The Beginning or the End: How Hollywood Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

New Pr. Jul. 2020. 304p. ISBN 9781620975732. $27.99. FILM
In the aftermath of the 1945 bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, concerned scientists reached out to Hollywood in hopes a film could be made that would make plain the devastation caused by nuclear weapons. Mitchell (The Tunnels) chronicles in intricate detail how MGM, the military personnel responsible for the bombings, and a cadre of Oak Ridge scientists all worked together to create The Beginning or the End (1947). Unsurprisingly, the film was not a success, and the blame lay in almost all directions. Though the scientists’ aim was to make a statement against the use of atomic weapons, producer Louis B. Mayer and the military—care of President Truman and General Leslie Groves—wanted to create a riveting docudrama that would defend the bombings and bolster their image, going so far as to include mention of leaflets that were dropped in Japan up to ten days in advance of the bombings, when in fact no warnings were given. And while the film was still in production, John Hersey’s “Hiroshima” was published in The New Yorker, creating a completely different description of the horrors of the bombing, shifting the public response from patriotic pride to one of shock and remorse.
VERDICT This intriguing, behind-the-scenes look at a disjointed creative partnership is sure to be of interest to readers of history and cinema.

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