The Atomic City
Olive Films // Unrated // $24.95 // September 17, 2013
Review by Ian Jane | posted September 4, 2013
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The Movie:

Directed by Jerry Hopper in 1952, The Atomic City tells the story of Dr. Frank Addison (Gene Barry) and his wife Martha (Lydia Clarke) who live a content and peaceful life with their young son Tommy (Lee Aaker) in New Mexico where Frank works as a nuclear physicist at nuclear plant. Given the fact that what Frank and everyone else in the plant have to work on is top secret and that they don't want any of what the employees know to fall into the wrong hands, everyone lives in the same pre-fabricated suburb and is always very closely watched.

Things are going fine for everyone until the day that Tommy hops on the school bus to head out of the community on a school trip but then he doesn't come back, he's been kidnapped. Of course, the reasoning behind Tommy's kidnapping is that the enemy agents who have taken him want to hold him for ransom in exchange for what Frank knows about America's military projects, specifically the H-Bomb project Frank is involved with. The F.B.I. send some agents out to get Tommy back, but they find themselves in a race against time and Frank with some difficult choices to make, while Tommy's life hangs in the balance.

Shot in and around California and New Mexico, The Atomic City is a fast paced thriller that makes great use of its locations and which played off of the nuclear paranoia that was running fairly rampant in the era in which it was made. The movie also very effectively exploits the 'every parent's nightmare' scenario that Frank and Martha find themselves in when their son is kidnapped and they find themselves having to fight to get him back. The locations are shot with a great eye for shadow and composition, giving the whole thing a nice sort of noirish feeling at times. Playing off of the fears of impending nuclear destruction and the threat of communist invasion helps add an interesting paranoid slant to the emotional weight already supplied by the kidnapping angle to the storyline, so we wind up with a fairly taut film made all the more interesting thanks to the striking camerawork.

As far as the performances go, if Aaker is a little too wholesome as the all American kid then at least Barry and Clarke make up for it with very believable work here. Barry in particular, best known for the various science fiction films being churned out around the same time as this picture, does a very good job of letting us into his character's head a bit. This in turn lets us feel for his predicament and how he wrestles with putting family ahead of country and vice versa. Clarke as the loving wife is also very good here, understanding of the situation that everyone is in but of course, wanting more than anything for her son to be returned. She gets to run an interesting range of emotions and handles this all quite well.

While the film might be dated on the political side of things, the camerawork and strong acting on display here is timeless so you don't have to have been a child of the McCarthy era to enjoy what Hopper has put together here. Rather, you just need to appreciate atmosphere, suspense and solid technique and Atomic City offers up all of this and then some.

The Blu-ray:


The Atomic City arrives on Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1.37.1 fullframe presentation in full 1080p high definition. It's probably a safe guess that the same master that was used for the DVD was the one used for this Blu-ray release but the increase in detail is quite noticeable, especially in close up shots where you can notice the various pore on faces and details in skin. There's no evidence whatsoever of any noise reduction to note, nor does there appear to have been any heavy edge enhancement applied. Some minor print damage is noticeable as is a fair bit of grain but it's never particularly distracting. Could Olive have done more cleanup work? Yeah, probably, but you can say that about almost all of their releases. This was, however, taken from a sharp and clean source and is presented here with very nice contrast, good blacks and a nice film-like texture to it.


The only audio option on the disc is a fairly simple English language DTS-HD 1.0 Mono track. It sounds fine and has a bit more depth to it than the Dolby Digital Mono mix did on the DVD release, but the upgrade isn't quite as obvious in the audio department as it is in the video department. With that said, the levels are nicely balanced, any hiss or distortion that creeps into the mix is minimal, and the score and dialogue both sound good. Performers are always plenty easy to understand and for an older film made on what was probably a pretty modest budget, things sound just fine.


Aside from a static menu and chapter stops there are no extra features on this disc at all.

Final Thoughts:

A well-acted and slick looking cold war era thriller, The Atomic City sure could have used some extra features but looks and sounds better on this barebones Blu-ray release from Olive Films than it did on their admittedly fine looking DVD release from awhile back. The movie is good enough that it's worth seeing, an enjoyable mix of paranoia and tension given a nice high definition presentation here. Recommended.

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