The Night That Panicked America

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The Night That Panicked America
Directed by Joseph Sargent
Produced by Joseph Sargent
Written by Nicholas Meyer
Starring Paul Shenar
Music by Frank Comstock
Cinematography Jules Brenner
The Culzean Corporation
Distributed by Paramount Television
Release dates
  • October 31, 1975 (1975-10-31)
Running time
92 minutes
Country United States
Language English

The Night That Panicked America is an American made-for-television movie that was originally broadcast on the ABC network on October 31, 1975. The telefilm dramatizes events surrounding Orson Welles' famous - and infamous - War of the Worlds radio broadcast (based on the novel of the same name by English author H.G. Wells) of October 30, 1938, which had led some Americans to believe that an invasion by Martians was occurring in the area near Grover Mills, New Jersey.

The Night That Panicked America tells the story of the 1938 broadcast from the point of view of Welles and his associates as they create the broadcast live, as well as from the points of view of a number of different fictional American families, in a variety of locations and from a variety of social classes, who listened to the broadcast and believed the imaginary Martian invasion was actually occurring, with some people even committing suicide.

This telefilm starred, among others, Michael Constantine, Meredith Baxter-Birney, Tom Bosley, Eileen Brennan, Vic Morrow, Will Geer, and John Ritter. Paul Shenar played Orson Welles.

Especially through the 1980s, some local stations in various areas of the United States made an annual tradition of rebroadcasting this made-for-TV movie on October 30 (the anniversary of the original radio broadcast) or on October 31 (Halloween). The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction praised the film's recreation of events in the radio studio, but was unimpressed by its depiction of the resulting panic, calling it "a routine disaster movie with hackneyed characters reacting in predictable ways."

The film was released for the first time on DVD by CBS Home Entertainment on October 28, 2014. This was the first time that the film became available in any home video format.

The Welles broadcast and the reaction to it had been earlier dramatized on network television as The Night America Trembled, a live presentation that aired September 9, 1957 on Studio One. The cast of this top-rated TV recreation of Welles' radio broadcast included Alexander Scourby, Ed Asner and Warren Oates. James Coburn made his television debut, and John Astin appeared uncredited as a reporter. In one of his earliest acting roles, Warren Beatty appeared in the bit part of a card-playing college student.

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