In the early 1950's, a number of widely distributed films were released which use the experience of European civilians during World War II to serve as a warning against ignoring civil defense programs. Productions like Our Cities Must Fight and Disaster on Mainstreet place footage of displaced populations, distraught refugees, and ruined cities alongside images of air raid shelters and fire crews to stress the importance of supporting a strong home front defense. This strategy was revisted in 1956 when the Federal Civil Defense Administration teamed with Robert J. Enders Productions to create New Family in Town which seeks to encourage private citizens to construct bomb shelters in their basements and backyards.(1) Narrated by Robert Preston, a prolific actor and musician who would later achieve lasting fame as Howard Hill in The Music Man, New Family in Town relates the stir which is caused by an English family's arrival into Pleasant Valley, a generic, working class American town.
Described as a close knit community where most of the men work at the nearby steel mill, the daily grind of Pleasant Valley is interrupted when a new family, the Trombleys, moves in down the street. Arriving in a European style roadster and clad in baggy trousers and bow tie, patriarch John Trombly lights a pipe and inspects his new property. His appearance immediately clashes with the much more subdued nature of the neighborhood and the local men mock his mannerisms from afar, though a musical score of sharp trumpet blasts keeps the situation appear comical. As weeks go by, the Trombleys keep to themselves. When John Trombley begins to dig a large hole in his back yard, however, he catches everyone's attention. "Like most Englishmen, his first though was of next summer's garden. Or was it a garden? It looked more like he was trying to bury himself alive. Well, the Englishman was obviously insane everybody said" Preston relates as Trombley's hole gets wider and deeper. The speculation and gossip grows so intense it even interrupts a weekly poker game where one man goes so far as to suggest Trombley is digging for uranium on his property. Eventually Joe Wilson, Trombley's next door neighbor, can't stand the mystery and inquires about the hole, now several feet deep. John Trombley introduces himself and reveals his hole is actually the foundation for a bomb shelter. Because he "saw a bit of bombing during the 'last show'", Trombley wants to ensure his family is protected in the event of an enemy attack with atomic weapons. Interest in civil defense quickly spreads throughout the neighborhood and suddenly several shelters are constructed.
This film is notable for the number
of artistic elements it displays, depicted in part at the conclusion when Preston compares the
neighborhood's gossipy tendencies to that of hissing, territorial cats.
This comparison also sets up the humorously clashing cultures which drive the
plot forward. As outsiders, the Trombleys serve to shame their American
counterparts out of a generally complacent attitude towards civil
defense. The reaction of Joe Wilson and his fellow citizens, who eagerly
try to outdo one another in contribution to community and individual
protection, shows they are rising to meet the challenge. The
message of New Family in Town, however, would prove short lived, as the Office of
Civil and Defense Mobilization declared the film obsolete within a decade of its release. Claiming the information presented as civil defense
advice was no longer valid, by 1965 the O.C.D.M. had ordered all government copies
of the film returned and encouraged any private owners to cease showing
1. Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization. Motion Pictures on Civil Defense. United States Government Printing Office, 1959. 7.
2. Office of Civil Defense. Civil Defense Motion Picture Catalog. United States Government Printing Office, 1966. 31.