DVD Review: The Atomic City

There’s excitement when two supporting actor superstars from TV join up early in their careers. What were they like in cinema before they became icons on the small screen? Milburn Stone played Doc on Gunsmoke for 20 years. Frank Cady spent most of the ‘60s as Hooterville’s Sam Drucker on Petticoat Junction, Green Acres and The Beverly Hillbillies. The movie that brought them together was neither a Western nor down home comedy. Both actors played federal agents prowling the streets of The Atomic City. They were the same dependable faces lending their skills to enhance the leads in a nuclear thriller.

The Atomic City is a radioactive version of The Naked City. Instead of New York City, the movie takes place in Los Alamos, New Mexico. If this area sounds familiar, it’s because this is where the atomic bomb was birthed. It’s still the home of the highly secretive Los Alamos National Laboratory. Dr. Frank Addison (Burke’s Law‘s Gene Barry) lives in the heavily fortified community with his wife (Lydia Clarke) and son (Rin Tin Tin‘s Lee Aaker). Mom is having issues with her son being brought up inside the place that’s developing the weapons that will destroy the Earth. She wishes they could live in a nice place that doesn’t require security passes. Things aren’t all doom and gloom for the Addisons. Everyone is excited since their television is being delivered. This was a weird moment. How can he get decent reception in an area known for testing radioactive materials? But this is not a family melodrama about growing up in a land that clicks with the sounds of Geiger counters. There’s human evil lurking around the security fence.

A group of Communist agents kidnap Addison’s son. Their demand is the father’s research on the hydrogen bomb. At first he tries to deal with the kidnappers without involving the federal agents. He hands over a bunch of bogus notes. But the ruse doesn’t work. He’s in more trouble than he imagined. Thankfully Stone and Cady are there to track down the communist agents, but can they do it in time? This is a rather tight film from the red scare era.

The Atomic City deserved its Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay. Sydney Boehm’s script deals with the tension, loneliness and sacrifices made by the scientists that worked at Los Alamos. He creates a fine level of fear with the kidnapping. A normal Hollywood film would reassure the audience that the boy wasn’t going to die. That’s always a box office poison as even Alfred Hitchcock learned. However a ’50s audience would fear the son might die at the end of The Atomic City. Perhaps the boy will be sacrificed to make the audience get the message about the evil within communist agents. The Atomic City brought thrillers into the nuclear age. Stone and Cady’s radioactive careers were the most enjoyable fallout clouds ever released.

The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The transfer brings out the glimmer in the black and white images. The audio is Dolby Digital Mono. The levels are fine for the level of action on the screen.

There are no bonus features.

The Atomic City is prime thriller from the cold war. It’s compelling in its portrayal of a family kept in tight security. This makes a perfect nuclear double bill with Kiss Me Deadly.

Olive Films presents The Atomic City. Directed by: Jerry Hopper. Starring: Gene Barry, Lydia Clarke, Milburn Stone and Frank Cady. Running Time: 85 minutes. Rating: Not Rated. Released on DVD: August 30, 2011. Available at Amazon.com.

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