Dissertations and Theses @ UNI


Open Access Thesis


Nuclear warfare in motion pictures--History.; Communists in motion pictures--History.; Civil defense--United States--History--20th century.; Civil defense; Communists in motion pictures.; Nuclear warfare in motion pictures.; United States; 1900-1999; Academic theses.; History;


This thesis looks at nuclear films, commercial and governmental, that were released between 1951 and 1964. Special attention is paid to the recursivity that existed between the propagandic, often outrageously inaccurate Civil Defense films made by the United States government and the subversive popular films made by visionary dissidents.

The films are divided into three periods. The earliest period focuses on Samuel Fuller's Pickup on South Street and the Robert Aldrich 's Kiss Me Deadly (based on the novel by Mickey Spillane), along with some of the earliest Civil Defense films. Special attention is paid to the politically minded creation of the Civil Defense Bureau, as well as how the governmental films grounded their exploitative power in patriotism, fear, and the supposedly manifest goodness of the American government.

The second period focuses on the liberalization of the post-McCarthyist film industry and the production of more overtly antinuclear films, including the chilling On the Beach. This era of dissent, punctuated by frank discussions of the danger of nuclear war, segues into critical readings of nuclear war that focus on the uniquely theoretical danger that a potential all-out nuclear exchange poses, pinning much of the danger of nuclear war on the very existence of nuclear discourse.

Year of Submission


Degree Name

Master of Arts


Department of Languages and Literatures


Department of English Language and Literature

First Advisor

James O'Loughlin


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Date Original


Object Description

1 PDF file (75 pages)



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