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Panic in the Year Zero

Panic in the Year Zero (1962), starring Ray Milland, Jean Hagen, Frankie Avalon

Synopsis of Panic in the Year Zero

In Panic in the Year Zero, Los Angeles is demolished by a nuclear attack.  Looting and robbing run rampant. Seeking shelter from the chaos, a family hides out in an isolated fishing cabin.  Only to find that the chief danger comes from a band of violent, crazed juvenile delinquents.

Review of Panic in the Year Zero

Panic in the Year Zero asks the question: how thin is the veneer of civilization?  And what lies beneath?  It’s an excellent story, dealing with an ordinary man who strives to keep his family safe after the first news of a nuclear war.  He tries to get them to the relative safety of a fishing camp, with plenty of canned goods.  But along the way, he’s willing to hold up a storekeeper at gunpoint.  And promising to pay for the goods that he’s taking.  He’s willing to spill gasoline across the highway, and set it on fire – so they can get through.

Panic in the Year Zero is a very well-acted drama.  It takes a very adult view of both the good, and the worst, in people.  Including a trio of juvenile delinquents, who threaten the family at gunpoint.  Who later take over a house, murder the inhabitants — except for a beautiful young lady.  And later, assault the family’s daughter.

It’s not a feel-good movie, but it’s a thinking movie.  It’s well-done, with the acting and cinematography, etc.  I rate it 4 stars out of 5.

Cast of characters in Panic in the Year Zero

  • Harry Baldwin (Ray MillandThe Lost Weekend).  The head of the family, who’s willing to do anything to keep his family safe.  Anything this side of murder.  And he’s waiting for civilization to return, so he can rejoin it.  If they last that long.  An excellent performance.
  • Ann Baldwin (Jean HagenSingin’ in the Rain).  Harry’s wife, who at first is shocked by how far he’s willing to go.
  • Rick Baldwin (Frankie AvalonVoyage to the Bottom of the Sea).  The family son, who at first takes the situation not too seriously.  But that soon changes.  A good acting performance.
  • Karen Baldwin (Mary MitchelDementia 13).  The family daughter, who is the unfortunate victim of the three hoodlums later in the film.
  • Marilyn Hayes (Joan FreemanThe Reluctant Astronaut).  The young, lovely woman who’s the unfortunate victim of the hoodlums.  They stay in her house for weeks, possibly months, abusing her.  She’s driven mute by the trauma, even after her rescue by the Baldwin family.
  • Carl (Richard BakalyanVon Ryan’s Express).  The leader of the three hoodlums.  An evil man, without conscience or concern.

Editorial review of Panic in the Year Zero courtesy of Amazon.com

“This movie will scare the daylights out of you”, warned the LA Herald-Examiner upon the release of Panic in Year Zero – and with good reason. Released just before the Cuban Missile Crisis, this chiller-thriller realistically details what might happen to the survivors of a nuclear attack. Screen legend Ray Milland (X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes) leads a superb cast that includes Jean Hagen (The Asphalt Jungle) and Frankie Avalon (Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine). Harry Baldwin (Milland), his wife (Hagen) and their two teenaged kids, Rick (Avalon) and Karen (Mary Mitchell, Dementia 13) are heading to the mountain from Los Angeles for a weekend of fishing as they see a mushroom cloud forming over the L.A. skyline.

With the highways and towns jammed by panicking motorists, rampaging looters, heavily armed survivalist and doped-up punks, Milland and his family decide to head to the shelter of their fishing spot, awaiting more news about nuclear disaster. Featuring gorgeous black-and-white cinematography by Gilbert Warrenton (The Man Who Laughs) and top-notch direction by Ray Milland (A Man Alone).