Cinema History from the Cold War!

The Price of Liberty
F.C.D.A.
WNYC Films
1952


The opening years of the 1950's were a prolific time for American civil defense programs.  1951 saw the first federally sponsored government department devoted entirely to developing and relaying protection techniques to an uninformed public.  Utilizing the popularity of film as an aid and incentive to audiences, the Federal Civil Defense Administration commissioned nine productions concerning various aspects of civil defense.  Though the films would be independently created by private companies, they would be the first to hold the backing of the government for their content.  While The Price of Liberty was not among this select group, its producers still took advantage of a federally established authority in Washington, attaching the F.C.D.A name and logo in the opening credits.  While this suggests an orientation to a national defense program, The Price of Liberty stays firmly focused on the effects of an enemy attack on New York City.  Pieced together from footage of a civil defense exercise conducted November 14, 1951, action shots of firefighters, nurses, and radiation workers are edited to present a cohesive narrative which tracks an enemy plane as it delivers an atom bomb into the heart of Manhattan.

A curious element of the film, well displayed in the attack clip offered above, is the poetic beat which narrator Kenneth Banghart provides.  Banghart, who would later make broadcasting fame as the creator of the  CBS Up to the Minute program, uses a continual and often forceful repetition of words.  Not only does this build suspense of an incoming enemy plane, but it also calls attention to his words, which ultimately resonate as a call for volunteers.  This subtle tactic keeps The Price of Liberty from falling into the trap of earlier films such as You Can Beat the A Bomb, which stress reliance massive civil defense infrastructures already known to not be in place.  The Price of Liberty, using actual footage of an exercise, presents a more realistic portrait of civil defense in the early years of the Cold War, municipal facilities like the fire and police departments supported by volunteer auxiliaries.  The film's final shot offers the famous Thomas Jefferson quote "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty".  While the continual visual reference of a rotating radar dish is a representation of one branch of this eternal vigilance, the other is made up of the volunteer forces heralded as "friends and neighbors" in the film.  Throughout, the film functions as a display of this participation, however, in the last few minutes, Banghart openly confides a lack of personnel needed to effectively continue normal city operations after an enemy attack.  This frank admission strengthens the film's true purpose as a intriguingly poetic call for volunteers.