Cinema History from the Cold War!

The Waking Point
Central Office of Information
Crown Film Unit
1951


Planners within the British government hoped The Waking Point, which tells the fictional story of Joe Mercer, would both highlight the importance of rescue squads, and encourage enrollment in civil defense units.  All Joe really wants is a cigarette and a nap, unfortunately his job as a Pullman car attendant affords him little time for either.  Neither does he have time for constant reminders of the need for civil defense (spelled "defence" by the British).  As a former professional rescue man with ample experience during the Blitzkrieg of World War II, Joe is highly sought after by Bob, his neighbor and director of a local volunteer rescue squad.  Wary of the time commitments involved, Joe declines to participate.  This decision is supported by his wife, who hears warning sirens during a practice drill and recalls with disdain the long nights of waiting for her husband to return from rescue missions.  Her attitude prevailed in 1951, the production year of The Waking Point, when many in Great Britain felt that with the "shooting war" over, atomic civil defense activities were a waste of time which brought back unpleasant memories of German air raids.  As the film dramatically shows, the Mercers quickly learn the value of civil defense training when their son is trapped in a sand pit.  Once he enlists with his local unit, Joe Mercer quickly rises through the ranks and is given the opportunity to become a professional rescue instructor at Easingwold, a village near York with a comprehensive training center.

                             

Joe Mercer is portrayed by well known British actor John Slater, perhaps best remembered for his authoritarian roles in several detective series.  Here, his character appears perpetually exhausted, so it seems only fitting that he "plank out" after a strenuous day training at Easingwold, only to dream vividly about enemy bomber planes closing in on Britain.  In his dream, Joe and his fellow civil defense workers are quickly overwhelmed by panicked citizens.  Some are seeking to volunteer but the vast majority are fighting for shelter from a probable atomic attack.  The point of the film quickly becomes clear when Bob must turn away eager citizens.  "We just haven't got the staff to train all you people!  If only you'd come when there was more time!"  Joe awakens with a start, glad to realize there is still time for his countrymen to recognize the importance of a strong civil defense program with ample citizen support.  Upon release, The Waking Point proved very popular in Great Britain.  The Federal Civil Defense Administration saw that the film was also distributed across the United States, where it was also well received.  In July of 1952, it was screened at the Cleveland Film Festival in the category of Best Civil Defense Film alongside several contemporary releases such as Duck and Cover, Modern Minute Men, And a Voice Shall Be Heard, Target U.S.A., and Survival Under Atomic Attack.  Despite being the only foreign entry, The Waking Point would go on to win the award. (1)

1.  CONELRAD.  Chronology: At the Pace of a Tortoise.  Accessed May 27, 2013.  http://www.conelrad.com/duckandcover/cover.php?turtle=04