Movie Poster for the Atomic Cafe. A boy in a radiation suit rides a bike in front of a mushroom cloud


Title: The Atomic Cafe
Released: 1982

Fix: Cold War, Documentary, Nuclear Paranoia
Platforms: Amazon Streaming

Amazon Summary:

Co-directed by Kevin Raferty (Roger and Me), ATOMIC CAFE is a chilling and often hilarious reminder of Cold War-era paranoia in the United States.

FYA Summary:

There is no narration in this documentary. Nothing but news clips, civil defense movies, and music videos (?) from the Cold War, hammering home the fact that if we didn’t nuke ourselves back to the stone age in the 50s and 60s, it was a damn miracle.

Familiar Faces:

John Kennedy
Richard Nixon
Nikita Khruschev

Jack Kennedy, Dick Nixon, and Nick Khrushchev as the world leaders

These roles could not have been more miscast. Sure, Jack’s good looking, but do we buy that he’ll really call for the invasion of Cuba? Poor old Dick had an uncomfortable criminal vibe, and Nick…that shtick of banging his shoe on the podium at the UN…save the physical humor for the comedians.

Douglas Macarthur

Doug MacArthur as the crazy general

I believed him during the ‘World War II’ story arc, but he was way too over the top during the ‘Korean Conflict’ storyline. His calls to drop an atomic bomb on the North Koreans was just a little too Dr. Strangelove for me.

J. Edgar Hoover

J. Edgar Hoover as the mean cop

I know he was cast as the ‘bad guy’, but he took it too far. His anti-Communist paranoia was funny at first, but the routine got old really quick.

Jules and Ethel Rosenberg

Jules and Ethel Rosenberg as the bumbling spies

I’m all for the lovable losers bit, but the electric chair punchline was a little too much.

Couch Sharing Capability: High

The thing about this documentary is that it is literally nothing but clips. No preachy narration. It’s frightening enough without it. Some highlights:

*Bikini Islanders celebrating the hydrogen bomb test that obliterated their home

*The winds shift after a nuclear test, contaminating a Japanese fishing boat, which then sells their catch on the world market

*Politicians from the 1940s clamoring to nuke Russia, China and North Korea

*Documentary about the open air nuclear tests, with a smiling housewife listening to a radio report about how the local kids will be kept in for recess that day

*An adorable cartoon turtle, showing kids how to survive a nuclear attack

Bert the Duck and Cover Turtle

*Radiation suits for the whole family (see movie cover)

*Documentary about US soldiers training around the atomic tests (Don’t worry if you get dirt in your mouth. Try to avoid looking right at the blast)

*Documentary about the after effects of nuclear war. ‘Really, why worry? You could just as easily slip in the shower. Oh, I know what’s bothering you…hair loss! Afraid they’ll call you ‘Old Baldy’? Don’t worry, it’ll grow back.’

Recommended Level of Inebriation: Low

It’s funny to laugh at the retro 50s version of white, white America and the fight against those nasty Communists. It’s not so funny when you realize this could have led to the extinction of all human life.

Use of Your Streaming Subscription: Brought to You By Your Local Civil Defense

With increased tensions in Korea and an idiot in the White House, maybe it’s time to air out the old fallout shelter.

Brian wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.