--John Johnson (Antun Vrdoljak) in Atomic War Bride
We are all interested in bad movies, inexcusable cinema, worse-than-mediocre pictures, and miserable excuses for art, for that is the stuff we use to fill the empty spaces in our souls. You are interested in the unknown, the mysterious, and the unexplainable—that is why you are here. And now, for the first time, we are bringing to you the full story of some of the worst movies ever made. We are bringing you all the evidence, based only on the secret testimony of the miserable soul who survived a screening. I am that miserable soul. The absurdly low budgets, the cramped soundstages, the ridiculous plots, the inane dialogue, the risible acting—my friend, we cannot keep these a secret any longer. Let us punish the guilty. Let us reward the innocent. Remember, my friends: movies such as these will affect you in the future!
The film was made in Zagreb, Yugoslavia and imported to America. (I can hear you all saying “you had me at Zagreb.”) Its more apt title Rant (War) was changed to the more exploitable Atomic War Bride to play up its most exploitable element and deceive American drive-in moviegoers. One of the fringe benefits of enjoying this film is the insight it gives the viewer into the zeitgeist, the culture, and especially the sense of humor of another country. This “alien” quality works quite well because the film plays out like the work of Kubrick, Lynch, and Monty Python in collaboration. Cesare Zavattini wrote the script—you know, the author of Bicycle Thieves!
One thing I like about the film is its sheer variety. One scene will be realistic, the next absurd, the next horrifying, and the next hilarious—it’s a mixed bag in the best sense of the word. We are meant to take the romantic plot seriously, but tellingly, all the scenes involving war are played for laughs. At one point soldiers distribute plastic ponchos, which are meant to keep citizens safe from an atomic blast. These ponchos prove very difficult to get on. Once the townspeople (well, most of them) are wearing these absurd garments, the soldier in charge leads them in a drill to “Take the hood off. Now put it back on!” about thirty or forty times. Besides the fact that the thin plastic material doesn’t appear to even offer adequate protection from the rain, much less deadly amounts of radiation—shades of the “Duck and Cover” 1950s civil defense drills, or a more recent administration telling its citizens to guard against anthrax using duct tape—one wonders what the point of a “hoodie drill” would be. Extending the joke, as the film goes on, random extras in subsequent scenes are shown still wearing these atomic raincoats.
God help John and Maria…