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Day One (1989)

TV Movie  -   -  Drama | History  -  5 March 1989 (USA)
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Hungarian physicist Leo Szilard leaves Europe, eventually arriving in the United States. With the help of Einstein, he persuades the government to build an atomic bomb. The project is given... See full summary »



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Title: Day One (TV Movie 1989)

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Won 1 Primetime Emmy. Another 2 wins. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Michael Tucker ...
Dr. Arthur Compton
Anne Twomey ...
Ron Frazier ...
Bernie McInerney
John Pielmeier ...


Hungarian physicist Leo Szilard leaves Europe, eventually arriving in the United States. With the help of Einstein, he persuades the government to build an atomic bomb. The project is given to no-nonsense Gen. Leslie Groves who selects physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer to head the Los Alamos Laboratory in New Mexico, where the bomb is built. As World War II draws to a close, Szilard has second thoughts about atomic weapons, and policy makers debate how and when to use the bomb. Written by Allen Brown <>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Drama | History






Release Date:

5 March 1989 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

A nap  »

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Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?


At the time this film was made, Michael Tucker and Richard Dysart were well-known for their roles in L.A. Law (1986). See more »


Near the first of the film, where General Groves is observing some of the chemistry and physics put on the blackboard by Enrico Fermi, an error is shown with Fermi making several entries, two to be culminating: ten to the 23rd power, only supposedly Fermi makes an error and shows in the second equation put up in rapid succession, "10 to the 24th." This was done seemingly by the filmmakers so General Groves could then point out that he had been following the mathematics and as a show of his prowess, he announces that he did not see "How in the second equation the formula shows ten to the 24th." This then permits his speech about having ten years of postgraduate education which he believes is equivalent to two PhD's. The mathematical equation Fermi is citing is the factor of Avogadro's Law relating to the mass of a gas which is 6.023 X 10 to the 23rd. This is a factor taught in Chemistry 101. See more »


[before the Trinity test, to Oppenheimer]
Gen. Leslie Groves: Robert - don't you ever worry the war will be over before the bomb is ready to drop?
See more »

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User Reviews

An accurate picture of a chilling piece of history
23 June 2000 | by (Mount Horeb, Wisconsin USA) – See all my reviews

Day One by far is the best and most accurate full-scope portrayal of the events and people who ushered in the then-fantastic dawn of nuclear warfare. Perhaps it is the best portrayal merely because it is the most accurate and wide context picture of the what happened behind the scenes from 1933 to 1945. I was 11 years old and a schoolchild in Chicago that early August day 1945 when the world learned of the nuclear explosion over Hiroshima, to be followed up by the relatively forgotten "afterthought" atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki a few days later. Now, at 66, I can look back on 1933-1945 and the age of cold war-enhanced nuclear terror that followed it in some broader and clearer perspective.

Day One is actually three sequential and somewhat overlapping stories. The first story could be labeled "the Nuclear Theoreticians and Dreamers". It is essentially the story of Leo Szilard, Enrico Fermi, Edward Teller and a few other academics, mostly European Jews who fled to the west as refugees from the Europe that Adolf Hitler was taking over and threatening. Their interest was essentially a nuclear weapon that could be used to counter the one they expected Hitler to develop.

Almost from the moment the United States government began taking a serious interest in their work, just prior to the Pearl Harbor attack in December 1941, commenced "the Project". With this commenced a series of major experiments in applied science and industrial engineering for purposes of creating the raw materials of atomic weapons -- Plutonium and Uranium 235 -- and for designing and building the actual bombs and trigger mechanisms needed to turn scientific theory into nuclear explosive reality. This succinctly describes the Manhattan Project, code name for the biggest and best kept secret in history, operated at a vast, hidden desert facility near Los Alamos, New Mexico under control of the brilliant Dr Robert Oppenheimer and the hard driving US General Leslie Groves.

From about the time Harry S Truman succeeded the dead Franklin Roosevelt as US president in April 1945 -- three months before the day of Trinity -- codename for the first atomic bomb test in New Mexico in the early morning hours of July 16, 1945 -- the project came under full control of the civil and military leadership of the wartime United States: Truman himself, secretary of state James Byrnes, secretary of war Henry Stimson, chief of staff George C Marshall, Fleet Admiral William Leahy and a few others, formed into a committee to decide national policy for the use of the shortly expected super weapons. General Groves and Dr Oppenheimer were members of this select committee, and their suggestions drove the policy that committed the United States to actual use of the bombs against Japan, which still fought on after the death of Adolf Hitler and the complete destruction of National Socialist Germany. But the true controlling power was in the hands of Byrnes and Truman himself. They were determined to end the bloody war against Japan -- and gain diplomatic mastery over Josef Stalin's Soviet Union -- through use of the most overwhelming weapons in human history. Besides, they argued, how could the Truman administration justify to the United States Congress spending the then-princely sum of $2 billion and deploying scores of thousands of manpower, developing a weapon that we could never dare use against a real enemy -- at a time when there was one American combat casualty for every two Japanese on every island that this country had invaded over the past two years? The horror of it is that it is still a compelling argument even today, 55 years later. So, against the futile arguments of some of the early nuclear theoreticians, the ultimate weapons were used -- for the first and so far only times -- twice in one week in August 1945 and thereby instantly ended World War II

Day One is told in the remorselessly cold and nondramatic style of documentary history. The dialogue from the meetings presided over by Byrnes and Stimson was taken direct from the released historical records. The color film of the Trinity explosion in New Mexico was real, not re-created. The film of the flight of the Enola Gay, the B-29 bomber that released the Hiroshima bomb, was the authentic black and white film made during the flight. The voices over the plane's intercom -- "My God, what have we done?" -- are all real. The utter reality of it all has glued me to my seat and riveted my attention through three or more viewings.

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