Thursday, August 25, 2011

Bomb Shelter Days: Remembering Atomic Hell Fire

Raise your hand if you recollect your parents setting up a bomb shelter in the basement around the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

When the big one drops, they reasoned, we'll go live downstairs next to the oil burner and eat cold canned beans for a couple of weeks. First big rainstorm will wash away all the sneezing powder and we'll start again.

Those, my friend, were the days.

With the recent DVD re-release of "Kiss Me Deadly," the noir of the H-bomb age, I got to thinking about the good old days of nuclear holocaust paranoia, and how it's not such a big deal anymore.

In "Kiss Me Deadly," Ralph Meeker as Mike Hammer, the private detective hero of Mickey Spillane's novels, is on the trail of a suitcase full of hot nuclear soup. He's not quite sure what it is, but he knows it packs a bad-ass wallop.

KMD would make a good double feature with "Pickup On South Street," with Richard Widmark as a pickpocket who unknowingly harvests some national security secrets from a mark's handbag. The government wants to get the microfilm back before the Communists do -- remember when they used to worry us? Now they lend us money and manufacture everything we own.

Both films are terrific in their own way. Robert Aldrich, who directed "Kiss Me Deadly," and Samuel Fuller, director of "Pickup On South Street" both effectively convey the tensions that existed in those times. Hammer resorts to bullying tactics to get to the bottom of the nuclear "whatsit" he's after. And he must, because the future of the planet is at stake.

Fuller puts the Commies in the hot seat. They will stop at nothing to get nuclear secrets. American G-Men have all the scruples, and are observant of the Constitution, no matter how difficult that makes their job.

Need I say that all of this seems quaint now?

These days, people with backpacks full of explosives are the ones who worry us. And as for atomic weapons, they seem about as modern and threatening as a cap and ball pistol in a firefight.

But if the unthinkable should happen and the H-bomb once again becomes the focal point of Western paranoia, I'm hedging my bets. Just look for me downstairs ... I'll be in the bomb shelter.

No comments:

Post a Comment