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Duck And Cover - Classroom Film From The Atomic Age

           

Longtime readers of Retro Thing may remember that last year I worked on a documentary called Remembering Chicago: The Boomer Years.  We interviewed Chicagoans about their young lives during the 50's and 60's.  This was the dawn of the Cold War, and one memory that everybody shared was of seeing "Duck and Cover" - a classroom film about what to do in the event of an atomic attack.

BertFor those of you who may not have seen it, the film stars a cartoon turtle named Bert who trundles around wearing a civil defense helmet and a little bow tie.  A monkey hanging from a tree limb dangles a firecracker in front of Bert's face (today we'd call him a suicide bomber).  Bert disappears into his shell as the entire landscape is decimated by the blast.  Um... wow.

The remainder of the film demonstrates the many methods to "duck and cover" since an atomic attack "can come at any time".  The solutions mostly involve hurling yourself at the ground, all while wrapping a newspaper around your face.

HousesIt's easy to be sardonic about the film, but the 50's were uncertain times.  The people that we interviewed for the Chicago documentary had vivid memories of air raid drills, hiding under their school desks during a bomb scare, secreting supplies away into a bomb shelter...  The atom bomb was a real fear, and "Duck and Cover" had the weighty job of explaining to very small children what they can do to increase their chances of survival in the event of an atomic attack.

In the years since the film first unspooled before classrooms of kids, people have questioned the efficacy of the protective tactics in the film.  I don't care if you wrap the whole Sunday paper around your head, it's not likely to help much.  I've heard some critics go even further, deriding the film as a propaganda piece.  To me the movie rides the line between a strange kind of eerie charm, Teacherand a grim reminder of the kinds of underlying fears that Americans had in the 50's and 60's.

It's interesting that after all these years, "Duck and Cover" refuses to disappear from the American public's  consciousness.  Just a few years ago there was a popular internet parody of this film called "Duct Tape and Cover", pointing directly at our own uncertain times.  Let's all hope that someday we'll be able to put "Duck and Cover" - and everything it represents - behind us.

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