Cinema History from the Cold War!

Nuclear Detonations: The First Sixty Seconds

Office of Civil Defense

Civil defense films were, primarily, a teaching tool.  Films created in anticipation of a wide release among the general public were infused with entertaining elements as well, to grab a viewer's attention while relaying a message of preparedness.  The same cannot be said for the often tedious, purely instructional films meant to train civil defense officials and radiological monitors.  Nuclear Detonations:  The First Sixty Seconds, falls into this latter category, delivering just as the title promises, a summary of the immediate effects of a nuclear explosion.  As if to drive home its strictly educational nature, the film is set entirely within a classroom while the narrator teaches a civil defense workshop. 

The narrator himself is a veteran of several civil defense productions throughout the 1960's.  While his identity as of yet remains unknown, he can also be seen hosting In Time of Emergency (1969) and Fallout Shelter: What is It? (1963), portraying a concerned news anchor in Individual and Family Reactions on Warning (1964), wearily examining bomb damage as an engineer in Manual Damage Assessment (1964), and perhaps most interestingly, playing a shelter occupant in Information Programs Within a Public Shelter (1963) who often wanders out of the dark shadows to address the camera and offer management advice.   Here he acts as a teacher, explaining to his class the dangers of blast, heat, and initial radiation which pose the greatest hazards in the period after a nuclear detonation.  Given the short length of the film and the focus of its content, the Office of Civil Defense likely intended it to function as a visual aid or a segue into a longer lecture.

Some interesting artistic elements remain, however, demonstrated in the opening scenes where a ticking clock counts down the seconds until the class begins while students mill about the room.  This animated timepiece, accompanied by a musical score reminiscent of The Twilight Zone, plays into the narrator's opening argument: in the time it takes for his class to settle in their seats, the worst damage from a nuclear bomb would have already occurred.  This point is repeated a number of times through graphic photographs and chalk outlines meticulously drawn upon the blackboard.  Does the danger of a nuclear detonation end after the first sixty seconds?  Certainly not, but as the narrator makes clear in his closing remarks, "that's for another chapter!"