A Is for Atom (film #13 on Prelinger Archive). [Category: Military & Propaganda]

This one should have been called Our Friend, the Atom. Think of a movie with that title and you'll come pretty close to this 50s animated film about atomic energy. It does a pretty good job of explaining the basics of nuclear physics (or an oversimplification of the basics), but its visual metaphors are simultaneously bizarre and very representative of 50s culture. Example: Stable elements live respectable lives in 50s houses, while radioactive elements spend all night partying, hopping from bar to bar, until their energy burns out and they become one of the stable masses. Atomic energy is always presented with gee-whiz awe, as the latest scientific marvel of the 20th century, and even though atomic weapons and atomic explosions are portrayed, it's not even hinted at for a moment that there could possibly be any downside to this wonderful discovery ("miraculous" is a word that is used frequently). The visuals tell the story, however. Atomic Energy as a construct is portrayed as a ghostlike giant man who looks sort of like a robot version of Mr. Clean, only huge. And there's lots of them, looming over factories, farms, hospitals, power plants, and other places atomic energy is used. The cumulative effect is that of an atomic Big Brother watching over us all. This is a powerful metaphor for the frightening presence of nuclear weapons and their mass destructive power, but it's completely unconsious, which makes it far more disturbing to my mind. This makes the film a classic of the atomic scare film genre.

Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: ****. Weirdness: ****. Historical Interest: *****. Overall Rating: *****.

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