The Atomic Cafe (1982)

Genres - History  |   Sub-Genres - Social History, Military & War, Politics & Government  |   Release Date - Mar 17, 1982 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 88 min.  |   Countries - United States  |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Craig Butler

Produced when the anti-nuclear movement was finding new strength in the United States, The Atomic Cafe is a disturbing and disquieting but frequently hilarious meditation on the early days of the atomic bomb. Produced with no voiceover narration, Cafe tells its tale through the editing of various clips from the 1940s and 1950s, along with some vintage nuclear-themed recordings of the era. Contemporary audiences will likely be mystified at the naïveté and ignorance exhibited by many of the ordinary citizens interviewed therein, and appalled at the lies of many of those in authority at the time. The blatant manipulation within much of the propaganda certainly produces laughs, but it also makes one ponder the gullibility of the American public, regardless of era. The many shots of atom and hydrogen bombs exploding also have a strange effect. While they are frequently frightening, the images themselves when taken objectively have a certain beauty. While the repetition of the film's basic message -- that America was (and continues to be) unwilling to face the unpleasant truth about its involvement with nuclear artillery and denied that truth in a variety of ways -- and its ironic tone both become wearing after a while. Nevertheless, the finale, in which a series of devastating explosions is intercut with people engaging in the futile "safety" tips given them by the government, is powerful and haunting.