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Panic in Year Zero!
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Panic in Year Zero! More at IMDbPro »

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51 out of 59 people found the following review useful:

Surprisingly good

9/10
Author: JennyP from Seattle, WA
11 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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46 out of 54 people found the following review useful:

Growing up in L.A. in the '60s, this movie really meant something!

Author: lisa-1865 from Atlanta, GA
11 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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37 out of 47 people found the following review useful:

May look campy: Perhaps more real than we realize...

7/10
Author: Vornoff-3 from Vancouver, BC
14 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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36 out of 47 people found the following review useful:

SURPRISINGLY EFFECTIVE...AND FRANKIE AVALON CAN ACT!

8/10
Author: Bob-45 from Savannah, GA
15 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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31 out of 40 people found the following review useful:

One of the BEST!

10/10
Author: (roman11@aol.com) from Palo Alto, CA
23 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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27 out of 34 people found the following review useful:

A survival kit for those of us living in Los Angeles

8/10
Author: jcholguin (jcholguin@lycos.com) from los angeles
18 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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28 out of 36 people found the following review useful:

Go into it expecting little, and you'll get a lot.

Author: roarshock from Oregon USA
30 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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27 out of 35 people found the following review useful:

An honest look at a post-nuclear holocaust

7/10
Author: dcorr123 from Dallas, Texas
29 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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20 out of 27 people found the following review useful:

A family scrambles desperately to survive after a nuclear attack sends them fleeing into the countryside.

9/10
Author: Kathryn Rushent from Airdrie, Alberta, Canada
3 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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11 out of 13 people found the following review useful:

"Two and two doesn't make four anymore"

9/10
Author: ackstasis from Australia
7 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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