Monday, November 04, 2013

Tonight's Movie: The Atomic City (1952)

THE ATOMIC CITY is an entertaining Cold War era FBI procedural with strong docu-noir overtones. All that's missing is the usual omniscient narration by Reed Hadley or William Woodson.

Dr. Frank Addison (Gene Barry, in his film debut) is a top-ranked nuclear physicist at Los Alamos. His son Tommy (Lee Aaker, one year before HONDO) is kidnapped while on a Santa Fe field trip with his teacher (Nancy Gates).

The men who have kidnapped Tommy want the secrets of the H bomb. While Dr. Addison and his wife (Lydia Clarke, who was Mrs. Charlton Heston in real life) agonize over their son's well-being, FBI Inspector Harold Mann (Milburn Stone) and his men swing into action, utilizing every means at their disposal to break up the spy ring and find Tommy.

I really enjoyed this Cold War thriller, from its depiction of the rather unusual high-security lifestyle on the base at Los Alamos to the various means the FBI use to crack the case. In one of the most interesting scenes, undercover Communist Party members come to FBI headquarters to watch film of potential suspects, with their identities hidden from the FBI agents and one another.

There's a tense sequence in a Hollywood hotel lobby waiting for a critical letter to be picked up by a courier -- watch for Mary Murphy in a tiny early role asking the clerk for stamps -- and a very entertaining scene set during a ballgame at L.A.'s Gilmore Field.

As a side note, it's interesting how often baseball stadiums are used for suspense sequences, from SOUTHSIDE 1-1000 (1950) and ARMORED CAR ROBBERY (1950) to EXPERIMENT IN TERROR (1962).

Additional location shooting took place in Santa Fe, including the exterior of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, and at ancient New Mexico cliff dwellings.

I often have trouble with "child in danger" storylines, but that aspect was handled very delicately; the kidnapping is not shown, and Tommy isn't seen again until the closing scenes, when he shows a great deal of gumption acting to save himself.

This was the feature film debut of director Jerry Hopper. The movie was shot in black and white by Charles Lang. Sidney Boehm was Oscar-nominated for Best Story and Screenplay. The movie runs 85 minutes.

The supporting cast includes Michael Moore, Frank Cady, Houseley Stevenson Jr., Thomas Browne Henry, and Bonnie Kay Eddy.

THE ATOMIC CITY is a Paramount film which is available on DVD from Olive Films. There were stray threads on screen in a couple of scenes but otherwise the print was excellent. Olive Films has also released this film on Blu-ray. Either version can be rented from ClassicFlix.

A download can be purchased from Amazon Instant Video.

For more on this movie, Glenn Erickson has written about THE ATOMIC CITY at DVD Savant, rating it "Excellent."


Blogger Vienna said...

Sounds interesting. And would like to see Lydia Clarke. Wonder if she made any other films.
Another film with a dramatic scene in an empty baseball stadium is the excellent Satan Bug.

12:39 AM  
Blogger Caftan Woman said...

So happy to see you writing about this long-time favourite. I love Cold War themed stories, and when you throw in Corporal Rusty, "Doc" Adams and Bat Masterson - well, I'm one happy movie watching gal.

6:20 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Vienna, Lydia Clarke did make a few more films but I don't believe I've seen them. Thanks for the tip on another film with a suspense scene at a baseball stadium! I need to make a list of these. I don't know that film at all, will look it up.

Caftan Woman, I share your love for Cold War themes. I really enjoyed this and will be coming back to it to watch again in the future.

Best wishes,

10:42 PM  

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