American Playhouse

Season 4 Episode 1


Aired Tuesday 9:00 PM Nov 26, 1984 on PBS
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  • 22 Years Before Jericho there was Testament. This is the best study of the effects of nuclear war EVER made.

    Testament was a breakthrough movie for two reasons. It actually was commissioned as an episode of PBS's American Playhouse. When it was finished, PBS thought that it was too good for television and released it in movie theaters. It was a major hit and garnered Jane Alexander a Best Actress Oscar nomination (she should have won). The second breakthrough was the first film to deal with a nuclear attack from the survivor's point of view without saying who sent the missiles or bomb. All other films before that and even after assigned blame, this did not care what the cause was just the effect. Hamelin, California is a small suburb of San Francisco. It is a typical small town of any large city. The Wetherly's are a typical suburban family with father Tom (William DeVane) and mother Carol (Jane Alexander). They have three children, the oldest Mary Liz (Roxana Zal), the middle child Brad (Brad Harris) and the baby Scottie (Lucas Haas). The family has their problems but nothing too crucial or untypical for suburban family. You might expect this to be a film about adultery or a family coping with loss. But this is a film about something more compelling. The family is watching TV when an alert comes on just saying that nuclear bombs have been exploded on the east coast. Then a bright flash occurs. No one knows what happened for sure. The community is confused but everyone is okay. Then they go into survival mode. Two weeks have past and those remaining try to restore normal life. But the fallout is starting to have its effects on the population. Survival turns to desperation then to despair. People continue to die. The first in the family to show signs is Scottie and he goes first. Larry, a neighbor kid that was staying with them is next. He is then followed Mary Liz. Hiroshi's father leaves and Brad brings him home. Things are getting bleaker Carol is showing signs and so is Brad. They decide to end it but cannot carry it through. The film ends on Brad's birthday (2 months from the explosion) with a note of hope. This is a film of little moments. When the family goes to get gas, Mike (Mako) tells them that it's free to regulars. Carol invites him and his son to dinner to repay. Mike tells he has been repaid many times by her family's kindness. The school play, The Pied Piper of Hamlin, is performed with all the children being taken away. There is a devastating scene where Mary Liz asks her mother about love knowing that she will never experience it. I saw this in the theater and was blown away by this film and it is just a potent on television. It's also interesting to see some early work by future stars like Kevin Costner and Rebecca DeMornay as newlyweds with a baby and Philip Anghlim, fresh off his Tony Award as the Elephant Man, as the pastor. William DeVane as the father had success in television movies in the 70's but would not gain fame until Knot's Landing a few years away. And the film has character performances by some great older actors like Lilia Skala (Oscar nominee of Lilies of the Field), Leon Ames (Mr. Ed) and Mako (Oscar nominee for Sand Pebbles and founder of East/West Players). By the way, The Day After got much more publicity when it aired on television but this film is 100 time better.moreless

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