Mick Broderick, Nuclear Movies (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1991)
A critical analysis and filmography of over 850 feature-length dramas concerning nuclear issues from 1914-1989 and from over 30 countries.
Foreword by Dr Helen Caldicott (1988)
Chapter: From Atoms to Apocalypse: Film and the Nuclear Issues © Mick Broderick
The release of atom power has changed everything except our way of thinking
Albert Einstein, 1946
During the past decade a small but important 'wave' of films have emerged within the commercial arena which broach the nuclear issue, often with special emphasis on a final, cataclysmic war. The Atomic Cafe (1982), WarGames (1983), The Day After (1983), Testament (1983), One Night Stand (1984) The Terminator (1984), The Dead Zone (1984), Mad Mad III: Beyond Thunderdome (1985), When the Wind Blows (1987) and Miracle Mile (1988) for example, all examine their nuclear topics from seemingly disparate approaches, but to date there has been little discussion as to what the individual or collective effect on audiences might be.
With the splitting of the atom in the middle of this century, humanity finally achieved the technical potential to destroy itself and bring about a literal realization of eschaton , or telos , hitherto regarded as mytho-philosophical constructs inherent to most social structures. 1 The profound cultural effects of this phenomenon are being vigorously debated in several arenas and although some attention has been paid to the latest cycle of nuclear films to come out of Hollywood, these issues have already been staged in a vast body of popular film, virtually ignored, during the past forty or so years. 2
This text attempts to situate these earlier films into a coherent historical context; to provide an overview of a genre (identified by subject matter and narrative structure) concerned with the depiction of nuclear materials and/or warfare; and to suggest their extra-cinematic relationships, mythological intent and ideological implications.
In his BFI monograph, Stephen Neale locates the function and identity of genre as mainstream narrative cinema's coherent balance between process (enunciation) and position (announced), and the variety in structure of genre's economic address. 3 The relevance of narrative form to genre is essential in locating the dynamic between the commercial cinematic production (story, production, marketing) and the mass audience reaction (preconception, consumption, pleasure).
Early cinema, for example, borrowed its narrative structure and subject/story material heavily from established popular media while inheriting the commercial publicity apparatus and the related cultural expectation of dramatic treatment and presentation. Prolific neophyte silent studios churned out hundreds of Westerns, Biblical Epics, Comedies etc., which capitalized upon the fascination of a mass audience encountering old and familiar themes newly realised by the infant cinema.
The economic opportunism to repeat successful films impelled the creation of Hollywood generic repertories, efficiently reproducing profitable formulae, resulting in not only generic repetition but also a high incidence of individual films being remade within incredibly brief periods (e.g. the apocalyptic The Last Days of Pompeii was filmed internationally at least four times within the decade 1903-13).
Hence, socio-historical and economic considerations are fundamental in conceptualising the function of genre. As Thomas Schatz has pointed out:
While filmmakers advanced narrative traditions developed in drama and literature, producers and exhibitors advanced the commercial potential anticipated by previous forms of mass entertainment...The movies had their roots in both classical literature and best-selling pulp romances, in legitimate theatre as well as vaudeville and music halls, in traditions of both 'serious art' and American 'popular entertainment'. 4
In terms of nuclear cinema, therefore, one might logically expect to locate the origin of this genre at the close of the Second World War with the explosion of the first atomic bombs. However, this would immediately negate any consideration of genre preconception prior to 1945, and it is clear that mythology, religious literature and popular fiction provided easily accessible referents for the new technology and weapons. Surprisingly, authors George Griffith and H.G. Wells had both envisaged the uses of atomic devices and the resultant catastrophic destruction of civilization prior to the Great War! 5 Later, during the late Thirties and early Forties, as the (then) contemporary physics began to penetrate the lay imagination, some authors actually incurred the suspicion of the intelligence establishment and some material was actually suppressed due to the military sensitivity surrounding the Manhattan Project. 6
Apart from naively celebrating the new-found wealth individuals acquired when discovering radium or uranium deposits on their land ( Broadway or Bust (1924), Danger Island (1931), Phantom Empire (1935), pre-Hiroshima atomic dramas usually adopted stereotypical imagery of the mad scientist toying with the fabric of the universe, often using the newly discovered radium-based inventions for militaristic purposes ( The Greatest Power (1917), The Great Radium Mystery (1919), Batman (1943)). In Gold (1934), a scientist realises the ancient alchemical dream when he builds an atomic reactor which turns lead into gold. The Tunnel (1935) depicted a giant radium-tipped drill boring a path under the ocean floor, whereas Dr. Cyclops ' (1940) application of radium based energy was harnessed for bizarre miniaturising experiments. Other scenarios depicted the element's destructive potentials such as radium or isotope rays becoming the quarry of criminals in The Invisible Ray (1920), Queen of the Jungle (1935), Ace Drummond (1936), Ghost Patrol (1936), and The Invisible Ray (1936)).
Just as the mystique of radium fired the imagination of scriptwriters in the Twenties and Thirties, the post-war quest for uranium became a common arena for depicting domestic and interpersonal conflicts stemming from the desire to exploit the mineral, evident in films such as Ma and Pa Kettle Back on the Farm (1951), Beat The Devil (1953), Canyon Crossroads (1954), Uranium Boom (1956) and The Syndicate (1967) through to the Seventies and Eighties scenarios of corporate corruption and deception in The Uranium Conspiracy (1978) and Where the Green Ants Dream (1984).
Significantly, those who had witnessed the original atomic detonations found that they could best describe the events and their emotional responses in purely religious metaphor -- equating nuclear energy with the awesomeness of God. From Robert J. Oppenheimer's famous Bhagavad Gita quote after watching the original 'Trinity' test at Alamogordo (both names have mytho-religious connotations), to the Moral Majority Armageddon theology espoused in President Reagan's diplomatic rhetoric, religious allusion has clearly infused the psychic conception of the Bomb within a popular mythic heritage. 7 In his fine analysis of nuclear language, culture and propaganda, Paul Chilton describes this condition:
In religious cultures the awful and anomalous are allied with the supernatural, and the supernatural is both dangerous and sacred. Such familiar patterns of thought somehow seem to have made the bomb both conceivable and acceptable. 8
Similarly, the imagery of religious apocalypse is inseparable from the cinematic portrayal of global disaster, predating D.W. Griffith's Intolerance (1914), August Blom's The End of the World (1916) or Abel Gance's La Fin du Monde (1930) and still evident in the spate of Disaster epics that emerged at the beginning of the Seventies -- phenomena given credence by ex-weapons physicist Joseph Rotblatt's assertion that "while everybody agrees that a nuclear war would be an unmitigated catastrophe, the attitude towards it is becoming similar to that of potential natural disasters, earthquakes, tornadoes and other Acts of God." 9
It is precisely this rich interweaving of thematic and generic materials which makes the nuclear film so interesting. One can readily establish overlapping tropes from a variety of other genres. As Raymond Durgnat's neat analogy illustrates:
Ultimately, the idea of genre corresponds to that of a breed, or of a species. Some films are pure Westerns just as some dogs are pure Dalmatians. But most films are hybrids, just as most dogs are mongrels... Most mongrels -- or litters! -- are one-offs, but if enough one-offs of a particular kind are in demand it becomes a new breed. A genre like a species, responds to changes in its environment. It may evolve or acquire a new ecological niche (the Western briefly becomes a hicktown-and-children's genre), or it may become extinct. 10
Consequently, War, Science Fiction, Horror and Disaster movies all contribute to the history and evolution of this category, so films such as Dr Strangelove (1963), Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970), Them! (1954) and The Day After may each employ narrative strategies attributable to the individual, respective genres above, yet paradoxically remain firmly within their own generic niche. Occasionally a film will encompass many such elements within the one complex scenario, such as The War of the Worlds (1953). More recently, postmodern nuclear movies have embraced narrative and visual strategies of intertextuality, pastiche and generic interplay, clearly evident in Mad Max III: Beyond Thunderdome, from its structural borrowings of the Western, Biblical epics and TV gameshows, through to its overall production design where style is bricolage. 11
Exploitation and Evolution
After US President Truman's 'revelation' to the world press in August 1945 of the new superweapon and its devastating effect upon the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, some filmmakers responded to the news with remarkable speed, especially considering the long lead-time usually required from film scenario development to exhibition of the product. Naturally, the press and radio were better suited to address the spontaneous public reaction, but a few films did manage to make some sort of reference to the new bombs and the shroud of secrecy surrounding their development.
Director Henry Hathaway experimented with a documentary approach for his mise-en-scene in order to evoke a heightened sense of realism and immediacy for his spy thriller The House on 92nd Street (1945, released only six weeks after Hiroshima). Set in the early stages of the Second World War, it involved the FBI thwarting a plot by Nazi agents operating clandestinely in New York City to obtain "Process 97, the secret ingredient of the atomic bomb", with dialogue quickly added to the post-Hiroshima print. 12 Another movie to cash-in on the early atomic mystique was Shadow of Terror (1945), featuring a scientist traveling to Washington with the formula for a new weapon, set upon by foreign agents. Only in a narrated epilogue is it established that his secret calculus was for the Atom bomb, voiced over a newsreel clip of the first atomic test. 13 A typical film from the 'z-grade' Producer's Releasing Corporation, Shadow of Terror has been described aptly but chronologically innacurately by Michael Weldon:
In true exploitation manner, this film was released right after the bombing of Hiroshima, beating out the competition. The mushroom cloud footage was added at the last minute. 14
In fact it was RKO's First Yank in Tokyo (1945) which first took advantage of the declassified film of atomic explosions in its depiction of an American pilot, who after plastic surgery, operated clandestinely behind Japanese lines in order to obtain vital information on nuclear fission from a captive inside a prisoner-of-war camp. Two years earlier in Batman (1943) the association between nuclear materials and Asian foes was personified by the character of Dr Daka who attempted to steal Gotham city's radium reserve for use by the Axis powers.
The Nazi Threat: Real and Imagined
Stronger dramatic explanations of and justification for the military-scientific endeavour to make the bombs came the following year from both British and American studios, and all cited fears of a Nazi acquisition of the technology before the Allies.
Espionage thrillers Cloak and Dagger (1946) and the British Night Boat to Dublin (1947) adopted a guise of historical authenticity to demonstrate covert Allied intelligence efforts in sabotaging Nazi development of a nuclear capability before them. 15 Lisbon Story (1946), however, comically depicted British efforts to smuggle a French nuclear scientist out from under Nazi scrutiny. Alfred Hitchcock employed as his 'MacGuffin' in Notorious (1946) hidden Nazi samples of Uranium 235 in South America, discovered by American agents. 16 Similarly, in Rendezvous 24 (1946), a group of Nazi scientists hiding in the Harz mountains after the war are captured by American agents before they can complete their experiments in atomic fission.
The scenario of intelligence agencies protecting the Western world from nuclear annihilation by groups of fascists, communists, corporate criminals, terrorists or religious zealots has become a staple of the genre, including virtually all of the James Bond films through, most recently to The Fifth Protocol (1987), Terror Squad (1987), Iron Eagle II (1988), The Emissary (1989) and The Russia House (1991). 17
The most awaited film on the topic, however, was the ominously titled MGM production, The Beginning or the End? (1946), a diluted 'offical' history of the Manattan Project, carefully censored by Pentagon PR staff. Even at the time of release it was regarded as a biased pseudo-documentary claiming to authentically chronicle the events leading up to the development and use of the first atomic weapons. Woefully inaccurate on several scores, the film deliberately creates the misleading impression that the Japanese were near to completing their own atomic bomb.
What remains compelling in these early, post-Hiroshima films is the insistence of the threat of Nazism spurring on the research and development of the Allied atom bomb, yet paradoxically, once that original motivation had eroded after V-G Day, the two billion dollar technology remained incomplete and untested. Once the tangible German threat had diminished, many of the nuclear scientists, especially the European immigrants, lost interest in the project. 18 Indeed, several of the physicists like Szilard whose work was completed earlier than the teams at Los Alamos actually began efforts to halt its war use.
Curiously, there is to this day a reluctance in American dramatic film to come to terms with the atomic bombing of Japan (even Above and Beyond (1953) is more concerned with the marital melodramatics of Enola Gay pilot Paul Tibbets, played by Robert Taylor). 19 There is occasionally expressed an undercurrent of 'payback' for the Pearl Harbour surprise attack, articulated overtly in The Beginning or the End? where one member of the fictionalized Enola Gay crew says (clearly at odds with the historical facts): "We've been dropping warning leaflets on (the Japanese) for ten days now. That's ten days more warning than they gave us before Pearl Harbour." 20
It seems as though the prevalent imagery of the Germans as treacherous monsters hell-bent on espionage, fostered before and after America joined the war in propaganda films like Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939), Casablanca and Nazi Agent (both 1942), was a more potent psychological 'other' to provide the viewing public. Therefore it is not really surprising that Hollywood continued to evoke the horror of the Nazis in its post-war espionage films, as there was a pre- existing and credible genre enemy who conveniently served to simultaneously disavow the actuality of Japan facing the direct consequences of the Allied nuclear research. 21
Waiting for War
A more subtle evocation of nuclear dread began with characters actually articulating their fears of an imminent atomic war. In The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), The Lady from Shanghai (1946), The Boy with Green Hair (1948) and I Want You (1951) overt reference is made to such a frightening potential. A manic George Grisby (Glen Anders), in The Lady From Shanghai foresees the end of the world approaching, claiming that he can "feel it", and plans to escape to a Pacific island (ironically the same year the US began its Atomic testing at the Bikini Atoll!) to live out his years away from the threat. Later, on a boat moored in San Francisco, Grisby becomes increasingly psychotic, saying that he wants to be "as far away as possible from that city -- or any city -- when they start dropping those bombs!"
Upon his return home after serving in Europe, an ignorant and perplexed Fredric March in The Best Years of Our Lives is confronted abruptly by his children's concerns over radiation at Hiroshima and the possibility of a future atomic war. Similarly, inside a small town drugstore in Joseph Losey's The Boy withGreen Hair , three women unwittingly terrify a war orphan (i.e. the boy with green hair) by their surmise that the next war will not only be an atomic one, but will possibly bring with it the end of all life. The horrified child later seeks reassurance from his adopted grandfather, asking rhetorically, "Gramp, the world isn't going to be blown up and everybody killed, is it?"
By constructing a group who psychologically expect a terminal war, the terror instilled in post-war generations of children (especially those subjected to incessant civil defence exercises, brilliantly rendered so matter-of-factly in Desert Bloom (1986) or frightened by apocalyptic mass media imagery, as in Great Balls of Fire (1989)), has continued to be one of the most prolific themes the genre has addressed, and arguably the punk and nihilist sensibility demonstrated in the new wave of western cinema may be attributable to the current demography of baby- boomer directors and scriptwriters, all born beneath the shadow of potential omnicide. 22
Soviet Spies and Subversives
Throughout the Forties, the stereotypical imagery of the Nazi threat was personified by treacherous spies operating 'at home' and abroad, and continuing to do so 'underground' even after the war. Although aware of the atomic bomb, and indeed working towards their own capability, as Western allies, the Soviets had from the outset been totally excluded from the joint research and development. The British and Americans wanted to keep the bomb their secret. Not surprisingly, as the Russians began protesting the monopolization of the new technology amid the victors' rush to carve up the conquered militarized zones of Europe, Asia and the Pacific -- continuing and expanding their post-war spheres of influence (although the converse resulted for the British, with violent struggles for national independence on the Indian subcontinent, and in the Middle East) -- the cultural representation of Russia became increasingly akin to the evil Nazis, lusting for totalitarian world domination.
Hence, the wartime pro-Soviet cinema of the early 1940s ( Mission to Moscow, Song of Russia and The North Star (all 1943)) eventually gave way to charges of the visible work of communists within Hollywood. 23 When accused by the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947, studio heads like Jack Warner, Louis B. Mayer and Sam Goldwyn maintained that such films were only part of the war effort and should be regarded merely as expedient propaganda exercises. 24 In the ensuing few years, the notorious Hollywood Ten were gaoled and something of a witch-hunt swept through the film industry, resulting in the open blacklisting of actors, scriptwriters and technicians for 'un-American' political sympathies. Ironically, as Nora Sayre has suggested in her analysis of American Cold War cinema, judging by their track record, "almost no-one wrote more passionately patriotic movies than American Communists did in wartime." 25 Yet Goldwyn even went so far as to cannibalize The North Star , changing its emphasis by slight editing and dubbing modifications to suggest that the tiny patriotic Russian peasant hamlet under siege by the Nazis in the original print was now East European, and under attack by equally brutal Soviet forces! 26
Almost as if planned to remove the tarnish of accusations that Hollywood was a breeding ground and refuge for subversives, the studios responded quickly by employing precisely the type of propagandist technique the HUAC hearings had earlier condemned them for during the war. This time, however, the films overtly conformed with the agenda of the political right, with the release of Zanuck studio's The Iron Curtain (1948). Ostensibly the film is based on the autobiography This Was My Choice by Igor Gouzenko, a junior cipher clerk with the Soviet Embassy in Canada, who defected to the West in February 1946 with information that led to the arrest of twenty-two people with charges of belonging to a war-time spy ring aimed at gaining atomic secrets. 27 The most damaging revelation resulted in the conviction of Dr Alan Nunn May, a British atomic scientist who had worked at the Canadian Chalk River Plant. 28
Soon after, other producers followed suit and so began a spate of anti-Soviet propaganda films such as The Red Danube, The Red Menace (both 1949) I Married a Communist (1951), I Was a Communist for the FBI and Red Planet Mars (both 1952). For their part, the Soviets responded in kind, producing anti-American propaganda features like Court of Honour (1948) which exposed a fictional cadre of Russian scientists passing research secrets to the USA. Amongst others, Secret Mission (1950) alleged a conspiracy between the Vatican and the CIA to subvert the conversion to communism in Eastern bloc countries. 29
This was a period of remarkable geopolitical upheaval and transition. In 1946 Winston Churchill delivered his anti-communist "Iron Curtain" speech in Missouri. The next year, the Truman Doctrine employed military and economic aid to suppress opposition to the staunchly conservative regimes in Turkey and Greece. In 1948, the Soviet Union orchestrated the blockade of Berlin and the takeover of Czechoslovakia, which was followed in 1949 by the defeat of General Chiang Kai-shek's 'nationalists' by Chinese communists.
Amidst the resultant Cold War sparring and deliberate cinematic distortion came two severe blows for the Western Alliance. On August 29th, 1949 the Soviet Union detonated its first atomic bomb. Four weeks later the news was announced to the world, sending shock-waves through the US Administration and resulting immediately in accusations of Russian espionage to soothe the domestic political and technological embarrassment. "Much of this was sour grapes," Pringle and Spigelman have commented. "Western analysts, reluctant to admit Soviet expertise, were also quick to suggest that the atom spies must have made success possible." 30
However, even before Truman's shocked admission to the world press, Western films were replete with spies (usually from unnamed 'foreign powers') desperate to obtain atom secrets and its associated technologies. Flight to Nowhere (1946) featured a hire pilot flying a party of vacationers to a desert resort who are -- unknown to him -- a pack of enemy spies conspiring to steal atomic secrets. In 1947 the 13 chapter Republic serial The Black Widow , depicted an Asian femme fatale aided by a gangster attempting to steal plans for a new atomic rocket engine held by an American scientist. Similarly, Columbia serial heroes Jack Armstrong (1947) and Brick Bradford (1947) fought against enemy spies also trying to obtain new atomic technologies. A slightly less veiled reference to communist foreign agents chasing secret plans of a uranium mine in My Favorite Brunette (1948) witnessed Bob Hope parodying a Chandleresque sleuth to comic effect. Utilizing the previously familiar anti-fascist narrative trope of nuclear physicists being held against their will (e.g. Cloak and Dagger, Night Boat to Dublin) , an ex-OSS agent was portrayed in Sophia (1948) operating behind the 'iron curtain' in a bid to free imprisoned atomic scientists, one of whom is a former lover. Controversial in its time for overtly naming the Soviet Union as the culprit, the hero successfully shuttles them back to the freedom of working in the West with the help of a double agent. Released the same year, Walk a Crooked Mile (1948) adopted a semi-documenatry style in its tale of a US nuclear scientist -- of his own volition -- working for the Russian bomb effort while assigned to the Lakeview Nuclear Project while agents from both the FBI and Scotland Yard investigate.
As James Parish and Michael Pitts have argued, "Following the Allied victory in World War II, the viability of using Axis agents in spy films was at an end, at least for a while. Motion pictures employing the espionage motif began moving with the headlines into the Cold War era and, like their feature film counterparts, the cliff- hangers replaced the Nazi and Japanese villains with spies working for other world powers." 31
The Fearful Fifties
After the damning confession in late 1949 of nuclear scientist Klaus Fuchs, who admitted giving atomic secrets to Russia during and after the Manhattan Project, it took a couple of years for the impact of his admission and the fermenting 'spy hysteria' to gain momentum in the West, culminating in a witch-hunt among Atomic Energy Commission employees, Richard Nixon's charges of espionage in Government, mandatory FBI 'loyalty' security screenings, Senator McCarthy's red scare, and the trial and execution of the Rosenbergs for allegedly giving H-bomb secrets to the Soviets. As Michael Rogin summarises:
The atomic spy trials of the late 1940s merged with the House Un-American Activities Committee investigation of Communist influence in Hollywood. Since HUAC exposed both Alger Hiss and the Hollywood Ten and since the accused spies, writers and directors, all went to jail, the distinction collapsed between microfilm and film. The celluloid medium of secret influence became the message. The Red scare joined together as one danger atomic spying, revelations of confidential government proceedings, Communist party membership, membership in "Communist front" organizations, manipulation of mass opinion, and subversive ideas. In that chain reaction of guilt by free association, ideas became the source of atomic contamination. As if to reverse the only actual use of nuclear weapons, the one by the United States, the Red scare made un-American ideas radioactive. 32
The catalytic year of 'atom spy film' fear was 1952. The most significant films dealing with such themes frequently featured atomic scientists or their inventions being appropriated by subversive communist elements working in America or Europe. The prototype of this genre sub-group was Paramount's The Atomic City (1952) starring Gene Barry as a leading Los Alamos physicist, Dr Frank Addison, whose son Tommy is kidnapped by communist spies, blackmailing him into trading Hydrogen bomb secrets for his child's life. 33 The Atomic City is an exemplary site for cultural and ideological analysis due to its deliberate infusion of (state sanctioned) documentary realism with traditional family melodrama. In order to evoke an authentic milieu which serves to blur the distinction between domestic relationships and the top secret research, newsreel footage and actual location shooting within and outside Los Alamos imbues the narrative, in a peculiarly effective way, with a feeling of active participation in -- and indeed collusion with -- the machinations of the state's atomic program cloaked in secrecy. There is no debate of censorship, as the film slickly crosses between dramatic and documentary structures. Again, as Michael Rogin has aptly put it:
The cold war cultural consensus produced political power in the 1950s. It helped build a national-security aparatus that survived the breakdown of the consensus and dominated the 1960s. By the time the cultural consensus stopped producing power, the powerful institutions were in place. We can see their genesis in our films. 34
The same year another compromised nuclear physicist (this time on the communist pay-roll, as in Walk a Crooked Mile ) was played by Ray Milland in United Artists' The Thief (1952). However, the British response to Communist atom spying was both comedic and serious. In Mr Potts Goes to Moscow (1952) (released in the USA as Top Secret ), a sanitary engineer of the fictitious Barworth Atomic Energy Research Centre (presumably a reference to Harwell where Fuchs had spent his post-war years), mistakenly takes the wrong suitcase with him -- full of secret plans -- on a holiday. Believing him to be an important atomic scientist, the KGB lure him to Moscow. Tackling the same communist abduction theme, Escape Route ((1952) released as I'll Get You in the USA) adopted a noir style for its suspenseful tale of trans-Atlantic espionage. An FBI agent (George Raft) illegally enters Britain in search of several leading atomic scientists who have recently disappeared from the States and finds a communist agent planning to take the group into Eastern Europe. 35
Indeed, during the Fifties the nuclear scientist became, if not a popular culture icon, at least a recognisable movie icon. 36 The dichotomy in representation of atomic physicists ultimately became one then of those who worked (unquestioningly) for and with the government or those who (greedily) undermined the goverment by working for foreign powers. 37
A couple of years later Mickey Rooney produced and starred in his own comedy vehicle The Atomic Kid (1954), scripted by Blake Edwards, which took innocuous swipes at public naivety on all matters atomic, but still careful to maintain the status quo. Blix Waterbury (Rooney) accidentally encounters an Army atom bomb test while prospecting for uranium in the desert. Despite attempts to halt the detonation, in the final seconds the bomb goes off. Inexplicably, the prospector emerges from the rubble after the blast, highly radioactive, yet apparently normal and he becomes an overnight media sensation. Posing as a publisher a communist spy tries to get the Kid out of the West for examination by Soviet scientists. Another comedy the following year dealt with spies chasing atomic secrets. Carolina Cannonball (1955) was one of those curious low-budget features Hollywood designed for a specific regional consumption. Using an atomic rocket from a guided missile to propel an old steam engine in an attempt to rejuvenate tourism and commercial interest in their ghost town, singer Judy Canova and her grandpa are waylaid by three Communist agents in search of the device. The same year in A Bullet for Joey (1955) George Raft returned to Cold War adventure, but unlike his earlier role in Escape Route , on this occasion he was typecast back into the anti-social mould of American gangster. Another famous Thirties mobster actor, Edward G. Robinson, led the cast as a Canadian Police inspector hunting down communist spies based in Montreal, who are plotting to kidnap an atomic scientist and force him to carry on his experiments overseas.
The overlap between the post-war world of film noir , communist atom spies, federal agents and gangsters met its cinematic zenith in Robert Aldrich's tour de force adaptation of Mickey Spillane's Kiss Me Deadly (1955). 38 Producer- director Aldrich evoked for the screen persona of Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker) a believable transformation of Hollywood's hard-boiled private eye, now turned rotten egg. Unlike the charming individualism of Forties Chandleresque gumshoes, it is Hammer's pigheaded and offensive "what's in it for me" attitude which abrasively sets him apart and acts against the cold war collective social ethic. In many ways the film reflects a microcosm of post-war anxieties, in essence heralding the end of an era (and genre). As Bill Warren aptly commented, "Mike Hammer's world seems to be on the verge of apocalypse, but he's not fighting it; he's part of it." 39
Kiss Me Deadly demonstrates better than any other film of the Fifties what characterizes the nuclear age -- a pervasive sense of paranoia (both personal and social) lurking beneath its associations of fear, suspicion and guilt, all of which fuel self-destructive urges. Ultimately, the film's central theme announces the political death of individualism operating outside the clearly defined strictures of post-war national security consensus. Indeed, as a morality tale, Mike Hammer is constructed as a brutal and opportunistic quasi-fascist, an authentic Eisenhower anti-hero for the Atomic Age. 40 So offensive are his actions and philosophy that Hammer becomes a virtual social leper. Everyone he comes into contact with dies, regardless of disposition, almost as if exposure to the private eye's ideology of self-before-community is as lethal as the mysterious radioactive "whatsit" contained in the lead box. As Peter Biskind suggests, for these filmmakers "the post-war world was no place for people with personal agendas":
Living on the edge of the law is no longer romantic; it's dangerous to society... By 1955, the stakes had become too high for the down-and-out shamuses doing their own thing. Kiss Me Deadly is a cold war cautionary tale, and the message is clear. There's no room for neutrals playing both sides of the street. Either join the team or step aside. Hammer is squeezed between big crime and big government. The age of the private eye had ended. 41
Towards the end of the Fifties, the communist atom spy motif had all but disappeared from the silver screen, only occasionally re-emerging in the decade's fecund science fiction fare. A mutated sea monster with a deadly radioactive ray guards an underwater deposit of uranium sought by a communist Mata Hari in The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues (1956) . A wounded, highly-radioactive nuclear physicist spying for a foreign power is sent seven-and-a-half seconds into the future in The Atomic Man (1956), whereas The Amazing Transparent Man (1955) depicts a compromised scientist helping an enemy spy in his bid for world domination by using an atomic-powered invisibility invention, a theme dating back to The Invisible Ray (1920).
By the mid 1950s, the Soviet Union had also developed and tested its own thermonuclear H-bomb, three years after its American counterpart. Public anxieties about the genocidal weaponry diminished to some extent, while attention was transposed onto the weapons' strategic and tactical delivery systems, ranging from ground-launched intermediate range ballistic missiles (1955 witnessed IRBMs stationed in England, Turkey and Italy by the USA and Russian SS3s targeting Europe) and later intercontinental missiles (Soviet SS6 in 1957 and American Atlas ICBMs in 1958), long-ranged bombers (US B-52s and Soviet Bear class aircraft, both 1955), and America's Polaris nuclear submarine-launched ballistic missiles in 1960 (although it took the Soviet Union nearly eight years to deploy a comparable system).
Essentially, there were four films at the start of the 1950s which focused upon fears of an impending atomic war which would destroy humanity. Employing the archaic construct of the 'scientist as madman' in the portentous British production Seven Days to Noon (1950), a crazed physicist wracked with guilt over his collaboration in building the nuclear devices holds London to ransom with a miniature A-bomb, demanding that the country destroy its 'immoral' stockpile of weapons (themes later employed in Tarkovsky's Stalker (1979) and the TV 'hoax' Special Bulletin (1982)). 42
In America, Rocketship X-M (1950) depicted an exploratory crew landing on Mars only to discover evidence of an extinct technological civilization that destroyed itself in a holocaust but leaves a primitive mutant legacy (another theme that would be returned to often throughout the genre). In Unknown World (1951), a group of concerned scientists fearing impending nuclear catastrophe form the 'Society to Save Civilization' and arrange an expedition to locate a subterranean cavern capable of preserving humanity from fall-out effects. Ironically, the ideal labyrinth (itself a metaphor for repression into the unconscious) turns out to be poisonous and just as deadly to any future generation. In the end, the scientists agreed that the way to overcome annihilation is not by hiding from the issue. The same year Arch Oboler adapted his controversial radio drama "The Word" to make Five (1951), the first movie to depict 'the unthinkable' by having the world destroyed in atomic conflagration at the film's opening sequence and then concentrating on the plight of the five remaining human survivors.
The metaphoric and allegorical power of the nuclear theme, however, can also be seen in two early Fifties productions. The Thing from Another World (1951) and Superman and the Mole Men (1951) both demonstrate communal fears and hostility when confronting the alienation of the atomic age . The horror generated by a vegetable super-intellect which threatens an Alaskan airforce outpost in the former film is skilfully rendered via a clicking geiger-counter, overtly embodying the dangers of radiation. In the latter movie, xenophobia is itself critiqued, as Superman defends an advanced subterranean civilization of "mole men", who happen to be radioactive and thereby also personify the nuclear threat, but are revealed to pose no danger unless aggravated by the paranoid locals hell- bent on forming lynching parties. Superman and The Mole Men stands out amongst much of the genre as a parable advocating peaceful co-existence with and tolerance of the alien 'other' at a time of heightened anti-communism.
In general, however, the Fifties produced a curious amalgam of serious and exploitation films concerned with atomic war and the perils of accelerated nuclear experimentation (especially the polemic surrounding the development of Hydrogen fusion weapons). In view of these films it would seem that the initial cinematic reaction after Hiroshima was a direct, yet highly sanitized, rationalization of the need for the weapons, followed by isolated concern, a little guilt and then a concrete fear of apocalypse.
The 'beneficial' or civilian usage of nuclear fission was promoted in several early films, generally via atomic propulsion systems, but nevertheless the nuclear material and experimental technology itself were often treated ambiguously. In 1950, Hollywood depicted American know-how launching a manned atomic-powered rocketship in Destination Moon in order to gain a strategic advantage over "you-know-who", just as suspicion fell on the Soviets in The Flying Saucer (1950) when a security chief announces that the mysterious saucer "appears designed for one purpose -- to carry an atomic bomb".
When an atomic rocket flies over an uncharted island in The Lost Continent (1951) and is brought down to earth by an unknown radioactive-volcanic force whose potential explosive might is equated to that of a stockpile of H-bombs, one scientist suggests that when the ship ran out of fuel, it was drawn inevitably towards fields of uranium! This naivety towards all things radioactive also served to underpin one of the first deliberate nuclear comedies, Mr. Drake's Duck (1951) (later reworked by Disney as the Million Dollar Duck (1971)), in which the goose that lays the golden egg fairytale is upgraded to a duck that produces radioactive eggs of almost pure uranium. Similarly, a year earlier Laurel and Hardy's comedic 'last hurrah' witnessed Stan and Ollie inheriting a uranium-rich Pacific island in Utopia (1950).
Mutation and Monsters
The ensuing popularity of the monster-mutation cycle which commenced with the dinosaur in The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953) and the giant ants in Them! (1954) saw the emerging genre display a combination of both resistance to overt discussion of the nuclear status quo and an active promotion of alternative responses to it via deeply sublimated and mythologically based "others". 43 The fecund movie monsters that dominated horror and science fiction films during the decade were inevitably the result of some individual, corporate or military nuclear experimentation (and still as relevant to contemporary audiences with the return of Godzilla in Godzilla 1985 (1985), C.H.U.D. (1984), Hydra (1985), Deepstar Six (1989) as well as the pastiche, nuclear-irradiated Toxic Avenger (1986-90) and Class of Nuke'em High (1987-91) series from Troma and parodies such as Zadar! Cow From Hell (1989)) 44 .
As Susan Sontag argues in her seminal essay on post-World War II science fiction cinema:
One gets the feeling, particularly in the Japanese films but not only there, that a mass trauma exists over the use of nuclear weapons and the possibility of future nuclear wars. Most of the science fiction films bear witness to this trauma, and, in a way, attempt to exorcise it. The accidental awakening of the super-destructive monster, who has slept in the earth since prehistory, is, often, an obvious metaphor for the Bomb. But there may be explicit references as well... Radiation casualties -- ultimately, the conception of the whole world as a casualty of nuclear testing and nuclear warfare -- is the most ominous of all the notions with which science fiction films deal. 45
Ranging from the prehistoric Rhedosaurus awoken from its Arctic slumber by a (bad) American atomic test and subsequently killed by a (good) radioactive medical isotope in The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (which effectively polarized the scientific dualism of the nuclear genie and the bureaucracies who command it), through to the bird-like "thing which can kill by its touch" in Roger Corman's meta-neolithic parable Teenage Caveman (1958), the unnatural (though previously wholesome) nuclear victims, usually subjected to fall-out, provided a staple metaphor of runaway technology and nuclear paranoia for a generation. 46 Other movie monsters unleashed, mutated or destroyed by nuclear energy throughout the decade comprised: dinosaurs Godzilla (1954), Angurus (in Gigantis (1955)), Rodan (1956) and Behemoth, the Sea Monster (1959); spiders (in Tarantula (1955) and Earth vs the Spider (1958)); giant octopii ( Monster from the Ocean Floor (1954) and It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955)) and crabs ( Attack of the Crab Monsters (1956)); as well as sundry giant insects -- ants in Them! (1954), locusts in Beginning of the End (1957), a fly in The Fly (1958), and equally self-evident, The Black Scorpion (1959).
The Revenge-of-Nature has been a predominant theme throughout human mythology and it is hardly surprising to find film scenarists depicting Mother Earth fighting back against the obscenity of the atomic forces unleashed by mankind's folly. Cataclysmic wars had been prophesied in a number of pre-atomic films (Intolerance, Things to Come (1936)), just as global catastrophes had thrilled audiences world-wide (The Comet (1910) , Deluge (1933)) and legendary or primal monsters (Der Golem (1914) , King Kong (1933) -- which significantly had greater box-office appeal on its second release in 1952) threatened the very root of civilization with their wanton destruction, all effectively demonstrating what Freud described as our individual and collective social "discontents". 47
However, nuclear films incorporating the monster theme tend to differ from the staple of the genre, especially the Gothic, in that frequently the narrative process which searches for what Neale describes as the "discourse, that specialized form of knowledge, which will enable the human characters to comprehend and control that which embodies and causes its 'troubles'" is either left undiscovered or often remains unresolved at the conclusion. 48 For instance, the concerned sentiment voiced by the scientist at the end of the prototypical nuclear monster movie Them! after the pyrotechnic destruction of the mutant ants (imagery and thematics clearly duplicated in Aliens (1987)) contaminated by the original , pre-Hiroshima Trinity test, is both prophetically ominous whilst simultaneously denying traditional closure:
Graham: "If these monsters got started as a result of the first atomic bomb in 1945, what about all the other ones that have been exploded since then?"
Medford: "When man entered the atomic age he opened a door to a new world. What we'll eventually find in that new world nobody can predict."
Coinciding with these sentiments, Japan's Toho studios created one of the most successful and enduring movie monsters -- Godzilla -- which was greatly influenced by the (re)release of King Kong and The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms . So popular, in fact, that the creature has returned in over 16 features, and like his Western counterparts, Godzilla is awoken by an (American) atomic explosion and came from the sea to wreak havoc on Japan.
The initial film was such a box office draw that Toho began churning out formulaic monster movies in successive years, adding additional creatures such as Angurus (1955), Rodan (1956) and then Mothra in 1961, while other studios cloned these successes with Gamera (1966) etc. In each case, the monsters are awoken by, irradiated from, or (later in the series) do battle with nuclear and/or alien forces (as in Ghidora and Invasion of the Astro Monster (both 1966)).
Japan also produced a series of nuclear related science fiction movies paralleling American and European ventures. In The Mysterious Satellite (1956) benign aliens implore the world powers to direct their atomic hostility away from each other and vent it towards a planet destined to collide with the Earth. However, extraterrestrials bent only on destruction appeared in The Mysterians (1957), arriving here to breed with healthy Earth women after their own planet has been obliterated by a nuclear catastrophe. Genre scenarios even focused upon regional nuclear testing and fallout effects which provide the source of conflict and horror in The H-Man (1958) after a ship is accidentally irradiated, turning the crew into oozing blobs. In Dogora, the Space Monster (1963) cells exposed to and mutated by radiation return to Earth as giant tentacled monsters and attack Japan.
Yet, if these Japanese monsters are to be read as metaphors for the Bomb and concomitant nuclear destruction, while symbolizing America (as a victorious, occupying and economic force literally re-shaping the country), it remains contentious as to why the films are so popular on both sides of the Pacific. 49 One possible explanation may be the frightening ease in which Western audiences project their own nuclear fears onto another culture's repetitious scenarios of sublimated nuclear cataclysm -- historically recasting experienced events for them, while cathartically depicting an imaginary , yet potential fate for us all.
Significantly, human victims in Western cinema traditionally have to reconcile the trauma of radioactive mutation in chosen or enforced isolation. The potency of exposure to nuclear materials often had bizarre consequences for the men subjected to it (significantly rarely women, except in an act of retribution like the combustive Pandora's Box of Kiss Me Deadly (1955)), all indicating a subtext of sexual alienation. The Incredible Shrinking Man 's (1957) title alone connotes an association of castration anxiety, after the main protagonist has passed through a phosphorescent atomic cloud. In The Atomic Kid , Mickey Rooney develops a tell-tale radioactive glow when sexually aroused, whereas being caught in the aftershock of a detonation leads to the frustrated impotence and compensatory violence of both The Amazing Colossal Man (1957) and The Most Dangerous Man Alive (1958; not released until 1961). Similarly, a defecting Soviet rocket scientist caught in a nuclear blast inexplicably turns into a menacing sex fiend in The Beast of Yucca Flats (1960), just as the sexually perverse, cannibalistic patriarch of The Hills Have Eyes (1977), left to die on an atomic testing ground, continued this genre theme well into the Seventies.
Interestingly, an early (albeit dismissive) portrayal of psychological trauma, i.e. the possibility of nuclear guilt turning a man into a 'monster', came in the form of a sanitized Hollywood bio-pic in Above and Beyond (1952) which, like the earlier The Beginning or the End?, embraced psuedo-historical authenticity above a veneer of melodrama for its re-telling of Paul Tibets' selection and training to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. The scenario was later revised at greater length in Enola Gay (1980).
Apart from the often illogical and histrionic filmic approaches to atomic war, nuclear anxiety also manifested itself in guises other than the terrestrial monster. As Carl Jung has demonstrated in his pioneering study of the modern UFO, a phenomenon commencing almost immediately after World War II, flying saucer reports reflected a psychological projection of nuclear and cold war fears (still apparent in Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1978) and E.T. (1982)), where the subject constructed omnipotent alien forces who dwarfed our technology and morality, warning the Earth that human aggression and nuclear weapons could not co-exist for long. 50 This scenario was best embodied as early as 1951 in the role of Klaatu (Michael Rennie) in The Day the Earth Stood Still who issued his authoritarian ultimatum to a group of international scientists after political leaders paid little heed. 51 However, Klatuu's statement can also be read as a then-contemporary metaphoric interpretation of American foreign policy -- a sort of post-World War II proclamation from the United States to the global community, having monopolized (and demonstrated its willingness to use) nuclear weaponry:
"The universe grows smaller every day and the threat of aggression by any group anywhere can no longer be tolerated. There must be security for all or no one is secure. Now this does not mean giving up any freedom, except for the freedom to act irresponsibly. Your ancestors knew this when they made laws to govern themselves and hired policemen to enforce them. We, of the other planets, have long accepted this principle. We have an organization for the mutual protection of all planets for the complete elimination of aggression. The test of any such higher authority, is of course the police force that supports it. For our policemen we created a race of robots. Their function is to patrol the planets in spaceships like this one and preserve the peace. In matters of aggression we have given them absolute power over us. This power cannot be revoked. At the first signs of violence they act automatically against the aggressor. The penalty for provoking their action is too terrible to risk. The result is we live in peace without arms or armies, secure in the knowledge that we are free from aggression and war, free to pursue more profitable enterprises. Now, we do not pretend to have achieved perfection, but we do have a system, and it works. I came here to give you these facts. It is no concern of ours how you run your own planet, but if you threaten to extend your violence, this Earth of yours will be reduced to a burned-out cinder. Your choice is simple: join us and live in peace, or pursue your present course and face obliteration." 52
Similarly, films such as The Stranger from Venus (1954), The 27th Day (1957), The Space Children (1958) and The Cosmic Man (1959) all concocted versions of the alien 'other' to foreground (after the initial xenophobia dissipates) the destructive force of these atomic weapons, our paradoxical blind allegiance to the false ethic of deterrence and a gloomy, prophetic fate if ignored.
The 'Human' Dimension
Just as Hollywood has avoided either naturalistic or dramatic depictions concerning the direct consequences of their atom bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki, surprisingly, as their Western-inspired monster and alien invasion movies attest, the Japanese also employed less direct means of rendering these historical calamities. However, in the early 1950s a brief sub-genre of (melo)dramas sought to address the personal and individual affects of the atomic warfare. In his provocative 1961 essay, Donald Riche typifies the dominant Japanese post-war sentiment as mono no aware , a type of resigned fatalism combined with a melancholy sense of transience: "what we feel today we forget tomorrow; this is not perhaps as it should be, but it is as it is". 53
This malaise is evident in the sentimental film account of Dr. Takashi Nagi's dealings with survivors of the second A-bombing in The Bells of Nagasaki (1950). The 'kiss and make up' nation-state attitude of Japan and the USA was personified dramatically by the allegorical romance in I'll not Forget the Song of Nagasaki (1952) between an American GI who visits the city and stays to help A-bomb refugees, eventually falling in love with a blind victim. More elegiac was The Children of Hiroshima (1952) which revealed the before and after perspective of life in Hiroshima via flashback/reconstructions, recounted by a young school teacher who returns to her native city seven years after its destruction. 54
The docu-drama Hiroshima (1953) transformed its own historical re-enactments of the explosion and effect of the bomb (footage from which was later used in Allain Resnais' Hiroshima Mon Amour (1958)) into a continuing and contemporary tragedy by emphasising the nuclear legacy of lingering radiation sickness. The slow poisoning wrought by the invisible radioactivity also underscored the romance between a terminally ill young woman and her delinquent lover in A Story of Pure Love (1957), a theme recently returned to in Yumechiyo (1986). Although the immediate, visible effects of the A-bombs were almost totally removed under post-war occupation and reconstruction, the theme of abnormality from radiation has recurred throughout mainstream Japanese dramas in the ensuing years. In Lost Sex (1966), for example, a young man struggles with the realization that he has become impotent from exposure to radiation, whereas more recently Sensie (1982) featured a school teacher who contracts leukemia and then movingly informs her pupils of the traumatic period she spent in Nagasaki -- an event which has continued to haunt her. 55
Adopting the psychically destructive aspect of atomic weapons, Akira Kurosawa depicts a businessman planning to emigrate to Brazil with his family in order to escape an irrationally(?) expected, imminent thermonuclear holocaust in Record of a Living Being (1955). His personal obsession and family resistance eventually drives him insane (a situation also covered allegorically in The Mosquito Coast (1986)). The Japanese also gave dramatic representation to the lethal characteristics of atmospheric nuclear testing in the ironically titled Lucky Dragon No. 5 (1959), based upon and named after actual events in which a Japanese fishing vessel and crew were exposed to massive fallout from the Pacific "Bravo" H-bomb explosion. 56
Towards the end of the decade a correspondingly more sobering rendition of nuclear concerns also illuminated the screen in the West. No longer were giant insects and reptiles or other unconscious remnants of our collective nightmares dredged out quite as often to threaten the survival of our species. With the release of Marguerite Duras and Alain Resnais's profound Hiroshima Mon Amour (1958) to critical acclaim, a new modernist sensibility was found for the depiction of the horror of atomic weapons, which could only serve to counterpoint the naive optimism of racial and sexual harmony demonstrated in the closing sequences of The World, The Flesh and the Devil (1958), and the resigned fatalism of On The Beach (1959) with its ironic and pitiful end message of "There is Still Time Brother" after we have witnessed the gradual, though absolute, demise of our species.
Both The World... and On the Beach employ imagery of the deserted metropolis which has become a staple in the iconography of the science fiction genre, frequently as a result of global war ( The Omega Man (1971)) or technological preparations for such ( The Quiet Earth (1986)). Like Sontag, Philip Strick has identified the individual and collective response to 'disaster' as a means of collapsing the complex social macrocosm into an individually intelligible and accessible form:
The landscapes of disaster carry a powerful symbolic charge, representing not only the summation of former mistakes but also the prospects for rebuilding ... Above all, Armageddon simplifies: questions of morality and responsibility may legitimately be set aside in favour of basic matters like survival and the perpetuation of the species. Inner strengths are confirmed by external emergencies. 57
Whereas Hiroshima Mon Amour found a disjunctive yet poetic narrative mode to engender empathy towards its humanist perspective of the 'unthinkable' historical event, The Word, The Flesh, and The Devil, like Five had before it, opted for the familiar convention of vicariously obliterating oppressive social regimes -- personified in the matrix of our institutions and fellow co- inhabitants -- while keeping undamaged the empty physical structures appropriate for an eventual rebirth (which generically was often literal). 58 Ironically, the scenario prefigures the actual capacity and development of enhanced radiation weapons (neutron bombs) to 'maintain the real estate' but destroy the occupants. 59
On the Beach, however, produced a more contemplative, yet nevertheless melodramatic rendition of the 'end of the world' which paradoxically proved to be successful at the box office. Its motif of individual suicide (government prescribed pills, asphyxiation, alcoholism etc.) enhanced its grander metaphor of global extinction. As the film's nuclear physicist reflects, "The war started when people accepted the idiotic principle that peace can be maintained by arranging to defend themselves with weapons they couldn't possibly use without committing suicide".
A Bang or a Whimper?
The success and influence of these films during the 1950s coincided with rapid technological advances (ICBMs, nuclear fleets, satellite reconnaissance), simultaneous political events (Korean War, invasion of Hungary), and a growing public awareness of and concern with political and strategic postures such as MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) and Flexible Response.
Such issues were no longer the domain of the boffin. They pervaded the very forefront of our cultural consciousness, and, as the sadly humorous archival compilations The Atomic Cafe and No Place to Hide (1982) demonstrate, elaborate propaganda campaigns were initiated by governments and industry to dilute nuclear anxieties. Other popular media were responding to these social uncertainties and in many ways became the critical reflectors of our zeitgeist . For example, Tom Lehrer's satirical songs (e.g. "We Will All Go Together When We Go") and several episodes of Rod Serling's television series The Twilight Zone featured nuclear themes ("Third from the Sun", "The Shelter", "Time Enough to Last" etc.) which also contributed to the perspective of dystopia. 60 In Britain television drama was full of nuclear tales during the late Fifties and early Sixties, which reflected the high level of public concern that ultimately led to the establishment of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). The majority of the narratives such as Number Three (1953), I Can Destroy the Sun (1959), The Test (1961) and The Burning Glass (1956, remade in 1960) concerned nuclear physicists torn between the importance of continuing their scientific enquiry and the potential horrors the technology could inflict if adversely exploited. Others depicted the events leading up to and after nuclear war, as in Course for Collision (1957, remade in 1962), Doomsday for Dyson (1958) and The Offshore Island (1959).
However, it proved to be the new decade's superpower Cold War clashes in Berlin and Cuba that violently reintroduced the sublimated nuclear menace, and again the commercial cinema responded with a brief, albeit prolific, wave of films. Respectively echoing both the resignation and rebirth themes of On the Beach and The World..., the Yugoslavian production Rat (1960) and Roger Corman's low budget The Last Woman on Earth (1960) depicted couples facing awkward ethical and sexual dilemmas in strange post-nuclear terrains. More explicit in their renderings of a global nuclear holocaust were two Japanese films of the period. In The Final War (1960) an accidental American atomic explosion over Korea escalates from a regional conflict into global war, just as pre-existing tensions in The Last War (1962) lead to an inevitable Superpower collision after a series of false alarms and near misses. Simultaneous nuclear testing at both poles by the Soviets and Americans sent the Earth off not only its axis but also its orbit, plummeting the globe towards the sun in The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1962). The build up to an anticipated war, its confusion and the difficulty of maintaining social cohesion was foreshadowed in microcosm in This is not a Test (1962) which featured a State trooper sacrificing his life in order to protect a small band of travellers along a highway after an incoming attack is announced over the radio.
A nuclear strike turned even the most 'innocent' of victims into atavistic barbarians, as witnessed in the patriarchal family fleeing Los Angeles during Panic in the Year Zero (1962) and the marooned public schoolboys' regression to savagery in Lord of the Flies (1963), (a motif recently returned to via the stranded children in Mad Max III: Beyond Thunderdome (1985) and the subterranean street urchins in Doris Lessing's entropic Memoirs of a Survivor (1981)).
Even the potential of nuclear war was shown to be catastrophic, especially for the younger generation. In These are the Damned (1961) children who have been accidentally (?) exposed to radiation are held captive and conditioned to be the sole inheritors of civilization. 61 Similarly, two East European productions from 1962 depicted bleak futures. In Poland's The Great Big World and Little Children, two children are abducted by aliens who prophesy a catastrophic war, whereas in Sun and Shadow from Bulgaria, two teenagers attempt a relationship but are thwarted by the girl's recurring dreams of nuclear oblivion. In Ladybug, Ladybug (1963) a group of traumatized school children hide in family fall-out shelters awaiting a predicted attack, and argue over who is ganted entry.
Public concern over the possible inadequacies of C 3 (command, control and communications) were graphically revealed by the ineffectual attempts to recall American planes laden with H-bombs before reaching their Soviet targets in Dr. Strangelove and Fail Safe (1964). Both films depict intrinsic weaknesses of the military and political safeguards meant to avert any possibility of unauthorized pre-emptive strikes against Russia, whether by a paranoid lower-echelon commander in the former movie, or via mechanical breakdown and Murphy's Law in the latter. 62 Similarly, the diplomatic machinations of the US President's disarmament effort were jeopardized by covert military and intelligence collusion to overthrow the elected government through the Joint Chiefs' coup d'etat of Seven Days in May (1964), a theme reworked most recently in Dreamscape (1985). Salt & Pepper (1968) also portrayed a crazed colonel trying to replace the British Parliament with a military junta by threatening to use nuclear weapons at his command. Even more hazardous was the potential for catastrophic error depicted in The Bedford Incident (1965) where the conflation of technological innovation, an ideologue commander and crew stress factors turned a routine NATO/Soviet cat-and-mouse naval engagement into irrevocable nuclear exchanges. 63 These films directly contrasted the technological fetishism and occasional jingoistic sentiments expressed in the Armed Forces melodramas Strategic Air Command (1955), Bombers B-52 (1957) and A Gathering of Eagles (1963) which argued their case for a strong and ever-vigilant nuclear deterrent.
Proliferation and Technology
Surprisingly, few movies adopted direct nuclear themes regarding the Chinese and North Koreans during that war, especially considering President Eisenhower and General MacArthur's public overtures concerning the potential use of atomic bombs in the conflict; exceptions being I Want You (1951) and Hell and High Water (1954). However, two events in the early Sixties (US intervention throughout Indo-China and the detonation of a Chinese A-bomb in 1964) helped frame a series of dramas which drew attention away from traditional US/USSR rivalry. Hence, Chinese communism under Mao became the focus of many Western scenarios of nuclear treachery and terrorism.
Even before the first Chinese bomb was detonated, a depressed pacifist cleric in Ingmar Bergman's Winter Light (1962) is driven insane by contemplating this outcome after one of his congregation commits suicide. In Operation Atlantis (1965) US and Russian agents team together to destroy a clandestine Chinese uranium enrichment plant operating in Africa. Similarly, the two superpowers work against Chinese nuclear capabilities in The Kremlin Letter (1970), and an independent international team race to prevent an orbiting Chinese warhead from disrupting the delicate detente in Earth II (1971). Other nuclear espionage movies depict Chinese acts of nuclear destruction ( Kiss The Girls and Make Them Die, Dimension 5 (both 1966), The Doomsday Machine (1967)), invasion ( Battle Beneath The Earth (1968)) or technological advances ( The Black Box Affair, Fathom, Goldsnake: Ammonia Killers (all 1966), The Blonde from Peking (1968)). 64
Similarly, as early as 1946 in the serial Lost City of the Jungle , an "antidote" to atomic fission (Meteorium 245) was naively envisaged in much the same way President Reagan predicted an SDI "nuclear shield" would make nuclear weapons "obsolete". In the mid-Sixties, both Russia and America were experimenting with rapid-launch missiles to counter approaching nuclear warheads in the event of an attack. The development and reported deployment of an anti-ballistic missile system (ABM) also fuelled the imagination of scenarists looking for topical treatments in espionage dramas. Films which responded to such developments include OK Connery (1967), The Unknown Man of Shandigor (1967), Hammerhead (1968) and Assault on the Wayne (1971).
Nuclear Terror and the Cult of Secret Agents
Fear of atomic energy and weaponry was widespread throughout the world not long after the Second World War, and is reflected in the early movies of the period where secret government agents countered evil geniuses, such as Sir Eric Hazarias (Lionel Atwill) the arch-villain of Universal's aforementioned Lost City of the Jungle, and other saboteurs hell-bent on domination by employing nuclear technology.
Indeed, nuclear fear helped spawn the very forerunner of James Bond -- another British agent -- Dick Barton (Don Stannard). 65 Three feature films based on a popular BBC radio serial were produced for the newly formed Hammer Film group in successive years from 1948-50. After the initial foray Dick Barton, Special Agent (1948), the hero reappeared in Dick Barton Strikes Back (1949), foiling a plot by international subversives who have decimated British villages using a sophisticated atomic device which projects radioactive rays at its target from atop the nearby Blackpool Tower.
Following from pulp magazine and newspaper fiction, movies began concocting bizarre plots of foreign invasion and hostile acts against the Western Alliance by communist agents, often employing atomic weapons or some type of advanced nuclear technology. Indeed, such international fears were the raison d'etre for the existence of super-secret agencies (e.g. the CIA and NSA), either created shortly after the war or revamped by international intelligence exchange partnerships (such as the 'UKUSA agreement' between Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Britain and America). As psychologist Joel Kovel maintains, the paranoia of the cold war commenced with the suspicions over atomic secrets, and "in this sense, the atomic bomb created the CIA." 66 Correspondingly, Phillip Knightly argues that after the Russian atomic test of 1949 :
it was not the fact that the Soviet Union had developed the bomb that caused panic in American intelligence, it was the CIA's own failure to predict when this would occur. The CIA owed its very existence to its promise to prevent surprises of this nature... Given all the available information, any competent nuclear scientist would have realized that intelligence predictions of no Soviet nuclear bomb for ten to twenty years were ludicrous... But the device of shifting blame for this intelligence failure to betrayal from within, allowed the CIA not only to survive, but actually to expand. 67
As a means of demonstrating the real, proximate threat of nuclear weapons and the effectiveness of Canada's 'cleaning-up' of an infamous and well-publicized communist spy conspiracy, a Republic serial Canadian Mounties vs. Atomic Invaders (1953) portrayed an undercover sergeant out to bait a Soviet espionage ring working in the frozen north. By highlighting American territorial fears and reliance upon Allied support, this precursory serial envisaged the spies planning to build rocket-launching platforms from which to rain nuclear missiles down upon American and Canadian cities foreshadowing the Cuban Missile crisis a decade later. 68
Overt attack by the Russians from outside American boundaries was, on the whole, an infrequent narrative ploy in Fifties cinema relegated metaphorically and euphemistically to the previously mentioned extraterrestrial invasion films. More attuned to the introspective domestic fear-mongering was the device of discovering communist operatives planning to destroy American cities from within. Such scenarios were commonly forecast in the immediate post-Hiroshima climate.
In 1946, when asked by Congress for an instrument to detect atom bomb components being smuggled into the country, Robert Openheimer replied that there already existed one: the screwdriver, which would be needed for every crate and every container brought into every American port. The first feature to adopt this premise was The 49th Man (1953), an effective thriller which featured a Security Investigation agent trailing enemy subversives who plan to detonate an atomic bomb in a sensitive area of the USA. Similarly, in Port of Hell (1955) a Los Angeles Harbour Inspector and his partner discover a docked freighter contains an atomic bomb, to be detonated off-shore by foreign agents.
The same theme of internal defence vulnerability occurred later in post-Bond influenced treatments such as Dimension 5 (1967) in which a US secret agent and his Asian assistant are transported a few weeks into the future using time-travel belts in order to save Los Angeles from a communist Chinese atomic bomb. A year later Panic in the City (1968), had downtown L.A. again targeted for nuclear destruction by communist conspirators in an attempt to start World War III. Of all films tackling the theme, a neo-cold war film of the Eighties, Britain's The Fourth Protocol (1987) adapted by Frederick Forsyth from his own best-seller, was perhaps the most ideologically odious. 69 A British agent (Michael Caine) desperately tries to locate and halt a ruthless KGB assassin from assembling a nuclear bomb next to a NATO airbase, triggered to explode during a peace rally and designed to force the collapse of the Western Alliance due to the expected outcry. The whole premise of the film posits the existence of a secret non-proliferation protocol forbidding both superpowers from any such covert action, but a renegade Soviet KGB official breaks the rule.
Without doubt Ian Fleming's literary spy figure of James Bond as British secret service agent 007, and his subsequent transformation into celluloid screen persona, has made this character the most enduring and popular of post-war heroes. What is perhaps most remarkable about Bond, especially in the film arena, is his international and cross-cultural appeal, attaining the near-real status of celebrity, seldom achieved by a ficticious character. 70 For its time, Fleming's creation was by no means novel, as there had been a long tradition of spy literature celebrating the exploits of worldly British 'men of substance' protecting the Empire from traditional foes and projecting the noblest features of hegemony. Although borrowed from this established tradition, the formulaic character of Bond as devised by Fleming, and later remolded by film producer Albert R. Broccoli, diverged to form a modern super-hero, more reliant upon technological aids and raw, athletic instinct than innate intellect and finesse. Bond became the status quo's indestructible foil pitted against the oppressive forces threatening Western establishment with domination. At a time when Britain was rapidly losing its position as a world powerbroker, ironically, by depicting Bond single-handed and clandestinely defending the geopolitical course, Fleming's imaginary creation (first published in 1953) recaptivated a popular sense of English pride in its capacity to shape international affairs.
Paradoxically, the complex figure of 007 in both novel and film personified one (extremely popular) possible direction for change , particularly in post-war Britain. As Bennett and Woollacott suggest in their impressive study of the Bond phenomenon, Bond and Beyond , the secret agent has frequently represented opposing cultural and ideological values; his very social malleability as a "moving sign of the times", the authors argue, has ensured continued success:
Bond's popularity has consisted in his ability to co-ordinate... a series of ideological and cultural concerns that have been enduringly important in Britain since the late 1950s. The primary ideological and cultural co-ordinates within which the figure of Bond has functioned have been, firstly, representations of the relations between West and East or, more generally, between capitalist and communist economic and political systems; secondly, representations of the relations between the sexes, particularly with regard to the construction of images of masculinity and femininity; and thirdly, representations of nation and nationhood. 71
Acting as a member of Her Majesty's Secret Service, however, did not mean total autonomy. Another important factor was that James Bond operated within the established network of Western intelligence, often on joint exercises, or at least with the aid of the Amercian security system. Usually such references only required brief expositionary dialogue and the occasional appearance of a CIA agent such as Felix Leiter to cement the co-operative intelligence Bond-ing, so to speak (as in Dr No, Goldfinger (1964), Thunderball (1965), Diamonds are Forever (1971) and Live and Let Die (1973)).
The implicit, contradictory nature of Bond films and their respective ideologies can be traced via an historical alignment with (or deviation from) cold war sentiment. Like the early post-war adventure serials, the Bond films traditionally posit the Western world as threatened by demented individuals or organized groups bent on either financial reward or global power, frequently resorting to nuclear blackmail. Of all the Bond films to date, the great majority of scenarios employ nuclear technology or a conflict over such as providing the raison d'être for 007's mission (i.e. Dr No, Goldfinger, Thunderball, You only Live Twice (1967), Casino Royale (1968), Diamonds are Forever, The Spy who Loved Me (1977), For Your Eyes Only (1981), Octopussy (1983), Never Say Never Again (1983), A View to a Kill (1985) and The Living Daylights (1987)).
Apparently part-German and part-Asian, Doctor No signifies a submerged fear of the potential threat from ex-Axis powers, now Western Allies, acquiring nuclear competence and technological independence after gaining massive post-war American aid to rebuild their vanquished nations. And, like Doctor Strangelove, he too symbolically personifies the symbiosis of the machine-man, complete with black mechanical hands (which were replaced after a radiation accident). Goldfinger 's ploy is to break into Fort Knox, not to rob it but to explode a 'dirty' A-bomb (supplied by Communist China) and contaminate America's domestic gold supply for at least a half century, resulting in economic chaos for the United States, and simultaneously increasing the master criminal's own private gold bullion stocks' value.
In Thunderball SPECTRE's plan involves the murder and substitution of an Italian NATO pilot who crashes a nuclear laden jet bomber at a pre-arranged Bahaman location so that SPECTRE can steal its two H-bombs. The hijackers later demand a huge ransom, threatening to destroy Miami if their directive is not met. The next movie, You Only Live Twice , featured SPECTRE again involved in acts of international 'terrorism', in this instance contracted by Communist China to create a nuclear war between Russia and America. The ploy involves a vast strategic hoax which politically manipulates the superpowers' mutual suspicions and their assumed monopoly of space technology by SPECTRE's hijacking manned spacecraft from both nations in low-orbit, using an intercepting rocket launched independently from a small island off Japan.
Influenced by both the anti-war activism of the late Sixties and the vast technological spin-offs from the Apollo lunar program, Diamonds are Forever depicted another SPECTRE consortium plot to apparently force immediate international nuclear disarmament by threatening various large cities across the globe with destruction from a diamond laser weapon aboard an orbiting satellite.
With Roger Moore in the lead, The Spy Who Loved Me transformed You Only Live Twice slightly by substituting the plot device of hijacking space capsules in the latter film for nuclear submarines in the former. In both instances the plan is to bring about a nuclear holocaust by creating false acts of aggression between the East and West. In For Your Eyes Only (1981), after a British spy ship is sunk off the coast of Albania, both Soviet and British intelligence race to find a vital piece of technology called the ATAC system, a computerized keypad which counteracts the automatic commands to the British nuclear Polaris submarine fleet. 72
For Octopussy (1983) the Soviets were again the focus of Bond's espionage interests; this time a renegade Russian General plans to start World War III by secretly exploding a nuclear bomb near a West Berlin NATO base, appearing deceptively to be an American accident. Basically a plot update of Thunderball , the second Bond movie released in 1983, Never Say Never Again , depicts SPECTRE breaking through the NATO cruise missile security system to divert a couple of nuclear missiles from their test flight and land at a pre-arranged Bahaman location. Like its predecessor, by threatening to detonate the first bomb under the White House and a second in Middle East oil fields, nuclear blackmail is again SPECTRE's rationale. 73
Roger Moore's final foray as 007 came via the release of A View to a Kill (1985). The nuclear MacGuffin in this case comes by way of the American 'star wars' Strategic Defence Initiative and the economic R & D carrot offered by the US military-industrial complex funding allied nations willing to participate in the project. The opening sequence depicts Bond rescuing from delivery to the KGB a new super-secret computer microchip created by British industry capable of resisting the effects of electro-magnetic pulse which would render traditional command and control systems inoperable in a time of nuclear attack. Appearing as the new (monogamous?) Bond, Timothy Dalton replaced Moore in The Living Daylights (1987). In this scenario 007 is involved in a Soviet plot designed to provoke World War III, details of which are obtained from a Russian agent who defects to the West. 74
If the Bond genre is a changing sign of the times as Bennett and Woollacott suggest, it would therefore appear the Eighties secret agent has returned to the conventions of cold war action and diplomacy. Whatever concessions to detente may have been deliberately constructed for earlier projects, Bond as symbol for the maintenance and/or rehabilitation of the Western status quo personifies emblematically the very power of force created to support this hegemony -- nuclear deterrence. 75 And if the actual gadgetry from film to film has become more and more outrageous, it too accurately reflects the scientific fetishism associated with, and produced as spin-offs from, the whole international gamut of nuclear defence industries. Indeed, the miniaturized marvels that Bond employs to disarm and destroy a succession of adversaries serve to symbolize the implicit superiority of Western technological achievement. The Russians, Chinese, SPECTRE or insane master criminals may all threaten the West with nuclear weapons and acts of international terrorism but ultimately the alliance will prevail via its defensive enshrinement of phallocratic logic and materials. In this way Bond not so much represents the agent for detente, but more so the embodiment and ability of Western power (nuclear deterrence) to pressure for or reject such, depending on its complex, yet dynamic, geopolitical doctrines and its capacity to remain strategically ahead of its opponents.
Parody and Contestation
By the time Dr. Strangelove had emerged it was apparent that a mass audience would accept a deconstructive critique of the genre process. Stanley Kubrick's marvellous satirical "nightmare comedy" was precursory in that it immediately altered the cultural perception of social stereotypes with such a quantum leap that any post- Strangelove nuclear movie had to re-evaluate its generic imperatives. As Schatz maintains, only a newborn genre's status as social ritual generally resists any ironic, ambiguous or overly complex treatment of its narrative message. 76 This perception that the genre was sufficiently established to allow for such transformations helps explain the subsequent radical divergence of technique in British productions like Peter Watkins' meta-docu-drama The War Game (1966), and the absurdist comedy treatment mutually adopted in the pop-European farce The Day the Fish Came Out (1967), based on an actual nuclear accident and contamination in the Mediterranean, and the Goonish humour of The Bed Sitting Room (1969). 77
Similarly, the cult of James Bond/Sean Connery spawned a miriad of parody immitators. In America, suave and seductive secret agents foiling schemes of nuclear mayhem ranged from Dean Martin as Matt Helm ( The Silencers (1965)), Robert Vaughn and David McCallum as the Men from U.N.C.L.E. (in The Spy With My Face (1966) etc.), James Coburn ( In Like Flint (1967)) and Vince Edwards as Hammerhead (1968). European studios were equally prolific during the late Sixties when it came to combatting nuclear terrorism on screen, churning out parodic exploitation Bond clones to the extent that Sean Connery's younger brother Neil starred in the Italian spy farce OK Connery (1967). Indeed, from 1964 to 1967 a wave of continental nuclear espionage films were released, usually deliberate parodies, including: Le Monocle (1964) and Feu a Volonte (1965) from France; and West Germany's The Man with a 1000 Masks, Mission Hell (both 1965) and An Affair of State (1966). Italy was also involved in a number of co-productions, such as Superseven Calling Cairo (1965), Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs, Operation Lady Chaplin, Superago Versus Diabolicus, That Man in Istanbul (all 1966), and Diabolik (1967).
Emphasising the role of evolution in generic sensibility, Christian Metz has traced such developments through successive periods denoted as 'classic', 'parody', 'contestation' and 'critique', arguing that this linear progression requires a mutual sophistication and self-consciousness from both film-maker and audience. 78 Undoubtedly, the persisting Vietnam confrontation and domestic opposition engendered a heightened social and political malaise which helped spawn our cultural acumen; a theme well reflected in the dissolution of bipolar brinkmanship into an omnipotent form of 'benign' technological fascism when the superpowers' strategic computers merge to form a single supreme intelligence in Colossus: the Forbin Project . The metaphor of nation-state rivalry was also present in Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970), where primitive simian brawn combated the remnant human mutant intellects, which led to the terminal and resoundingly iconoclastic obliteration of the entire Earth a thousand years hence.
Detente and 'Disaster'
The early Seventies' Nixon-Brezhnev superpower co-operation was reflected in the near-futuristic scenario of Earth II (1970) whose multi-racial space station crew disarms an orbiting Chinese nuclear MIRV threatening the stability of Earth's tenuous state of peaceful co-existence. While the following few years of detente displaced the overt fear of apocalypse from immediate social consciousness, but it reappeared under the sublimated guise of the modern Disaster epic (e.g. Airport (1970), The Poseidon Adventure (1972), Earthquake , The Towering Inferno (both 1974) etc). As psychologist J.E. Mack has argued:
the great interest in the last few years in disaster films about air crashes, earthquakes, tidal waves, and fires in tall buildings, grows out of an unconscious need to displace the larger terror contained in the threat of nuclear disaster and annihilation to a smaller, more finite, comprehendable and manageable catastrophe. 79
The post-Vietnam/Watergate features of the Seventies mirrored increasing cultural disenchantment with military, political and corporate corruption. In Dark Star (1974), an updated homage to Dr Strangelove , hippy astronauts were depicted gleefully cruising about the galaxy, disintegrating entire planetary systems with sentient "thermostellar" bombs (one of which hilariously self-destructs in a moment of Cartesian frenzy). Both Damnation Alley (1977) and A Boy and his Dog (1975) examined the problem of post-nuclear survivability. After battling giant scorpions and killer cockroaches, an idealized neonuclear family reaches a pocket of civilization in the former film; in the latter it is precisely this continuity of 'wholesome' American society and ethics (now residing in a sterile underground city) from pre- to post-war environment that is shown to be not only ridiculous but ultimately diabolical. The level of disillusionment, however, was perhaps best articulated in Robert Aldrich's pensive drama Twilight's Last Gleaming (1977) in which a bitter General seizes an ICBM silo and threatens to launch missiles unless the Pentagon and President reveal to the public the hidden agendas for American involvement in Vietnam.
Other films not only rekindled fears of radioactive contamination, but also began questioning the competence of local nuclear power utilities, alluded to via the deadly (i.e. radioactive) black cloud of killer bees that attack a missile command post and then a nuclear powerplant in The Swarm (1978). The frightening dramatization of a civilian nuclear accident and the corresponding conspiracies of silence were tackled head-on in Stronger than the Sun (1977), Red Alert (1977), The Uranium Conspiracy (1978), The Chain Reaction (1979), The Plutonium Incident (1980) and The China Syndrome (1979). The latter's release (un)fortunately coinciding with the near-meltdown of the Harrisburg plant, Three Mile Island, and was championed by the anti-nuclear lobby.
However, an often ignored feature of the decade's detente was a massive arms race, virtually doubling the number of warheads of the superpowers. Against the significant advances in arms control during the period (Salt I, ABM Treaty, Salt II etc.) the cinematic emphasis began to shift overtly from the communist invader to the fanatic, terrorist or master criminal ( Madame Sin (1972), Ground Zero (1973), The Big Bus, Kingston: Power Play (both 1976) and H-Bomb (1977)).
Although a marked decrease in Seventies films dealing with nuclear themes may be apparent, curiously, a brief wave of comic book superheroes were adapted for feature film dramas to combat contemporary evils comparable to their initial serial incarnations during and immediately after the Second World War. This sub-genre began appropriately with the made-for-TV pilot movie of The Six Million Dollar Man (1973) which depicts the ultimate symbiosis of the machine/man in our atomic age by rebuilding a mutilated astronaut with nuclear-powered bionic limbs and organs. Other pilots dependent upon miniature nuclear technologies regulating human biochemistry were The Gemini Man (1976) and The Bionic Woman (1976), both of which spun-off TV series. 1977 saw the arrival of Spider-man , who was given special abilities after being bitten by an irradiated spider. He returned the next year in Spider-man Strikes Back to foil an extortion plot using an amateurly constructed atomic bomb. Another scientist, this time deliberately exposed to radiation, became The Incredible Hulk (1978, returning a decade later in the Trial of the Incredible Hulk (1989). Similarly, both Dr. Scorpion (1978) and Captain America (1979) appeared on screen to halt madmen threatening destruction with stolen nuclear weapons.
However, the most popular of these characters -- the pre-nuclear Superman -- combined a variety of genre concerns. As an extra-terrestrial and sole survivor of a technologically superior but extinct race whose home planet was destroyed cataclysmically, he is given super powers via the radiation emitted from Earth's yellow Sun. Significantly, his only weakness is the radioactive properties contained in fragments of his demolished Krypton. Of the four Superman films to date, the 'Man of Steel' fights criminal geniuses and/or nuclear terrorists in each film -- a theme so potent that in Superman IV: The Quest For Peace (1987), after eliminating all of Earth's atomic arsenal, he is yet confronted by an evil super- adversary/alter ego (cloned from his hair by Lex Luthor) named Nuclear Man.
Coinciding with increasing domestic American political disenchantment, the threat of international communism reflected in nuclear cinema began to wane and was replaced with a more novel allusion -- international terrorism -- manifest often in the marginalized guise of demented individuals (Bette Davis steals a nuclear sub in Madame Sin (1972)) bent on financial profits through extortion (Burgess Meredith creates a nuclear juggernaut for ransom in Golden Rendezvous (1978) and Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor attempts to "nuke" the San Andreas fault to improve his desert property value in Superman: The Movie (1978)). Just as bizarre in The Man who Stole the Sun (1980) was a young science teacher's threat to detonate a home-made nuclear device unless the Japanese government permitted the Rolling Stones to perform live, and telecasts of baseball to be screened without commercial interruption! Into the Eighties, nuclear terrorism came to the fore in, among others, Whoops! Apocalypse (1981), The Soldier, Return of the Man From U.N.C.L.E. (both 1983), The Glory Boys, Time Bomb (both 1984), The Edge , The Patriot (1986), Terror Squad (1987), The Rainbow Warrior Conspiracy (1988) and continues into the Nineties with features such as American Ninja 4: The Annihilation (1991). 80
By the end of the Seventies, the West had consolidated its return to conservative politics which heralded the death of detente. A new Cold War chilled the international arena with bellicose rhetoric darting across both sides of the Atlantic, and once again missile/counter missile deployment reanimated the nuclear bogeyman (with 'counterforce' and 'first strike' technologies abruptly displacing strategic complacency), resulting in a new wave of films reminiscent of the earlier Sixties cycle, but seemingly bleaker and no longer prepared to cinematically evade the destructive capacity of atomic weaponry, ionizing radiation and the 'civilian' nuclear industry.
In a brief analysis of this trend, the editors of American Film recognized both the social climate, the commercial incentive and Hollywood's response:
Nuclear holocaust is not a subject calculated to bring audiences pouring into the theatres, and the studios have generally stayed away from it... Now, that too is changing. 81
Of the films concerned with nuclear themes released in the Eighties, each can be read as a reaction to and an elaboration of the generic corpus preceding it, since any genre's continuance is dependent upon audience perception of variations in convention, observable from one film to the next. Unlike the rare and inept early attempts to depict the horror and tragedy of global nuclear conflict via stock footage of fires and conventional warfare (as in Invasion USA (1952), the Eighties equivalent invest their scenarios with an almost pathological attention to detail. Hopelessly compromised, The Day After (1983) fuses pyrotechnic disaster spectacle with a familiar TV soap discourse and wallowed in its own 'event' celebrity status, whereas Threads (1985) misappropriates Watkin's tenor in The War Game to produce a Day After effect. 82
Conversely, Testament utilizes a simpler, disquieting narrative, which focused solely upon a single family/community milieu. The microcosmic referent also frames One Night Stand as it examined the response to nuclear war from the viewpoint of four youths, unfortunately played out with an ineffective theatrical and absurdist mode of address. The Atomic Cafe satirically juxtaposed archival Cold War newsreel footage into its own form of propagandist docu-montage, while Wargames relies upon the spectacular visual capabilities of newtech computer graphics whilst appealing to the highly exploited, monolithic youth market. The Dead Zone demonstrates exemplary intelligence and constraint but is overshadowed by the cult of Stephen King's literary horror dynamo, adopting a literally prophetic-interventionist narrative. Similarly, The Terminator relies on appropriating apocalyptic discourse for its microcosmic battle of Armageddon in LA, already catastrophically played out in a post-holocaust future, revealed by time-travelling messianic warrior. As in Dante's Devine Comedy, Miracle Mile (1988) chronicles one man's decent into hell as he bears witness to the approaching nuclear onslaught.
Nuclear Fait Accompli
Apart from the above-mentioned, highly visible cycle of the early Eighties, nuclear cinema began to adopt an overtly apocalyptic tone, closely related to the social malaise espoused in the modern horror film, particularly George Romero's irradiated zombie trilogy, which flourished in the mid-to-late Seventies. 83 Instead of the borrowings from classical and gothic literature which often informed the posture of 1930s-50s horror films, a "duck and cover" generation of cineastes began to reconstitute earlier Hollywood generic formulae (as did the early French nouvelle vague before them) for self-reflexive, ironic effect, or as homage and pastiche. Similarly, filmmakers tackling nuclear themes renegotiated the familiar generic tenets by a curious combination of punk nihilism, resignation/expectation of death via nuclear holocaust and a nostalgic yearning for 1950s/60s naivety and innocence (e.g. Full Moon High (1981), Repo Man (1984), Back to the Future, Return of the Living Dead , My Science Project (all 1985) and Radioactive Dreams (1986)). Others tried to envisage the catastrophic physical consequences of thermonuclear warfare through the imagery of fantasy ( Superman II (1980), Dreamscape (1983), Wrong Is Right (1984), When the Wind Blows (1987), Rock and the Alien (1988), Akira (1989)). But, ever increasingly, nuclear cinema began to adopt post-holocaust and/or survivalist scenarios. 84
During this new wave a number of movies appeared which shifted the bulk of their narratives explicitly into the day (or days) after, depicting the bleak prospects of the survivors 'envying the dead'. Cross-culturally these films included the French productions Malevil (1981), Le Dernier Combat (1983), Poland's O-Bi, O-Ba: The End of Civilization (1984), the Soviet Letters from a Dead Man (1985) and Masseba (1989) from Czechoslovakia, all describing the trauma of (underground) survival and its ethical dilemmas.
On occasion throughout the genre, warnings of a possible post-nuclear future were usually psychically distanced from the spectator both spatially and temporally by transposing fears of atomic conflagration as having already occurred on an alien world ( Rocketship XM, This Island Earth (1955), Not of this Earth (1956 -- refilmed in 1988), The Mysterians (1959)). More common was the realization of a radically altered post-war Earth visited in a future time populated by mutants and/or remnant 'societies' in underground shelters ( World Without End (1955), Teenage Caveman (1958), The Time Machine (1960), The Time Travellers (1964), all of the Planet of the Apes (1968-73) films, Genesis II , The Idaho Transfer (both 1973), Planet Earth (1974) and A Boy and His Dog (1975)). 85 This cinematic concern of an immutable historical course towards Armageddon has been consolidated during the past decade. Although messianic heroes intervene in The Dead Zone, The Terminator and Future Hunters (1985) to usurp a seemingly predetermined nuclear fate which effectively grants humanity a temporary stay of execution, the victories seem at best pyrrhic.
Reintroducing the cyclical genre theme of homo sapiens escaping the holocaust by physically leaving the planet, in The Martian Chronicles (1980) a group of human pioneers witness the thermonuclear destruction of Earth from their small colony. 86 During a joint Soviet-American mission to explore an ancient alien intelligence in 2010 (1986), the distressed crew watch transmissions describing preparations for a global war to be waged back home on Earth as hostilities in Central America escalate. Earlier, in both Operation Ganymed (1977) and Aftermath (1980), upon returning from deep space, astronauts cannot raise communications with Earth, and fearing a devastating nuclear exchange has occurred, make emergency landings. Similarly, in Def Con 4 (1983) an orbiting nuclear weapons platform (an interesting coincidence with the 'star wars' Strategic Defense Initiative), which after actively participating in the terminal war, returns to Earth only to encounter a brutal regime of survivors, and vicious post-holocaust rulers also confront an astronaut in The Survivor (1988) upon his return to Earth.
Just as the nuclear proliferation and ABM espionage movies of the Sixties had their filmic precursors prior to the actual technologies' development, Reagan's Star Wars program had been anticipated by films such as Diamonds Are Forever (1971). Indeed, such movies no doubt provided the original germinating idea appropriated from popular culture as early as Buck Rogers serials replete with their death rays and laser beams. In this way, SDI notions had been foregrounded on celluloid long before March 1983 or George Lucas began his Star Wars trilogy in 1977. 87 Nevertheless, shortly after the defence program became official US policy, a number of films were released broaching the issue (e.g. Velvet (1984), Code Name: Foxfire, Spies Like Us (both 1985), Manhattan Project: The Deadly Game (1987)), eventually drawing political satire in Robocop (1987), where grabs from the television news of tomorrow depict a US President clumsily floating about a future Star Wars orbital platform before an "accidental" firing of the laser system incinerates a small part of California, home chiefly of retired Presidents and the megarich.
Following the enormous international popularity of Mad Max (1979) and The Road Warrior (1981) a spate of 'after the blast' movies began to relegate reference to their cataclysmic nuclear wars with either a few brief opening shots of atomic deluge (budget permitting), an introductory narration, or a short title, expeditiously dispatching the holocaust into the realm of an historical past (e.g. The Ravagers (1979), Cafe Flesh, Survival Zone (1982), Endgame, Human Animals , The New Barbarians , Stryker , 2019: After the Fall of New York , Exterminators of the Year 3000, Yor: Hunter from the Future , Metal Storm (all 1983), Last Exterminators , City Limits (both 1984), The Load Warrior (1984) America 3000 (1985), In the Aftermath, Lunar Madness, Rats: Night of Terror, Eliminator 2000 , Exterminator 2000 (all 1986), Hell Comes to Frogtown, Robot Holocaust, Rock & Rule, Cherry 2000, Creepzoids (all 1987), Badlands 2005, Steel Dawn, World Gone Wild (all 1988) and Desert Warrior, Cyborg, Robot Jox (all 1989). 88
Apart from the exploitation clones, a number of Eighties films have followed Mad Max III: Beyond Thunderdome (1985) into the realm of postmodern representation, relying heavily upon strategies of pastiche and intertextuality to depict their post-nuclear holocaust futures, such as Radioactive Dreams (1986), Spirits of the Air, Gremlins of the Clouds (1988), Deadly Reactor , Tin Star Void and Young Einstein (all 1989). 89
The apocalyptic imagination embodied in a terminal nuclear metaphor has seeped into the very zeitgeist of contemporary cinema, making some sort of reference or allusion virtually de rigeur. For example, in Raising Arizona (1987) the writing is literally on the wall in the form of the Dr Strangelove "O.P.E." recall code in one scene, as well as a Mad Max 'road-biker of the apocalypse' homage rendered initially as a dream revelation. 90 The teenage protagonists of My Science Project (1985), trapped in an alien time vortex, fight disfigured beings whom they (naturally) rationalise as "mutants from after the apocalypse!" 91 Paradoxically, this sensibility may also be present in the Eighties 'teen' cycle celebration of neo-conservative ethics and 'yuppie/ultra' materialism, arguably as a reactionary denial of nuclear fatalism overtly expressed in the abject nihilism of River's Edge (1987) and its portrayal of modern youth dispossessed of a future. 92 As one teenager exhorts in the movie to his gang after exposure to a friend's remorseless act of murder, "You've got to make the best of it while we're still alive because any day now -- BOOM -- and we're dead ... Russia could send up a whole batch of nuclear bombs". Other films in which youths articulate kindred sentiments include Future Kill (1985), Brain Damage (1988) and The Unbelievable Truth (1988), and by teachers concerned about their pupils' nuclear age despair in Heaven and Earth (1987) and Summer Nights on the Planet Earth (1988).
There is a growing body of clinical research to suggest a wide cross-cultural discord with perceptions of normative social interaction implicating as its source the child and adolescent's fear of an impending nuclear war. 93 As J.E. Mack believes:
We may find we are raising a generation of young people without a basis for making long-term commitments who are given over, of necessity to doctrines of impulsiveness and immediacy in their personal relationships of choice of behaviours and activity. 94
Sontag's 1950s 'Imagination of Disaster' may still be with us, but it would appear the mass catharsis of witnessing and living through the cinematic nuclear holocausts of the 1980s has 'mutated' the emphasis of this genre away from catastrophic spectacle, toward the conflict of prenuclear sentiments surviving incongruously in the brutal milieu of post-holocaust atavism. The inability of most contemporary movies to approach the complexities of social relations in the nuclear age, whether by a nostalgic yearning for a less complicated life in some imaginary childhood past, or embracing a more distant historical milieu via an apocalyptic future, constructed as a pioneering, frontier or survivalist "second chance", suggests a continued determination to avoid coming to terms with the present.
Even the less overtly alarming direction this genre is taking, which literally sub- merges nuclear fears into the realm of an (unconscious) fantasy underworld, whether it be beneath the earth (as in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988) or under the sea (e.g. The Rift, The Abyss or Deep Star Six (all 1989)), suggests that the relative geo-political comfort afforded in the post-cold war rapproachment has not yet rid audience of their nuclear anxieties.