Thursday, March 10, 2016

Glutton for Punishment: Atomic War Bride

by JB
We’re in love—it’s impossible to die!”
--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!
Atomic War Bride is such a… pleasant surprise. Really! Nestled as it is inside of a Something Weird Video double feature exploitation DVD, I wasn’t expecting this little gem of a dark comedy. I started this new column as an excuse—a motivation to plow through the stacks of largely forgotten exploitation films which I am continually compelled to add to my collection. My expectations are never high for these little masterpieces, but Atomic War Bride is so smart, so funny, so unique, and so terrifying… I certainly got my nine bucks’ worth with this one. This film is a diamond in the rough.
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!
The Plot In Brief: John Johnson (Antun Vrdoljak) is excited because he is about to be married. His country is suddenly plunged into war, which proves an inconvenience. He winds up marrying his beloved Maria (Ewa Krzyzewska) just as the enemy bombs the church. Pressed into service for his country, John must forgo his honeymoon to fight in the war. Will John and Maria ever be reunited? Will John and Maria’s home country be bombed back into the Stone Age?

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.
Extras on this disc are bountiful and include the second feature This Is Not A Test, an efficient programmer from the early 1960s in which a local sheriff organizes people into an ad hoc community after a nuclear blast, and dozens of ’50s civil defense shorts (including the previously mentioned “Duck and Cover”) that were intended to keep people safe, but probably wound up scaring the shit out of more little children than any horror film ever made. (“Because you see, kids, THAT ATOMIC BLAST CAN OCCUR AT ANY TIME!!”)
My friend, you have now read this column, based on my own sworn testimony. Can you prove that this film doesn’t exist? Perhaps on your way home, someone will pass you in the dark, and you will never know it, but he may be Veljko Bulajic, the director of Atomic War Bride. Clap him on the shoulder and congratulate him (in Croatian)! Many scientists believe that strange movies are being filmed at this very moment. We once laughed at fire, the wheel, gravity, the horseless carriage, the telephone, the electric light, and the atomic bomb. So much laughter! And now some of us laugh at movies. God help us in the future.

God help John and Maria…

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