The Beginning or the End
|The Beginning or the End|
1947 theatrical poster
|Directed by||Norman Taurog|
|Produced by||Samuel Marx|
|Written by||Frank "Spig" Wead (screenplay)
Robert Considine (story)
|Music by||Daniele Amfitheatrof|
|Edited by||George Boemler|
|Distributed by||Loew's Inc.|
The Beginning or the End (aka Atom Bomb, The Manhattan Project and Top Secret) (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 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 Tinian. 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.[Note 1]
- Brian Donlevy as Major General Leslie R. Groves
- Robert Walker as Colonel Jeff Nixon
- Tom Drake as Matt Cochran
- Beverly Tyler as Anne Cochran
- Audrey Totter as Jean O'Leary
- Hume Cronyn as Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer
- Hurd Hatfield as Dr. John Wyatt
- Joseph Calleia as Dr. Enrico Fermi
- Godfrey Tearle as President Franklin D. Roosevelt
- Victor Francen as Dr. Marre
- Richard Haydn as Dr. Chisholm
- Jonathan Hale as Dr. Vannevar Bush
- John Litel as K. T. Keller
- Henry O'Neill as General Thomas F. Farrell
- Warner Anderson as Captain William S. Parsons
- Barry Nelson as Colonel Paul Tibbets, Jr., pilot of the Enola Gay
- Art Baker as President Harry S. Truman
- Ludwig Stossel as Dr. Albert Einstein
The idea for The Beginning or the End originated in October 1945 with Donna Reed, a Hollywood actor, and her high school science teacher, Edward R. Tompkins, a chemist at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. According to the December 1945 and January 1946 Hollywood Reporter, MGM, Paramount and 20th Century-Fox were all interested in making a film about the Manhattan Project. Paramount's Hal B. Wallis was already working on his own version, titled Top Secret, but agreed to merge his project with MGM's and hand over his story and research, offering to serve as an adviser on the MGM treatment in return for a fixed fee and a percentage of the box office gross.
The Beginning or the End had a number of working titles, including Atom Bomb, The Manhattan Project and Top Secret. Bob Considine was hired to produce a treatment, which he sent to the studio script writers. The script underwent a number of revisions, with Ayn Rand being one of the writers. Her contributions include the montage of Hitler's conquests, a sequence in which a dying informant sends a message to Albert Einstein, and the sequence in which President Franklin Roosevelt authorizes the Manhattan Project. Other writers involved with the script were Robert Smith, Frank "Spig" Wead, Norman Krasna, David Hawkins, John Lee Mahin and Glenn Tryon. Producer Samuel Marx wrote the opening narration. Marx and Donna Reed's husband Tony Owen met with President Harry S. Truman to secure his approval. At their meeting, Truman is reported to have said: "Gentlemen, make a motion picture. Tell the people of this nation that for them it is the beginning or the end," thereby supplying the movie with its title.
H. T. Wensel from the Bureau of Standards, Tompkins, and W. Bradford Shank from the Los Alamos Laboratory acted as technical advisers. Relations between MGM and the scientists soon became strained, as the scientists began asking for multiple script changes, and Tompkins eventually resigned. Oppenheimer sent David Hawkins, a philosophy professor from the University of California to act as a mediator between Marx and the scientists. Although the original intention was that a substantial sum of money would be donated to scientists' associations like the Federation of Atomic Scientists, in the end, no scientific organizations accepted any money. Tompkins received a paltry $100. At the time there was a legal requirement that permission be obtained to depict living well-known public figures. Lise Meitner, Niels Bohr and Sir James Chadwick all refused to allow their names to be used in the The Beginning or the End, which Marx regarded as unfortunate, as it made the film's Manhattan Project scenes look like an all-American affair.
The loss of Bohr caused important sequences to be deleted. The script originally had Bohr, rescued from the Germans in Copenhagen, bring a shocked Oppenheimer news that the German nuclear weapon project was supplying expertise to its Japanese counterpart. A German U-boat carrying a fictional scientist travels to Japan where he joins the Japanese project in Hiroshima. Vannevar Bush objected to the way the script depicted him as having doubts about whether the atomic bomb could be built in time or could fit into an aircraft. Bush insisted that he never had any doubts. The script was changed to soften this. In the film, when Bush tells Roosevelt that he has a top secret matter to discuss, the President's dog Fala leaves the room.
Oppenheimer raised no objection to the sequence in the film in which he told Brigadier General Thomas Farrell that the odds of a runaway explosion destroying the planet were less than one in a million, although he let MGM know it never happened. The cultured Oppenheimer's main concern was that the script was poor, with characters that were "stilted, lifeless, and without purpose or insight."
Military technical advisers for The Beginning or the End included Colonel William A. Considine, Groves's assistant in charge of in charge of Security and Public Relations, Majors Glen W. Landreth, and Major Paul Van Sloun and Lieutenant Colonel Charles W. Sweeney, the pilot of Bockscar, the bomber that dropped the second atomic bomb on Nagasaki. Scientists were alarmed by reports that the dashing actor Clark Gable was being considered for the role of Groves, but were relieved when Brian Donlevy was cast in the role, as he normally played a villain. Indeed, most of the cast were best known for film noir : Hume Cronyn for The Postman Always Rings Twice; Joseph Calleia, for Gilda and Deadline at Dawn; and Ludwig Stssel for Fritz Lang's Cloak and Dagger. Groves's cooperation was secured by hiring him as a primary consultant, for $10,000.[Note 2] The portly Groves apparently had no objection to his portrayal by the slim and handsome Donlevy, except for the way in which he was shown bossing industrialists around. He had a scene in which he warned Roosevelt that the invasion of Japan would be opposed by Japanese nuclear weapons deleted.
Eleanor Roosevelt objected to the casting of Lionel Barrymore as her late husband, due to political remarks that Barrymore had made about the president in 1944. Marx delayed Barrymore's scenes while she had a chance to read and response to a letter he sent her explaining his remarks had been misinterpreted, but she was not placated, and Barrymore was replaced in the role by Godfrey Tearle. The War Department and the White House reviewed the script, and both asked for changes. The Army had a scene where an Army major made a pass at a girl deleted, as it felt that this was poor conduct for an officer. Walter Lippmann objected to the way that Truman and Groves were shown to decide to use the bomb, which he felt was too casual, and could possibly lead to foreigners being fearful of atomic weapons being in American hands. An entirely fictional sequence was therefore added in which Truman agonizes over whether to authorize the attack or not. The motion picture censors asked for further cuts. Derogatory references to Mexicans were removed, as was an off-color joke about the effects of exposure to radioactive substances ("Is it true if you fool around with that stuff you don't like girls anymore?" "Not that I've noticed"), and a joke about politics ("I got it confidential−we're makin' the front ends of horses. We ship 'em to Washington to hook on to the other end.")
Principal photography for The Beginning or the End began on April 29, 1946, and continued until July 25 with retakes beginning on August 9, 1946. The production was premiered in Washington, D.C. on February 19, 1947, with national release of the film following on March 7, 1947.
The filmmakers put considerable effort into historical accuracy, particularly in details such as military uniforms and the details of the Enola Gay and its crew. Nine of the actors who portrayed the Enola Gay crew were actual veterans of World War II. 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, as the actual attack was not opposed. The film twice refers to specific leaflet drops on the target for 10 days in advance of the mission warning the citizens of the forthcoming raid. "We've been dropping warning leaflets on them for ten days now", one crew member remarks, "That's ten days more warning than they gave us before Pearl Harbor." There was no leaflet warning of an atomic attack. No such activity was undertaken: indeed, to have done so would have been extraordinarily hazardous to the mission. Historians have debated whether any leaflets were dropped at all.
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."  The review in Time magazine noted, "Even as entertainment ... the picture seldom rises above cheery imbecility."
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.
- Fat Man and Little Boy (1989)
- 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.
- 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".
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- The Beginning or the End at the TCM Movie Database
- The Beginning or the End at the Internet Movie Database
- The Beginning or the End at AllMovie
- Film lobby poster