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This Is Not a Test

Entry updated 16 February 2017. Tagged: Film.

Film (1962). GPA Productions. Directed by Fredric Gadette. Written by Peter Abenheim, Fredric Gadette, and Betty Laskey. Cast includes Alan Austin, Seamon Glass, Michael Greene, Carol Kent, Aubrey Martin, Mary Morlas, Thayer Roberts, Don Spruance, Ron Starr and Norman Winston. 73 minutes. Black and white.

On a lonely desert road, Deputy Sherriff Dan Colter (Glass) learns that the Russians have launched a nuclear attack (see World War Three) and is ordered to set up a blockade to prevent people from fleeing to the city. He gathers an ill-assorted group of travellers and decides that they should shelter themselves inside a truck sealed with mud, even though he acknowledges that this will only be effective against uranium bombs, not the hydrogen bombs that are far more likely to be employed. Tensions rise within the group as the anticipated time of the explosion approaches, and Colter seems to become increasingly deranged, at one point killing someone's dog because it might use up too much oxygen inside the truck. Finally, three people leave the truck, and two of them take refuge in an abandoned mine; when the bomb hits, it is suggested that they will survive, while the people inside the truck will die.

This low-budget production, apparently never given a theatrical release, is for the most part badly made and horribly acted, but its subject matter uniquely transforms these flaws into virtues, inasmuch as its ineptitude conveys the true helplessness of people facing an atomic attack far better than more assured productions like On the Beach (1959), wherein the skilled acting and high production values suggest ongoing human mastery over the environment. In its way, the film underlines the insight of Peter Watkins's The War Game (1965), where the horror of nuclear war was effectively presented in a deliberately clumsy fashion; here, the artlessness is unintentional but equally evocative. Despite its claustrophobic setting and contrived personal dramas, then, This Is Not a Test is a genuinely disturbing film. [GW]


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