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DAY AFTER TRINITY, THE(director/writer: Jon Else; screenwriters: David Webb Peoples/Janet Peoples; editors: David Webb Peoples/Ralph Wikke; music: Martin Bresnick; cast: Paul Frees (Narrator), J. Robert Oppenheimer (Himself, archive footage); Runtime: 89; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Janet Peoples; Image Entertainment; 1981)
“It’s a most thoughtful documentary on the dangers of nuclear war… .”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Jon Else (“Wonders Are Many: The Making of Doctor Atomic”) directs this historically important documentary on J. Robert Oppenheimer, the man who was the driving force in building the world’s first atomic bomb. It tells of how the brilliant Jewish scientist, the New York raised professor of quantum mechanics at Berkeley and Cal Tech, was recruited to serve at Los Alamos, New Mexico, to be the scientist director of the Manhattan Project, and how he recruited the best scientific minds to come to this secret location in the desert, in the middle of nowhere, and dedicate themselves starting in 1942 to building the bomb before the Nazis did. Though Oppenheimer was a leftist and an advocate of peaceful world solutions, he believed if the Nazis won the war it would be the end of Western civilization and he was also aware of the German inhuman treatment of his fellow Jews. His army boss, General Leslie Groves, made sure he got a government clearance despite his suspicious past and supplied him with everything he needed to build the bomb. By 1944 there were some 6,000 people working under Oppenheimer, including civilian laborers, military men and scientists. After Germany surrendered, the people at Los Alamos continued building the bomb and first tested it in the nearby desert at a site they named Trinity. When Japan refused to surrender in July of 1945, Truman had little recourse but to end the war as soon as possible so that it would curtail American casualties. The first bomb was dropped in Hiroshima and in 9 seconds killed 100,000, severely wounded 40,000 and 20,000 were missing. Soon a second bomb was dropped in Nagasaki killing 80,000. These two atomic bombs forced Japan to surrender. But by 1949, our new enemy, the Communist Soviet Union, also created an atomic bomb. This began the “arms race.” Edward Teller, one of the brilliant scientists under Oppenheimer at Los Alamos, went on without his boss to build the much more powerful hydrogen bomb.

In its last part, the film focuses on how Oppenheimer fought to control the arms race and how he lost his government clearance after attacks from Senator McCarthy during the 1950s. Oppenheimer dedicated the rest of his life to anguishing over what he did (equating himself to the Prince of Death) and continued to be a strong voice opposed to developing these WMD that could bring doom to the world. Oppenheimer believed the best time for ending the nuclear arms race was the day after Trinity, and his team made a mistake with going forth with the effort—especially since Germany had already surrendered.

It’s a most thoughtful documentary on the dangers of nuclear war, has dazzling footage of the Bomb in action and contains the best archival footage of what Los Alamos actuality looked like during its heyday.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”