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Science Fiction - Panic In The Year Zero

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Ray Milland, Frankie Avalon, Jean Hagen
Directed by Ray Milland
Originally released in 1962
MGM Midnite Movies
MGM Home Video
92 Minutes

Panic In The Year Zero is a very intelligent, well-written, and well-made movie about the end of the world following a nuclear holocaust. The fact in comes in one of MGM’s Midnite Movies 2 film sets may make it look like a cheesy B movie but it is a very good science fiction or speculative fiction movie that has been beautifully restored and almost perfectly mastered.

Ray Milland stars as Harry Baldwin, an everyman who takes his family on a fishing trip just in time to escape a nuclear attack on Los Angeles. Director Milland takes his time with this story, establishing that Baldwin is an ordinary but very intelligent man who has no illusions as to the social consequences of the blast. Baldwin drives from town to town on back roads to slowly stock up on food, supplies, and ammunition. He is an honest man who will take no bull from anyone so when a gas station attendant tries to jack the price of gas on him from 30 cents (the good old days!) to 3 dollars a gallon will clobber the guy but pay for the gas he bought at the original price. The family heads for the hills and a cave young Rick Baldwin (a fairly competent and not too annoying Frankie Avalon who, thank god, does not sing here) found a few summers ago. There, the Baldwin family hopes to wait it out. There is a fairly funny but telling scene here where young Rick adds a chalk drawing of the family in the car to the various Native paintings already in the cave.

What makes this movie work is how ordinary the Baldwin family is and how matter of fact everything else is presented as. You are never told who launched the first nuclear missile or which country attacked which country; you are simply presented with a group of people who must survive until order is reestablished.

Panic In The Year Zero is as good as that other nuclear holocaust classic The Day After. Those looking for special effects and so on will be disappointed. This is almost as straightforward as a made for TV movie. The only flaw is the score by Les Baxter which is quite jazzy in a TV Batman fight scene kind of way and detracts from what is going on.

This movie comes with The Last Man On Earth featuring Vincent Price reviewed on thehorrorsite.com

Richard Lanoie

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