The Beginning or the End (M-G-M), the first full-length movie to grapple with the atom bomb, was given its title, inadvertently, by Harry Truman. When the picture was proposed, the President (as well as MGM's pressagent can remember) remarked: "Make it a good movie. . . . This is either the beginning or the end." The M-G-M boys undoubtedly did their best, under great difficulties; but, also undoubtedly, they didn't make a very good movie.
Their difficulties, indeed, are more interesting than the finished product. Both Paramount and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer wanted to make the picture. When it was agreed that Metro would make it, the troubles had only started. First of all, there were big problems of security. And it is obviously impossible to make a free-swinging, forceful picture if every foot of it has to satisfy the official and personal tastes of numerous politicians, brasshats and scientists. Casting was difficult, too. Eleanor Roosevelt was uneasy about any actor's portraying her late husband.* In the first version, it developed that Actor Roman Bohnen's bearing (as Harry Truman) was not quite "military" enough, so the Truman scenes were reshot with Actor Art Baker.
Someone in Washington also objected to a scene in which Truman first learns that the bomb is feasible and immediately decides to delete Hiroshima. (The scene now includes mention of sleepless White House nights.) M-G-M had to soothe some people who invaded territory still more remote from atomic security. A comic scene, in which Robert Walker (playing a major) makes a pass at a girl, was killed because the Army regarded it as detrimental to the dignity of a major's rank. Still another casualty was the film's only sure-fire chucklewhich had been placed, with fantastic bad taste, en route to Hiroshima. The laugh: a flyer asks, "Is it true that if you fool around with this stuff long enough, you don't like girls any more?" Says Robert Walker, "I hadn't noticed it."
The picture will probably do no great harm unless it discourages the making of better pictures on the same subject. But it will do no particular good either. Far from straining at the seams of security, it tells the average citizen little he doesn't already know about atomic fission. Of the peculiar terror and agony of the bomb in human terms, it tells incomparably less in two hours than certain newsreel shots of Hiroshima's survivors told in as many minutes. The treatment of the moral problems exacerbated by the bomb is once-over-lightly. Problems of atomic control (Army v. civilian, U.S. v. international) are shunned like the plague.