Lee Aaker, Gene Barry, Lydia Clarke, and Milburn Stone in The Atomic City (1952)


(director: Jerry Hopper; screenwriter: Sydney Boehm; cinematographer: Charles B. Lang, Jr.; editor: Archie Marshek; music: Leith Stevens; cast: Gene Barry (Dr. Frank Addison), Lydia Clarke (Martha Addison), Michael Moore (Russ Farley), Nancy Gates (Ellen Haskell), Lee Aaker (Tommy Addison), Milburn Stone (Insp. Harold Mann), Bert Freed (Emil Jablons), Frank Cady (F.B.I. Agent George Weinberg), Houseley Stevenson, Jr. (‘Greg’ Gregson), Leonard Strong (Donald Clark), Jerry Hausner (John Pattiz), John Damler (Dr. Peter Rassett), George M. Lynn (Robert Kalnick); Runtime: 85; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Joseph Sistrom; Paramount; 1952)

“Low-budget Cold War psychological thriller about a kidnapping at Los Alamos, New Mexico.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Former Paramount editor Jerry Hopper (“Blueprint for Robbery”/”Naked Alibi”/”Smoke Signal”) makes his directorial debut in this competently directed and well-paced low-budget Cold War psychological thriller about a kidnapping at Los Alamos, New Mexico. It’s tautly written by Sydney Boehm, who keeps the B-movie melodrama mostly set in the claustrophobic nuclear research community and ratches up the tension making a routine hostage story more exciting (for example; there’s the FBI tail of a suspected kidnapper at a crowded baseball game in Los Angeles). The film opened to positive reviews, and it was a modest box office success as a sleeper film.

On a school field trip to Santa Fe to visit the Fiesta Day carnival the energetic Tommy Addison (Lee Aaker), the young son of acclaimed nuclear physicist Dr. Frank Addison (Gene Barry), is kidnapped. Frank and his caring wife Martha (Lydia Clarke) receive a telegram telling them their son has been snatched and not to call the police but to give them a plan for the H-bomb or Tommy will be harmed. Undercover FBI agent Russ Farley (Michael Moore), the boyfriend of Tommy’s elementary teacher Ellen (Nancy Gates), discovers the kidnapping as he checks out the nervous Frank after Ellen told him that Tommy was missing on the trip. The investigation is headed by Inspector Harold Mann (Milburn Stone) of the FBI, who frankly tells the father that the first priority is that no top secret information is passed to enemy agents and their last priority is Tommy (as harshly as that may sound, it’s SOP in priorities for a kidnapping case like this one that involves national security).

It’s a cat-and-mouse nail-biter until the climax, which is played out along the mountain mesas surrounding Santa Fe where the Commie kidnappers hid Tommy at the Puye Indian ruins in the New Mexico desert and are about to kill him because dad sent them a phony atomic formula to stall for more time.