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At Los Alamos, New Mexico, the maximum-security "atomic city" of U.S. nuclear-weapons research, top atomic scientist Frank Addison has a normal, middle-American life with his wife and son...until the boy is kidnapped by enemy agents to extort H-bomb secrets. Result, a fast moving chase thriller with some parental soul-searching. Written by
Rod Crawford <email@example.com>
Check out the first 20 minutes even though the suspense hasn't yet kicked in. We get a pretty good look at super-secret Los Alamos just a few years after the big bomb test that helped end WWII. Except for the tight security, it looks unthreatening enough. Note how it's a TV repairman, an obvious regular guy, who takes us through security. Once through, it's like any-town-USA, nice homes, quiet streets, kids going to school, and a family TV on the blink. Later on we see little Tommy and little Peggy frolicking along streets lined with impressive looking facilities separated by locked gates. The movie appears to be saying, "Okay, we're tough, only because we have to be. But, basically, we're still just folks."
Now, I expect that was a comforting message to Cold War audiences still not used to government's "dooms-day" research. It's a clear effort at popular reassurance. The one darker note is when Tommy's mother (Clarke) worries about her son's mental state. He doesn't say, "When I grow up"; instead, it's, "If I grow up". That note of doubt not only reflects a Los Alamos reality, but also a national one that in 1952 had just seen footage of the apocalyptic H-bomb. Note too, how professionally FBI agents are portrayed, a standard feature of McCarthy era fare. When brute force is needed, it's not they, but private citizen Gene Barry who thrashes out the informationan early version, I suppose, of modern era "rendition".
Once the kidnapping occurs, the suspense doesn't let up. The intrigue is nicely handled with colorful LA locations that keep us guessing. The climactic scenes around the cliff dwellings may not be plausible as a hiding place, but the view of northern New Mexico is great. Then too, the ancient stone apartments amount to one of the more exotic backdrops of the decade. Note also the extensive use of the police helicopter just coming into use as a law enforcement tool. Among an otherwise subdued cast, Nancy Gates remains a sparkling presence as teacher Ellen Haskell. Never Hollywood glamorous, she was still a fine unsung actress and winning personality. I also expect this was one of director Hopper's more successful movie efforts, and though people have since gotten used to the nuclear threat, the movie remains a revealing and riveting document of its time.
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