Duck and Cover… and Pass the Popcorn!

Recently, I attended a local event sponsored by Kansas Public Radio’s Retro Cocktail Hour, Cinema A Go-Go: Atomic Age Nightmares. It was a deliciously campy evening of radioactive cinema shown at my favorite local art house theater, Liberty Hall. The double feature included Spencer G. Bennet’s THE ATOMIC SUBMARINE (1960) and Anton Guilio Majano’s ATOM AGE VAMPIRE (1963). For a special treat, they added a short feature, an industrial film from the United States Office of Civil Defense: “Survival Under Atomic Attack” (1951). 

To say this government short film on how to survive a nuclear attack and subsequent fallout is ridiculously naive is an understatement. Which is exactly why it was so uproariously funny. At first it comes across as rather depressing, to ponder the very real and horrific atomic attack on Japan. But then you’re quickly swept up in the 50’s perfection household stereotype. It gets laugh out loud funny with certain fallout ‘pointers’ like putting up dark shades on your windows (as the blast flashes in the background), and simply washing out your hair to rid yourself of that nasty radioactive dust. They summarize by optimistically assuring the audience that by following these handy tips, all be perfectly okay.

Next up, came our first feature-length film, THE ATOMIC SUBMARINE (1960). It starts with a naval crew on a top-secret mission on the high-tech nuclear-powered submarine, the Tiger Shark, to resolve mysterious disappearances of several ships and submarines close to the North Pole. They soon discover a challenging alien foe deep in the arctic circle waters via a deep sea flying saucer. The cheesiness abounds from the low budget special effects (note the high ceilings in the sub) to the forced conflict of its two main characters- the ‘career military’ traditional commander and the young pacifist scientist. Surprisingly, this conflict is utilized as a platform for a bit of ideological discussion. If you choose to enjoy the camp of this flick in a ‘Mystery Science 3000’ approach as many did, you will also note there are silly sexual innuendos everywhere, including an improbable love scene at the beginning between the commander and a platinum blonde (also known as girlfriend to Frank Sinatra at the time). There’s a wealth of character actors and my favorite part is the cyclops-styling alien creature.


Arthur Franz… Lt. Cmdr. Richard ‘Reef’ Holloway
Dick Foran… Cmdr. Dan Wendover
Brett Halsey… Dr. Carl Neilson Jr.
Tom Conway… Sir Ian Hunt
Paul Dubov… Lt. David Milburn
Bob Steele… CPO ‘Grif’ Griffin
Victor Varconi… Dr. Clifford Kent
Joi Lansing… Julie
Selmer Jackson… Adm. Terhune
Jack Mulhall… Justin Murdock
Jean Moorhead… Helen Milburn
Richard Tyler… Frogman Carney
Kenneth Becker… Frogman Powell
Sid Milton… Yeoman Chester Tuttle

For our final feature, Anton Guilio Majano’s ATOM AGE VAMPIRE (1963) closed out the nuclear-powered evening. I didn’t like this one as much as I did the first. But it was a fun romp nonetheless. The title is a bit misleading if you ask me. “Atom Age Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” would be more appropriate. It’s an odd plot but it’s obvious much was lost in translation with the dubbing. It starts with a beautiful platinum blonde (gee, I see a pattern here) whom due to a tragic car accident, awakens with severe facial scarring in the hospital. Her vanity overcomes her so she seeks refuge with a mad scientist and his gorgeous assistant instead of alerting her beau of her new look or whereabouts. Turns out, this scientist studied the effects of nuclear attack of burn victims of the Japanese citizens of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He’s created a special serum that reverses the skin’s damages when activated by radiation. With a leap of faith and a dose of magical elixir, she emerges as beautiful as before the accident. The scientist falls in love with her- she who is the result of his miraculously successful experiment; and out of love with his assistant. As you can imagine, this doesn’t sit too well with the assistant who also grows concerned that the experiment is not as successful as her boss had envisioned. As the scarring starts to appear again on our plutonium, err, I mean platinum heroine and as our scientist runs out of his serum, he falls deeper into madness into a desperate attempt to recreate his solution and salvage his miracle. He goes on a killing spree of young women, starting with his jealous and beautiful assistant. He takes to experimenting on himself which gradually turns himself into a more and more hideously scarred monster. Keeping up so far? Yeah, me neither. But despite the incredulous plot, it was a blast.                                                                                                               

Alberto Lupo… Prof. Alberto Levin
Susanne Loret… Jeanette Moreneau
Sergio Fantoni… Pierre Mornet
Franca Parisi… Monique Riviere

Hope you enjoyed my atomic journey as much as I did. I love these B-movie Sci-Fi classics from the 50’s and early 60’s. I’ve always been drawn to the atomic age from a design perspective too. I live in a mid-century home in the midst of a neighborhood filled with gorgeous examples of mid-century modern design. I even belong to a group of other atomic-age architecture lovers called “Lawrence Modern”. For you fellow atomic age movie lovers… enjoy!

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