We have decided that there is just way too much wonderful Oregon Film History to ignore. So, as we head into Oregon Film’s 50th anniversary year in 2018, we’ve been taking a more detailed look at the projects – both well-known and little-known – that have come from, or come to, Oregon in the last century.
So, with the help of Phil Oppenheim, who worked for twenty-five years in the trenches of network cable television before working on a doctorate within the Department of Radio-Television-Film at the University of Texas-Austin focusing on fringe broadcasting phenomena of the 1950s, we are delighted to bring you, for your weekend viewing pleasure, the first installment of a series we’re calling:
RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARCHIVE
“Ladies and gentlemen. You’ve heard the reports that enemy planes are approaching. In less than three hours, an H bomb might fall over Portland.” Portland Mayor Terry Schrunk, A DAY CALLED X.
Multnomah County successfully scared the bejeezus out of Portlanders earlier this month when it released a video simulation of what might happen to the Burnside Bridge during a major Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake – and its computer-generated, video-gamey depiction of the destruction is terrifying. The dramatization becomes even more haunting when the earth-shaking starts and the computer-generated Sim Portlanders disappear from the scene; the video spares us the sight of the city’s denizens getting squashed under tons of debris, but I still wonder: where did all the people go?
Sixty years ago, CBS threw greater devastation Portland’s way — in the form of an atomic bomb dropped on the City of Roses — in a dramatized documentary called THE DAY CALLED X, but its focus isn’t on falling bridges or decimated downtown buildings, but on the city’s people. Bona fide celebrity Glenn Ford hosts the show, but it’s really Portland’s citizens that are its stars, stoically facing bomb-carrying planes that are only three hours away. Working stiffs, stay-at-home moms shuffling kids off to school, auto mechanics, cops, ambulance drivers, hospital staff members, and crossing guards are among the real-life heroes of the orderly, civilized evacuation that saves most of the population in the film, with nary a freak-out or panic attack among the people at the center of the Bomb’s bullseye. Watching THE DAY CALLED X today feels like a combo of a gritty film noir procedural and campy ‘50s drive-in sci-fi flick; a testament to the city’s much-lauded Civil Defense planning on the one hand and a laughable example of ‘50s “Duck and Cover” nuclear naivete on the other. By the early ‘60s Portland’s nuclear evacuation plan was scrapped (thanks in part to the unsurvivable lethality of the world’s growing nuclear-arms stockpile) and the Kelly Butte Civil Defense bunker that provides the location for the command center sequences was decommissioned (and eventually sealed off in 2006), but the quiet heroism of the Oregonians in THE DAY CALLED X still resonates today.
– by Phil Oppenheim