They push a button and vast cities vanish before your very eyes!
In Atomic War Bride (AKA the Yugoslavian film RAT), John and Maria are preparing for marriage when war is declared. John is forced into military service and Maria and family become refugees after an aerial attack. When John is accidentally trapped in a bomb shelter while on patrol, he is reunited with Maria and his townspeople. As ominous warnings about the government's use of nuclear weapons fill the shelter's video screens, John leads a revolt amongst the people. All they want is peace. A government crackdown on dissenters means John is charged with treason. It is up to the Army to find and kill John, even as the enemy's bombs grow ever closer.
In This Is Not a Test, a lone highway patrolman stops several cars traveling on a mountain road late one night. Morbid warnings blare from the radio that war is imminent. When a truck driver is stopped with a trailer filled with supplies, the patrolman gets the idea to create a make shift fallout shelter. To complicate matters, an escaped killer is on the loose, having hitched a ride on the truck. As the warnings grow more intense, and the work to complete the shelter more frantic, patience, love, and teamwork are tested as the relentless cackle of the police radio relays further proof that World War III is about to occur.
Atomic War Bride and This Is Not a Test can be viewed as companion pieces, highlighting the blatant differences between a US and a European reaction to the threat of nuclear destruction. Both films were made in the freezing winter of the Cold War (Bride: 1960 and Test: 1962) and they do reflect the mindset of the citizens, both East and West, toward such a threat. In Europe, there are calls for peace, defiance of a government that would even think of dropping the bomb, and foolish optimism that everything will work out in the end. In America, there is bravado, a surliness that comes from being inconvenienced, and a notion that, if the worst does occur, comfort can be derived from material (and alcoholic) possessions. Both films punctuate the notion of impending holocaust with pathos and melodrama. Each one takes its subject matter very seriously, and resists the temptation to sugar coat or downplay the horror, or probability, of the bomb being dropped. Bride gives us the aftermath of a nuclear strike with all its death and despair. Test ends on the detonation, leaving questions about the possibility, or futility, of survival.
Of the two films, Bride is more cinematic. It offers a compelling story, with a tense narrative drive as the characters find themselves thrown from one improbable occurrence to another. Some of the acting (and naturally, the dubbing) is a little forced and highly melodramatic, but it tends to serve the purpose here. It is a very depressing film. Test, on the other hand, plays like a warm up for On the Beach or Testament. It suffers from being too character driven. Since the main cinematic action is individuals talking, parking, and/or moving their cars, we learn decades worth of personality traits from people we have just met (and are soon to lose). The acting is much better in Test, with the exception of Seamon Glass, who plays the patrolman like he is Bronco Nagurski's understudy. And John from Bride takes the notion of wide-eyed optimism literally. His eyes seem permanently fixed in a startled gaze. Still, these are minor quibbles for films that deal realistically, and pessimistically, with the ramifications of the nuclear age.
This is the first time that Something Weird has offered a non-sex, beast, or blood based DVD package, and they handle the material with all the respect they can muster (they are Something Weird, after all). The extra short subjects offered deal, ridiculously, with the outdated notions of nuclear attack survivability, which seem to revolve around air or water bursts, and having plenty of blankets to catch errant radiation. The famous '50s joke known as Duck and Cover is also featured, allowing everyone to see, first hand, the mentality of inadequate precaution that was brainwashed into an entire generation. The DVD transfers are a mixed bunch. Bride suffers from age damage and scratches, and is very washed out. Test is much better, with deep B&W contrasts. The shorts range from pristine to passable, maturity being the major factor in how good (or bad) they look. Aurally, this is also a mixed bag. Bride has some bad dubbing and obvious splices in the dialogue. Test offers a sparkling soundtrack. Most of the shorts crackle and pop like they were actually found in abandoned civil defense shelters (and SWV being SWV, they had to include some ancient non-erotic striptease called Atomic Blonde, just to make sure we remember what the company truly stands for). Still, their historical significance more than makes up for the occasional distortions or gyrating burlesque queen. These forgotten films are grim, often disturbing reminders that our entire existence on the planet can be erased because of pride, obtuse rationalizations, and the random push of a button…
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Something Weird Video
• Six Atomic Short Subjects
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