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Atomic Kid, The (Blu-ray Review)

15 Apr, 2013 By: Mike Clark

$24.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray
Not rated.
Stars Mickey Rooney, Robert Strauss, Elaine Davis, Bill Goodwin.

“Do you think Mickey even remembers making The Atomic Kid?” It’s a question recently posed by my best friend who, as I did, watched this cluelessly irresponsible farce on TV as a kid, when it was shown all the time on Ohio local TV and no doubt every other market as well by whichever assuming some station owned the Republic Pictures package. Given that more than one public Rooney utterance from the last 20-30 years has been kind of “out there,” — including the one that Mickey Mouse was named after him — it’s not an illogical question, though, actually, this is a tough movie to forget. And in Rooney’s case, he had a production credit here, and the movie’s stunner of a leading lady was his then-wife Elaine Davis, who is actually listed as “Mrs. Mickey Rooney” in the opening credits. She probably wishes her name had been rendered in disappearing ink because wedding Rooney in those days was never a percentage move.

The young Blake Edwards (a year before he started directing) has a story credit — and there’s one bit where Rooney walks through a kitchen door and experiences some sort of horrific violence we hear but don’t see, which sounds like Edwards. Of course, it’s only a few minutes of screen time after this that Rooney survives a nuclear blast — the desert house with the kitchen being one of those atomic testing sites full of crash-test dummies and real TVs and food to simulate real-life conditions. Instead of being obliterated in this nearly direct hit, Rooney merely turns radioactive in a cool kind of way — as demonstrated by the scene I’ve always remembered where he walks past slot machines in a casino that immediately begin spewing coins the way John Wayne’s does at the end of Donovan’s Reef. Somewhat coincidentally, the year after Kid opened, it is likely that future cancer victims Wayne, Susan Hayward, Dick Powell, Pedro Armendariz and more did themselves no good by shooting The Conqueror on location in the same kind of polluted desert setting.

Looking backwards, John Hersey’s Hiroshima had been published eight years earlier, so it isn’t as if detailed reportage about nuclear explosions and their effects even on survivors was unchartered territory. Though do remember that this was the period of “duck and cover” protections from nuclear holocaust — which included counsel from Bert the Turtle, the civil defense cartoon figure whose screen stardom was briefly renewed when that great documentary The Atomic Café came out in 1982. Everything here is a lark, which is part of the movie’s demented fascination — though it now comes off as funny/weird instead of funny/ha-ha (which is how I definitely took it on TV in the very early ‘60s).

Rooney’s co-star was Robert Strauss, who was briefly hot at the time, having just come off an Oscar nomination for his unforgettable performance (with unforgettable long underwear) as “Animal” in Billy Wilder’s Stalag 17. A good team, the two do more for the dialogue here than it does for them, and it also helps to have once-familiar faces such as Bill Goodwin and Hal March in smaller roles, though let’s not overstate the case for a movie that played the bottom half of double bills. The one thing easy to understate is how good-looking actress Davis was, though it wouldn’t be long before (as Elaine Devry) she’d be playing a rather pitiful type who has to compete with Stella Stevens in 1961’s Man-Trap, which, matter of fact, Olive distributes as well.

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