Aside from Orson Welles’ masterpiece Citizen Kane, nothing has been written about more in media studies than the Mercury Theater October 30th 1938 broadcast of Welles’ adaptation of the H.G. Wells classic science-fiction story The War of the Worlds. The Day That Panicked America explains how the absolute panic that took place during the live broadcast could have happened.
If your idea of a documentary is a lot of still images, stock footage of operators at a switchboard and soldiers fighting something somewhere, pieces of the radio script appearing on the screen, and extraneous information your idea of a good time, this is exactly what you get here. If you want something of substance, this DVD / CD set is a pass.
Aside from the last 10 minutes or so of this documentary which consists in a follow-up of Welles’ career and does contain some new information and rarely seen footage of his movie The Trial with Anthony Perkins, there is nothing anyone who has not read up a bit on the Grovers Mills incident does not already know.
If you really want to understand the why and wherefore of the panic, you might as well try to track down The Night That Panicked America, a movie about what happened that night that is unfortunately still unavailable on DVD. Another good bet would be to get the scary opportunity one late night to catch Special Bulletin (also unavailable on DVD) a TV news report about a terrorist group holding nuclear weapons in Charleston. I say this in the years before 24-hour news and the station broadcasting this movie took fifteen minutes to flash an advisory and air a commercial.The bonus CD is the audio version of Welles’ broadcast on CBS. It is nothing you cannot get for free and legally on the Internet as it is public domain. A good place to look would be otrcat.com