|Index||7 reviews in total|
This is an enjoyable little programmer from the early 1950s. Mickey Rooney (the #1 box office draw in the late 1930s and early 1940s) was no longer an A list star, and was hardly a "kid" at 34. The breezy plot, with it's sci-fi/comedy blend, along with Rooney and Strauss having an abundance of charisma, make this a great waste of time. If you enjoy the Bowery Boys, Francis The Talking Mule (Rooney actually starred in the final 'Francis' film) and The Ma & Pa Kettle series, this should be right up your alley! Rooney and Strauss have a great chemistry, and they clearly could have thrived as a defacto comedy team in a few more pictures. You may have a hard time locating this film, but for a few dollars, it's well worth it!
What better way to start a movie and grab your audience's attention
than with a nuclear blast? THE ATOMIC KID does just that, arriving in
movie theatres and drive-ins at the height of cold war fever and Joe
McCarthy looking for communists everywhere. How many card carrying
members' names did 'Tail-gunner Joe' have inside that well worn
briefcase? Anyway, Mickey Rooney stars as Blix Waterberry, the man who
survives an atomic explosion at Ground Zero, located in a remote area
of Nevada. Above ground testing of atomic and hydrogen bombs were
standard operating procedure during the 1950's as long as the
detonations were far removed from any populated areas. Still, the sight
of military personnel gazing at the blast wearing 'protective' eye
goggles in a fully exposed trench just a few miles away is quite hard
to forget. A full fifteen seconds after the mushroom cloud ominously
rises, the "All Clear" is sounded and the soldiers move briskly toward
the bomb site.
Mickey Rooney as 'Blix' emerges as the human remnant of the test house designed to prove what would happen to a prefab structure against a nuclear explosion. Blix is really none the worse for wear, a bit singed from head to foot and wisps of smoke swirling from his hair. The only immediate side effect is a speech abnormality causing him to speak like audio tape on fast forward. Thankfully, this is temporary. He is also holding on to a peanut butter sandwich which is still intact, just a bit on the toasted side.
The plot then gravitates to 'Blix' undergoing a battery of tests by the military and scientists. The love interest is filled by comely Elaine Davis (then wife #4 to Mickey Rooney) who portrays a nurse at the hospital where 'Blix' is being held for observation. Miss Davis' (aka Elaine Devry) most memorable on screen moments occur with a series of appealing smirks directed at Blix. She does light up the screen when it's lights down low for some pitch and woo in the parlor with THE ATOMIC KID. Or maybe it's because Blix becomes phosphorescent, as he's all hot and bothered after a smooch from his after hours nurse. Miss Davis would parlay those sexy smirks as well as her hour-glass figure into a lucrative motion picture and television career.
Robert Strauss is ideal as 'Stan Cooper', burly best friend to Blix and always with an eye to get rich quick. This is where cold war spy antics become involved as an unnamed foreign country (presumably the Soviet Union) tries to get to Blix through Stan offering him instant wealth for instant pictures of THE ATOMIC KID. Strauss is hilarious as the unknowing dupe to Peter Brocco, the spy in the gray flannel suit.
The Saturday matinée atmosphere gives itself away throughout this flick. One can easily imagine this as a perfect vehicle for Abbott & Costello or, perhaps, Martin & Lewis. Jerry could easily play it over the top as the radio-active kid and Dino would play it straight when not crooning his velvet voice toward Elaine Davis.
With a competent supporting cast including Hal March as an FBI agent and Whit Bissell as Dr. Edgar Panghorn, THE ATOMIC KID is the brainchild of none other than Blake Edwards. Directed by Leslie H. Martinson in his first foray behind the camera, (he would later helm vehicles as diverse as P.T. 109 and BATMAN with Adam West) THE ATOMIC KID is worth a peak just before you 'Duck and Cover.'
Robert Strauss was a remarkably memorable character actor. Although he
looked physically threatening, he actually played comic roles more
frequently than villains (and if he played a convict or a hood, it was
usually for comic affect). His great breakout part was in STALAG 17,
when he was the Betty Grable loving P.O.W. "Animal", who had a
memorable (and ultimately sad) moment dancing while drunk with Harvey
Lembeck in a "blond wig". But after STALAG 17 there was no comparable
role to build on. His next film with Billy Wilder would be as the
lecherous building superintendent in THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH. But it was
ultimately easy and hard to cast him. Easy in supporting bit parts, but
hard to find roles he really deserved.
I consider THE ATOMIC KID the nearest Strauss got to a true leading part. It was made one year after STALAG 17, so his name recognition was still high. And he was teamed with another sure fire box office draw (though slightly faded in 1954), Mickey Rooney. Rooney as a leading draw peaked in the 1940s in his series with Lewis Stone about the Hardy Family. But he was always a capable and entertaining performer, and he and Strauss work well together as a team.
THE ATOMIC KID could easily have been an Abbott and Costello property. The two leads are looking for uranium in the desert, and they have car problems. They find a deserted house, and Rooney stays in it while Strauss goes trying to get help for their car. Rooney finds the larder of the house well stocked with provisions, and makes himself a peanut butter sandwich or two while he waits. Then hell breaks loose - the house is a faked house (though if faked why does it have furniture and food in it) and is at ground zero for an atomic blast site. It is hit, but Rooney survives.
He becomes a national sensation - the first known human being to survive an atomic blast at it's metric center, untouched. Why? Was it the diet of peanut butter sandwiches? One can see Lou Costello in such a role (although he might have insisted the sandwich be a pastrami sandwich), and Strauss replaced by Abbott. Like Bud, Robert always sees the big picture - the money to be made in marketing the celebrity of his friend the survivor. And he soon has all sorts of contracts being signed by Mickey (as Bud would have had Lou sign them) for endorsements - like peanut butter brands. Between this and the constant testing by the government, Rooney has time for little else - although he soon is romancing his nurse, Elaine Davis. However, soon the FBI (Hal March) is aware of another interested party: the Russians have sent an agent to try to discover Rooney's immunity secret.
As a shot at the marketing of modern celebrity in America (think now of Paris Hilton, Marilu Rettin, or George Foreman), THE ATOMIC KID is on target as much as it's contemporary Judy Holiday film, IT SHOULD HAPPEN TO YOU. As a piece of amusing whimsy, it does proud for both Rooney and Strauss (who, despite his crass greed, does show his loyal friendship to Rooney when the latter is endangered). But it is the business of cold war paranoia in the film's background that is fascinating.
I reviewed, some time ago, a contemporary English comedy called YOU KNOW WHAT SAILORS ARE. It too dealt with the fear of nuclear annihilation in the 1950s, and how the public wished it away. There it was "demolished" when Akim Tamiroff and a friendly scientist concocted a scheme to convince the Russians that a make-shift gizmo (that really did not do anything) could demolish nuclear missiles upon take off. Here it is the survival of Rooney, apparently by eating peanut butter. Peanut butter would not be served as well again as a diet treat or power source until Jim Henson's Muppet, "the Great Mumford" would invent his magic catch phrase "a la peanut butter sandwiches" on Sesame Street. Would that something as tasty and satisfying as peanut butter could protect us all from nuclear destruction. It probably could not. Even, in the end, the scientists studying Rooney are not able to say why he survived.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This was undoubtedly the first film to explore the comedic possibilities of the atomic bomb--and in all honesty, it does have a few sporadic laughs. The set-up is beyond absurd, as wandering buddies Blix and Stan (Mickey Rooney and Robert Strauss) stumble across an atomic testing site in the Nevada deserts. Stan makes it into the army's trenches (I'd love to know why it was thought necessary to expose battalions of troops to these tests) but Blix is left behind to survive the explosion, most likely thanks to his peanut butter, sardine, and horseradish sandwich. After being rescued by the site crew, he develops all sorts of special powers and gets to lock lips with nurse Audrey (Mrs. Mickey Rooney number 4, Elaine Devry). Meanwhile Stan tries to parlay his friend's newfound fame into a fortune via a book and corporate endorsements. Blake Edwards' screenplay is fluffy nonsense, but The Atomic Kid is quite well shot and features some enjoyable footage of the Las Vegas of old. Strauss is excellent as the grasping but loyal Stan, and the supporting cast--including Whit Bissell and Bill Goodwin--first rate.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I wanted to like "The Atomic Kid", really I did. It had a lot of the
same elements as the old Abbott/Costello and Martin/Lewis movies and it
had Mickey Rooney, and it had that distinctive character actor from
"Stalag 17". But what it didn't have was any common sense or any
forward momentum or any believability - by which I mean that no human
beings would act the way these guys do after the early events, comedy
or not. After a fairly promising start (Rooney's character survives a
nuclear blast at ground zero with only mild dishevelment - although his
peanut butter sandwich is now toasted, which is a nice touch) the movie
bogs down in an endless series of dull, unfunny scenes using radiation
as the comic gimmick (when Rooney gets excited, his "neutrons change"
and the radiation he emits goes up, causing him to glow in the dark,
etc.And of course by "get excited", the movie means "flirts with the
nurse who is taking care of him". Radiation = sexual excitement, what a
novel idea,aaagh. )
The cast is actually the best thing about the picture, although they aren't enough to save it. I blame the director for this one. He lets the movie dawdle along in places where it should be snappy and crisp, and doesn't seem to know when to stop being "funny" after we've gotten the joke.
Worth seeing once a) to see Rooney still trying to be a leading man and b) to help you appreciate how hard it actually is to make a good "buddy picture".
I remember this film from when it was new--if this is the same film.
Today I was trying to remember the star, and that's how I ran across
Does anyone know if there were any other films like it? A comedy with a rube who accidentally finds himself in a house that is at the center of an atomic bomb test? If not, this is it. It made a lasting impression on an 11-year-old who had practiced ducking under the desk. It seems like in the film they surmised that the reason he was able to survive the bomb had something to do with what he was eating at the time. Which, I guess from reading the synopsis, was a peanut butter sandwich. Must have been a huge promotion for Peter Pan!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Replacing Abbott and Costello, Hope and Crosby, and Martin and Lewis
for just one pairing is the team of Mickey Rooney and Robert Strauss as
two uranium prospectors who stumble upon the location of a H-Bomb
testing site with Mickey being caught in a model home on the verge of
being blown off the face of the earth. Mickey manages somehow to keep
himself from being blown to smithereens and becomes prisoner of the
military as they search for the reason why he survived and to keep him
out of the hands of obvious Russian spies.
Amateurish juvenile humor makes you think Andy Hardy never really grew up, because he really is one of the biggest dunces that Rooney ever played. There are a few funny moments (one involving his affect on a Las Vegas casino) but they are mostly of the kiddie humor variety. Elaine Davis (billed as Mrs. Mickey Rooney by her producer husband) is actually O.K. as the nurse looking over him who finds him adorable, but Rooney is overladen with silliness, especially a high-pitched helium voice where the dubbing doesn't match Mickey's moving lips. It is sort of sad to see the former "King of Hollywood" reduced to such drivel in the middle stages of his career.
|Ratings||External reviews||Plot keywords|
|Main details||Your user reviews||Your vote history|