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DVD SAVANT

Savant Reviews:

Atomic War Bride
&
This is Not a Test

Double Bill Disc

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

We're used to seeing mostly sleez-o exploitation pix in the bizarro Something Weird Video Collection, but this time the Image Entertainment-released branded line brings us a feast of Atomic oddities - two very marginal early '60s Cold War features, and a host of extras that add up to over three and a half hours of radioactive, historical fun.


Atomic War Bride
Something Weird / Image Entertainment
1960 / b&w / 1:33 Pan'n Scan of 2:35 TotalScope / 75/84 m. / Rat
Starring Ljubisa Jovanovic, Ewa Krzyzewska, Ita Rina, Antun Vrdoljak, Janez Vrhovec, Velimir 'Bata' Zivojinovic
Cinematography Kreso Grcevic
Production Designer Dusan Jericevic
Film Editor Blazenka Jencik
Original Music Vladimir Kraus-Rajteric
Writing credit Cesare Zavattini
Produced by from a story by
Directed by Veljko Bulajic

Hacked down by nine minutes, and pan-scanned from its original TotalScope aspect ratio, there's still enough left of this anti-nuke parable from Marshall Tito's Yugoslavia, to tell that it was no classic. The original title Rat translates simply as 'war', and the intention was to make an emotional plea for disarmament in the same vein as the previous year's big international success On the Beach.

Synopsis:

The wedding of John (Antun Vrdoljak) and Maria (polish actress Ewa Krzyzewska, recent winner of a French film prize for her role in Ashes and Diamonds) are preparing for their wedding just as war is announced in their unnamed European country. The ceremony is spoiled by an air raid, and John is shanghaied into the Army, where he undergoes silly regimented drills. When his unit is sent into the city to force people into bomb shelters, John is reunited with his relatives and Maria. Together with others in the shelter, they decide to go to their country's President and plead for peace, even though their leader appears on television to announce a mass atomic strike against their neighbor-enemy. When the crowd is stopped by the armored cars of the militia, a Captain seizes the peaceful John and puts him before a firing squad for treason. Then word comes in that the supposedly vanquished enemy is retaliating with missiles of their own ...

Director Veljko Bulajic is one of Yugoslavia's best known names (The Battle of Neretva), but Rat is a mostly tiresome mixture of well-meaning, simpleminded messages, and some really pitiful humor. The fault is almost entirely with screenwriter Cesare Zavattini, who made a name with Shoeshine and The Bicycle Thief and a couple dozen more Italian classics. The jokes are terrible and the cartoonish characterization almost non-existent. John and Maria make a nice couple and that's about it - they're both sweet, perfect and attractive.

Most of the satirical efforts are remindful of Chaplin's The Great Dictator, with pompous officials and soldiers making very harsh and ruthless decisions. The Captain accepts a dinner invitation one minute, and then the next, is following orders to have John shot. John's best friend is unemployed; the army gives him a job but he ends up on John's firing squad. The idea of keeping the country anonymous is okay, but the canned messages are thin, bleak, and predictable. War is Bad. Kids and marriage are Nice. War is Cruel. The comedy, which amounts mostly to army marching gags that wouldn't rate in an Abbott & Costello movie, is just terrible. Good images include a man wailing over his cow shot from above by jet aircraft, and the blasted couple stumbling through the rubble-strewn finale, like Adam and Eve in Hiroshima.

This is no cheapie; there was obviously full army cooperation from Tito's red brigades, and the scenes of jets strafing, etc, are fairly advanced. The ruins of the city look pretty much identical to today's news from Palestine. The special effects are primitive. One weird scene occurs when the President switches the television view to a camera attached to the nose of one of his attacking missiles. Crowds watch as the missile descends on hundreds of people in a town square - helpless victims just like 'us.'

Imported and dubbed (reasonably, considering) as Atomic War Bride  1 this hopeless picture didn't receive much of a release, judging by the fact that End-Of-The-World movie fan Savant's never heard of it before. Rat was reviewed by Variety at a festival in Pula, Yugoslavia in August of 1960. When it won a big prize, the reviewer wrote that he doubted the credibility of the competition.



This is Not a Test
Something Weird / Image Entertainment
1962 / b&w / 1:33 full frame (crops nicely to 1:78) / 109m.
Starring Seamon Glass, Mary Morlas, Mike Green, Alan Austin, Carol Kent, Ron Starr
Cinematography Brick Marquard
Film Editor Harold J. Dennis
Original Music Greig McRitchie
Writing credits Peter Abenheim, Frederic Gadette and Betty Laskey
Produced by Frederic Gadette, Murray De'Atlevi
Directed by Frederic Gadette

Synopsis:

Deputy Sheriff Dan Colter (Seamon Glass) gets word to halt all vehicles in a desert mountain pass, as cities on either side are evacuating under martial law. Colter stops a medley of citizens, who chafe at the inconvenience, bicker and debate what to do. Word finally comes through that an atomic war has started, and Colter can barely contain the panic, as there are war plants close enough to make their unprotected roadside a logical Ground Zero. They empty a truck to serve as an impromptu bomb shelter. Spoiled drunk Cheryl Hudson (Mary Morlas) and her newly-rich boyfriend cause most of the trouble. Wife Karen Barnes (Carol Kent) goes off to sleep with a truck driver, leaving her husband (Norman Winston) in a suicidal stupor; Granpa Jacob (Thayer Roberts) urges his 'good girl' granddaughter Juney (Aubrey Martin) to run off with a young man to a nearby mineshaft. A wild card among the group is wanted killer Clint (Ron Starr), but the threat of nuclear horror makes a solitary psycho a minor problem: the fanatic Sheriff directs his survival efforts with threats of death. With minutes to go before armageddon, desperate looters show up ...

This is Not a Test is another independent feature that never got a real release, and soon ended up as a late-night obscurity on 1960s television. The pace is so static that, interrupted by commercials, it was nigh impossible to sit through. Surprisingly, it plays much better here. The script suffers from One Act Play-itis, but actually isn't half bad - it at least avoids the preaching that drips from Atomic War Bride.

Most of the acting is reasonable as well. Top-billed Seamon Glass is a stiff galoot, but you accept him after a while. An intolerant authority figure who likes giving orders and takes no talkback, he hits several cast members, tries to shoot others, and strangles a lady's cute dog right in front of her."That's an extra pair o' lungs we don't need breathing our air supply."

The rest of the cast must have come from some talented theater group like the Pasadena Playhouse. Clint the psycho killer is nicely played by Ron Starr, who must have thought he'd made the big time in Sam Peckinpah's Ride the High Country the next year. Aubrey Martin is good as the frightened local girl, as are the two actresses playing the city women.

What the picture lacks is good direction. The budget is low, yet there's no lack of camera setups; director Frederick Gadette manages to never find a good camera angle. The lighting never solves the problem of so many shadows and rim lights on the open desert at night, but it's professional. Bringing such a confined piece to life, with such a big cast to block, required a visual plan to give pace and momentum to the static situation. No such luck. Eventually, the only thing keeping us watching this smallest of small-scale movies about the End of the World, is curiosity to find out who survives and who doesn't. You just know there's not going to be a payoff to this thing ...


Among Atom War movies, Atomic War Bride and This is Not a Test lie fairly near the bottom of the pile, quality-wise. On this themed DVD they're a lot of fun. But even better is the host of Cold War-themed Atomic Short Subjects included as extra content. Getting to them is a hoot, clicking your way through giddy graphics of civil defense signage and mushrooom-cloud visuals. The pun-filled text in the graphics and packaging is very funny too.

The short subjects are complete, in reasonable shape, and from the perfect time frame, 1950 & 1951, when the Atomic Energy Commission engaged in a huge PR campaign to convince America to Stop Worrying and ... you know. Several were raided for material to create the celebrated The Atomic Cafe, and make this disc an excellent companion piece to that show.


Atomic Short Subject #1:
YOU CAN BEAT THE A-BOMB (1950)
Dad shows how pulling the blinds and washing up will defeat that pesky radiation.

Atomic Short Subject #2:
SURVIVAL UNDER ATOMIC ATTACK (1951)
Another how-to pacifier suggests that recovering from the bomb will be better if you have a flashlight handy.

Atomic Short Subject #3:
DUCK AND COVER (1951)
The full famous short about the Turtle named Bert. Cute Astoria, NY kids are harangued by speakers telling them there's no danger, just cover your face and the back of your neck fast (so you won't be fried like chickens).

Atomic Short Subject #4:
MEDICAL ASPECTS OF NUCLEAR RADIATION (1950)
Creepy animation augments this misleading official medical document, that compares radiation to the sunburn a babe in a bathing suit might get, and tells us that those silly folk at Hiroshima would have done much better if they had just taken some simple precautions. People concerned about slow, lingering death are practically called wimps in this intimidating propaganda piece.

Atomic Short Subject #5:
ONE WORLD OR NONE (?)
The odd-man out, this scientist-sponsored film calls for a one-world government under the United Nations as the only alternative to obliteration. Naive and well-meaning, but chilling in a reverse sort of way. Propaganda that goes against the grain of Official Truth seems doomed; I can see this thing getting booed and ripped from projectors everywhere.

Atomic Short Subject #6:
ATOMIC BLONDE IN ACTION (00-la la)
That Mike Vraney just can't resist this stuff. A brief burlesque strip act starts with an atomic theme, and advances with a primitive bump'n grind that's practically G-rated, it's so innocent - well, not quite.

The picture quality varies on these extras; most look like good 16mm sources, though a couple might be vhs. A Something Weird logo bug is on each, you video pirates, you. All in all, this is an eye-opening bargain of a disc, that should satisfy anybody's curiosity re: Cold War Propaganda.

The EXTRAS on this Disc are EXCELLENT.


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Atomic War Bride rates:
Movie: Fair+
Video: Good, but Pan' N Scan
Sound: Good
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: April 16, 2002


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
This Is Not a Test rates:
Movie: Fair+
Video: Good
Sound: Good
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: April 16, 2002


Footnote:

1. I believe 'Atomic War Brides' was a joke title, either in Joe Dante and Allan Arkush's Hollywood Boulevard, or some John Landis film.
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DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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