2012 thanks to Turner Classic Movies. I've found it interesting that in the ensuing years I have received numerous emails from professors and students wanting to know how to obtain this MGM film on the creation of the atomic bomb.
Happily this movie is now easily available to both academics and a wider audience thanks to the Warner Archive. The movie was recently released as part of a "wave" of films directed by Norman Taurog.
I've previously reviewed Taurog's LUCKY NIGHT (1939) and PLEASE BELIEVE ME (1950); still ahead in my review stack is the fourth and final film of the batch, William Powell in THE HOODLUM SAINT (1946).
THE BEGINNING OR THE END, the story of the Manhattan Project, was released early in 1947. Though it's a fictionalized telling, one of the most interesting aspects for me was simply seeing how the story was depicted, roughly 18 months after the dropping of the atomic bombs. The film mixes facts with plenty of conjecture about what the atomic bomb would ultimately mean for the world, hence the movie's title.
It's an engrossing film with a large cast of excellent actors. Brian Donlevy plays Maj. Gen. Leslie Groves, in charge of the top secret multi-state project involving scientists from the United States, Canada, and England. Hume Cronyn plays Robert Oppenheimer, with additional scientists portrayed by character greats including Richard Haydn, Joseph Calleia, Norman Lloyd, Moroni Olsen, Hurd Hatfield, and Frank Ferguson.
The cast also includes Robert Walker and Audrey Totter as Groves's aide and secretary; I enjoyed their bantering relationship, which provides some needed lightness against the seriousness of the story.
Tom Drake plays a young scientist working on the project, with Beverly Tyler as his bride. As much as I enjoy Drake and Tyler, I feel that their personal story is extraneous and I believe the film would have been better served with greater focus on the story of the bomb, which has plenty of drama in and of itself.
I particularly would have liked to see more of Donlevy's Groves, who ran an incredibly complex mission. Donlevy doesn't enter the film until roughly 38 minutes in, and his presence raises the film's energy level considerably. His performance is my favorite among the large cast.
The film has a somewhat odd opening, a "newsreel" in which some of the movie's lead characters put a copy of the film in a time capsule. I never quite understood how that worked!
This 112-minute movie then traces the creation of the atomic bomb, including documentary footage of the construction of the secret facilities at Los Alamos and Oak Ridge, up through the flight of the Enola Gay. Art Baker plays President Truman in a scene where the President explains his reasons for dropping the bomb.
Barry Nelson plays Col. Paul Tibbets Jr., the pilot of the Enola Gay, with Henry O'Neill playing General Farrell, the man in charge of the mission. I found a candlelit prayer scene before the flight particularly moving.
It's worth noting here that the flight of the Enola Gay is covered more extensively in MGM's fine ABOVE AND BEYOND (1952), also available from the Warner Archive.
A side note with some fun trivia: Pay attention to the scene where Donlevy and Walker first meet up in a hallway. The hall behind them is actually a fake backdrop, also seen MGM's THE HUCKSTERS (1947); half a decade later, Donald O'Connor would dance up that very same backdrop in "Make 'Em Laugh" in SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (1952).
THE BEGINNING OR THE END was photographed in black and white by Ray June. The story and screenplay were by Robert Considine and Frank Wead. The supporting cast includes John Litel, Jonathan Hale, Nella Walker, Victor Francen, Ludwig Stossel, and Warner Anderson.
The Warner Archive disc includes the trailer.
Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop.