The Night that Panicked America (1975)

THE NIGHT THAT PANICKED AMERICA (1975)
TV-Movie

Article 3573 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-7-2011
Posting Date: 5-27-2011
Directed by Joseph Sargent
Featuring Vic Morrow, Cliff De Young, Michael Constantine
Country: USA
What it is: Historical reenactment

A Halloween radio broadcast of an adaptation of “The War of the Worlds” has an unexpected side effect; many people listening to the broadcast mistake the events for real, and panic ensues…

Though the movie itself can’t strictly be called Science Fiction, it is nonetheless an example of how a powerful medium of communication can bring a fantastically-themed story to a life so vivid that it is capable of overcoming listener’s disbelief in the very concept. I love the structure of the movie; it juxtaposes the lives of several groups of people with a recreation of the radio play, and then lets the events unfold in real time. Some of the stories have a comic edge (the father and son story which ends with an embarrassing incident at a water tower, the party of blue-bloods in which only the help are aware that the transmission is a radio play); others flirt with tragedy (the father who almost takes a drastic step to save his children from attack by Martians). It explores somewhat the reasons for the panic, such as the extraordinarily realistic approach to the presentation of the story (in which a musical show is constantly interrupted by news broadcasts as the events unfold), the accidental tuning in of people at specific moments, and the general tension caused by the events in Europe that were leading into World War II. There’s lots of familiar names in the ensemble cast, including Eileen Brennan, Marilyn Baxter, Will Geer, John Ritter, Tom Bosley, and Casey Kasem (as one of the Mercury Theatre Players). I found it immensely entertaining, and have to admire the precision editing whereby everything is kept in sync. All in all, this is one that is definitely worth catching.

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