Popular sci-fi film reflects America’s ambivalence about nuclear weapons - HISTORY
Year
1957

Popular sci-fi film reflects America’s ambivalence about nuclear weapons

Movie audiences in America are treated to the science-fiction thriller, The Amazing Colossal Man. The film revolves around a character named Colonel Manning, who strays too close to the test of an atomic device in the Nevada desert and is bombarded with “plutonium rays.” This was but one of many such movies released in the 1950s, which cannot be dismissed as merely amusing artifacts from that decade. While these weapons were the backbone of the nation’s defense system, many in the United States were uncertain about the atomic and hydrogen bombs: Were they too inhumane; what were the repercussions of radioactivity; could they ever really be used without sealing the fate of all humankind? Hollywood registered these concerns and played upon them. In Them! (1954), ants exposed to radiation grow to enormous size and threaten humanity; The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953), tells the tale of a dinosaur, thawed out by an atomic test in the Arctic, that ravages New York City; and, in one of the best of this class of film, a man survives being caught in a nuclear test, only to find himself shrinking away to nothing in The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957). The Cold War, and the issues it raised among the American people, had become part of the nation’s popular culture.

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