The 1950s were a time when kids in U.S. schools did “duck-and-cover” exercises in case of a nuclear attack, and the whole world was caught in the grip of The Cold War and the fear of atomic warfare. It was in this jittery climate that Oklahoma-born comic genius Blake Edwards conceived the goofy annihilation farce “The Atomic Kid.” (due out on DVD Tuesday).
The goofy concept must have had queasy resonance in 1954, when Edwards' story was directed for the big screen by TV veteran Leslie H. Martinson, whose credits, appropriately enough, include “The Six Million Dollar Man” and “The Bionic Woman”
“The Atomic Kid” stars Mickey Rooney as Barnaby “Bix” Waterberry, an itinerate uranium prospector who, along with his partner Stan (Robert Strauss), goes searching for riches in the remote Nevada desert.
One day, the miners stumble onto a mock town constructed by the Army for a big atomic bomb test. As Stan wanders off to find some sign of life, Bix rummages through a full-stocked house and settles down to eat a peanut butter and sardine sandwich.
Suddenly — bam! — the a-bomb test is triggered and Bix, caught in the blast, somehow manages to survive seemingly unscathed.
But, the blast renders him a radioactive “atomic kid” and an instant celebrity. The rest of the tale involves Bix's comical recovery, his crush on an attending nurse (played by Rooney's wife Elaine Devry) and his working with the FBI to break up an enemy spy ring.
Be sure to stay around for the end, which features a forehead-slapping punch line like the ones Edwards made a signature in his slapstick “Pink Panther” movies.
“The Atomic Kid” is not rated and runs 86 minutes. It's being released by Olive Films.
— Dennis King