home.  Culminating in a brief thought experiment involving his fellow passengers, the executive's message is grim, too many Americans would panic in a disaster without proper leadership.


1956

Alert Today, Alive Tomorrow

Narrated by radio personality Andre Barruch, this production spotlights the civil defense preparations being undertaken by the city of Reading, Pennsylvania.  Stressing the need to help others and come together as a community during an atomic crisis, the film offers superb shots of rescue teams in action, as well as the peculiar ways in which the county is preparing to warn the public and carry on effective communication after the bomb falls.


Bombproof

The Burroughs Corporation, a producer of adding and data storage machines, created Bombproof in 1956 after consulting with the Federal Civil Defense Administration.  By telling the story of the fictional Donovan Manufacturing Company, the film offers business continuity advice for the aftermath of an enemy H-Bomb attack.  Walter Abel stars as J.B. Donovan, who wisely used microfilm processing (a service provided by the Burroughs Corp.) to preserve vital company records.

Crisis

Eager to highlight their contribution to the nation's civil defense effort, the Ex-Cell-O Corporation, producer of paper milk cartons, teamed with the Federal Civil Defense Administration to produce Crisis in 1956.  Hosted by broadcaster Bob Considine, the film tells the story of how the dairy industry delivered pure drinking water to Pennsylvanians in the wake of Hurricane Diane.  Considine continually reminds the audience of a need for clean water during both natural disasters and atomic attack.

Emergency Hospital

Civil defense planners knew an enemy attack involving nuclear weapons would place great strain on the United States' medical infrastructure.  To help ensure continuity of vital medical services, the federal government began a program of stockpiling pre-packaged disaster hospitals outside large cities in 1956.  The specifics of this program are examined in the 1959 "filmograph" Emergency Hospital, made by Creative Arts Studio for the Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization.

New Family in Town

World War II provided a generation with first-hand experience of warfare and in 1956, the F.C.D.A. drew upon this experience in a unique way when creating New Family in Town.  The film depicts the arrival of the Trombleys, an English family, into a working class American town.  In addition to bringing with them a host of foreign customs, the Trombleys also possess a keen interest in civil defense, a trait displayed to the rest of the town through the construction of a state of the art air raid shelter.

Sky Sentinels

Created as a public service by the private aircraft manufacturer Lear, Inc. in 1956, Sky Sentinels explores the role of America's Civil Air Patrol in civil defense.  The film highlights the Civil Air Patrol's participation in Operation Cue, where volunteer pilots flew reconnaissance and evacuation missions and conducted aerial fallout monitoring.  Specialized equipment, which is manufactured exclusively by Lear, Inc., is also demonstrated as the ideal solution to many in-flight problems.

Tornado

Although most commonly associated with an atomic threat, civil defense also sought to protect against the furies of nature.  A prime example of this non-nuclear defense can be found in the 1956 public service film Tornado, which explains the formations of the deadly vortexes, while depicting the destruction of the fictional Elmville, Oklahoma.  Featuring a host of developing meteorological technology, parallels can easily be drawn between Tornado's content, and that of films which demonstrate the devastation likely to occur following an enemy attack.


1957

A Day Called X

Originally aired as a prime-time television special on CBS in 1957, this dramatized portrayal of an atomic attack on Portland, Oregon, highlights the city's evacuation plan.  Late actor Glenn Ford narrates the film, which blends actual Portland citizens and city officials with stock footage captured during Operation Greenlight, a massive civil drill held in 1955.  As the urban population of Portland slowly, yet methodically, drains into surrounding communities, suspense builds and the viewer is is left to speculate their fate.

The Invisible Enemy

1958 saw the formation of The Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization, an agency devoted to spreading the message of fallout protection.  To achieve this task, government planners appropriated a number of existing films, such as The Invisible Enemy, which had been created for specific regions.   Made in Michigan to highlight the radiation dangers facing that state, the film features the emergency preparations of Grand Rapids and Battle Creek, explained through a lecture by an atomic research scientist.

Living With the Atom

Religion often found its way into many policies or practices concerning the atomic threat.  In 1957, for example, The Moody Institute of Science found a way to incorporate the principles of Intelligent Design into both atomic energy and the vast moral dilemma the wielding of such power held.  Living With the Atom unfolds as both a science lesson, complete with visuals and a lecture urging consultation with a higher power before dictating policies involving "the building blocks of The Creator."

Mission Fallout

For the most part, volunteer radiological monitors practiced their craft during civil defense drills, using hypothetical attacks and imaginary fallout readings.  In 1957, however, a group of specialists working for the Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization were given the opportunity to train under realistic fallout conditions during Operation Plumbob.  Mission Fallout follows this select crew as they demonstrate radiological detection equipment, including an in-depth look at plans for aerial monitoring.


Nerve Gas Casualties and Their Treatment

In early 1951, the Federal Civil Defense Administration announced the production to nine films designed to address threats facing the American public.  While most of the released titles deal with the dangers posed by the atomic bomb, Nerve Gas Casualties and Their Treatment examines the symptoms of "war" gasses, particularly when left untreated.  Using clips from army training films, as well as a demonstration, this 1957 production also features an introduction by F.C.D.A. health director Dr. John Whitney.


Operation Scramble

As part of Operation Alert 1955, St. Louis County Hospital tested an evacuation plan designed to relocate patients, staff, and medical equipment in the event of an enemy atomic attack on St. Louis, Missouri.  Footage captured during this test, dubbed Operation Scramble, was edited together with an interview of the coordinating physician into this film of the same name, released Federal Civil Defense Administration in 1957.  Dr. John M. Whitney, Health Services director for the F.C.D.A., host

Rehearsal for Disaster

The need for immediate aid after an atomic attack meant heavy reliance would be placed on the trucking industry to move valuable supplies and personnel into targeted cities.  Eager to show their drivers were up to this challenge, The American Trucking Associations teamed with The Federal Civil Defense Administration to create Rehearsal for Disaster in 1957.  Set in a roadside diner, long-haul drivers Joe and Slim discuss their transportation responsibilities during civil defense emergencies.


1958

Civil Defense in Schools

Based off a 1952 pamphlet of the same name, Civil Defense in Schools examines how education authorities can organize and implement emergency plans in case of an enemy attack.  In addition to discussing the bureaucratic procedures needed, the film presents numerous examples of how schools have improvised their own fallout shelters.  Also presented are fascinating shots of civil defense equipment in action, including light warning boxes, telephone operated sirens, and radiological detection devices.


Cummings City

During the summer of 1958, two government agencies merged into the hybrid Office of Defense and Civilian Mobilization which was renamed less than two months later.  Despite its brief lifespan, The ODCM managed to produce at least one film, Cummings City, which examines military assistance in the wake of natural and nuclear disasters.  Set in a fictional coastal city during a massive hurricane, the film makes clear that any military presence would be a temporary supplement to local civil defense resources.

Fallout: When and How to Protect Yourself

1958 saw the creation of a new civil defense agency which initiated a campaign for greater awareness of fallout radiation.  As part of this much heralded public information endeavor, an animated film was contracted in 1959 to provide a general overview of the threat fallout particles posed.  The resulting production, Fallout: When and How to Protect Yourself, features a businessman quickly established as an average American, who demonstrates how to protect his family and his property from the deadly residue.


Lifeline of the Nation

Eager to highlight their contribution to United States' defense efforts during World War II, the American Association of Railroads produced Lifeline of the Nation.  The film explains how, in times of national emergency, rail systems and schedules will prioritize vital cargo, such as troops and supplies,  to send them wherever they may be needed.  Impressed by the prospect of an industry organizing itself to deal with crisis situations, the Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization re-released the film in 1958.


1959

Seconds for Survival

Bell Telephone, interested in presenting its contributions to America's civil and national defense networks, produced Seconds for Survival in 1959 to highlight its advances in radar systems and guided missiles.  Focusing on the Nike Zeus, a large anti-ballistic missile designed to destroy Soviet ICBMs which was still in the developmental stages at the film's creation, Seconds for Survival offers hypothetical demonstrations of its capabilities.  

1960

The Family Fallout Shelter

When the Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization distributed a pamphlet entitled The Family Fallout Shelter in 1959, it formally asked the American public to create a private shelter system within their homes.  The following year, this film with the same title was produced, illustrating the do-it-yourself shelter designs showcased in the pamphlet.  Featuring the Brown family, The Family Fallout Shelter traces their elaborate underground shelter from the planning stages to the final stocking of supplies.


The Safest Place

Increased awareness of the threat fallout posed to rural populations led the United States Department of Agriculture to produce a number of films in the late 1950's and early 1960's to help farmers and ranchers deal with the problem. Evenly paced and to the point, The Safest Place praises the "built in" preparedness of rural life as much as it informs on fallout protection.  Stressing the utilization of existing farm space, County Agent Bob Martin helps dairy farmer Hugh Wilson ready his family and livestock for an attack.
 

Walt Builds a Family Fallout Shelter

The concept of "do it yourself" took an interesting turn in 1959 when the Eisenhower Administration formally asked the public to construct private fallout shelters in their homes.  Supplementing a similarly titled pamphlet, Walt Builds a Family Fallout Shelter explains in step-by-step detail how to construct a simple shelter using concrete blocks.  Television host Walter Durbahn narrates as he turns an unused basement space into an economically feasible, multi-purposed, self-sufficient fallout shelter.


1961

Radiological Defense

In the final months of its existence, the Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization produced a number of motion pictures which stressed the importance of protection from radioactive fallout.  By far, the most widely distributed of these films was Radiological Defense which offers a comprehensive look at how individuals and local governments can deal with the fallout of an enemy atomic attack.  Also featured is a high school training program for students interested in learning about radiological monitoring. 

1962

Protection Factor 100

Although they United States government began encouraging fallout shelter construction in the late 1950's, it was made clear that citizens were expected to create private shelters for their families.  When the Kennedy Administration introduced a plan to create a massive system of public fallout shelters in 1961, it represented a radical shift in government civil policy.  Protection  Factor 100 details the first steps in this massive undertaking, documenting the survey process to find suitable buildings to serve as shelters.

1963

Community Protection Through Civil Defense

Months after the creation of a National Fallout Shelter Program, officials in Jacksonville, Florida began negotiating with property owners to acquire public shelter space.  Hoping to set an example, Jacksonville filmed each step it took towards creating a local fallout shelter plan, releasing the footage under the title Community Protection Through Civil Defense in 1963.  The film highlights a one-day shelter stocking effort in October of 1962 where volunteers made ready shelter for 50,000 people.

Fallout Shelter: What is It?

The concept of seeking shelter from radioactive fallout was relatively new to Americans when the Kennedy Administration introduced the National Fallout Shelter System in late 1961.  This film, released by the Office of Civil Defense in 1963, explains the process of selecting buildings to be used for public shelter.  In addition to discussing the use of solid building materials, the film offers some interesting alternatives for cities to consider.


Operations in Public Shelters

In the event of a nuclear exchange, civil defense plans relied upon thoroughly trained individuals assuming leadership roles within public fallout shelters.  But what if an appointed shelter manager failed to survive the initial attack?  Operations in Public Shelters explores this scenario by examining Public Shelter 126, where a deputy shelter manager struggles to control both panic and confusion.  Utilizing a frantic pace, this 1963 film explains how order can be restored through a strict adherence to bureaucratic procedures.