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Film / Panic in Year Zero!

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Panic in Year Zero! is a 1962 film directed by Ray Milland.

Milland also stars as Harry Baldwin, a suburban dad who, as the film opens, is dragging his pretty wife Ann (Jean Hagen) and his unwilling kids Rick (Frankie Avalon) and Karen off on a weekend fishing trip. The Baldwins have left the LA area and have driven up into the mountains when they are startled to see flashes of blinding light. They park on the shoulder, and are horrified to see a mushroom cloud over the city of Los Angeles. At first, they can't get anything on the radio, but soon they pick up emergency broadcasts confirming that a nuclear war has broken out.

Harry elects to take his family to the same camp in the mountains that they were already headed for, but now, to hide out and try to survive nuclear holocaust. At first society seems to still be more or less functioning, as the Baldwins stop at a restaurant and pay for gasoline at a gas station. But conditions deteriorate, as civilization breaks down and the roads are swarmed with refugees. Harry guides his family into the hills, and they take refuge in a cave. But are they safe? And will Harry, protecting his family, lose touch with his own humanity?

A young Paul Gleason appears as the first gas station attendant.


  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Rick and Harry first discover Marilyn in a disheveled state, wearing only a slip, in the farmhouse where she has obviously been raped by a trio of thugs. But the next morning, after they have rescued her and taken her back to their cave, Marilyn is looking quite nice indeed, with combed and styled hair and even with fake eyelashes. Karen is also still looking clean and pretty in the aftermath of her rape.
  • Bratty Teenage Daughter: Karen characterizes the global thermonuclear war that has just devastated her hometown and killed all her friends and extended family with a whine of "This whole thing is a bore, such a drag!"
  • The Bus Came Back: The Baldwins are stopped on the road by a trio of thugs that pull a gun on Harry, and seem to be about to rape the women when Rick wings one of them with a shotgun. Harry disarms the other thug and the Baldwins drive away—only to run into the three thugs later, at the camping grounds, raping and murdering.
  • Cigarette of Anxiety: Harry is nearly run off the road by a car that zooms past him at high speed and then lurches back over into his lane. After this he asks Rick to light him a cigarette.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: For a given degree of happy. Harry has killed two people, Karen was raped, and it seems that Ann's mother back in Los Angeles is probably dead. But the Baldwins have survived, they rescued Marilyn from a trio of rapist goons, and they have avoided radiation sickness, and it seems order has been restored and society won't collapse. On the other other hand, many people are suffering from radiation sickness, and obviously untold millions are dead.
  • Emergency Broadcast: At first all the radio stations are off the air but eventually Harry starts picking up a series of increasingly dire reports about the cities of the United States being devastated by nuclear war.
  • The End: The rather odd title at the end says "There must not be an end—only a new beginning."
  • Greaser Delinquents: Andy and Mikey, the two younger members of the rapist/murderer trio. They have the leather jackets and slicked hair and are wont to use "hip" slang like "Somebody dropped a bomb—crazy kick!" They're led by Carl who is too old to be a greaser.
  • Hit So Hard, the Calendar Felt It: The United Nations officially declares that the world is in "Year Zero" after the nuclear war.
  • Just Before the End: Played With. At first it seems like this trope is in effect, as civilization breaks down, people begin looting gasoline and food, and the Baldwins are left hiding out in a cave and shooting deer to survive. But this trope is averted in the end as the U.S. Army is shown restoring order.
  • Light Is Not Good: The Baldwins are confused to see blinding flashes of light as they drive up into the mountains. It's atomic bombs falling on Los Angeles.
  • Money Is Not Power: Harry figures out that this may happen so after he sees the bombs fall his plan is to go to a town far away from the main road that they hopefully still had not gotten news of the bombs dropping so he will be able to purchase goods for his family's stay somewhere away from the fallout (he still has to come to blows with people trying to fleece him). Later on he makes a plan to bury some supplies away from the cave he and his family are living in and use them to negotiate with anybody who tries to take a family member hostage — Karen ties to do this when she encounters the greasers a second time, but they don't want food from her.
  • Noble Shoplifter:
    • The Baldwins come to a gas station where the owner is taking advantage of the disaster to charge an outrageous (for the time) price of $3/gallon for gasoline. (It used to be 34 cents.) After trying and failing to reason with him, Harry knocks him out, takes the gas, and leaves enough money to pay for the gas at what he considers a fair price.
    • Later, Harry pulls a gun on Johnson the hardware store owner when Johnson won't take a check for the guns and ammo. Harry leaves Johnson with an I.O.U.
  • Off-into-the-Distance Ending: Ends with the Baldwin car driving off down the road, only a few miles away from the Army medical station where Rick can get his lifesaving transfusion.
  • Rape as Drama: In 1962 you still couldn't quite say it on a motion picture screen, but it's heavily implied that Andy, one of the trio of goons, raped Karen. Then when Harry and Rick come after the rapists, they find a young woman named Marilyn there, looking disheveled in a bed and wearing only a slip; the thugs have been keeping her there since they murdered her parents.
  • Screw the Rules, It's the Apocalypse!: Subverted. Harry does whatever he needs to do to keep his family safe, but he tries to pay for the stuff he acquires (it's when the guys trying to sell him figure out the nuclear war gives them free reign to fleece him that things get violent) and when Rick tries to bring up this exact point Harry says that no, civilization will bounce back to normal and he will stop acting like this the moment it does (and he makes do on said promise in the epilogue).
  • Stock Footage: At one point the Baldwins, who are trying to cross a major highway so they can reach the remoteness of the mountains, are blocked by an unending stream of traffic. The highway traffic is shown by awkwardly spliced-in stock footage.
  • These Hands Have Killed: Andy and Mikey certainly had it coming, since they killed at least four people and they also raped both Marilyn and Karen. But Harry is still shaken up after he shoots them, telling Ann "I killed two men."
  • Wet Blanket Wife: Ann is this for much of the movie, freaking out when Harry does things like punch a gas station attendant, calling him a "cheap hoodlum" and continually second-guessing his decisions. Eventually she takes a level in badass, carrying a rival herself and shooting at the hoodlums that raped Karen.
  • Year Zero: A news update on the radio reports that the United Nations has deemed this world after the nuclear war to be "Year Zero".