CONELRAD Special Features

PART ONE: "We've had it dad, haven't we?"


PART THREE: "There are no civilians, we are all at war."

PART FOUR: "Our country is still full of thieving, murdering patriots."
Frankie Avalon: Modern Primitive
Jean Hagen and Ray Milland in Panic in Year Zero

Harry and his wife's differing views regarding atomic survival pervade the first two thirds of the movie. She wants to help her fellow man while helping her family and he knows this is unrealistic. This exchange, delivered after Harry declares his intention to take the family into hiding at Shibes Meadows, sums up their philosophies:

Harry: Look sweetheart, for the next weeks survival is going to have to be on an individual basis.

Ann: What do you want to do, write off the rest of the world?

Harry: When civilization gets civilized again, I'll rejoin.
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Milland infuses Harry with an irritable weariness that suggests a man who has seen one too many world wars (It is never stated explicitly, but it is easy to take for granted that his character was imagined as a combat veteran). For a Welshman, Milland is very convincing as a middle class American. Of course, well before his career went Psychotronic, Milland's American accent had been honored by the Academy.

Jean Hagen, who played Danny Thomas's funny spouse on "Make Room for Daddy" has the thankless role of Frightened Wife here. She does the best she can with it, but it isn't until later when she picks up a shotgun that we really applaud her.

The family's next stop is to buy provisions for the long haul. After spending $190.03 on groceries, they head for the hardware store where Harry's pragmatism really begins to take center stage. The friendly, 30ish store owner, Ed Johnson (Richard Garland), has just learned of the attack and solicits Harry's opinion, "figure L.A.'s had it?" he asks.

Initially, Harry tries to be cagey and answers, "I don't know," but then sends up this flare: "say, where do you keep your hand guns?" But Johnson isn't very swift on signals and winds up taking Harry's IOU for goods and services at gunpoint. Son Rick joins the fun by covering Johnson with a rifle. Despite Harry's assurances that he will repay his debt, Johnson sneers, "In my book you're just a thug."

The hardware store heist leads to more nagging:

Ann: After all these years I thought I knew you but you turn out to be just another stranger."

Harry: My family MUST survive!

Ann: (Disgusted) Getting your son to hold a gun on a man.

Harry: Drop it Ann!

Though firm with his wife, Harry cautions Rick not to get too carried away with their father and son crime spree: "Don't write off the law - it'll come back."

On their way to stock up on gasoline, CONELRAD comes back on the air and this time the report is a little more official:

Here are the 11:00 bulletins: Partial communication has now been restored. Among the targets of this devastating attack were New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Damage and casualties are extremely heavy. London, Paris and Rome have suffered almost total destruction it was learned. We have retaliated in kind. Key targets of our counter attack have not yet been announced. Those of you who have shelters are urged to stay in them. There are reports of looting. Proceed with caution. Reorganization of military and law enforcement is underway, but will take time. We will return with further bulletins in two hours.

One very important fact is revealed by omission during this latest dispatch: Our inscrutable enemy, defying every known war game strategy, has left Washington, D.C. off their target list.

At the gas station Harry and Rick fill up a number of storage cans and place them in the trailer. When the slimy attendant informs them that gas is now 3.00 a gallon, Harry punches him out and places a more reasonable amount in the unconscious man's pocket.

Ann, of course, is shocked, but Rick beams in admiration as he offers his congratulations: "Dad, that was quite a belt!" Harry is stoic and eager to get the show back on the road. At this point Ann and Karen opt to ride in the trailer.

The next obstacle the family faces is a mob blockade whose leader informs Harry that they don't want anyone from L.A. entering their town. This sequence squares well with press accounts from the era that told of Nevada border towns having contingency plans to deal with Angelinos fleeing the Bomb.

When Harry returns to the car, he tells Rick to fire a shot over their heads when he plows toward the crowd. Rick fires at the right moment and the mob disperses just in time. Frankie Avalon, who would remain "boyish" for the next two decades, seems especially immature when he says giddily of their trailer passengers, "Boy, I bet that shook the women up!" His character is supposed to be enjoying his male bonding time with his father, but Avalon seems just a little too excited. At certain moments he appears to be on the verge of breaking into song.

Several miles of smooth driving later, the Baldwins are confronted by the three hipsters of the apocalypse, Carl (Dick Bakalyan), Mickey (Rex Holman) and Andy (Neil Nephew). We know they're up to no good because they ride in a souped up convertible and have their own snarky jazz theme. They also speak jive when they snatch Milland's .45. "Hey, man, dig." "What are you going to do, call the cops? They're busy." "Somebody dropped the bomb, dad, crazy kick."

Fortunately, Rick is in the trailer and plugs Carl in the arm. After Harry has sent the hoods on their way, he chides his son for almost missing his target. Rick protests that "mother" pushed the gun away.

Ann: He was going to KILL that boy!"

Harry: That BOY as you call him was going to kill me!"

And thus marks one of the few on-screen instances where Dick Miller lookalike Dick Bakalyan (Chinatown) has been referred to as a "boy."

But Rick wants his dad to know that he could have followed through and declares coldly, "I could have blown that guy's head off."

Concerned, Harry takes Rick aside and lectures, "Wait a minute, you LIKED it didn't you? I want you to hate it." Perhaps these mixed messages explain Rick's constant state of confusion.

The film's most daring and startling scene is preceded by rather mundane stock footage of early sixties traffic. The Badlwins' car has hit an impasse caused by what Harry calls the "second exodus." Undaunted, he pulls some gas cans out of the trailer and says firmly, "We're going to make a stop sign." Later that night the fuse is lit and crashing cars part like the Red Sea. Now nothing stands in the way of the family and their destination.

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