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The Atomic Cafe (1982)

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Disturbing collection of 1940s and 1950s United States government-issued propaganda films designed to reassure Americans that the atomic bomb was not a threat to their safety.
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Cast overview, first billed only:
Paul Tibbets Paul Tibbets ... Himself (archive footage)
Harry S. Truman ... Himself (archive footage) (as President Harry S Truman)
W.H.P. Blandy W.H.P. Blandy ... Himself - Commander of the Bikini Test (archive footage) (as Vice Admiral W.H.P. Blandy)
Brien McMahon Brien McMahon ... Himself (archive footage) (as Sen. Brian McMahon)
Lloyd Bentsen Lloyd Bentsen ... Himself (archive footage) (as Rep. Lloyd Bentsen)
Owen Brewster Owen Brewster ... Himself (archive footage) (as Sen. Owen Brewster)
Julius Rosenberg Julius Rosenberg ... Himself (archive footage)
Ethel Rosenberg Ethel Rosenberg ... Herself (archive footage)
Val Peterson Val Peterson ... Himself - Director of Civil Defense (archive footage) (as Gov. Val Peterson)
Lyndon Johnson ... Himself (archive footage) (as Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson)
Lewis Strauss Lewis Strauss ... Himself - Chairman, Atomic Energy Commission (archive footage) (as Lewis L. Strauss)
George Molan George Molan ... Himself (archive footage) (as Cpl. George Molan)
George Portell George Portell ... Himself (archive footage) (as Tech Sgt. George Portell)
Jerry Schneider Jerry Schneider ... Himself (archive footage)
Sergeant Weaver Sergeant Weaver ... Himself (archive footage)


A compilation of 1960's films about what to do in case of a Nuclear attack and the effects of radiation, also footage of troop tests of the exposure to an atomic bomb. Written by Michael Edwards <medwards@gate.net>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


Not Rated | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »






Release Date:

29 October 1982 (Finland) See more »

Also Known As:

Atomic Cafe See more »


Box Office


$300,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend USA:

$4,098, 5 August 2018, Limited Release

Gross USA:

$22,293, 25 October 2018
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Production Co:

The Archives Project See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


The film was compared with Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) whilst critics called the movie a nuclear "Reefer Madness" [Reefer Madness (1936)]. See more »


Civil defense film: Be sure to include tranquilizers to ease the strain and monotony of life in a fallout shelter. A bottle of 100 should be sufficient for a family of four. Tranquilizers are not a narcotic, and are not habit-forming.
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Hungarian Rhapsody #2 in C Sharp Minor
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User Reviews

Cold War Paranoia
22 March 2011 | by kellyadmirerSee all my reviews

If you are considering watching this one, be alert to the fact that it is a documentary composed virtually entirely of old black and white news clips and civil defense films. Anything you find in it - humor, dread, amazement - you will be supplying yourself.

As with any documentary, choices have been made as to what to include. They are meant to guide us in a particular direction. That is inevitable, and not a failing of this particular piece. If it did not have a point of view, it would be dreadfully dull. Your particular reaction, though, will depend on your pre-existing mindset.

So, the film is loaded with clips that make people of the past look preposterous. Soldiers are seen staring down nuclear blasts, authorities are shown giving misinformation, and bomb shelters provoke a storm of confused political messages (they may keep you safe, says the good Reverend, but don't let in that lonely stranger if it might compromise you!). Schmaltzy tunes of the past that treat the subject casually are given the "Let them eat cake" treatment, as in, how DARE anyone treat this SERIOUS threat lightly. The film is actually quite moralistic in a backhanded sort of way, in a Jonathan Edwards "enough of this frivolity, get down on your KNEES and fear the bomb" manner.

The documentary over-reaches, however. This was brought out in 1982, and clearly was catering to fears brought about by Ronald Reagan's 1980 election. He was seen by many of his opponents as a dangerous cowboy just itching to blow up the world. Crazy to think that now, of course, given the fact that he did not blow up the world the first, second, or hundredth chance that he had, but that was the mantra. The images depicted are all from the mid-1940s to the early 1960s, but they even manage to work in a quick shot of actor Reagan himself from those years.

If you want to be smug, as the filmmakers are banking on, and react, as they wish, with "weren't they all such idiots," well, fine. But consider this: at one point in the film, someone is asked how far you would have to be to be safe from a nuclear blast. "Twelve miles," he responds grimly. Then, apparently as the "sane" response, someone else is shown saying even more grimly that you basically would have to be on Pluto to be safe.

Sounds awfully familiar. In 2011, the Japanese government said that to be safe from the Fukushima meltdown, you needed to be, what a coincidence, twelve miles away. Meanwhile, the Americans said you had to be much further away. It's so much easier to sit back and laugh at people thirty years later, isn't it.

There is a lot of just plain odd stuff. Richard Nixon, at the depths of infamy at the time of this film, is practically the film's star (heavy?), even though his connection to anything nuclear throughout is forced and tangential (his Kitchen Debate with Khruschev is included just to give him some more negative air time). Just illustrates conclusively the political orientation of the film.

There are some surprises. Lloyd Bentsen, later Democratic Party darling, is shown stridently supporting the use of nuclear bombs in Korea (one shudders that this actual mad bomber almost became Vice President and, later, Secretary of Defense). President Eisenhower, though, is shown as a very thoughtful man who apparently appreciates the dangers at hand.

Some scenes are shown to make fun of the "stay inside, duck and cover" advice. Close the windows to protect yourself. So hilarious, who could survive a radiation scenario, right? Well, that is exactly what the residents of Japan are being told to do right this minute. Hahaha, so funny. But doing simple things like that are, in fact, what people are still advised to do if they wish to increase their odds of surviving a nuclear attack. Under the right conditions, say a large enough distance from a blast, it quite actually could save your life. But so much easier to laugh at the notion that closing a window will deter the effects of a hydrogen bomb.

Of course, bombs in those days were much, much less powerful than they are today or, for that matter, were in 1982. Some of the advice given in the 1950s that was appropriate for that time obviously is outdated. But easy to make fun of people then based on what we face now, isn't it?

Those were the early days of educating people about nuclear events, and there was a lot of misinformation, hyperbole, guess-work and so forth, all given the wise-guy send-up of the malicious tool out to make fun of people. The anti-Soviet attitudes are widely ridiculed, and, given that all-important hindsight, rightly so. And certainly, the complacent idea that nuclear wars are somehow OK is the film-makers' real target, and who is going to deny that (well, maybe Lloyd Bentsen if he were still around). The filmmakers are stacking the deck just a might too heavily against people of the past who sincerely were groping for answers before it just became a fool's "common knowledge" that there is no surviving radiation and you are "better off" just running outside and standing out in the open to hasten your doom if the worst happens.

Just all right as a documentary. Obviously, widely missed the mark with me as either an exercise in comedy or satire. More interesting as insight into the evident cold war paranoia of those who made the film (and their sad, misguided fear of Reagan) than as any kind of insight into the times depicted.

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