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April 1960... I was about to turn 13 and looking forward to high school. The black and white world view my Catholic education offered was dissolving into shades of grey. It was a year of personal renaissance-an explosion of diverse interests from zen, Tchaikovsky, architecture and TV shows like The Twilight Zone and Playhouse 90, which aired the haunting "Alas Babylon". Despite the optimistic prospects of an energetic young President, the looming complexities of the real world hit home. Nuclear annihilation was not just a very real possibility, it seemed hell bent toward probability with each evenings newscast. Alas Babylon. The details have seriously faded but I recall the title was a coded message between characters confirming the collapse of civilization. Alas Babylon might as well have been the prequel to Mad Max. My last recollection was hordes of strung out junkies destroying anything that stood between them and the nearest pharmaceuticals. It may not have had the biting wit of Dr. Strangelove or the graphic gore of The War Game but I was riveted nonetheless. I haven't a clue how it ended but I'd love to see it again if only to make sure I wasn't dreaming.
Most people you might ask (those who have some idea) would tell you that "On the Beach" starring Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Anthony Perkins and Fred Astaire is the most sobering movie made about a possible civilization ending nuclear war. They would be wrong. "Alas, Babylon" will chill you even now that the threat is gone. Andrews is a military officer on the Florida panhandle talking on the phone to his brother in southern Florida. The line goes dead. He walks outside and looks up to see a giant mushroom cloud over the city where his brother was. It goes downhill from there. The anarchy. The savagery. The beastliness of a human civilization thrown immediately back to the stone age and subjected to the cold blooded kill or be kill code in what was a few days before friendly neighborhood streets. No one's politics can overcome this stark reality.
A live teleplay based on the novel by Pat Frank about the ultimate horror coming to your neighborhood. Don Murray is a lawyer in a small town in rural Florida. Life is simple; slow and idyllic, until the unthinkable happens one afternoon. Done at a time when most people had black and white TV's and the Cold War was very real and very, very close,it had a stark documentary style and feel to it that terrified people. A truly remarkable event in TV history, that probably should be in the Smithsonian and/or on the AFI's preservation list if it isn't there already.
a long, long, time ago i saw this on TV. well, does anyone remember it?
i still do. it's one of the "golden age of TV" dramas that, at the age
of 15, made me think outside the box (to use a modern phrase). the TV
flick, the Day After, approached the same subject in a more scientific
manner. Babylon, however, was more intimate and hopeful about the
aftermath of a nuclear holocaust. it contrasted with the movie On the
Beach, which was released about the same time, and which had a dismal
prediction for humanity.
pat frank and neville shutte had vastly differing outlooks.
i prefer Babylon.
I was 9, living at Patrick AFB when this was on TV. To say it made an
impression would be an understatement. Soon after that we, the family,
were issued several boxes of survival rations. Once the Cuban missile
crisis had passed we ate those rations. I don't recall them as very
palatable, especially the canned bread. Years later I read the book,
which I still have and re-read occasionally. The book points up some
racial topics that were somewhat controversial at the time, however my
memory fails me with regards to how it was treated in the telecast.
On The Beach, another post-nuclear novel made into film, is probably better known. Shute's character development in the novel gives it a greater depth and feel than the movie of course.
It is worth noting the majority of reviewers were living and viewing in Florida at the time of the Playhouse 90 broadcast. I am one of them, we had moved to Miami in 1959 from New Hampshire, and I was 11 when this program aired in 1960. To think we had been cooked for entertainment purposes was one thing, but, two years later when we were living in Satellite Beach during the Cuban Missle Crisis was another. It was real time - there were Davy Crockett missle emplacements right outside my school window. Patrick AFB had always been open, but then it was shut down, and attack aircraft taking off every 20 minutes. I walked to school (8th grade) one morning wondering if I would be alive that afternoon. The story Pat Frank wrote had currency. Those of you not around in those days, well, we have hopes you won't experience similar feelings.
I was a high school student in North Florida when my family watched
this episode of Playhouse 90. It really struck home since the location
was in my state and the different bombs were exploding in locations
that I had family and friends living at the time.
With the Cuban Missle Crisis and the football players of my high school being taught how to drive the school buses in case of an alert the story line took on new meaning. It was required reading in our history class.
Our Explorer Scout post was also taught a two week class by the Civil Defense leader in our town in the event we should come under such an attack. We all felt that we would survive since we were a small town and not be a target of the Russians, very much as in the Playhouse 90 episode "Alas Babylon"
I have read the book and it was a real eye opener. I remember a movie that was a miniseries that to the best of my knowledge went by a different name. The miniseries was great and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The book was a required reading for one of my high school English classes. I loved the movie but have not been able to find it since. I believe Richard Thomas was in it and played the main character. I thought it was out in the 70 or 80's - does anyone recall seeing the miniseries or know if it is available for purchase? This movie would be well worth looking into but I believe the version I saw was more up to date and I would love to see it again.
I was all of thirteen when I saw this Playhouse 90 presentation. The details escape me now, though I recall that it was chilling and scary. It still leaves an impression over a half a century later. Not sure if in this era it was presented live or whether it was done on video tape, which would have been fairly new then. It was done at CBS Television City in Los Angeles, so it might have been on tape. I recall it had the same ominous feeling as the motion picture "Fail Safe," a theatrical release about the Cold War done just a few years later in 1964, and filmed at a studio in New York City, paradoxically. My ranking compares this show to TV of that era, and it would likely stand up dramatically today, even though dated technically. Shows like this are why TV's Golden Era is called the Golden Era. In retrospect, there were only a handful of this caliber.
I am rereading "Alas, Babylon" because the last time I read it was in 1970. This will be the third time I read it. The book is great and should be considered a classic. While reading it now, I realized that I had seen it and sure enough, I found it on IMDb. One of the other reviews I read confused it with "The Stand" which is similar, but I still find that Pat Frank's novel to be superior. I would be a good movie for today. Hollywood seems to be rehashing old ideas. "Alas, Babylon" should be considered for that honor. It is time for Hollywood to wake up and do some original stuff. I was born in Pensacola, Fl when I returned there for my last year of High School, this book was required reading. Since I read it before, I did not mind. Read the book. I don't know if you can find on DVD or not.
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