The Atomic Cafe

The Atomic Cafe

1982, History  -   41 Comments
Ratings: 8.00/10 from 54 users.

The Atomic CafeOne of the defining documentaries of the 20th century, The Atomic Cafe offers a darkly humorous glimpse into mid-century America, an era rife with paranoia, anxiety, and misapprehension. Whimsical and yet razor-sharp, this timeless classic illuminates the often comic paradoxes of life in the Atomic Age, while also exhibiting a genuine nostalgia for an earlier and more innocent nation.

Narrated through an astonishing array of vintage clips and music (from military training films to campy advertisements, presidential speeches to pop songs) the film revolves around the threat (and thrill) of the newly minted atomic bomb.

Taking aim at the propaganda and false optimism of the 1950s, the film's satire shines most vividly in the clever image splicing, such as footage of a decimated Hiroshima alongside cheerful suburban duck-and-cover routines.

More than anything else, The Atomic Cafe shows how nuclear warfare infiltrated the living rooms of America, changing the nation from the inside out.

Immensely entertaining and devilishly witty, The Atomic Cafe serves up a revealing slice of American history: the legendary decade when we learned to live in a nuclear world.

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41 Comments / User Reviews

  1. Steven J Hopkins

    I was born in 1954. I remember laughing at my duck and cover events in elementary school, as we all knew it would be a fruitless exercise to do such a thing if it was really necessary, but we carried on just the same. Just like the soldiers who were ordered to leave their trenches after a nuclear detonation and charge towards the blast. Loved the part about St. George Utah being "suggested" to stay in your house for about an hour due to fallout from wind shifting...

  2. Steven J Hopkins

    As the robotic actor Army Chaplain explains..."it's a wonderful sight to behold"...what bull.

  3. Eileen Briggs

    While this documentary is defining it certainly isn't at all funny in 2018. Does everyone think they are too intelligent to be fooled by such obvious propaganda. I can pretty much imagine a future of Americans (if not extinct) watching the history of our present wondering how the people could be so easily misguided. But hopefully they will NOT be laughing at the fact that we were/are so misguided.

  4. Jo McKay

    "nothing to do but relax and wait for the authorities to tell us what to do"...that about says it. I had forgotten how much my parents were like that - (we trust our leaders to know and do what's best for all of us - propaganda testing and first all out marketing techs hired by government; ultimately, like most, my parents drank the koolaid and never really realized how deeply they were betrayed). Have we learned anything from that time? I don't think much. Our propaganda machine is more alive today - and what is so different from soldiers who distance themselves from the 'drones' who kill, and the people who distance ourselves from the 'acts' of said military, then the horrific photos of innocents from 2 cities of Japan? That we still live in such destructive times, prepare, today in fact, for aggressive actions against one another that might still precipitate that WWIII; that we debate in halls of government the needs of corporate lobbyists over clean air and clean water; that we continue the extinction of plants for food and medicines,seed, wildlife of air and land and sea; that we permit still, our representatives who rule (or govern, what's the difference really) to destroy the future for the greed of the present, is surely the proof that the sweet humanity of what humans might have been is no nearer it's dawn or it's day. - I have little hope of it, but still, I wish you well, and always, peace.

  5. Donna Scott M

    After I watched The Rape of Nanking it's kind of hard to feel any kind of empathy for Japan and I lived there for 5 years. Way that I look at it, we got to them before they got to us. They're goal was to rule the world and we put a stop to that. Boom. Now sit down Japan. The Nazis weren't even remotely as bad as the Japanese. The A bomb was 100% more humane way of killing than what they did to China. Suck but hey, an eye for an eye....

    1. Scott Zagoria didn't quite get moderated sufficiently, D. one wonders whether you could duck and cover like the movie suggests. people like you can usually do wondrous things indeed. how else would a movie like this exist if it weren't for people like you after all?

    2. Marty McGorty

      You're aware that Japan was responsible for 30,000,000 dead civilians from Manchuria to the Philippines in the late 30's, right? They were a theocratic, fascist empire. We opened them for trade in the 1890's, and they spent the first half of the 20th century warring with Russia, China, Korea, China, the Philippines, China, and Indochina, emulating western empires by attempting to conquer all of East Asia, all the while edging closer and closer to the U.S. What's more, they were fearsome, brutal warriors due partially to propaganda and partially to a steady supply of Methamphetamine. To add icing to the cake, fewer Japanese people died during the bombing than would have during a full-scale ground invasion of Japan. It also saved the lives of roughly 500,000 American servicemen. Put yourself in Truman's shoes. Would you sacrifice half a million U.S. troops in order to fight what would probably be the most gruesome battle in US History with one of the most despicable regimes to grace planet Earth, all in order to avoid using a very powerful bomb that will end the largest, most deadly conflict in human history in a single day? Didn't think so.

    3. Zoe

      Actually the Japanese were intent of continuing the fighting after the hydrogen bombs, however after losing Manchuria to the Soviets they feared the Russians would kill the Emperor, so they hedged their bets with the Allies. Of course the Japanese would have surrendered a lot earlier if the Allies assured Japan that the Emperor would be unharmed. After all, would the US give up Jesus? Ultimately the atomic bombs were dropped to intimidate Russia, and this is historical record, not a conspiracy theory.

  6. hansi mann

    Yes, we are all pretty ignorant, first because we expects those in Power to uphold our interests, which they don't according to this film. We are always being reassured by authority, but things go wrong all of the time. What we need to be is more skeptical of our leaders, scientists, and religious pastors (and imams, might I add). They know little or nothing more about anything than we do.

  7. hansi mann

    Great film, but the last 6 minutes froze up on me... bummer.

  8. Pennia Perez Gonzales

    Timely, considering all the warmongering going on today, and especially in regards to Iran and their nuclear energy program.

  9. Ezizen RonPaul Davis

    "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting different results"~Einstein

    there is ONLY one man capable honest and smart enough to be President...
    he is...
    RON PAUL!! (google him)
    wake up and make a real change and bring back sanity or.... wait till its to late!

    1. Sam

      Maybe his son if he doesn't get to far out there. It would be nice to see a Libertarian run the show for a change.

  10. Mercenarry ForHire

    This criminal thinks of what we could achieve if we put that same effort into making this country more efficient and getting rid of all the r*tarded Politicians.. but what do i know im just a shady guy >:3

  11. Nakor420

    Amazing how ignorant and naive the average citizen was back then. Not much different than today come to think of it.

  12. Digital Dante

    How bad must "the president" be to call the other nuclear weapon having party "the enemy of freedom"? This is ridiculous. How do these people get elected? Please start voting sanely. Anyone sounding at all in favor of ANY war, for ANY reason or not 110 % diplomatic: that´s the WRONG person: just say no. Vote for someone else. There must be someone at least somewhat sane.

  13. Digital Dante

    This world is so primitive. It´s a little bit better now, but still... Incredibly primitive. And the worst of all are most of the politicians. The rulers. Those that have inclinations and want to rule others should never rule. Nuclear weapon should be destroyed now. Now. Don´t elect evil children. Elevate yourself. Evolve.

  14. CherryBombpop

    An oldie but a goodie. You think YOU hate that turtle? I'm so old, I remember when we used to have air raid drills at school once a week, and we all had to practice "duck and cover" under our desks, after watching the little propaganda film with that annoying turtle. Even at 7 years old I had some clue that it would be useless against a nuclear bomb. This doc is a good one to know about, it was pretty original when it was released, and exposed a lot of people to these things when there was nothing else going. I worked at a video rental place in the 80's, so I took it home one night - I would never have known about it otherwise. It's a look back worth taking. I'm very grateful to Vlatko for all his efforts in maintaining this site so we can browse and watch so many docs so easily. :)

  15. zaphodity

    Absolutely hilarious, loved the bit about a race of bald headed people and how not to worry, just wear a toup'ee until your hair grows back XD

  16. Greg_Mc

    I watched it for an hour and really didn't see the point in finishing as it was probably going to be more of the same stuff they had been showing for the last 45 minutes. At I believe the 58 minutes or so mark did anyone notice who the army guy sitting behind the desk was? Lol now if you are young you wont get the reference but the guy was Ward Cleaver from Leave it to beaver, I almost fell off my chair laughing. The songs they kept playing for a while (like 1 minute) were ok in a make fun of the 50's kind of way but man they got annoying. What I didn't like was the first part as they dropped the bombs on Japan then showed Americans making Jap comments, then they flipped back to showing the people who had been burned or had body parts torn off from the bomb. People (and rightly so I must say) say how bad the Nazi's were (yes they were worse) but nobody says anything about the atomic bomb and how cruel that was, but yet the Americans glorified what they did and took pride in doing so much harm to civilians. They even said they picked cities that had never been bombed by anything so they could properly measure the destruction. I know the Japanese army were not boy scouts either and this was a different time but the tone of the whole doc while funny at times and just plain stupid in others (Lak wanting to choke that turtle refers to one of the stupid parts) showed the American propaganda machine was alive and well in the 50's. The destruction the bomb did was incredible and to think if the rumours are even partially true Iran is on it's way to building at least one, even if not true it is a scary thought.

    Having said all that I am watching the History channel (Canadian version if there are different channels in the US than here) and they are showing WW2 shows and I noticed 2 things from them. 1) I am glad, very glad I wasn't alive then to have to have taken part in it 2) There are a lot of heroes and very brave people who did some amazing, scary brave, sad, horrific and heroic things in the war that most will never know about (and people like me who now know of some of them but will forget their names in far to short a time) and after hearing their stories one can only imagine the nightmares they quietly had for the rest of their lives because of things they saw and had to do.

    1. Steven J Hopkins

      Yes, I also remember the actor in the film played Ward Cleaver, so everything must be OK. He had a soothing voice talking about the A-Bomb...Nothing to worry about here...

  17. Charles Alderson

    You can't hug your children with Nuclear Arms :(

    I wouldn't mind a post-nuclear world. I'd be able to play Fallout in rl everyday!

    1. adilrye

      Yeah, mutants, vaults, pip boys and women who seem to have a permanent over lip fuzz...:D

  18. Rebecca Moore

    'Nagasaki, pretty as a picture...I let the bomb go - that was my greatest thrill'. The mind boggles.

  19. Guest

    I'd like to get my hands around that turtle's neck. Duck and cover? Duck and kiss your a$$ goodbye.

  20. Guest

    I choked at 7 mins, sweaty palms and tears in my eyes. Does it stop being horrid? :(

    1. Teddy Mcd

      No it doesn't. And neither will it until we put god back in the Cracker Jack box.

    2. Guest

      I don't think I can watch, I think they broke the box!

    3. adilrye

      Horrid? I think it's funny. It's nice to be able to look back at this and laugh, it's a bit comforting, no? It means times are a little better now, at least in this way.

    4. Guest

      So it gets better after the first few mins ? Couldn't bring myself to watch any further and what I saw was nothing to smile about. For me that goes beyond morgue humour :)

    5. Greg_Mc

      It gets better in the fact that they don't keep showing the bombing in Japan and what it did. Lol better does not equal good though, it is kind of stupid and well just so American. If you find the nostalgia/campy docs or shows entertaining then you will like the rest.

    6. Guest

      Hmmm, think I'll give it a miss. It was the way they spoke so matter of factly about dropping the bomb that freaked me out. I guess they've found a way to distance themselves from what they did but it comes across as detached and cold. I should learn to care less maybe, war is war after all. :)

    7. Greg_Mc

      They are soldiers (in the airforce but I am using the word soldiers for them all to make it easier) and trained to be that way it is a matter of survival for them. Watching all the remembrance day shows on TV they talk to these older guys who were in WWII and they talk about seeing friends getting killed, one guy talked about a plane on a mission in Belgium and the plane's wing hit something and it crashed into a school (the target being in a city they had to really look to see the target) so some of the following planes saw the smoke and thought it was the target and bombed and shot at it killing a bunch of kids. Most planes found the target and completed the mission which was to burn the building so that a bunch of reports the Germans had stolen/found that had details of the resistance, and once read the germans would have been able to put a stop to the local resistance by finding names and potential targets etc and that would have been a big blow to our side. So this old soldier kind of bent his head down a bit and holding back his emotions well trying to and quietly said "we were given a mission to complete and at the end of the day thats what we did" but you could easily see that this is something that has haunted him for decades, and he is just one of so many soldiers that saw and had to do (by accident or not) some pretty nasty things. I can't seem to stop myself from watching these shows and they are shows and stories we should know about, but some of them are hard to watch. We can't forget what these guys from all these countries did, without them we would be living in a different world and not a good different.

    8. Guest

      Its a weird one, all the things you wouldn't do in peace time, all the morals you develop and the freedoms you allow yourself, it all means nothing when they stick a gun in your hand and point you at the enemy. Odd that a person can adapt that quickly to something so awful. I know they suffer for it afterwards, some more than others, but most seem able to section it off somehow and carry on living.

    9. Greg_Mc

      Or even worse when the enemy points their gun at you, or a tank, grenade or drops bombs on you. They are taught in their training to obey orders without question, if the whole troop doesn't act as one each doing whatever they are told to do on a mission or in a battle they have no chance of winning. And usually when you lose a battle you and most of your pals end up dead, it forces people to do things they may not want to do or move past their fears. I think after you are in a war for a while (some in WWII were fighting for 3 or more years I believe) your normal life back home more and more becomes just a memory or maybe it is better to say that you now have, at least while the war is going on, a new reality. And this new reality is a hell that nothing in your previous life could have ever prepared you for.

      I am sure a lot of those who seem to carry on living ok put up a front, although after some years they as you said seem to be able to section it off. If they didn't they would probably go crazy and it is only very recently that it has been recognized that (hmm have to get my train of thought back, I left for a bit. I had to go pick my son up at school because he was bringing home a Saxophone to practice, he is playing O'Canada in front of the whole school tomorrow at an assembly for Remembrance day) when soldiers come back from war a great deal of them can't just flick a switch and forget the horrible things they saw or did and have trouble adjusting to being back or they come back with some serious emotional or mental illness issues. As I am sure you know it is called PTSD Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and in years gone by if you complained about it they said you were crazy where now they have finally smartened up. They have realized that if you put someone in a situation where they are going to be exposed to seeing people killed, sometimes at their own hands, and or have their bodies blown up with guts hanging out or limbs torn off there is a good chance they are going to have an emotional reaction to it.

    10. Guest

      There is a Doc on here with a guy that fought in Vietnam and became so tangled with it all that he wished the war never ended, actually misses the killing because he had to cross a line and once he was over he couldn't get back. All or nothing.
      On a lighter note I hope your son enjoys his time in the spotlight tomorrow, remember - its show biz not shy biz :)))

    11. Guest

      Hey Greg_MC, nice pic. Hello :)

    12. hansi mann

      I once read that most of the crew of the Ennola Gay that dropped the Hiroshima bomb ended up mentally ill. Anyone know anthing on that score? The flight captain Tibbets in the film seems to be wrangling with the guilt trip people laid on him thereafter. But most men in war hardly realize the consequences of their actions; in part they are sheltered from thinking by their superiors, so that the ordinary soldier is " just following orders".

    13. Scott Zagoria

      i think they mentioned that they looked down and saw what they had done. human brains put 2 and 2 together sometimes i guess. sort of like 'duck and cover' when the footage already existed showing that it was all a mockery. hey, i am old enough to remember the air raid shelter in my elementary school. why do these armament folks get to do this to every generation? it's rhetorical. i don't really want to talk about it. i am sorry for mental health issues in the military, but a lot of us have been smart enough over the centuries to avoid killing people on behalf of other people. and in the movie we should bear in mind that nagasaki and hiroshima were specifically targeted since they were to be study cases for bomb destruction, as were later on-site tests in nevada. and yeah they did become mentally ill and so did our entire nation...and now it we are essentially brain dead since the same stuff occurs but nobody reacts. a case of fallout, to be sure.

  21. KsDevil

    Nostalgia and naivity. From the future we can laugh at the past. But it makes one wonder what foolishness we in the present are doing that the future may laugh at. Actually, I would hope the future finds comparible humor from our present. That would mean the future will be better. However, I am not pleased people in the future will consider our current fashion to be quiaint and a bit silly.

  22. haimimack

    '' we pray to God to guide us to use it in his ways and for his purposes'' amaizing!