Unless you’re close to 70 years old, chances are extremely high that you’ve never seen the Playhouse 90 production of “Alas, Babylon”. But if you’re in the Los Angeles area, your chance to view this ultra-rare piece of post-apocalyptic media is coming up.
The episode is based on the seminal 1959 novel of the same name by Pat Frank. Coming just two years after Nevil Shute’s “On the Beach“, “Alas, Babylon” is one of the earliest depictions of the near-term effects of nuclear war, and follows survivors in a small town in Florida after a nuclear holocaust ravages the United States.
The live teleplay was part of the fourth season of Playhouse 90, a weekly series of live telecasts on CBS. “Alas, Babylon” was broadcast just one time, on April 3, 1960, to a reported audience of 24 million.
A review by John P. Shanley in the New York Times said, in part:
There was no question about the dramatic efficiency of the production. The terror, the bloodshed and the desolation that would follow the starting of a new war were depicted in chilling detail. An excellent cast, headed by Don Murray, Barbara Rush, Kim Hunter, Everett Sloane and Dana Andrews, gave performances that were remarkably convincing.
But it is impossible to comprehend what good purpose could be served by many of the vivid moments of terror and hysteria depicted during the program. A small child runs back to her home after a nuclear explosion, screaming “I’m blind, I’m blind.” A physician is brutally beaten by a group of addicts in search of drugs after the blasts have cut off their regular source of supply. These were just two of the harrowing incidents that were dramatized.
So, basically he hated the fact that it was shockingly realistic, which is exactly what fans of nuclear war fiction would hope for.
After that one broadcast, the episode was then completely unavailable for over 50 years until the UCLA Film & Television Archive surprised everyone with a public screening in 2015. As one of the most requested titles in the Archive, public demand for a repeat showing has been high, and the wait is nearly over for those lucky enough to be in the UCLA area.
The UCLA Film & Television Archive has announced another public screening on December 17, 2021, 7:30 p.m. at the Billy Wilder Theater at the Hammer Museum. Admission is free, but registration is required.
If I wasn’t five hours away by plane, I would definitely try to be there myself, but for now, my only hope is that it’s eventually released on home media of some sort.
But if you’re able to make it, and you have any interest at all in classic post-apocalyptic fiction, I would definitely encourage you to try to be there.
And if you do, be sure to drop a comment below, or head over to our Discord to let us know what you thought of it.