#72) Duck and Cover (1952)

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#72) Duck and Cover (1952)

OR “A Nuclear and Present Danger”

Directed by Anthony Rizzo

Written by Raymond J. Mauer

Class of 2004

The Plot: An educational short in which Bert the Turtle (voiced by Carl Ritchie) and a disembodied voice (Robert Middleton) teach children that in the event of an atomic bomb, the best thing to do is “duck and cover”.

Why It Matters: The NFR calls the film a “landmark…seen by millions of schoolchildren in the 1950s.” An essay by civil defense film expert Jake Hughes gives a detailed history of the film, as well as more historical context.

But Does It Really?: We can laugh about it now and write films like these off as propaganda, but the threat of nuclear war was very real and permeated America’s entire post-war era. “Duck and Cover” is one of many films that taught safety during an attack, but this is easily the best known and most-watched of them all. The film is included on the Registry with a stronger historical significance than most other films.

Wow, That’s Dated: Ummm…the entire thing?

Take a Shot: Oh no, please don’t make “Duck and Cover” a drinking game. For God’s sake it’s got a jingle!

Seriously, Oscars?: How that jingle didn’t even get a Best Song nomination is beyond me. I still got the damn thing stuck in my head.

Other notes

  • Archer Productions? Well any area attacked by the bomb would be considered a “danger zone”.
  • This is the film that dares to ask the question; Who gave that monkey a stick of dynamite?
  • “People who are walking”. Did they honestly think grade school kids wouldn’t know the word “pedestrian”?
  • Yes, just ask any older person to help you. They’re all qualified to do so, don’t ever question it!
  • So according to this film, protecting myself from the bomb is almost identical to protecting myself from an earthquake. Got it.

Legacy

  • According to Jake Hughes, “Duck and Cover” stopped being circulated to schools around 1957, though many schools and churches with their own purchased copy continued screening the film well into the Cold War’s resurgence in the 1980s.
  • The team that made “Duck and Cover” also worked on another Nuclear-era warning film; the more adult-oriented, noir-esque “Our Cities Must Fight”.
  • Bert the Turtle went into quiet retirement, occasionally being bothered by children asking about Tootsie Pops.
  • Sam Beckett used “Duck and Cover” to save a ‘50s family on an episode of “Quantum Leap”. But even that leap wasn’t the leap home.
  • In 2015, “Duck and Cover” got the Rifftrax treatment.
  • “Duck and Cover” shares a title with my rejected buddy cop screenplay. Frank Cover is a no-nonsense, by-the-book detective paired up with… a duck. I never got further than that.
  • So it turns out that even if you do “duck and cover” during a nuclear attack, you would still probably be killed. So if the bomb ever drops on me, I’m just gonna crank up the Vera Lynn and kiss my sorry butt goodbye.

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