The Beginning or the End

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The Beginning or the End
The Beginning or the End 1947 poster.jpg
1947 Theatrical Poster
Directed by Norman Taurog
Produced by Samuel Marx
Written by Frank Wead
Robert Considine (story)
Starring Brian Donlevy
Hume Cronyn
Robert Walker
Audrey Totter
Tom Drake
Hurd Hatfield
Music by Daniele Amfitheatrof
Cinematography Ray June
Edited by George Boemler
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release dates
  • February 19, 1947 (1947-02-19)
Running time 112 min.
Country United States
Language English
Budget $2,632,000[1]
Box office $1,942,000[1]

The Beginning or the End (1947) is a docudrama film about the development of the atomic bomb in World War II, directed by Norman Taurog, starring Brian Donlevy and Hume Cronyn, and released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The film dramatizes the creation of the atomic bomb in the Manhattan Project and the subsequent bombing of Hiroshima.


In 1945, physicist and atomic scientist Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer (Hume Cronyn) praises the discovery of atomic energy, but also warns of its dangers. Earlier, American scientists such as Matt Cochran (Tom Drake ), working under the guidance of Dr. Enrico Fermi (Joseph Calleia) and Dr. Marré (Victor Francen), have split the atom, and essentially beaten the Germans in the race to create an atomic bomb. With the assistance of Albert Einstein (Ludwig Stossel), they inform President Franklin D. Roosevelt (Godfrey Tearle) that a monumental discovery has been made.

In 1941, with the United States at war, Roosevelt authorizes up to two billion dollars in the "Manhattan Project" to develop an atomic bomb. In December 1942, at the University of Chicago, under the watchful eyes of observers such as Colonel Jeff Nixon (Robert Walker) and international experts, scientists create the first chain reaction, under a stadium at the campus.

Nixon is assigned to General Leslie R. Groves (Brian Donlevy), who is placed in charge of the project. Groves has to bring together the scientific, industrial and defense communities to build the atomic bomb. In 1945, following the death of Roosevelt, the new president, Harry S. Truman (Art Baker), continues to support the atomic project, now moved to Los Alamos, New Mexico. When refined uranium-235 is obtained, the first atomic bomb is built and tested successfully in the New Mexico desert. After facing stiff resistance in the Pacific War, in July 1945, Truman orders the use of the atomic bomb against Japan.

Cochran and Nixon are assigned to accompany the crew transporting the bomb to the South Pacific. In assembling the bomb, the scientist comes into contact with radioactive material and dies. The following day, on August 6, 1945, the Enola Gay, a Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber drops an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. After the mission, Nixon returns home to break the news to Cochran's wife of her husband's death.[N 1]



The mushroom cloud over Hiroshima after the dropping of "Little Boy", the first operational atomic bomb.

Under the working title of Top Secret, the film underwent a number of revisions, with Ayn Rand being one of the contributors.[3] A number of experts from Oak Ridge and Los Alamos acted as technical advisors: Dr. H. T. Wensel, Dr. Edward R. Tompkins, Dr. David Hawkins and W. Bradford Shank. Military technical advisors included Colonel William A. Considine and Lieutenant Colonel Charles W. Sweeney, pilot of Bockscar, the bomber that dropped the second atomic bomb on Nagasaki.

Of particular importance is the role General Groves played: "Groves also played a significant role in the development of the MGM film The Beginning or the End. Indeed, after MGM won White House approval for the project, one of its first moves was to hire Groves as a primary consultant, for the then-unheard-of-fee of $10,000. MGM was authorized to depict Groves' role in the film and Groves agreed to offer his 'best cooperation' in the production of the picture."[4] [N 2]

Principal photography began on April 29, 1946, and continued until July 25, with retakes begun on August 9.[5]

Historical accuracy[edit]

The technical details of atomic processes and the bomb's design are wildly inaccurate by intention. In 1947, these details were highly classified and the true nature of the weapon could not even be hinted at. One inaccuracy, independent of necessary military secrecy, is the portrayal of anti-aircraft shells bursting around the aircraft on the bombing run. The historical and political details are also inaccurate, for propaganda purposes.[6] For example, the film twice refers to specific leaflet drops on the target for ten days in advance of the mission (75m 50s and 99m 25s into movie) warning the citizens of the forthcoming raid. No such activity was undertaken: indeed, to have done so would have been extraordinarily hazardous to the mission.


Although The Beginning or the End was the first film to depict the story of the atomic bomb, both critics and the public were confused by the attempt to merge real events in a docudrama form. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times commented, "... despite its generally able reenactments, this film is so laced with sentiment of the silliest and most theatrical nature that much of its impressiveness is marred." [7]

The Beginning or the End was an expensive commercial failure; according to MGM records, it earned $1,221,000 in the U.S. and Canada and $721,000 elsewhere resulting in a loss to the studio of $1,596,000.[1]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ The incident in the film closely approximates the death of Canadian physicist and chemist Louis Slotin, a member of the Manhattan Project who died after contact with radioactive material.[2]
  2. ^ The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb, and the Architecture of an American Myth (1996) discusses Groves' participation in the argument that the dropping of the bomb saved lives: "The minimum estimate of our losses is a half million men".[4]


  1. ^ a b c "The Eddie Mannix Ledger". Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study (Los Angeles).
  2. ^ Jungk 1958, pp. 194–196.
  3. ^ Thompson, Nathaniel. "Articles: The Beginning or the End". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved: January 20, 2014.
  4. ^ a b Alperovitz 1996, pp. 600–601.
  5. ^ "Original Print Information: The Beginning or the End". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved: January 20, 2014.
  6. ^ Roling and Cassese 1994, p. 112.
  7. ^ Crowther, Bosley. "The Beginning or the End (1947); Atomic bomb film starts at Capital; Beginning or the End, Metro study of historic weapons, has Donlevy as Groves." The New York Times, February 21, 1947.


  • Alperovitz, Gar. The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb, and the Architecture of an American Myth. New York: Randon House, 1996. ISBN 978-0-67976-285-0.
  • Jungk, Robert. Brighter than a Thousand Suns. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1958. ISBN 0-15-614150-7.
  • Roling, B. V. A. and Antonio Cassese.The Tokyo Trial and Beyond: Reflections of a Peacemonger. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishers/Polity Press, 1994. ISBN 978-0-74561-485-4.

External links[edit]