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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!
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
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
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.
Los Angeles family vacation is interrupted by nuclear war. Now they must
escape into the mountains to avoid the radiation, the panic, and the
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Ray Milland's forgotten post-Apocalyptic directorial effort Panic in
Year Zero! takes a surprisingly sober and convincing look at the
possible effects of an unexpected nuclear attack on the survivors.
Confusion and denial gradually give way to a determination to survive
at any price, as Milland's family everyman, so busy looking for the
darkness in others he doesn't see it in himself, takes charge with a
coldly logical determination to put his family first that naturally
leads to cold-blooded murder. Yet he's not a maniacal stereotype: he
genuinely thinks he's helping society survive by separating himself
from it and keeping any other survivors at gunpoint, insisting "The law
will be back. I just want us to survive until it does" as he moves
further from it and what's left of civilisation.
Being a low-budget AIP movie, the action is confined to the hills and mountain roads, but it's an effective and fairly unsensationalized look at the All-American post-nuclear family. Curiously the film's original trailer shows it may have been darker still, with deleted footage of one of the film's female victims all too eager to kill her tormentors, one of whom is seen sniffing her clothing while impassively watching an attack the film itself is rather more subtle!
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.
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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