The Atomic Cafe
directed by Kevin Rafferty, Jayne Loader, and Pierce Rafferty, First Run Features, 88 minutes
In a way, nothing makes the point that the Cold War is over like watching old nuclear-defense films. When The Atomic Cafe first played in theaters a few years ago, the arms race was still on, and the effect of seeing it was one of bitter irony. Viewing it out from under the Cold War is a different experience. This survey of early films about the bomb makes a fascinating introductory history of the surreality of the war that ended in 1989.
The movie opens appropriately with footage of the 1945 Trinity test in New Mexico and then moves on to one of the Hiroshima pilots testifying in a blank voice. In 1946 the U.S. Army made atomic tests on tiny Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands. In an extraordinary sequence an Army representative explains the benefits of the bomb to a cheerful group of Bikini inhabitants gathered on a beach. Later, Tony, the paper boy, out on his suburban route, performs the duck-and-cover when he sees the bomb flash. Such clips can make an easy target, but one of the smart things about The Atomic Cafe is that it presents them without any narration. Since the conclusion of our deadly nuclear rivalry with the Soviets, this dark film has gained a happier ending.