The Beginning or the End: How Hollywood—and America—Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Greg Mitchell. New Press, $27.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-62097-573-2
MGM’s little-seen 1947 docudrama about the creation of the atomic bomb, The Beginning or the End, provides the unlikely but fascinating subject for this rich look at the early nuclear age from journalist Mitchell (The Tunnels). He gives a full account of the film’s genesis, beginning with the film pitch that star Donna Reed received from her high school chemistry teacher, and continuing with Ayn Rand’s early involvement in the project as a screenwriter and the studio’s difficulties in obtaining approval from Oppenheimer, Einstein, and other scientists for their on-screen depictions. He also details Army general Leslie Groves’s extensive participation in shaping the script, which became a battleground between scientists, who wanted the film to show the true horror of nuclear war, and the military, which wanted to justify the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings and undermine calls to place nuclear weapons under international control. Mitchell shows how this desire to control the narrative around the atomic attacks fed into the U.S.’s continued insistence on its right to launch a nuclear first strike. While the film bombed at the box office, Mitchell’s rich account of its making and larger implications should draw both history buffs and those concerned with the continuing issues around nuclear weapons. (July)
Reviewed on : 03/02/2020
Release date: 07/01/2020
Genre: Nonfiction
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