DNDF: Adjusting to a Post Nuclear Environment

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Saturday, September 6, 2014

DNDF: Adjusting to a Post Nuclear Environment

S P I N   T H E   W H E E L !

Nuclear winter is a hypothetical climatic effect of counter-value nuclear war.  Models suggest that detonating dozens or more nuclear weapons on cities prone to firestorm, comparable to the Hiroshima city of 1945, could have a profound and severe effect on the climate causing cold weather and reduced sunlight for a period of months or even years by the emission of large amounts of the firestorms' smoke and soot into the Earth's stratosphere.

A study presented at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in December 2006 found that even a small-scale, regional nuclear war could disrupt the global climate for a decade or more.  In a regional nuclear conflict scenario where two opposing nations in the subtropics would each use 50 Hiroshima-sized nuclear weapons (about 15 kiloton each) on major populated centers, the researchers estimated as much as five million tons of soot would be released, which would produce a cooling of several degrees over large areas of North America and Eurasia, including most of the grain-growing regions.  The cooling would last for years, and according to the research could be "catastrophic".

A 2008 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science found that a nuclear weapons exchange between Pakistan and India using their current arsenals could create a near-global ozone hole, triggering human health problems and causing environmental damage for at least a decade.  The computer-modeling study looked at a nuclear war between the two countries involving 50 Hiroshima-sized nuclear devices on each side, producing massive urban fires and lofting as much as five million metric tons of soot about 50 miles (80 km) into the mesosphere.  The soot would absorb enough solar radiation to heat surrounding gases, causing a series of chemical reactions that would break down the stratospheric ozone layer protecting Earth from harmful ultraviolet radiation.

A "nuclear summer" is a hypothesized scenario in which, after a nuclear winter has abated, a greenhouse effect then occurs due to CO2 released by combustion and methane released from decay of dead organic matter.

Happy fun topic I know, but Hollywood has explored this scenario multiple times.  For the double feature we’ll talk about two oldies but goodies with this as a major plot device.


On the Beach is a 1957 post-apocalyptic novel written by British-Australian author Nevil Shute after he immigrated to Australia.  The novel details the experiences of a mixed group of people in Melbourne as they await the arrival of deadly radiation spreading towards them from the northern hemisphere following a nuclear war a year previously.  As the radiation approaches each person deals with their impending death in different ways.

Shute's initial story appeared as a four-part series “The Last Days on Earth” in the London weekly periodical Sunday Graphic in April 1957.  For the novel Shute expanded on the storyline.  The story has been filmed twice (in 1959 and 2000) and as a BBC radio broadcast in 2008.

The phrase "on the beach" is a Royal Navy term that means "retired from the Service."  The title also refers to the T. S. Eliot poem The Hollow Men, which includes the lines:

In this last of meeting places
We group together
And avoid speech
Gathered on this beach of the tumid river.

Printings of the novel, including the first 1957 edition by William Morrow and Company, NY, contain extracts from the poem on the title page, under Nevil Shute's name, including the above quotation and the concluding lines:

This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

The 2000 film ends with a quote from a Walt Whitman poem entitled "On The Beach at Night", describing how frightening an approaching cloud bank seemed at night to the poet's child, blotting the stars out one by one, as the father and child stood on the beach on Massachusetts' North Shore.  As much as it resembles the plot of Shute's novel, the book gives no reference to the Whitman poem, while the T.S. Eliot poem is presented in the book's front matter.

The American government voiced a criticism of the general premise of the novel, that there was a threat of extinction from nuclear war, because they did not, nor have they ever, had enough nuclear weapons to cause human extinction.  But take that with as many grains of salt as you see fit.

 

On the Beach (1959)

  • Genre: Drama – Sci-Fi
  • Directed: Stanley Kramer
  • Produced: Stanley Kramer
  • Written:
    • Nevil Shute (Novel: On The Beach)  
    • John Paxton
  • Starring: Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Fred Astaire, Anthony Perkins, Donna Anderson, John Tate, Harp McGuire, Lola Brooks, Ken Wayne, Guy Doleman
  • Music: Ernest Gold
  • Cinematography: Giuseppe Rotunno
  • Editing: Frederic Knudtson
  • Studio: Stanley Kramer Productions
  • Distributed:
    • United Artists  
    • American Broadcasting Company  
    • CBS/Fox Home Video  
    • Image Entertainment  
    • MGM Home Entertainment  
    • Warner Home Video
  • Rated: NR
  • Release Date:
    • 17 December 1959 (USA) 
    • 17 December 1959 (Australia)
  • Running Time: 134 minutes
  • Country: USA
  • Language: English

The story is set in a then-future 1964, in the months following World War III.  The conflict has devastated the northern hemisphere, polluting the atmosphere with nuclear fallout and killing all life.  Air currents are slowly carrying the fallout south.  The only areas still habitable are in the far southern hemisphere.

From Australia, survivors detect an incomprehensible Morse code signal from San Diego in the United States.  The last American nuclear submarine, USS Sawfish, under Royal Australian Navy command, is ordered to sail north to try to make contact with the signal sender.  The sub is commanded by Captain Dwight Towers, who must leave his good friend, the alcoholic Moira Davidson.

The Australian government arranges for its citizens to receive suicide pills and injections, so that they may end things quickly before there is prolonged suffering from the inevitable radiation sickness.  An Australian naval officer, Peter Holmes and his wife, Mary, who is in denial about the impending disaster, have a baby daughter.  Assigned to travel with the American submarine for several weeks, Peter tries to explain to Mary how to euthanize their baby and kill herself with the lethal pills in case he's not yet home when the time comes.  Mary reacts violently at the prospect of killing her daughter and herself.

One scientist's theory is that the radiation level near the Arctic Ocean could be lower than that found at mid-northern hemisphere, which might indicate the radiation could disperse before reaching the southern hemisphere.  This was to be explored along with the submarine's main mission.  After sailing to Point Barrow, Alaska, they determine that radiation levels are, on the contrary, intensifying.

In San Diego, the ship's communications officer is sent ashore to investigate.  The mysterious signal is the result of a Coca-Cola bottle being bumped by a window shade fluttering in the breeze and tapping a telegraph key.  With correct Morse he sends a message describing the situation and then returns to the ship.

The submariners return to Australia and try to enjoy what pleasures remain to them before dying.  Scientist Julian Osborn wins the Australian Grand Prix, in which many racers, with nothing left to lose, die in accidents.  Dwight and Moira embark on a weekend fishing trip to the country.  Retreating to the resort for the night, they share a romantic interlude inside their room as, outside, a gathering storm howls.  Returning to Melbourne, Towers learns one of his crew has developed radiation sickness; the deadly radiation has arrived.

Osborn kills himself by carbon monoxide poisoning.  Others line up to receive their suicide pills.  Mary Holmes becomes emotionally unbalanced and must be placed under sedation.  Later, she regains lucidity and she, Peter and their baby daughter take the suicide drug.

Dwight wants to stay with Moira but many of his remaining crew want to head for home and die amidst the remains of the former United States.  Commander Towers chooses his duty over his love for Moira and joins his crew as they attempt to travel back home to the radioactive ruins of the United States, even though they will all die from radiation poisoning en route.  Moira watches as the Sawfish leaves Australian territorial waters and then submerges.  The end shows the deserted, windblown streets of Melbourne.  The last shot, punctuated by emphatic music, is of a church banner that ironically reads "There Is Still Time… Brother".

Guaranteed to ruin that annoying positive outlook you have developed.


Ward Moore (August 10, 1903 – January 28, 1978) was the working name of American author Joseph Ward Moore.  Moore grew up in New York City, and later moved to Chicago, and then to California.

His most famous work is the alternate history novel Bring the Jubilee (1953).  This novel, narrated by Hodge Backmaker, tells of a world in which the South won the American Civil War, leaving the North in ruins.

Moore is also known for the two short stories (since collected) "Lot" (1953) and "Lot's Daughter" (1954) which are post-apocalyptic tales with parallels to the Bible.  The film Panic in Year Zero! (1962) was (without giving credit) based on Lot and Lot's Daughter.

Lot begins right after two American cities, Pittsburgh and Los Angeles, have been hit by atomic bombs.  In L.A. there is a panicked stream of autos flooding out of the entire region on any road that will handle traffic at all.  It’s akin to the last final traffic jam of Stephen King's The Stand, and probably the first time we see this in literature.  Jimmon is an uptight insurance executive with a wife, two boys and a daughter.  He has foreseen the impending attack, and is ready to go with a station wagon packed full of supplies when the attack happens. The Jimmons live somewhere in the California South Coast near Malibu, so when they get going they head up the 101 to a secret base that Jimmon has already established.  Jimmon and his young daughter are the only ones in the car who acknowledge that this is the start of the end of it all.  Jimmon hates his wife and can barely tolerate his sons, and their either total ignorance or willful blindness to the scope of the approaching doom pushes him over the edge.  As he drives up the valley his family keeps urging him to stop to take a rest break at a gas station.  Throughout the entire ride the whole family has been arguing about what is to come next.  Jimmon of course thinks that nothing will survive, save for him and those who band together with him.  "The docile mass perished, the headstrong (but intelligent) individual will survive."  Jimmon's wife wants to learn where all the other cars are going and group together with them for safety.  She hopes to find her old boyfriend and his family and huddle for safety and comfort, which emasculates Jimmon.  Finally he relents and stops at a gas station.  After being gouged by the proprietor and paying the exorbitant bill at his wife's urging, Jimmon gives her all the money in his wallet and allows her to use the pay phone to try to call her friends.  He urges her to take the boys with her, and tells her he will be along in a moment.  While they are in the station, and with his daughter in the back seat, he escapes and leaves the rest of his family to their fate.

Lot's Daughter picks up several years later.  Jimmon has taken his daughter as a wife and they together have a son.  In the intervening years of living at the survival camp near the ocean the family has run out of all of its supplies, which were never adequate in the first place.  The camp has gone to hell as Jimmon has aged and learned that he was inadequate to the survivalist lifestyle, and all the game and cattle in the nearby hills have long been used up and eaten.  Jimmon's radio has been without power for years, but before it died they learned that pretty much the rest of civilization went up in flames as bomb after bomb was dropped on different cities.  They have not seen anybody else since making camp, and Jimmon's wife/daughter is desperate to learn the fate of humanity.  Evidence of Jimmon's failure as a man, as a father, as a husband, and as a savior is evident everywhere.  The camp is in disarray, the family wears improperly tanned hides, there is virtually nothing to eat, the boy is a malnourished idiot and Jimmon has yet another toothache.  Jimmon is full of false promise, and keeps vowing to himself to fix the camp's problems and right all his wrongs, though he still has not come to terms with the horrible decision he made to abandon most of his family on the eve of destruction.  He is also tortured by paranoia, and refuses to allow his daughter to try to make contact with anyone else who may be out there.  He still teases himself with notions of superiority, and thinks that he is the wisest of those who are left.  "A smart man hides from savages until the savages kill each other off, or until he has some means of subduing them."  Jimmon is chased out of camp by his daughter to go fishing with his son, and while crossing the road to the ocean notices some new human looking footprints in the sand that has covered everything in the intervening years.  When he returns to camp, he finds that his daughter has abandoned him and their son to go with whomever discovered the camp.

 

Panic in Year Zero! (1962)

  • Genre: Horror – Sci-Fi – Thriller
  • Directed: Ray Milland
  • Produced:
    • Samuel Z. Arkoff 
    • Arnold Houghland 
    • James H. Nicholson 
    • Lou Rusoff
  • Written:
    • Jay Simms 
    • John Morton 
    • Ward Moore (uncredited)
  • Starring: Ray Milland, Jean Hagen, Frankie Avalon, Mary Mitchel, Joan Freeman, Richard Bakalyan, Rex Holman, Richard Garland, Willis Bouchey, Neil Nephew
  • Music: Les Baxter
  • Cinematography: Gilbert Warrenton
  • Editing: William Austin
  • Studio:
    • American International Pictures  
    • Santa Clara Productions
  • Distributed:
    • American International Pictures  
    • Fright Video  
    • Orion Home Video
  • Rated: NR
  • Release Date: 5 July 1962 (USA)
  • Running Time: 93 minutes
  • Country: USA
  • Language: English

Panic in Year Zero!, sometimes known as End of the World, is a 1962 science fiction film directed by and starring Ray Milland.  It was written by John Morton and Jay Simms.  Although the similarities to Ward Moore's stories Lot (1953) and Lot's Daughter (1954) are obvious, Moore received no credit for the film.  In the 1962 novelization of the film by Dean Owen, which was published under the title End of the World by Alta Vista Productions with Ray Milland's photo on the cover, the introduction page asserted: "The screenplay was by John Morton and Jay Simms, from an original story by Jay Simms."  The film was released by American International Pictures as a double feature with Tales of Terror1.

Soon after Harry Baldwin, his wife Ann, their son Rick, and daughter Karen leave suburban Los Angeles on a camping trip, the Baldwins note unusually bright light flashes coming from a great distance.  Sporadic news reports on CONELRAD2 broadcasts hint at the start of a thermonuclear war, which is confirmed as the Baldwins see a large mushroom cloud over what was Los Angeles.

The family initially attempts to return to rescue Ann's mother near Los Angeles, but soon abandons these plans as panicked refugees climb over one another to escape the fallout from the multiple nuclear explosions.  Witnessing the threads of society being torn apart, Harry decides that the family must find refuge at their secluded vacation spot.

Along the way, they stop to buy supplies, or, in the case of hardware store owner Ed Johnson, take them by force when he won't accept a check.  They also encounter three threatening young hoodlums, Carl, Mickey, and Andy, on the road, but manage to drive them off.

After a harrowing journey, the Baldwins reach their destination, finding shelter in a cave while they wait for order to be restored.  They find that Johnson and his wife are their neighbors - but not for long.  The three thugs appear and shoot them.  A farming couple suffers the same fate and their teenage daughter, Marilyn is kept as a sex slave.  Karen is also raped when Mickey and Andy happen upon her.  With guns in hand, the Baldwin men fight back, killing the two murderers and freeing Marilyn.  When Carl returns, he is killed as well, but Rick is seriously wounded.

With Marilyn's help, they get the young man to Doctor Strong.  The doctor does what he can, but the boy needs to get to an army hospital over a hundred miles (160 km) away for a blood transfusion or he will die.  On their drive there, they encounter a military patrol, scouting for the army that is reestablishing order.  After a tense meeting, they are allowed to continue.  Watching them depart, the soldiers note that they're among the "good ones" who escaped radiation sickness due to being in the mountains when the bombs went off.  As the family drives on, a closing title card states: "There must be no end – only a new beginning".

More fun than a root canal!

 

Notes:

1.  Tales of Terror (1962) is an American International Pictures horror film starring Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, and Basil Rathbone; it is the fourth in the so-called Corman-Poe cycle of eight films largely featuring adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe stories directed by Roger Corman and released by AIP.

2.  CONELRAD (Control of Electromagnetic Radiation) was a method of emergency broadcasting to the public of the United States in the event of enemy attack during the Cold War.  It was intended to allow continuous broadcast of civil defense information to the public using radio or TV stations, while rapidly switching the transmitter stations to make the broadcasts unsuitable for Soviet bombers that might attempt to home in on the signals.

 

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