Panic in Year Zero! (1962) Poster

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Surprisingly good
JennyP11 November 2001
One's expectations for an early-60s B movie from American International Pictures are never very high. But this movie was a surprisingly well thought out & thought-provoking story.

Just as a family has left LA for a vacation in the woods, the US suffers a massive nuclear attack on all its major cities from, uh, an unnamed enemy. (Wink wink...) But you won't find any marauding mutants here. In fact this film isn't about nuclear war per se. It really wants to explore the nature of civilized society. The father, well portrayed by Ray Milland, is grimly determined to protect his family at all costs for as long as it takes for order & civil authority to be restored, which he's sure will be a long time coming.

The father is a good man, but a little paranoid & controlling. This probably wouldn't be noticeable in normal times, but now they're in a panicked rush to escape the LA metro area & gather enough supplies to last for months in the wilderness - ahead of all the other people who are starting to clog up the freeways & empty out the grocery stores along the escape route. The contradiction between following the rules & protecting your loved ones in desperate times is very effectively illustrated as he makes some reckless decisions along the way.

Normally for a low budget 60's film like this, I wouldn't even bother thinking about how it could've been improved. But since it's so good at presenting a major moral dilemma in a realistic way, think of these nits as a sign of respect: Milland's character could use a little more introspection, but of course so could a lot of early 60's dads! (Not that Milland's performance was wooden - it was great. But his character had a very constricted personality.) His wife could use a little more assertiveness. She actually realizes this, and explains that she's still in shock over the attack - but after Sept. 11 a lot of us understand that after a good catharsis we can deal with a lot of trauma that initially would immobilize us. After having a good cry, she could've acted as a better conscience for some of the father's more paranoid acts. Also the daughter's character needed some fleshing out.

But of course this is an early 60's film, and clearly made on a low budget. And given its time & budget it is an amazing gem of a film. Definitely one to seek out!
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Growing up in L.A. in the '60s, this movie really meant something!
lisa-186511 May 2002
Sure it didn't have a huge budget or major-league stars, but it's a bleak and realistic little drama that has an authentic tone and a sense of desperation that feels utterly genuine. There's undoubtedly a "you-had-to-be-there" reaction that I had to it, being from Los Angeles and knowing the mountain area and easily being able to imagine seeing that mushroom cloud in my own mind. I was eight when this originally came out -- not sure if I saw it in the theater but it's possible -- and that creepy Conalrad radio tone is still in my head after all these years.

Nobody -- except maybe Charlton Heston -- can look quite so anguished and masculine and bearing-the-weight-of-the-world-on-his-shoulders-in-the-face-of-civilization 's-downfall as Ray Milland does in this movie.

It looks like we dodged the nuclear war bullet back in the 1960s, but I'm sure that anybody living today can still identify with the terrifying prospect of a devastating nuclear war and what could happen if you were one of the lucky/unlucky survivors. This may not be "The Day After" but it's a plucky low-budget version of the same theme and worth seeing alongside other 60s nuclear nightmare movies.
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May look campy: Perhaps more real than we realize...
Vornoff-314 June 2003
This is a genuinely enjoyable example of a "post-nuclear holocaust survival

film." It may seem a bit campy by modern standards, but is actually well thought- out and acted. The early 60's were an era in which it seemed possible to

contemplate a nuclear war that broke down civilization's normal function

withOUT reducing the entire countryside to rubble. A man takes his family out into the country to escape the chaos, still clinging to the hope that normalcy and order will soon return. His wife is horrified at his newfound ruthlessness, and the kids seem willing to go with the new rules of the jungle.

Ray Milland was at one time an acclaimed actor, but his academy award for

"Lost Weekend" seems to have cursed his career. Now regarded as a "serious"

actor, suited only for "down" roles, he wasn't given much chance to work in the more "up" big-studio roles of the fifties. By the time he wound up at AIP, he was little more than a "has-been" to the public. But he retained real talent, as his directing and starring in this and other Sci-fi pictures of the period shows. When given a free hand, as in "Panic In Year Zero!" he took on challenges others

would have shied away from and showed that he still had a lot to offer. Sadly, big time directors continued to ignore him and the end of his life was defined by roles in "Frogs" and "The Thing With Two Heads" - films far worse than anything with Corman's name on them.

"Panic in Year Zero!" displays the basic conflict of compromise: Ray's character must compromise his beliefs and code of behavior in order to preserve what he cares for. His constant conflict with his wife displays the conflict between

differing ideas of what needs to be preserved - to her, saving the family by acts of savagery is unacceptable, and the only way to preserve civilization is to apply its rules in every situation. The ending seems to redeem Ray, but the fact is that the questions raised are answered by each viewer in the course of the film in his or her own way. Events in the film are not one-sided, and Ray's relation to the hardware store owner calls into question his position and correctness: perhaps by allying himself earlier with other decent people trying to survive, Ray could have saved his family from some of what it endures.

As we now re-acclimate ourselves to an era in which the possibility of "limited" nuclear attack (from national or independent terrorist groups) seems more likely than Mutual Assured Destruction, it is possible that films such as "Panic in Year Zero!" offer us important ethical problems. Problems we hope never to have to solve in real life, but which the screen offers a means to wrestle with in a safe environment.
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A survival kit for those of us living in Los Angeles
jcholguin18 August 2001
Ray Milland as Harry Baldwin does all he can to keep his family safe from the harsh realities of Nuclear Warfare and mankind at its worst. Living in Los Angeles, this film gives us a pattern to survive such an attack if we are just as lucky as the Baldwin family because they are a safe distance from the heart of the city. People become "dogs" and will attack, steal and murder just to stay alive and that is the basis of the whole film "survival from people." Hiding in the mountains is really the only place for safety if one can find a cave like the Baldwins did. There are many scenes to remember but the one that always comes to my mind happens as the Baldwin's camper must find a way to pass a crowded highway and Mr. Baldwin's solution represents everything that he is trying to save his family from. What a contradiction from him. In this age of nuclear possibilities this film is a must see.
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One of the BEST!
Roman1123 September 2003
I can't forget this film due to it's honesty and simplicity in dealing with a man who protects his family at any cost. Milland and cast are absolutely superb.Milland also directed. Suspense with no surcease from beginning to end. I believe that any man would do just as Milland's character did. This is truly a classic and much better than some so called "A" films.
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Go into it expecting little, and you'll get a lot.
roarshock30 July 2000
American International pics are pretty consistent lesser-grade pleasures. If you have a taste for them, there is a vast library of reasonably entertaining AIP movies out there. And occasionally they even outdo themselves. Panic in Year Zero is one of those better than average movies. Working with a typically low AIP budget, Milland, as director, concentrated on getting really fine performances out of the actors and telling his post-atomic war story by focusing on one family trying to find safety in isolation. Overall, it worked well and makes this a film worth seeing.
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Bob-4515 July 1999
Los Angeles family vacation is interrupted by nuclear war. Now they must escape into the mountains to avoid the radiation, the panic, and the rapists.

Despite the insipid nuclear holocaust effects (looks more like a thunderstorm), this is a surprisingly effective movie. Milland elicits effective performances from each and every member of his cast (Frankie Avalon has never been better). The menace, humiliation and sheer terror of rape has never been more poignantly depicted on the screen, and all without nudity. A minor classic.
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"Two and two doesn't make four anymore"
ackstasis7 January 2009
I can't say I had the greatest expectations for this low-budget post-apocalyptic thriller, directed by none other than Ray Milland. Though his career was undoubtedly in something of a downturn by the early 1960s, the Oscar-winning actor briefly found new life in the realm of B-movies, starring in Roger Corman's 'X: The Man with X-ray Eyes (1963).' The previous year, however, Milland indulged in his occasional interest in directing {in total, he has five features to his name, as well as numerous television episodes} with 'Panic in Year Zero! (1962).' Against all odds, this under-appreciated gem is among the best of its kind, somehow even managing to outclass Stanley Kramer's star-studded 'On the Beach (1959)' of three years earlier. Ever since I read Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Poison Belt" in 2007, I've wanted to make my own post-apocalyptic film, and, fascinatingly, this is exactly the sort of production I'd envisioned; sparse in action and characters, but utilising the family's isolation to bring home the terror of their predicament.

The theme of nuclear apocalypse was most common in the early 1960s, when relations between the United States and the Soviet Union were at their most hostile. Some films, such as Kubrick's 'Dr. Strangelove… (1964)' and Lumet's 'Fail-Safe (1964),' chronicled the events leading up to such an incident, whereas Kramer's 'On the Beach (1959)' took place in the following months. What these big-budget offerings have in common is that they focus primarily on the big-players in the Cold War, particularly the government and military officials. 'Panic in Year Year!' deals, out of budgetary necessity more than anything else, with ordinary people in an unfathomable situation, and is all the better for it. When Harry Baldwin (Milland) takes his family on a fishing trip, the sudden flash of light emanating from Los Angeles is initially mistaken for lightning, followed by the mundane remark that "I hope it doesn't rain." The Baldwins are a regular American family who don't deserve to have their lives and lifestyles exploited like cheap pawns in a game of chess.

It's interesting that the charming rogues of the 1940s, such as Ray Milland and George Sanders, turned into convincing family-orientated men during their autumn years of acting. Milland is excellent in the main role, a dedicated father and husband who, in his determination to persevere, finds himself abandoning the very civilised morals for which he is fighting. Despite creating a strong sense of the chaos and lawlessness that accompanies a national catastrophe, the film's message is still an overwhelingly positive one: that the bonds of family and friendship are a crucial necessity in difficult times. There are, of course, a few unlikely plot turns – by coincidence, the two groups of people who seek refuge in the Baldwins' hideaway are the very two with whom the family had had previously altercations – and the occasional moment that can only be described as B-movie silliness {my favourite is the announcement that the sole outcome of an urgent United Nations meeting was to give this year a dramatic-sounding name}. Even so, 'Panic in Year Zero!' is a gripping and unforgettable addition to the science-fiction genre.
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An honest look at a post-nuclear holocaust
dcorr12329 July 2000
A family struggles to survive the anarchy in a world devastated by nuclear war. This is a believable story by the standards of the time it was produced; the possibility of a nuclear winter had not yet been considered. There are no bands of mutants roaming around eating the survivors, just ordinary criminal types. Yes, I'm afraid that circumstances like that do bring such people out of the woodworks. Ray Milland's character makes intelligent, and sometimes hard, decisions to ensure his family's survival.
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A family scrambles desperately to survive after a nuclear attack sends them fleeing into the countryside.
kass-33 March 1999
A real surprise for the time it was made: well thought out, and frighteningly logical as well as dramatic. Other surprises: Milland directing himself in a rather harsh role, and Frankie Avalon playing Milland's son... hey, I know he was in (too many) movies, but who would've thought the guy could actually act?
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Nuclear war on a low-end budget; makes its points cogently, but with too much time left over...
moonspinner5511 July 2009
Ray Milland stars in and directed this American International melodrama concerning an ordinary Southern California family heading to the hills after Los Angeles is one of many cities hit by a nuclear missile (the film is very shy in saying who our enemy is, possibly European or Asian!). Detailing the family's quest for isolation from the looters and trigger-happy crazies, Milland obviously had to cut some corners, and the middle portion of the picture is filled with second-unit shots and obvious studio set-ups. Still, the point here--about the need for survival under the most civilized of circumstances--is well-dramatized, and Milland handles the actors efficiently enough. Plot is overly-familiar, probably seeming much fresher in 1962, yet it is a good addition to the Doomsday film genre. **1/2 from ****
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Very good AIP film
vtcavuoto21 March 2009
Warning: Spoilers
"Panic In Year Zero" is a very underrated film. The acting is much better than expected-even Frankie Avalon! Ray Milland shines in this film, playing a man who keeps his family in survival mode. Atomic bombs hit Los Angeles and other West Coast cities just as Ray Milland's family heads out for a camping trip. Once the bombs hit, society crumbles and it is Milland's character that steps up to provide his family for an extended "vacation". They literally head for the hills but not before buying out an entire grocery and hardware store. Dangers are faced at every turn and when his daughter is sexually assaulted, Milland and Frankie take matters in their own hands.The directing is very well done but the jazzy, upbeat music score at the beginning of the film doesn't belong. A movie that is worth seeing.
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Tolerable Survivalist Tale
zardoz-1311 November 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Former matinée idol Ray Milland directed this lukewarm melodrama about a family of four embarking on a fishing trip when Soviet nuclear warheads rain widespread destruction down on the United States and devastate every major city from coast-to-coast. The NATO countries suffer similar disasters (so you know--even though the filmmakers never specify it--) that the Soviets started World War III. The Baldwins hear an explosion after they have left home. In the distance, they see a massive mushroom cloud hovering over their hometown of Los Angeles. "Panic in the Year Zero" explores the transformation that Harry Baldwin (Ray Milland of "Safecracker") experiences between the time that he leaves his home in Los Angeles and winds up at his new home in a cave in the mountains. Once Harry learns that civilization as he knows it has vanished, he starts behaving like an entirely different individual. Law and order--the justice system as a whole-- has collapsed, and men with guns rule the land, and these unscrupulous gunmen try to take what they want because America has become a jungle. Initially, Harry pays for everything that he can carry in his trailer, and he spends every last cent until he runs out of money and resorts to taking everything by force of arms.

Meanwhile, Harry's wife Ann Baldwin (Jean Hagen of "Sunrise at Campobello") has difficult getting accustomed to the demands that this change of lifestyle has imposed on them. When three hoodlums try to waylay them on the highway, Harry's son Rick Baldwin (Frankie Avalon of "Guns of the Timberlands") wings one of them. This act of violence terrifies Ann. Eventually, Ann accepts their fate and learns how to use a rifle. The family crosses a bridge into the mountains but Harry destroys it to prevent others from following him. They take up residence in a cave that Rick had found during an earlier fishing trip. At one point, Harry had to steal from a hardware dealer, but he promised to pay Johnson (Richard Garland of "13 Fighting Men") back. He even hands over his wallet with his identification and credit cards. Later, after they have established themselves snugly in the mountains, the Baldwins run into Johnson. The first time that they met in Johnson's hardware store, Johnson got the drop on Harry, but Rick slipped up behind him with a gun. Basically, the same thing happens again, but Harry lets Johnson go and hands him his revolver back. Harry plans to visit Johnson but before he can, the three young hoodlums from the highway jump Johnson and his wife and kill them.

Later, two of the hoodlums catch Harry's daughter, Karen Baldwin (Mary Mitchel of "Twist Around the Clock"), while she is alone and rape her. Ann shoots at them, but she misses every shot. When Johnson met Harry again, he mentioned the three men living it up in a house and making a racket. Harry and Rick check the house out and Harry kills Mickey (Rex Holman of "20,000 Eyes") and Andy (Neil Nephew of "The Young Savages") with a pump action shotgun while Rick watches. Killing the two hoodlums tears up Harry, but Harry and Rick find a hostage, Marilyn Hayes (Joan Freeman of "Come September"), and they bring her back to the cave. Eventually, Carl (Richard Bakalyan of "Operation Bikini") catches Marilyn off guard when she is supposed to be watching out for Rick as he chops firewood. Rick manages to kill Carl, but he takes a slug in the leg and Harry piles the family into a car and tears off into the darkness to find a doctor. While this is happening, the Baldwins hear a radio report that a peace has been established and relief stations are being established around Los Angeles. Harry finds a doctor in a deserted town, Dr. Powell Strong (Willis Bouchey of "Five Guns to Tombstone") and Strong patches him up but tells Harry that Rick will need a blood transfusion. Just as they seem to be getting somewhere, Harry and family are waylaid by men with machine gun. Miraculously, the men turn out to be soldiers on the prowl for survivors and they send Harry and company to a nearby aid station. Life begins anew.

"Panic in the Year Zero" is a tolerably entertaining low budget, Cold War affair that is concisely directed by Milland. The problem with Milland and the screenplay is that both are far too dark to be entertaining. The film contains virtual no humor and Milland emphasizes the dark quality of the plot. Our hero has a hard time morally justifying his larcenous actions and the wife lives in denial. It is a tragedy for most of its running time, despite its hopeful ending. Mind you, it's nothing memorable, but as a survivalist tale it is above-average. "High School Hellcats" lenser Gilbert Warrenton's black & white, widescreen photography is good.
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Don't Panic Good Movie!
Richie-67-48585216 April 2017
Nice little gem here on what it would be like to have to handle family safety and security in case civilization failed. The movie is believable and holds up even though it was made in the 50"s. The survival themes don't change and it does get realistic to see how far a civilized person will go when faced with tough choices. This movie takes you there. I got some stomach wrench meaning tension during some scenes where you might find yourself rooting and taking sides. The question of what would you do just ropes the viewer in and the movie itself takes us there when the two main players disagree on main issues. I couldn't help but think that I would become a little more ruthless than portrayed but then again, everyone handles emergency differently. Check yourself out while watching. It is important to note that food, shelter and clothing become extremely important in a crisis with money and certain material items becoming near worthless until order is restored. This is a good reminder of that subject. There is rape, killing and theft plus more handled very well allowing the viewer to know what happened instead of seeing it. That's the way it was back then in the movies. Today, they go all out leaving this viewer in a tight spot. I don't like to see in your face certain subjects for the thrill factor. I am more supportive in this as long as what takes place is critical to the story-line and to keep in credible but with class not crass. Enjoy Ray Milland and his supporting actors who do the job fairly well. Good movie to snack with and of course have a tasty drink on standby. Sandwich works too. Enjoy and don't "panic"....
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A common theme in the post-war era
edalweber10 May 2010
Warning: Spoilers
The collapse of law and order in the period after a nuclear attack was a common theme in the post war era, particularly on television. Most stories of this type ended up on TV "playhouses", which are rarely rerun now, so this story may now seem more unusual now than it was at the time.Actually, this movie came at the tail end of the period.

It is very well made, and, like the original movie "The Thing", shows what can be done by a good director with a good script and decent actors even on a low budget.It certainly shows how the worst comes out(in the worst people) under circumstances like this.The criticism of Milland and his family for certain drastic measures, is, I feel, unwarranted.They don't use force unless there is no choice, and then only as much as necessary.There is a difference between killing out of necessity and killing for the sheer joy of doing so, as the three punks did.As far as obeying the "rules" of civilization, even under normal circumstances you are responsible for your own safety most of the time.The authorities aren't going to guard your home;YOU have to.And when order completely breaks down,each person becomes his own law,answerable to his own conscience and principles.Milland and his son didn't turn into fiends because there was no "authority" to control them;when they rescued the rape victim they didn't treat her as a "prize" to be used for their own pleasure,they acted in a decent and civilized manner.Actually, their main misjudgment was in allowing the three punks to escape when they first encountered them.By proposing to murder Milland in cold blood they condemned themselves.Milland and his son should have executed them on the spot when they had the chance;it was obviously inevitable that if these PREDATORS were allowed to escape that they would kill someone else, as in fact they did. As far as "taking them prisoner", that was so obviously totally impossible under the circumstances as not to be worth discussing.Killing is a grim business, but sometimes it has to be done. But someone who does it out of unavoidable necessity is not a monster;someone who does it casually and for laughs, IS.

By the way, I went through Hurricane Katrina(which did little damage here in New Orleans) and more important,Barthelemy's Flood, which is what ruined the city west of the Industrial Canal,and I can tell you that "breakdown of order" as described by the news media was colossally exaggerated.It was no where near as dangerous as described.
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The Barest Trappings Of Civilization
bkoganbing23 May 2009
Nuclear war has suddenly broken out as the Baldwin family is returning from a country outing. They're miles from Los Angeles when the bombs hit, they mention multiple bombs, my guess would be a MIRV warhead. The Baldwins have no place to return, mother Jean Hagen just wants to get to her mother who was left in the city.

Under the circumstances father Ray Milland is keeping as cool a head as possible. Knowing they'll be a breakdown of law and order until and if it is restored, Milland makes some critical decisions to save his wife and two children, Frankie Avalon and Mary Mitchel. Hagen goes along with everything he does, but she can't wrap her mind around the concept that her Los Angeles world is no more.

Panic In The Year Zero! is the story of the Baldwin family and what they have to do to survive. It's not a film for the fainthearted, Ray Milland to save his family preserves only the barest trappings of the civilized world he has known.

Milland also directed this film and got good performances out of his cast which also includes farm girl Joan Freeman who Milland's family take in and three punks who are showing the kind of animals they are with no restraints of civilization. The three punks are Richard Bakalyn, Neil Nephew and Rex Holman and they will chill you. Hope for civilization in addition to Hagen is represented by Willis Bouchey who is a small town doctor whom the Baldwins are forced to turn to.

The title refers to the fact from the attack our chronological numeration of years is now starting from this event with the hope that mankind has learned and is stating that he is making a new symbolic beginning. Hopefully it won't end as bad as it showed the potential for in this film.
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A Survivalist Mindset
Uriah4320 April 2013
Warning: Spoilers
As luck would have it, "Harry Baldwin" (Ray Milland) and his family are leaving Los Angeles to go camping and fishing. While they are traveling, an atomic war starts and destroys all of the major cities, to include Los Angeles. Harry then acquires a single-minded focus to keep his family alive and comes up with several innovative decisions to ensure their survival. Now, rather than revealing the entire story I will just say that, although certainly dated, this is a pretty good film dealing with the subject of the aftermath of a nuclear war. And while I thought Harry was correct in adopting a survivalist mindset, I didn't care for his autocratic "father knows best" attitude or for the way his wife "Ann" (Jean Hagen) continued to question every single decision he made. It got old after the first few times. Still, the movie remained fairly interesting and I recommend it to those who enjoy films of this particular genre.
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How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Get On With My Fishing Trip Daddy-o
Theo Robertson27 November 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Being a fan of apocalyptic fiction I'd been dying to see this movie for years . I'd first heard about in John Brosnan's highly regarded sci-fi critique Future Tense. A father and his family survive a nuclear attack on the United States and leads the brood in a desperate fight for survival . Okay it's a premise often used in this type of genre but it's one that works well and makes you think that that only civilization separates us from animals hence its common usage . After finally seeing the movie I'm not surprised that it's little seen - it's dreadful

It's always a sign of a bad movie when the opening score seems at odds of the genre the film belongs to . You want a gritty film set in a post nuclear hell ? Then what better that having a cool jazz score ? Hmmm I'm feeling mellow baby , someone roll me another doobie daddy-o . This is the fundamental problem with the movie - it's called PANIC IN THE YEAR ZERO but there's absolutely no panic whatsoever , none . Upon finding out LA has been nuked patriarch Harry Baldwin leads his family to the nearest diner and despite being witnesses to world war three customers are more interested in what's missing on the menu . Right so millions of people have just been vaporised and all you're worried about is not getting your side order of eggs ? Right on daddy-o . Just roll me another one and lets listen to some more cool jazz

It's impossible to buy in to this scenario at all . There's no political build up to the nuclear strike . For those of us who remember the peak of the cold war in the early 1980s you'd know something like a war in the Middle East or Central Europe would lead to the inevitable use of tactical nuclear weapons finally leading to strategic nuclear weapons meaning the end of humanity . Here however all the indications is that the nasty communists in the USSR and China have launched a pre-emptive nuclear strike , a later radio broadcast confirms this . If that's the case then why didn't the communist block use all their arsenal ? Only the very major cities in the west like New York , LA , Philidelphia , London , Paris and Rome are destroyed . Why such a half hearted attack that invites hellish retaliation ? The whole point about a pre-emptive strike is to stop an enemy nation retaliating against you . Maybe the Politburea were too busy smoking pot and listening to decadent bourgeois jazz to care daddy-o ?

That said the subtext seems to be about survivalism in much the same as as a John Christopher novel . Indeed you can't help be reminded of his 1956 novel The Death Of Grass , so much so that you believe the producers have stolen many of the ideas of the book then decided to set it against a World War 3 backdrop which doesn't work at all . Despite seeing a mushroom cloud in the distance and talk of fall out most of the characters don't react as you'd expect them to in the face of civil devastation , no one for example comes to the conclusion that money will be worthless . Despite being ahead of the game Harry slugs a greedy gas station owner and leaves for the money for the gas . Incidentally there's not the slightest hint of irony to this and the film continues in this vein

It's interesting how well received PANIC IN THE YEAR ZERO has been on this page . One can't help thinking this reception is down to be it being a rather audience friendly film . After seeing the BBC nuclear holocaust teleplay THREADS away back in 1984 I couldn't sleep for days . Likewise despite its numerous flaws NO BLADE OF GRASS based on the John Christopher novel also stuck out in my mind due to its bleakness . Here however bleakness seems confined to a family getting there fishing trip ruined for a few days . One can accept the Hays Code being enforced during this period but it doesn't excuse the lack of logic and the excess of right on daddy-o muzak
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Isn't there anyone we can trust?
Spikeopath8 November 2008
Harry Baldwin (Ray Milland) and his family set off for a vacation, whilst on route they witness a blinding flash of light that forces them to stop. From their vantage point in the hills it becomes evident that Los Angeles has been the victim of a nuclear attack, what is also evident is that the enemy is not merely confined to those people who launched the bombs.

Panic In Year Zero! is now one of those films that looks dated because of the impasse nature of a nuclear threat in the world, but really when one goes into this smart piece then do it the courtesy of allowing it its time frame paranoia heart. The deconstruction of the human condition under duress is a subject that will forever be of interest to the arts and those who willingly observe it, but when a medium is tight in its portrayal then it's something to be cherished, such is the case here in Panic In Year Zero!

We have your standard family, Mom, Dad, Daughter and Son, all genuine and honest people, all of them about to witness the dark side of human nature, not only from the outside looking in, but from within themselves as well! A plot of this type can only work well as a watching experience if the cast have a bit of gravitas to impart, that they do is not only a relief, but also a reward for those investing in yet another B movie dealing with a well worn topic. Ray Milland is great as the father, a cool resilient dad of the 60s who instantly grasps the situation and adapts accordingly. Jean Hagen and Mary Mitchel play mother & daughter respectively, both fitting in perfectly to this family crisis, but it's Frankie Avalon as the son who really comes to the party armed, never one who was blessed with acting talent, his performance here is full of credibility and as the story unfolds, he is never found wanting in the entertainment stakes.

It's far from perfect, and some things are hard to ignore, I mean are we really meant to believe that Milland and Hagen have hatched Frankie Avalon from their union! But the minor quibbles are easily dismissed in favour of the astute and well acted nature of the picture, it's good intelligent sci-fi that always delivers upon revisits. 7/10
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good B-movie
SnoopyStyle2 August 2017
Harry Baldwin (Ray Milland), his wife Ann (Jean Hagen), son Rick (Frankie Avalon) and daughter Karen (Mary Mitchell) leave L.A. for a camping trip out in the country. They see nuclear blasts hitting the city. While Ann wants to go back to find her mother, Harry foresee a coming chaos and set off with ruthless survival instincts.

It's a well-made B-movie. The biggest takeaway is Harry's callous ruthlessness. He both foresees and bring about the lost of civility. The movie doesn't make him a heroic lead. It is dark, exploitative, and melodramatic. It works.
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Its happening now....
MarieGabrielle19 August 2010
New respect for Ray Milland and his endeavors into directing and writing. I had seen this film and the back story on TCM, right after the banking collapse in 2007 in U.S. announced by the Fed, and former President Bush.

This is happening in subtler forms. Ray Milland and his wife Jean Hagen are driving and suddenly realize that there is a black mushroom cloud over their hometown, Los Angeles. Initially heading on vacation, a camping trip, with his son (Frankie Avalon) and daughter, Milland realizes what potential havoc and destruction can influence the behavior of the general public. is valueless...and no one can pay for gas!. Fistfights and murder break out over a $10.00 tank of gas.

There are some amusing, and frightening scenes as Milland tries to reinforce to his wife that she does not want to see reality, that people are capable of vicious acts when they are starving, poor, and in a survivalist mode. Milland is classic, his expressions, his protective mode for his family, conflicts at the general store and gas station as they try to isolate and protect themselves more and more. His expressions are priceless as he goes into survival mode.

Overall recommended, a good "what if" film that has you guessing, and reflecting on how many of the stark issues of survival are hard to face when we are supposed to be living in a "civilized" society. 9/10.

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A great look at human nature at its worst
MartinHafer19 July 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Ray Milland and his family are on vacation from Los Angeles--heading towards the mountains. Suddenly, there is a blast in the distance--Los Angeles has apparently been nuked!! Soon afterwards, people all around them begin to panic and lawlessness reigns. Milland takes to this pretty well and it's a dog-eat-dog world--though his wife and daughter are horrified at his ruthless behavior. His son, played by a young Frankie Avalon takes to the new order rather well--becoming adept at the new mantra of "every man for himself".

What I liked about this film best was its look at the worst of human nature. When disaster strikes, you see supposedly good people do very bad things--all in the name of survival and self-preservation. As a doctor later says about the after-effects--"you scrape off and apply enough disinfectant,...there's a chance society will recover".

A tough and rather cynical script, decent acting and a new look at the dangers of nuclear war--this film is a keeper. Surprisingly, Ray Milland not only starred in this one but ably directed as well.
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A Slapdash Doomsday.
Robert J. Maxwell12 August 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Good premise, the temporary suspension of civilized values after a nuclear attack, an idea around which a good and gripping film might have been built. Instead we have a poor script and below-par acting in a meandering and disjointed tale.

The Baldwin family load their car and trailer at four in the morning (broad daylight) for a vacation in the mountains. A few hours later, on the road, they see a flash over Los Angeles, followed by a vast mushroom-shaped cloud. "We'd better turn around and go back," opines the family patriarch, Ray Milland. That's mistake number one, five minutes into the movie. Headed back towards LA they face a constant stream of cars speeding away from the city, driving crazily, blowing their horns, passing illegally. "What's the MATTER with everybody?" screams the pretty teen-aged girl that all such threatened families must have with them. There follow a series of encounters with people of various backgrounds and characters. A grocery store owner who hasn't heard the news yet. (New York, LA, San Francisco, San Diego, Chicago, and, I think, maybe Baltimore and Keokuk, Iowa, have been nuked out of existence, as have Rome, Paris, and, by our retaliatory response, targets in "Europe and Asia".) The grocery store owner is happy to unload his entire store of goods in one hour. But a wised-up gas station owner charges them -- get this, now -- THREE DOLLARS A GALLON, which shocks everyone into silence and prompts Ray Milland to bop the guy in the chops and knock him out.

No need to go on too long about this. Three hoodlums seem to track the Baldwins wherever they go, even unto the alien corn, until finally, one by one, they are knocked off by Ray Milland or his son, the multi-talented Frankie Avalon.

The function of the two women -- Jean Hagen is Mrs. Baldwin and Mary Mitchell the daughter -- seems to be to nag the men as they go about the business of preserving the family. "You pointed a gun at that man! I've never seen you like this before!" says Hagen after her husband has confiscated some stores. "Let's go back. I want to see grandmother," says the daughter.

It ends abruptly, with the Baldwins and girl captive they've rescued from the three goons stopped by the Army, quizzed, and allowed to proceed because Frankie Avalon is dying from loss of blood in the back seat. The sergeant says, "That's five more that made it without radiation poisoning," as the two soldiers gaze at the departing car. That's the end. That's really it. The end. It's as if the crew had suddenly run out of film and had time to shoot only the last few sentences.

What a waste, except for Joan Freeman as the captive rape victim the Baldwin's have picked up. She can't act any more than the rest of the cast but she's cute as a calico kitten. AIP should have thrown ambition to the wind and made a movie called, "Panic in the Year Zero at Bikini Beach."
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Father Knows Best at Armageddon
docsavage9817 January 2005
While very dated, this movie is great campy fun. The father, Ray Milland, is unflappable and knows what to do in almost every circumstance. I particularly loved the buying supplies scene. I remember watching this many times on t.v. growing up and loving it. It should be seen as a window to an earlier ,more innocent time. The belief in survival of nuclear disaster by simple means reminds me of "duck and cover" drills from my elementary school days. There is quite a statement about humanity given when everything starts to fall apart and the townspeople's true nature starts to show through. The film makes a "Rod Serling" type of image of how humans act when the chips are down. In this respect the movie makes a bold statement while still being a B movie full of extreme seriousness that is fun.
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Worthwhile Nuclear Disaster Drama
AlexanderAnubis31 March 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Panic in Year Zero (1962) aka End of the World


The Cuban Missile Crisis ignited an explosion of excellent movies dealing with nuclear holocaust including Fail-Safe (1964), Dr. Strangelove (1964), Stanley Kubrick's follow-up masterpiece to Paths of Glory, (Spartacus is very good, but it is what it is), and The Bedford Incident (1965). The theme was explored from slightly different angles, (Seven Days in May (1964), Twilight's Last Gleaming (1977), By Dawn's Early Light (1990), Wargames (1983), The Manhattan Project (1986)), and with varying degrees of verisimilitude, (The War Game (1965), The Day After (1983), Threads (1984)), quite consistently through the end of the Cold War. Most of these movies deal with a big picture view and, at least in part, give a ringside seat to the councils of the decision makers, (at least the local ones in Threads). There are some very good exceptions of course, particularly Testament (1983).

Panic in Year Zero appeared a year before the missile crisis and follows a family of four, who happen to be driving away from Los Angeles on a vacation when the city is destroyed, as they try to survive the growing chaos in the surrounding areas. An AI exploitation picture, the low budget precluded dramatic scenes of large scale carnage or destruction, but allows at times for a surprisingly intelligent examination of some of the moral issues about survival, self defense and self preservation. (For instance, Ray Milland (who also directed, by the way) has to overcome his son's, (Avalon), initial reluctance to use a rifle; later, Avalon is actually eager to use it. As soon as Milland sees this, he scolds him and makes clear that he must be prepared to use the gun if necessary, but he should never want to or enjoy doing so and must always be on guard against his own inclinations that way.)

Neither Fail-Safe nor Dr. Strangelove, (and other than by implication On the Beach (1959), for that matter - which Arch Obler did better in Five (1951), in my opinion), show weapon effects, so their minimal use here is not an issue in and of itself. The problem is how much they, and the social dislocation, are attenuated: there is no sense of real chaos because the movie never fully allows the thin veneer of civilization to flake off, (something done very effectively in the last fifteen minutes of Miracle Mile (1988)), and so the theme of these four being the maintainers of ethical standards amongst a collapsed society rings false. And in the same sense, the finale finds the protagonists essentially having passed through the crisis and gives the movie rather a happy ending. My guess is AI, as usual, wanted to give the audience a good entertaining scare but not seriously frighten anyone.

Still, a very worthwhile movie in many ways - certainly worth watching if one enjoys these types of dramas - and deserving of inclusion in the Nuclear Disaster film canon. And it's always nice to see Ray Milland acting and directing after he found that weekend he misplaced.

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