The Motorola Television Hour: Season 1, Episode 15

Atomic Attack (18 May 1954)

TV Episode  |   |  Drama
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A family living 50 miles away try to flee from the fallout of an atomic bomb that fell on New York City.



(teleplay), (novel)
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Episode cast overview:
Gladys Mitchell
Dr. Garson Lee
Dr. Spinelli
Patricia Bruder ...
Barbara Mitchell (as Patsy Bruder)
Ginny Mitchell
Audrey Christie ...
Mrs. Moore
William Kemp ...
Jim Turner (as Bill Kemp)
Elizabeth Ross ...
Mrs. Harvey
Daniel Reed ...
Mr. Flood
Virginia Gerry ...


A family living 50 miles away try to flee from the fallout of an atomic bomb that fell on New York City.

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis







Release Date:

18 May 1954 (USA)  »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?


The film is now in the collection of the National Archives. See more »


The Mitchell home is located in a suburb 50 miles from New York City. When Gladys goes to the basement to do her laundry, we see the flash of the New York bomb through the window, and the shock wave from the explosion arrives only eleven seconds later. The shock wave would actually move at approximately the speed of sound, about 700 miles per hour. It should have taken 50/700th of an hour, or almost four and a half minutes, to reach Gladys's house. See more »

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User Reviews

Holes in Civil Defense propaganda mar this adaptation of "Shadow on the Hearth"
11 December 2011 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

In 1950, author Judith Merrill wrote her novel _Shadow on the Hearth_ to show what life would be like for a single suburban family during and after a nuclear attack. When _Motorola Television Hour_ adapted it for broadcast in 1954, its screenplay lacked much of the power of the novel.

The story centers around a mother and her two daughters who live fifty miles from New York City. When New York and many other urban centers are destroyed by a surprise nuclear attack (we assume by the Soviets, but they are only referred to as "the enemy" throughout the film), the husband is at work in the city and the two girls are at school.

Other characters make their appearance throughout the film. These include a Civil Defense block warden, who marches into the home dripping from contaminated rain to run a geiger counter over the children; the older daughter's science teacher, who is on the run from government officials for being an anti-nuclear pacifist (he also shakes off his hat and coat onto the floor, no doubt scattering more fallout); several refugees who are billeted into the home by Civil Defense officials; and a brief appearance by Walter Matthau as a doctor.

Like its later incarnation, _Testament_, _Atomic Attack_ shows none of the nuclear fireworks or graphic aftereffects of the bombing. Unfortunately, it carries none of the emotional power of the later film. Several of the characters come down with a polite version of radiation sickness, wherein debilitating nausea, vomiting, and bloody diarrhea are only hinted at. These folks are taken to an apparently fully-functioning hospital, where we see competent doctors and cheerful nurses taking care of a few patients as though they had harmless common colds.

Matthau is uncharacteristically wooden in his small role, spouting his lines as if reading from a civil defense pamphlet.

Like _Testament,_ the film's most powerful moments are those scenes in which we see the interaction of the family as they ponder the fate of their missing husband/father and try to keep busy in the aftermath of the disaster, though even these are marred by overacting and schmaltz.

In truth, the hospitals would be overrun with sick and injured refugees fleeing the bombed area. The whole family would probably be suffering from some degree of radiation sickness from lack of shielding at the height of the fallout period (no one even thinks to take shelter in the cellar except the science teacher, who is down there hiding out from the government) and the particles so thoughtlessly brought in on the clothing of the block warden (who should know better) and the refugees.

Instead of the character study portrayed in the novel, the gist of this film seems to be that no matter how many major cities are destroyed by The Bomb, this is America, and life will go on as usual with a few temporary inconveniences.

Several other mistakes are simply due to production sloppiness. In one scene, we see what may be a member of the set crew crossing behind the characters as they discuss the youngest child's blood count, and during the scene where the curtains are blown in by the blast wave, there are trees outside, undisturbed. Even the low budget of early television could easily have avoided such errors.

I was disappointed in this film, which took a thoughtful novel of the time and turned it into nothing more than a flawed exercise in 1950s civil defense propaganda.

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