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Film / Duck and Cover

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ICBMs were eventually found to be more effective delivery systems than monkeys.

Duck and Cover (1952) is a short film (nine minutes) directed by Anthony Rizzo.

It is a civil defense instructional film commissioned by the United States government, as the Cold War was getting more dangerous for Americans following the Soviet Union's successful test of a nuclear bomb in 1949. The film, which is aimed at children, is a guide on what to do in the event of nuclear attack. It opens with a short animated sequence in which a turtle named Bert is sauntering down the road. A mischievous monkey dangles from a tree and hangs a stick of dynamite over Bert's head. A quick-thinking Bert then retreats into his shell, while the theme tune says "He did what we all must learn to and cover!"

The film then switches to live action. A narrator explains what to do if a nuclear bomb explodes. Scenes portray schoolchildren ducking and covering under desks, in school hallways, and under library tables. The film introduces children to the sound of a civil defense siren, then tells them what to do if there is a nuclear strike and no grown-ups are around: go into an air raid shelter if you can find one, duck into alleys or doorways or whatever cover is available, throw yourself flat on the ground if you're in the open, and try to cover yourself with whatever is at hand. The film then ends by cutting back to Bert the turtle in animation, who recaps the lesson by asking the kids what to do, and is answered by offscreen schoolchildren shouting "duck and cover!"

For many years this film was shown to American schoolchildren in order to teach them what to do in case of a nuclear attack, and also probably to teach them to fear the Soviets. It has also for many years been a subject for parody.

Compare The House in the Middle, a similarly bizarre documentary short from the 1950s about surviving nuclear war, but aimed at adults.


  • Badass Boast: More like a badass description since the subject in question cannot speak for itself, but the narrator does a pretty good job explaining what an initial nuclear detonation would look like, managing to convey the sheer power of the weapon while still keeping it simple enough for even kids to understand:
    "It's a bright flash! Brighter than the sun! Brighter than anything you've ever seen!"
  • Instructional Film: Probably the most famous one ever made, centering on what to do during an atomic attack, and definitely the most frequently mocked.
  • Medium Blending: The most famous part of the movie is the animation with Bert the turtle hiding from World War III in his shell, but the bulk of the film is live-action, as various duck-and-cover scenarios are shown.
  • Mood Dissonance: The light and breezy tone of the film—a short cartoon that could be an early Looney Tunes product, followed by a calm, avuncular narrator—clashes bizarrely with the actual topic, nuclear war, particularly as the narrator keeps reminding viewers that an atom bomb could strike at any time. The light tone was no doubt chosen to avoid scaring children too badly, but the result is still weird.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: This film has been mocked for—well, for a lot of reasons, actually, but one reason it's been mocked is because of the perceived ridiculousness of hiding under your desk or in a doorway or whatever to save yourself from a nuclear explosion. Here's the thing, though: depending on the circumstances, duck-and-cover really can work. A woman named Akiko Takamura survived the Hiroshima bomb despite being only 300 meters from the detonation, because she was inside the thick reinforced concrete walls of a bank.note  Ducking-and-covering could save one from shrapnel and debris. Hiding under a desk could save one from a building collapse. Covering yourself with something as insubstantial as a newspaper really could save you from skin burns caused by thermal radiation. Bottom line: if a nuke falls directly on your head you don't have a chance in Hell, but if you have any chance, duck-and-cover can help. Wikipedia discusses this in greater depth here and here.
  • Sampling: Parts of Duck and Cover's audio are used as part of the beat in Khuskan's "Atomic".
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Let's sing a cheery little ditty about how we should duck under our desks at school to avoid being burned to death in a nuclear strike.
  • Title Theme Tune: The film is obviously aimed at elementary school children, given how many times the bizarrely cheerful theme song pounds home the words "duck and cover".
  • Token Minority: Note that in the classroom scenes there are two black children, the only nonwhites to appear in the short.