Cast & Crew
At the Los Alamos, New Mexico, atomic energy plant and housing complex, where security is extremely tight, a new television set is delivered to the family of scientist Dr. Frank Addison. While installing the set, the delivery man, Pattiz, chats with Frank's young son Tommy, who reveals that his father is a physicist. Excited about his class's field trip to the Fiesta Day carnival in Santa Fe, Tommy then dashes off to school. During the carnival, a drawing is held for a free bicycle, and Tommy's ticket is selected. When Tommy fails to respond, his teacher, Ellen Haskell, becomes concerned and begins searching for him. At the Addisons', meanwhile, Frank returns home early, disturbed over a work-place accident that sent a co-worker to the hospital. Frank's wife Martha is also distressed about life in Los Alamos, noting that Tommy had earlier used the phrase "if I grow up" instead of "when I grow up." Frank tries to reassure her, but is interrupted by the arrival of a telegram, announcing that Tommy has been kidnapped and directing the Addisons to attend the Fiesta Day dance that night to obtain "details." Just then, Ellen telephones to report Tommy missing, and Frank tersely informs her that he picked his son up before the drawing and forgot to tell her. Later, at the dance, the Addisons wait nervously at a table, while Ellen complains to her boyfriend, undercover FBI agent Russ Farley, about Frank's thoughtlessness. Finally, Martha discovers a second telegram under her plate, and she and Frank race home to read it. The kidnappers direct Martha to go to a cathedral the following morning, alone. Although Frank wants to notify the police, Martha convinces him not to, hoping they can meet the kidnappers' demands on their own. The next morning, in a phone booth outside the cathedral, Martha is called by Emil Jablons, one of the kidnappers, who gives her instructions for Frank and tricks her into thinking that Tommy is on the phone. Back at home, Martha relays the kidnappers' demands to Frank, who reluctantly agrees to comply. The next day, Frank requests a classified file from his office, but before he can leave with it, he is stopped by Russ and Inspector Harold Mann of the FBI. Russ explains that Frank's anxious demeanor at the dance made him suspicious, and when he checked on Frank's story about picking up Tommy, he discovered that Frank had not left the plant. Thus trapped, Frank reveals that the file contains information about an old, failed experiment and would require at least two days to decipher. After Frank convinces Mann to give the kidnappers the data, reasoning that it will buy them some time, agents are sent to the Los Angeles hotel to which Frank has been instructed to mail the file. The file is picked up by petty thief David Rogers, who is then tailed by a number of agents to a baseball game. There, Mann orders a television crew to make a kinescope of Rogers. In the parking lot after the game, Rogers' car explodes when he turns on the ignition, and Mann deduces that the thief must have passed the file to someone at the ballpark. Later, Mann shows the kinescope footage to Frank and a group of undercover agents, and two people identify a hot dog vendor as Communist Party member Donald Clark. Clark is brought in for questioning, but refuses to talk. Frank, however, beats Clark into revealing where he took the file, and the location, 19 Elevado Street, is raided. The agents deduce that the kidnappers recently abandoned the apartment, having worked out Frank's formula on a blackboard, and Martha cries hysterically when she hears a tape recording of Tommy and realizes that her earlier phone conversation with her son was faked. At the Puye Indian ruins in the New Mexico desert, meanwhile, Jablons and fellow kidnappers Robert Kalnick and Arnie Molter, who have disguised themselves as park rangers, are keeping Tommy captive inside one of the cliffside dwellings. After Jablons gets rid of the Fentons, a family of tourists, kidnapper Dr. Peter Rassett, a Communist-sympathizing physicist, races up to report that Frank's formula is a phony. Rassett orders that Tommy be killed and the operation dismantled. Unknown to them, Tommy has climbed out the ruin's chimney and is running away. The kidnappers soon spot the boy and give chase, and Tommy dashes into a cave and slips into a crevice, away from the adults' grasp. In a Santa Fe bicycle shop, meanwhile, the Fentons' son discovers that he has the winning ticket from the Fiesta Day drawing and asks for his prize. An agent who has been watching the shop asks the boy where he got the ticket, and after the child reveals that he found it near the Puye ruins, the FBI sends a helicopter to scour the area. The spies are spotted among the ruins, and with Frank and Martha in tow, the FBI quickly surrounds them. Faced with capture, Rassett shoots his cohorts, then is arrested. Tommy, meanwhile, escapes out the other side of the cave but finds himself dangling on a steep cliffside. As his strength is about to give out, Tommy is rescued by an agent and reunites with his relieved parents.
Houseley Stevenson Jr.
Bonnie Kay Eddy
Madison A. Bagby
Thomas Browne Henry
Lyle L. Moraine
Harold A. Miller
C. Kenneth Deland
Charles B. Lang Jr.
Best Original Screenplay
The Atomic City
Nominated for an Oscar® for Best Writing, Story and Screenplay, by Sydney Boehm, The Atomic City stars Gene Barry as Dr. Frank Addison, a top physicist whose demanding work is creating a strain on his marriage and his relationship with his son Tommy (Lee Aaker). Frank's wife Martha (Lydia Clarke) has already expressed her distress to him about living in the unnatural environment of Los Alamos while noting that Tommy has started using the phrase "if I grow up" instead of "when I grow up" in conversations about the future. Frank's promise to spend more time with his wife and son, however, coincides with an unexpected and frightening development - his son is kidnapped during a school field trip by enemy agents who pressure Frank for top secret data on his current nuclear project. If he doesn't deliver the information in a timely manner, his son will die.
The Atomic City is like two films in one, with the first half offering an intriguing look at the day to day life and pressures of living in a government financed and patrolled community with limited access to the outside world. After establishing the emotional estrangement between Frank and his family, however, the second half of the movie shifts gears and becomes a chase thriller with Frank and the FBI in pursuit of the kidnappers who have Tommy imprisoned inside an Indian pueblo dwelling in a remote part of the desert. When Tommy manages to escape, his kidnappers frantically try to recapture and kill him before his father and the FBI arrive on the scene.
During production, the film had several working titles, including Los Alamos, Los Alamos Story and 19 Elevado St., named after one of the secret locations in the film where the kidnappers had set up their headquarters. The Atomic City was shot in and around downtown Los Angeles with location shooting in Los Alamos and Santa Fe, New Mexico and at the nearby Puye Indian ruins. It also marked the first time a major film studio (Paramount) was allowed to film inside the Los Alamos plant for a feature film; the latter footage is featured in the opening of The Atomic City, accompanied by voiceover narration and a title card that states that the plant's personnel have been "masked for security reasons."
Lydia Clarke, the actress playing Martha Addison, was married in real life to actor Charlton Heston, and The Atomic City was her official screen debut (she had previously appeared in a bit role in Cecil B. DeMille's The Greatest Show on Earth ). As the victimized kid at the center of the drama, Lee Aaker gives a strong, realistic performance comparable to Bobby Driscoll's similarly imperiled adolescent in The Window (1949). Aaker was a popular child actor of the fifties who is probably best known for his role on the TV series The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin [1954-1959].
The Atomic City also marked the directorial debut of Jerry Hopper, a former Paramount editor who established himself with a run of solid B-movies such as Secret of the Incas  and The Sharkfighters  before moving into the television industry where he helmed countless TV episodes for such series as Bachelor Father, The Rifleman, Wagon Train, Burke's Law, The Fugitive and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. The screenplay by Sydney Boehm was the only script by the writer to ever receive an Oscar® nomination but Boehm did receive an Edgar (Edgar Allan Poe award) for his script for The Big Heat , one of several film noirs among his credits; others include Side Street [1950), Mystery Street , Union Station  and Rogue Cop .
The Atomic City was promoted as a "sleeper" by Paramount publicists in the hopes that it would generate a major word-of-mouth campaign. While it never became anything more than a modest box office success for the studio, it did receive uniformly positive reviews from most major film critics with Bosley Crowther of The New York Times highlighting the film's strengths in his review: "It is made for suspense and excitement, and those are what it gives. Directed by Jerry Hopper, a young man who has previously done only Army training films and documentaries, it introduces a talent to be watched...despite certain holes in the plot, the pace is so fast and precipitous that you'll not likely notice the bumps. The final rescue of the youngster from a cliff is as breathless as such can be. In a cast made up largely of unknowns, Gene Barry does a fine, authentic job as the Los Alamos atom-juggler and Milburn Stone is collected and cool as the chief of the F. B. I. army assigned to nab the spies...But it is a tow-headed youngster named Lee Aaker who runs away with the show - at the end, at least, when he is struggling to escape from the kidnapping spies. If this little fellow doesn't pull you right off the edge of your chair, which is where you should most of the time be sitting, then we'll miss our guess about this film."
Producer: Joseph Sistrom
Director: Jerry Hopper
Screenplay: Sydney Boehm
Cinematography: Charles B. Lang, Jr.
Art Direction: Hal Pereira, Al Roelofs
Music: Leith Stevens
Film Editing: Archie Marshek
Cast: Gene Barry (Dr. Frank Addison), Lydia Clarke (Martha Addison), Michael Moore (Russ Farley), Nancy Gates (Ellen Haskell), Lee Aaker (Tommy Addison), Milburn Stone (Insp. Harold Mann), Bert Freed (Emil Jablons), Frank Cady (F.B.I. Agent George Weinberg), Houseley Stevenson, Jr. ('Greg' Gregson), Leonard Strong (Donald Clark), Jerry Hausner (John Pattiz), John Damler (Dr. Peter Rassett), George M. Lynn (Robert Kalnick)
by Jeff Stafford
The Atomic City
The Atomic City - Gene Barry & Nancy Gates Star in THE ATOMIC CITY on DVD
This story belongs to The Atomic City, a fairly daring 1952 Paramount picture that provided America with its first peek into the anxious future of security-conscious Cold War "warfare". A big part of the anti-communist atom scare of the late forties was a reaction to the discovery that disloyal Americans had passed atom secrets to the Soviets. The execution of the Rosenbergs dropped a pallor of ideological doom over the entire country. The Truman and Eisenhower administrations responded by building better and more powerful bombs, authorizing whatever means necessary to keep their manufacture a secret.
Sydney Boehm's screenplay (nominated for an Oscar) concocts one of the earliest theatrical plotlines involving atomic extortion. First-time director Jerry Hopper pulls it off in admirable style, aided by a capable cast. Physicist Dr. Frank Addison (Gene Barry) works to develop Hydrogen Bombs at Los Alamos, a security community sometimes called "the Atomic City". His wife Martha (Lydia Clarke) thinks that Los Alamos is too morbid an environment to raise their young son Tommy (Lee Aaker). When Tommy is kidnapped on a school outing Frank does his best to keep a level head: the villains demand his entire file on the new bomb research. Frank attempts to handle things on his own by giving the kidnapper-spies useless formulas. But the FBI catches on immediately. The doctor accompanies Inspector Mann (Milburn Stone) to Los Angeles to track down the communist cell behind the plot. Left alone with a suspect, Frank beats an address out of the man. The agents rush to Santa Fe only to find the kidnappers' lair abandoned -- and find proof that the spies have uncovered Frank's ruse. Now Tommy will almost certainly be murdered as the conspirators cover their tracks.
Hollywood seemed to be part of a patriotic conspiracy in the late forties, presenting the Official Story on our atom research. The few films with nuclear themes either avoided controversy or minimized the threat of radiation, whether in an attack or from a nuclear accident. The film noir D.O.A. omitted any mention of radioactivity when a man was murdered via "luminous poisoning". The sci-fi thriller GOG showed a woman exposed to an atomic reactor recuperating happily in a hospital ward, as if smitten by the flu. The Atomic City begins with a casualty in a lab accident, stating clearly the high degree of danger involved in nuclear research.
More troubling is the screenplay's examination of the security state at Los Alamos, where every scientist is treated as a possible traitor. Not only do FBI agents accompany Dr. Addison everywhere, undercover men pose as normal friends and neighbors, observing and listening at all times. To fight the totalitarian threat, the Atomic City has resorted to invasive security methods similar to practices in East Germany. Martha Addison is troubled by what she thinks is an unhealthy environment, a city that manufactures death. Their son Tommy goes to a good school and enjoys benefits like a new television, but she's alarmed when he says, "If I grow up" instead of "When I grow up." Tommy senses that it's a dangerous new world out there.
The Atomic City becomes a police procedural when Frank joins the FBI men to track down the spy ring. Suspenseful scenes follow an enemy messenger from a Hollywood hotel to a minor league baseball field in the Fairfax district of Los Angeles. The agents use a local TV camera to kinescope the messenger, and the film is shown to a group of communist informants cooperating with the Bureau in Washington. The homegrown traitors appear to be former communist party members and fellow travelers. America is under siege by espionage agents, and the FBI has its hands full tracking them down.
The movie implies that Americans must adjust themselves to a new post-bomb Cold War environment by abandoning outdated notions of fair play and chivalry. Martha is the obvious holdout; when Frank says that the Commies will "wreck half the world" she counters with the plea that Tommy is their whole world. It's a new deal all around. Compared to the threat posed by the spies, Tommy's life is of secondary importance. We're all Cold Warriors now.
The spies routinely kill their hired functionaries as soon as their usefulness is ended, to "tie up loose ends." Frank responds to the Communist thugs by becoming more barbaric. When the captured suspect sneers at our democratic laws the physicist storms into his holding cell and beats information out of him, just as in L.A. Confidential or the Home Security hysteria TV show "24". The script gives Frank plenty of reasons to act. This justified-violence theme first found its expression in Hollywood westerns, and has been a standard motivator for American heroes for decades. Sometimes real men just need to take a stand.
Frank Addison finds it difficult to adapt, but his son Tommy is a quick learner. The suspenseful finale occurs at an Indian Dwelling in New Mexico, a different kind of "city" whose inhabitants have disappeared. We find the boy filthy but unharmed, lulling his captors into a false sense of security with his polite "Yes sir's" and "No sir's". Little Tommy's awareness of the atom threat ("If I grow up") is not a weakness but a sign that he knows the score and understands his enemy better than his parents do. He waits for his chance and makes good his escape, using his size to his advantage by scuttling through Native American passageways far too small for the bad guys. The exciting conclusion is both convincing and uncompromising -- our future will be secure provided we raise all of our children to be hardboiled Junior G-Men.
Gene Barry is very effective as the principled atom scientist. The actor never got much chance to use his singing and dancing skills in Hollywood but instead moved on to the big Paramount hit The War of the Worlds. Towheaded Lee Aaker impressed casting agents as the scrappy little trouper Tommy, and won the coveted role of Corporal Rusty in the hit TV show The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin. Actress Nancy Gates (Comanche Station, Some Came Running) makes the brightest impression as Tommy's teacher, who is at first unaware that her pupil has been kidnapped, and then accompanies the FBI on the first leg of the Los Angeles manhunt.
The Atomic City was the first of a cautious string of film stories about nuclear extortion, a subject that remained touchy throughout the Eisenhower decade. International crooks kidnap a nuclear scientist to hold the World For Ransom in Robert Aldrich's first independent feature; he followed it up with an adaption of the Mickey Spillane novel Kiss Me Deadly, in which gangsters steal not heroin but an indefinable, allegorical nuclear doomsday device. Serious nuclear criminals flourished in TV dramas, but with the Kennedy years the subject was subsumed into the Cold War escapism of Ian Fleming's James Bond 007 series. The Atomic City is unique in that it examines and criticizes the new security mindset that would conceal our atomic research and weapons programs behind a sinister veil of Top Secrecy.
Olive Films' DVD of The Atomic City is in great shape, with a perfect picture and a crystal clear audio track -- the film didn't see many reissues and wasn't heavily syndicated to television. Olive Films manages to pull an arresting cover image out of the film's unimaginative original release artwork for this key film from the early years of the atomic age.
For more information about The Atomic City, visit Olive Films. To order The Atomic City, go to TCM Shopping.
by Glenn Erickson
The Atomic City - Gene Barry & Nancy Gates Star in THE ATOMIC CITY on DVD
The working titles of this film were Los Alamos and Los Alamos Story. In June 1952, the picture opened in Los Angeles area theaters under the title 19 Elevado St., except for one theater, which screened it as The Atomic City. According to a June 4, 1952 Daily Variety item, Paramount used the title 19 Elevado St. in hopes that it would "generate grosses in keeping with the film's critical acclaim as a 'sleeper.'" On the East Coast, the film was released only as The Atomic City, and was copyrighted under that title. The film opens with voice-over narration and includes footage showing the daily operations of the Los Alamos, NM atomic energy plant. A title card announces that the faces of the plant's personnel have been "masked for security reasons." According to a July 1951 Hollywood Reporter news item, Paramount was the first Hollywood studio to receive permission from the Atomic Energy Commission to film inside the plant.
The Atomic City marked Jerry Hopper's debut as a feature film director. Hopper previously had worked as an editor and had made training films for the U.S. Army during the war. Joe Esquibel, Russ Conway and Beverly Washburn were announced in Hollywood Reporter as cast members, but their appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. Although a Hollywood Reporter news item announced that Lydia Clarke, actor Charlton Heston's wife, was making her screen debut in the picture, she had previously appeared in a bit role in Julius Caesar, a 1950 16mm release made in the summer of 1949, starring Heston (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50). In addition to Los Alamos, location shooting took place in Santa Fe, NM, the nearby Puye Indian pueblo ruins, and at various sites in and around downtown Los Angeles. For his work on the film, Sydney Boehm received an Academy Award nomination in the Writing (Story and Screenplay) category.