Sunday, August 15, 2010


“It does not have our blessing. We have not endorsed it whatsoever.”

--Jim Holton, FEMA spokesman, November 13, 1983

Edited NYT Image

Much was said and written before and after the November 20, 1983 broadcast of The Day After. Indeed, in the weeks surrounding its premiere, the controversial TV-movie was lauded, pilloried and dissected in an unprecedented flood of commentary. Everyone from President Ronald Reagan to the man and woman on the street weighed in with their opinions.

The following is a healthy sampling…

DA-Students Listen

“THE DAY AFTER - Beyond Imagining”

--Original promotional tagline for the film, 1983


DA-Special Report 

“Columbus Day. In the morning at Camp D. I ran the tape of the movie ABC is running Nov. 20. It’s called THE DAY AFTER in which Lawrence, Kansas is wiped out in a nuclear war with Russia. It is powerfully done, all $7 million worth. It’s very effective and left me greatly depressed…”

--President Ronald Reagan, October 10, 1983 diary entry (excerpt)

“I do not want this film to be a preview of coming attractions. We must not wait until the day after.”

--Lawrence, Kansas. Mayor David Longhurst to the Lawrence candlelight vigil held immediately following the November 20, 1983 broadcast of The Day After

“Meanwhile, no matter what its political content, high earnestness or good intentions, The Day After must be judged as a movie drama. By any conventional standard on this, it is terrible.”

--The New York Times (John Corry), November 20, 1983

“How do I presume to know what life would be like after such an event? The Day After is, after all, a work of fiction, a monstrous unflinching what-if. But the story is grounded on certain facts-of-life. We live in a land where, for example, ICBMs are quietly canistered in cornfields up your neighbor’s farmstead. We know from extensive government literature what these weapons can do and the strategic scenarios designed to use them.”

--Edward Hume in ABC promotional material, 1983

“Peyton Place with a nuclear explosion…”

--Unnamed UK Defence official as quoted in the Times of London, December 11, 1983

“A $7 million contribution the faltering campaign against the deployment of the Pershing II.”

--The National Review, October 1983

“The generally shabby quality of The Day After is of major concern because, rather than startling audiences into a new awareness, it is just as likely to anesthetize them with mediocrity.”

--Time Magazine, October 24, 1983

“In particular, since my dear friends at ABC have made a TV movie very rightly describing the terror of an atomic attack on America, perhaps they might consider something else. Perhaps they might make a TV movie about why the people of the United States face such a dreadful risk. They might make a movie about what life in the United States would be like if we lived under Soviet domination.”

--Ben Stein Column, October 31, 1983

“Here is an idea for a follow-up on The Day After. ABC might want to call it The After II. It should describe the life of citizens of Lawrence, Kan., the day after we surrendered to the Soviet Union, which is exactly what we would do if it alone had atom bombs, which is exactly what Japan did when we alone had atom bombs.”

--William F. Buckley Column, November 20, 1983

The Day After…is that rare made-for-television movie that comes to grips with a vital issue and deals with it in a forthright and uncompromising manner.”

--TV Guide, November 19, 1983

“Whether The Day After is dramatically good (which it is) seems almost irrelevant compared with the message it pounds home. Because of its subject and potential audience via TV on Nov. 20, it may be the most important movie ever made.”

--The Los Angeles Times (Howard Rosenberg), October 19, 1983

“Who should watch it? Everyone should watch it. Who will be able to forget it? No one will be able to forget it. Indeed, it could be argued that not to watch The Day After, the ABC film about nuclear holocaust, would be a socially irresponsible act considering the public fuss that has preceded the broadcast…”

The Washington Post (Tom Shales), November 18, 1983

“I think this film presents a very simple minded notion of the nuclear problem.”

Dr. Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of State, November 20, 1983

“Powerful and very graphic…”

--David R. Gergen, White House Director of Communications, November 20, 1983

“The film is using theatrical TV film form and thus poses the question as to how we are supposed to differentiate between this film (and its subject) and all the countless other films using the same structural and psychological methods of presentation—such as Dallas, Winds Of War and Kojak. Can we honestly be certain, that there is not a confusion of emotional demand and response here?”

--Peter Watkins, director of The War Game (1966), as quoted in the UK Standard newspaper, December 9, 1983

“The film is a vivid and dramatic portrayal of the fact that nuclear war is simply not acceptable.”

--George P. Schultz, Secretary of State, November 20, 1983

“(Watching The Day After) could lead to a distortion of understanding of the need for responsible action to meet the challenge of the Soviet Union on a broader basis.”

--Former President Gerald R. Ford (explaining why he would not view The Day After), November 20, 1983

“…blatant leftist propaganda.”

--Rev. Jerry Falwell, November 16, 1983

“Even on the most indulgent view of it in cinematic terms, it is the veriest trash—composed almost entirely of verbal and visual clichés, the acting is dreadful and its most striking single image—a vast panoramic shot of wounded and dying people waiting hopelessly for succour—is lifted straight from Gone With The Wind. All it can do is soften a few more heads, increase the emotional content in an argument already over-supplied with it, and induce nightmares in the more impressionable members of the audience.”

--The Times of London (Bernard Levin), December 10, 1983

“As cliché-ridden a film as ever insulted its subject…”

--The Guardian (Nancy Banks-Smith), December 12, 1983

“It was a lot worse than I thought. I thought the movie is being used by the left—by peaceniks and the Cranston campaign. We believe the best way to avoid nuclear war is peace through strength.”

--Sergio Picchio, California Chairman of the Young Americans for Freedom, November 21, 1983

“If you write a bad melodrama, who cares? If you write a bad comedy, who cares? But if you write a film about an important subject it has to be absolutely impeccable. If it isn’t, it can hurt the whole movement.”

--Paul Newman discussing The Day After as quoted by Mark Gerzon in the Times of London article ‘Watching the World End,’ November 7, 1983


--Mick Jackson (director of Threads) to Susan Boyd-Bowman in April of 1984

“I’m an Air Force veteran and it scared me, it hurt me to see kids getting hurt. In the service you tend to think about something happening to you. You don’t think that much about anything happening to housewives hanging out the wash and kids playing in the yard, and the show makes you think about that part.”

--Wayne Harding, Cheyenne, WY, to the New York Times, November 24, 1983

“The movie wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be, but it was scary. In horror movies, people just get killed and that’s it. But in this movie they had to go through all the aftereffects. I think I’d want to die instantly.”

--Matt, an 11-year-old seventh grader, to the New York Times, November 22, 1983

“I guess I was waiting for it to knock me down. After all the talk and buildup with people saying you shouldn’t let your kids watch it and all, I guess I expected a lot more.”

--Wayne Anderson, rancher, Cheyenne, WY, to the New York Times, November 24, 1983

“Unfortunately, this film is giving credibility to a political philosophy that Americans should close their eyes to reality and appease the Soviets.”

--Robert T. Dolan, national chairman of Young Americans for Freedom to the New York Times, November 20, 1983

“By European standards, The Day After is extremely tame in its depiction of the effects of nuclear attack on the survivors, and often loses its pace and tautness in order to incorporate lengthy dialogue between the principal characters. It may be that this heavy dose of traditional soap opera form, familiar to the audiences of Dallas or Coronation Street, actually carried the message of about the horror of nuclear weapons more effectively to the mass audience.”

--The New Statesman (Duncan Campbell), December 2, 1983

“But were it not for all the hoopla and present political climate, The Day After had very little else going to stand alone as a theatrical pic (it was shot on 35mm film). The acting was generally unspectacular, the special effects excellent for television, but only passable for the big screen and the ending something of a non-event.”

--Daily Variety, November 23, 1983

“The network’s notions of storytelling are not mine. Ordinarily, on a TV movie a director makes his cut and leaves. I had no intention of doing that, so I stayed and fought. I lost some battles, and I gnash my teeth when I see parts of the film. Overall, though, the movie does the job it was meant to do. I never deluded myself that I was making a work of art. I look on the movie as a giant public-service announcement.”

--Nicholas Meyer to the New York Times, November 13, 1983

“Whatever the ultimate effect of The Day After, it cannot be said that the film has enhanced the image of American women. Of the five identifiable women, two (doctor's wife and young bride) were solely concerned with sex and procreation, the third carried the theme a step further, delivering her baby on camera, the fourth became hysterical and was carried to safety and the fifth was a ministering angel who mopped the hero's brow and fed him oranges before succumbing, unaccountably, to meningitis. Nowhere in the film was a woman shown competent and self-reliant, able to deal with impending disaster in an adult fashion. This cruel stereotyping, unnoted by commentators, may well have more harmful and lasting effects than the much-touted adverse reactions to the horror scenes.”

--SOPHIA DOUGLASS PFEIFFER, Providence, R.I., Nov. 22, 1983, as published in the Letters section of the New York Times on November 30, 1983



ygrii said...

Wow. The movie got some harsh reviews. I remember the controversy surrounding the movie. I had just turned sixteen when it aired. I watched it with my parents and yeah, the movie scared the hell out of me.

Lee_bits said...

We had a nuclear holocaust party.

A group of us techies, with some visitors from England. There was a lot of black humor bandied about all evening.

The most frightening thing about the video-cast was the 30-45 minute special round table discussion. All I remember is the guy who headed a group called Accuracy in Media, who kept re-hashing the argument about how life would have been if we had no nuclear weapons and the commies took over.

The supposed conversation was just people representing fixed points of view talking past each other.

No body said anything about the red skeletons.

Wish there was archive video of that session. It was a snapshot of political history ca. 1980.

Bill Geerhart said...

There is a clip here: