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The Atomic Kid – 1954

The Atomic Kid

Let's look at the record. He was eating a peanut-butter sandwich before the bomb went off. And he did survive, didn't he? So, it must have been the peanut-butter!"

Mickey Rooney and Robert Strauss are a pair of amateur uranium prospectors who wander into an atomic testing ground. Lost, exhausted and starving, they find what they mistake as a "model home" standing alone in a broad and empty plain, filled with furniture and mannequin dummies, not realizing it is a test structure to record the effects of an atomic explosion* that is just minutes from going off. Strauss (as Stan Cooper) departs with a car he "borrows" from outside the house to go to town to try and find the owner of the home, and Rooney (as "Blix") stays, determined to find something to eat and to guard the location from any other prospectors, the two believing there must be a lucrative uranium deposit nearby judging by the readings on their Geiger counter.

After the blast goes off and the house is demolished, Rooney is found in the wreckage by the military in a haggard condition, still clutching an uneaten peanut-butter sandwich that is now just a smoking wad of toast in his right hand. Speaking rapidly (like Chip-n-Dale with a speeded up voice) Blix is thought to now possess a doubled-metabolism and exhibits other various effects, such as causing electric lights to flicker and creating interference for radio receivers (and later in the film, merely walking through a Las Vegas casino causes slot machines to give up their coin insides).

Though a comedy, The Atomic Kid has more on its mind than laughs from Mickey Rooney mugging for the camera and Robert Strauss drawing out the sounds of words in his distinctive way which translates them into alternative meanings. Robert Emmett Keane plays a communist agent trying to discover the reason Blix could survive the explosion, something that is never really explained throughout the film (though one character does attribute the survival to a prayer the kid made when the explosion happened, a not so subtle way of saying the only hope of surviving a nuclear disaster is a prayer.)

But some characters think (or want) the survival to be due to the peanut butter sandwich, something that in the story leads to a mad rush to gain a personal endorsement from Blix by peanut butter brand Mother Goose's Homogenized Peanut Butter. The film takes a satiric poke at Madison Avenue style marketing along the way but doesn't really build on the theme, or the even richer possibility of examining fame for "the kid" which would be something Mickey Rooney himself was very well acquainted with, having been in show business from his earliest years.

A long list of 1950s films focused on the effects of radiation from nuclear experiments, usually with the victim growing large, shrinking, or insects and animals (especially lizards) becoming oversized lethal threats. In The Atomic Kid the effect is mainly oversized fame and the pressure it puts on a kid (though Rooney hardly seems like a kid) and the difficulties of love with his nurse, played by Elaine Devry.

Robert Strauss as a fast-talking promoter trying to wrest money from out of Blix's fame and he could have been Abbott to Rooney's Costello, but this is also a path not taken, though Strauss is given screen time to play out his character, take on a communist spy operation, and to mug into the screen with his own unique physiognomy.

Directed by Leslie H. Martinson and written by Blake Edwards, Benedict Freedman and John Fenton Murray

Released December 3, 1954.

* An almost identical situation confronts Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull, who solves the problem in a unique way, also from a kitchen, but not requiring peanut butter.

Rupert Davies

Rupert Davies

Criterion is releasing these new Blu Ray disks in July:

Raging Bull – 1980 – DeNiro boxing film Criterion Page

Devil in a Blue Dress – 1995 – Denzel Washington in an adaptation of the novel by Walter Mosley Criterion Page

Summertime – 1955 – Katherine Hepburn on vacation in Venice, directed by David Lean Criterion Page

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Art by KudzuPoster

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