The Beginning Or The End

Norman Taurog

T. It.: La Morte È Discesa A Hiroshima; Sog.: Da Un Racconto D Irobert Considine; Scen.: Frank Wead; F.: Ray June; Mo.: George Boemler; Scgf.: Cedric Gibbons, Hans Peters; Co.: Irene; Mu.: Daniele Amfitheatrof; Int.: Brian Donlevy (Generale Maggiore Leslie R. Groves), Robert Walker (Colonnello Jeff Nixon), Tom Drake (Matt Cochran), Beverly Tyler (Anne Cochran), Hume Cronyn (J. Robert Oppenheimer), Godfrey Tearle (Presidente Franklin D. Roosevelt), Art Baker (Presidente Harry S. Truman), Ludwig Stossel (Albert Einstein), John Gallaudet (Leo Szilard); Prod.: Samuel Marx Per Mgm; Pri. Pro.: 19 Febbraio 1947; 35mm. D.: 122′. Bn.

T. it.: Italian title. T. int.: International title. T. alt.: Alternative title. Sog.: Story. Scen.: Screenplay. F.: Cinematography. M.: Editing. Scgf.: Set Design. Mus.: Music. Int.: Cast. Prod.: Production Company. L.: Length. D.: Running Time. f/s: Frames per second. Bn.: Black e White. Col.: Color. Da: Print source

Film Notes

Made in 1946, and before the Cold War became a necessity, this “firstapocalyptic bomb film” is a fictionalization of the official version about the process leading to the first atomic bomb and its use in Hiroshima. The film is presented as a newsletter, introduced by Robert Oppenheimer (a fictional version, just as the look-alikes of Fermi, Einstein, Roosevelt, etc.): “You are about to see the motion picture sealed in the time capsule for the people of the 25th Century”. The bomb is presented as an ultimately good thing, done purely for lasting peace and “to end all wars”.

The Beginning or the End is by all means an ‘A’ film, produced by the mighty MGM and with a remarkable cast of known faces, but it resembles a lot the sci-fi routines of the years that followed, with its small talk of enormous issues and its unintentional humor (“Hitler, here we come!”), miserable sets of scientific gadgets, and above all its aura of triviality when facing even the most tremendous events of an age (the historical flight over Hiroshima), and the horror thus absurdly neutralized – and of course a cast made to look like a bunch of zombies well before Elvis who some years later appeared in front of Norman Taurog’s cameras.

Apart from the atomic celebrities, there are the protagonists, most of all a young man called Matt (Tom Drake) present, like Zelig, everywhere (“I’ve worked a few equations for Einstein”), who later becomes a supernatural being, crossing the borderline of life and death. He is thus a martyr of science, history and American goodness and the nation’s impeccable logic while wheeling and dealing between the necessities of everyday, History and God. And all this guided by the benevolence of big corporations, here making their entry as a staple of forthcoming sci-fi films. Jerome F. Shapiro (in his Atomic Bomb Cinema) describes the essence of “Matt’s vision” in writing that “… technological developments are sure signs of God’s blessings”, and that “… the bomb is a ‘naturar evolutionary step forward in science and technology, and we Americans, being the first to evolve, are des- tined to survive as the fittest of the species.”

The spectator is thus led to share “the best kept secret of all history” and become a part of a new American utopia. The consequences of the atomic bomb are minimal (in “our” environment, and who’d care about the others): the producers of the film are to anxious that the American people of 1946 are at the doors of paradise.

Peter von Bagh

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