TOTN Summer Movie Series: How I Started REALLY Worrying About The Bomb

Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

There's really no plot device like the Bomb. It can end things summarily, move the plot along, or in some post-apocalyptic cases, start things up. I'll admit, I was skeptical when I started producing this week's summer movies spectacular, but it turns out that not only do I love most of these films, but I'm deathly afraid of the Bomb. (And it's not a great week for this sort of thing — given the Russians have had a big week.) In any case, I'd like to keep writing, but if I go into detail about all the terrifying stuff I've seen while pulling tape — several cities destroyed, faces melting, giant locusts, Godzilla — I'll have to duck and cover again. In lieu of that, enjoy the amazing clip from On The Beach (1954), below. Anthony Perkins giving instructions to his young wife on how to kill herself — and their baby! — when the radiation poisoning sets in.

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Top NUKE film:

Banned by the BBC a film called 'war game'

re-maid in the 80s as 'Threads'

One of the best nuke thrillers of all time

a Plutonium drama ' Edge of Darkness'

Sent by Simon Holland | 2:29 PM | 8-14-2008

Consider "Panic In Year Zero." Dspite starring Frankie Avalon as a survivor of a nuclear exchange (you can't make this stuff up) stands as a thoughtful take on the perils of Cold War brinksmanship.

Post-nuclear society rapidly disintegrates, and not even duck and cover can save us. When we meet the enemy it will not be Russians, radiation, or Godzilla, it will be us.

Sent by Daniel Guidera | 2:43 PM | 8-14-2008

My favorite "nuclear movie" is The China Syndrome. What a great movie. The drama builds throughout the movie and you find yourself on the edge of your seat and out of breath.

Sent by Emily | 2:45 PM | 8-14-2008

My favorite Nuclear Movie? The Manhattan Project, with John Lithgow. Also from the 80's. Sort of combined the teenage hacker with a terrorist, but in a nice and sympathetic way.

Sent by Bonnie | 2:47 PM | 8-14-2008

Having been born in 1947, after my Jewish father was certain that the good guys had won the war, I grew up reading and being terrified by Nevil Shute's "On the Beach." And then, with Gregory Peck, Eva Gardner and other stellar stars, I was further traumatized. I still am.

Sent by stephanie taylor | 2:48 PM | 8-14-2008

The Bedford Incident! Richard Widmark and Sidney Poitier in top form in realistic cat and mouse thriller but with Russian nuclear sub and US cruiser in the Arctic. The last scene is as perfect as film making gets!

Sent by mike | 2:48 PM | 8-14-2008

Kill Me Deadly - 1955 FIlm noir of Mickey Spillane novel. Mike Hammer beats up and gets beat up by various thugs, meets dangerouse women, drives nice sports car. Nuclear/cold war touch - "hot" leather briefcase with nuclear device is stolen by Commies who are double-crossed and then the whole she-bang is vaporizd in a beach house during a screaming, wailing mushroom cloud at water's edge. Great stuff.

Sent by Vic Lipka | 2:48 PM | 8-14-2008

How about Damnation Alley. That was both a nuclear disaster and post-apocalyptic movie. Particularly chilling was the matter-of-fact, lack of emotion responses when Jan Michael Vincent and George Peppard were walking through the steps to actually launch the bombs.

Sent by Russ Rowen | 2:48 PM | 8-14-2008

My ex-husband was obsessed with nuclear war films and I've seen many. In my opinion, the most intense was "Threads," a British movie which envisions the aftermath if the UK were hit. This movie goes several generations into a very bleak future with survivors struggling to live in the effects of nuclear winter.

Sent by Kim in Philadelphia | 2:49 PM | 8-14-2008

One of the best movies was the 1988 movie "The Miracle Mile" starring Anthony Edwards. He received a phone booth phone call seemingly by mistake and either that in itself or his reaction begins a nuclear war!

Sent by Stephanie Mirza | 2:49 PM | 8-14-2008

The first movie that came to mind was the magnificent Dr. Strangelove. I was pleased to hear you mention it. I would vote this film to be the best.

Sent by Jason Clark | 2:49 PM | 8-14-2008

My fave is the Terminator series.

Sent by Claudia | 2:51 PM | 8-14-2008

My favorite "fun" nuclear movie is "A Boy and his Dog" but I consider "K-19, the widow maker" to be my all time favorite as it realy captures the feeling of what it was like to be on a nuclear submarine during that time in history. I spent 8 1/2 years in the Navy's Nuclear Submarine service and I love all the submarine related nuclear movies but K-19 is the Best by far.

Sent by Rob Gauper | 2:53 PM | 8-14-2008

Trinity and Beyond!!

Sent by Angie | 2:53 PM | 8-14-2008

Larry Hagman was the interpreter in "Fail Safe'. Best roll he ever played!

Sent by Steve Pozdro | 2:53 PM | 8-14-2008

I can't remember the name...I believe it had Jane Alexander in it. Nuclear war occurs and she watches her children die from radiation sickness.

Sent by Jean | 2:54 PM | 8-14-2008

Thank you for mentioning 'Threads' which is hard to find (not available on Netflix), and Failsafe, which is incredibly emotional. The moment in Threads which still resonates is when people are still trapped in a shelter, and they feel the impact of additional nuclear strikes, and someone cries out in disbelief and despair, because everything is already completely destroyed around them. Then watching the next generation of savage kids growing up in a post-apocalyptic wasteland.

Sent by Bob Koelle | 2:54 PM | 8-14-2008

My first thought was the "China Syndrome." And there was another good suspensful one called "Crimson Tide."

Sent by Kristi Lawless | 2:54 PM | 8-14-2008

Larry Hagman was the translator in Fail Safe.

On the Beach was one of the best Atomic movies.

Sent by Toni Sheller | 2:54 PM | 8-14-2008

Ithink the political advertisement with the little girl holding the flower looking to the sky and then the bomb goes off. Scares me the most

Sent by Mark Case | 2:55 PM | 8-14-2008

For your consideration:
"Spies Like Us"
"Red Dawn"
And on the more serious side:
"Deterrence"

Though, perhaps the first two I list are the more serious considering recent events. :(

Sent by michael logan | 2:55 PM | 8-14-2008

Don't forget The Atomic Kid, wherein Mickey Rooney wanders into an empty house on a nuclear test sight and eats the irradiated peanut butter.

Sent by Judie Kline | 2:55 PM | 8-14-2008

What about spys like us? that was somewhat a commedy

Sent by anon | 2:56 PM | 8-14-2008

Quickly, "The Bedford Incident" with Richard Widmark and Sidney Poitier. 1960s and the real threat of a nuclear incident like the one in the film between the U.S. and Soviet navy.

Sent by George | 2:59 PM | 8-14-2008

I've alway thought the Forban Project was a smarter Wargames, tackling the issue of computer controlled nukes in the early 70's. Unlike Wargames, the Forban Project ends in a computer controlled world after Colosus (the nuculear deterant computer) sends a message of force by detonating nuclear bombs.

Sent by Tyler | 3:07 PM | 8-14-2008

I missed the end of today's program, and I'm sure someone answered this already, but Larry Hagman (yes, JR himself) played the translator (Peter?) Buck in "Fail Safe".

Sent by Charlie Robinson | 3:18 PM | 8-14-2008

I grew up in wisconsin with snowdrifts and we made tunnels in the drifts. I was in a tunnel up to my calves when my older brother collapsed the opening. Needless to say I have fears of claustraphoia and always keep my windows open when possible.

Sent by toni | 3:23 PM | 8-14-2008

Is there a continuim perhaps from something like Phobia to fear to healthy repsect to disregard to utter utter recklessness? Is this generalizable to people's world outlook in general?

Sent by Phil Crosby | 3:26 PM | 8-14-2008

How about fear of driving cars? Is there a name for this? Is it treatable?

Sent by Louise | 3:32 PM | 8-14-2008

glad to see others besides me remember Larry Hagman as the interpreter in "Fail Safe". In the expanded range (beyond nuclear only), I also recall "Parallax View" as one of my fave paranoid scary thrillers.

Sent by NancyF | 3:56 PM | 8-14-2008

The best Nuke Flick, hands down, bar none, is Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. A brilliant movie by a certified genious, nothing else even comes close.

Sent by Seth Parker | 4:39 PM | 8-14-2008

Tobe Hooper's "Spontaneous Combustion"! Not "Hiroshima Mon Amour," but it was getting there.

Sent by Terrel Fitzpatrick | 4:51 PM | 8-14-2008

I saw Dr. Strangelove and Fail Safe together as a double feature, and the movies have forever been entwined in my mind.... and I continue to wait for George C. Scott to say "but they'll see the big board!" in Fail Safe!

Sent by Kimberley Boege | 4:55 PM | 8-14-2008

My votes for some great nuke films:
Fail-Safe(of course)

Dr Strangelove (hilarious Slim Pickens and Peter Sellers, otherwise seems a bit trite by our time)

Threads (chilling complete devolution to nuclear winter stone age-not for the squeamish)

Testament (Jane Alexander as a mother sees her town and children gradually die-very poingnient)

The Bedford Incident (great recasting of Melville in nuclear age setting)

Split-Second (tho' B-movie its excellent: on the run gangster kidnaps good guys and hides out in abandoned town in path of nuclear test)

Sent by Peter Marshall | 5:21 PM | 8-14-2008

"Testament" from 1983. Sobering, every world leader should have to watch it.

Sent by ron renny | 6:12 PM | 8-14-2008

Peter Watkins, "The War Game"

Should be required watching for anyone who has the power to "push the button".

Sent by Elliot Wheeler | 6:55 PM | 8-14-2008

Jean, you're thinking of "Testament." That's a tough one to watch.

I don't think anyone mentioned "The Day After," also starring John Lithgow.

Sent by Kim in Philadelphia | 7:24 PM | 8-14-2008

The movie with Jane Alexander which Jean (2:54) remembers is the under-celebrated gem TESTAMENT (1983). It is a very low key story about an isolated small town which has suffered no physical damage in a nuclear war, but where everyone is slowly dying of radiation sickness. The film's complete lack of sensationalism or attempt at any sweeping statement make it particularly effective. Incidentally, in includes a very young Kevin Kostner in a small but well-played role.

Sent by John Niessink | 7:28 PM | 8-14-2008

Buck, the president's translator in the movie Fail Safe was played by Larry Hagman. Thanks for a great show.

Sent by Rick Rose | 8:50 PM | 8-14-2008

One of the most memorable nuclear movies for me is CRIMSON TIDE. Scary with what is going on now in Georgia and South Ossetia. Not that they are threatening a nuclear launch against the U.S. as the break off republic in that movie was, still makes my hair stand on end. Especially considering the plot of the movie and how close one of our Trident SSBN's could possibly have initiated a nuclear weapons launch. Glad it was fiction, and still glad we have fourteen Tridents available today.

Sent by Michael Mooney | 8:53 PM | 8-14-2008

The movie that Jane Alexander was called Testament in 1983 which also stared a young Kevin Costner. My personal favorite has to be Threads.

Sent by Rob | 9:59 PM | 8-14-2008

Would've loved to join the discussion today on the air. So many exemplary films to choose from, but I'll have to go with Joe Dante's incredible ode' to growing up atomic style - 1993's Matinee. Gem of a film. Also - Rafferty and Loader's "Atomic Cafe" is probably THE quintessential example of found footage subversion ever assembled.

Sent by Nick | 12:18 AM | 8-15-2008

"they're coming to get you Barbara"

Sent by Timothy--Los Angeles | 12:54 AM | 8-15-2008

Testament is the film with Jane Alexander regarding a Nuclear attack on the U.S. where the effects of radiation takes the lives of her whole family. Very scary.

Two other good ones are "By Dawns Early Light" and another HBO film "Countdown to Looking Glass"

Thanks for mentioning Miracle Mile. Living only a few miles from there as a kid really scared me. Couldn't sleep for weeks as an adolescent.

Sent by Ryan | 12:37 PM | 8-15-2008

Sent too soon?

Date: Thu, 07 Aug 2008 11:58:00 -0700
From: Bruce Korb
To: npr.org
Subject: Dr. Strangelove :-D

Sent by Bruce Korb | 1:49 PM | 8-15-2008

I'm surprised to see that When the Wind Blows has not been mentioned. That film must be one of the most memorable ones from the nuclear genre.

The film is about an aging couple in rural England who attempt to survive a nuclear blast by following the instructions in their civil defense pamphlets. Based on a graphic novel by Raymond Briggs (who also did the Childrens' book The Snowman), it's an interesting commentary (not quite a satire) on the type of futile but optimistic advice the government was giving us about the cold war (and especially the effects of fallout).

If I were choosing an excerpt for air, I'd use the bit where Jim reads aloud from "Armageddon and You" to reduce the tension and pass the time. "There are three BMEWs, one PRCS, then there's NORAD and JSS and then seven ROCCs. Then there's NADGE and several AWCS..."

Sent by Andrew A. Gill | 5:17 PM | 8-15-2008

Both WarGames and The China Syndrome carry a "life imitates art" stamp. Most people will remember that The China Syndrome was released just before the Three-Mile-Island incident, but probably fewer people will know that it was right around the time WarGames was released that one of the first publicly acknowledged incidents of computer cracking occurred when some high school students broke into a computer at Los Alamos National Laboratories, the birthplace of the atomic bomb.

My favorite? Threads, without a doubt. It is the only movie today that still gives me nightmares. I thought The Day After was tame by comparison.

Sent by Tom Briscoe | 6:42 AM | 8-17-2008

How about the subject of eating people.
Eating Raul comes to ming.
Sweeny Tod
The movie about the plane crash in the Andes.
I think there is one on a life raft.
The Donner party in California?
Enough to make one a vegetarian.

Sent by Michael Newman | 1:01 PM | 8-17-2008

Day One, an HBO film about the Manhattan Project.

Sent by David Michel | 2:57 PM | 8-22-2008

Hope I'm not too late to get in on this.

I grew up with an intense fear of WWIII, thanks to a Japanese film called THE FINAL WAR (not THE LAST WAR, which was totally different). Its entire cast is wiped out by the war, and fallout takes care of all survivors. It left me in a state of terror for a week.

There were other, minor bomb movies which have been pretty much forgotten, like THIS IS NOT A TEST and LADYBUG LADYBUG, both of which show a handful of people awaiting the final moments before nuclear annihilation.

Then there are the comedies, like THE BED SITTING ROOM by the great comic director Richard Lester. Unfortunately, the film isn't particularly funny.

Does anybody remember the post-apocalyptic sit-com from the 90s, WOOPS! which was a takeoff on GILLIGAN'S ISLAND, only instead of the cast being marooned on an island, they are the last survivors of nuclear war (no, I'm not making this up!). It only lasted about six episodes.

I could go on about this forever, and we haven't even touched European films about the Bomb (NUCLEAR WAR BRIDE, END OF AUGUST AT THE OZONE HOTEL, etc.).

Still, for me the most moving nuclear war film will always be THESE ARE THE DAMNED, about some ordinary people who stumble over a government installation that houses a group of radioactive children who will be released in the event of nuclear war to carry on civilization. Beautifully written, beautifully acted, beautifully directed. See it if you can. It has played a total of once on Turner Classic Movies.

Sent by Arthur Lundquist | 9:07 PM | 8-24-2008

War Games mimicked an activation of NORAD which occurred in 1979. I was stationed on a US Navy Guided Missile Cruiser at the time and for about 30 minutes,I thought the world had ended.

Sent by ConanTheLibertarian | 9:52 AM | 8-25-2008

the "Mount Fuji in Red" short in Akira Kurosawa's Dreams is of astonishing beauty.

Sent by Kyle - Baltimore | 1:01 PM | 8-25-2008

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