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Made possible by the John H. Mitchell Television Programming Endowment

Playhouse 90: “Alas, Babylon”

Don Murray and Barbara Rush in a publicity photo for "Alas, Babylon"
December 17, 2021 - 7:30 pm

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Playhouse 90: “Alas, Babylon”

U.S., 4/3/1960

Broadcast on primetime network television two years before the Cuban missile crisis confronted the world with the possibility of a catastrophic thermonuclear war, "Alas, Babylon" provided a reported audience of 24 million viewers with a shockingly realistic dramatization of the potential horrors of the atomic age. Adapted by Tony Award-winning writer David Shaw (Redhead) from the best-selling novel by Pat Frank (nom de plume of journalist Harry Hart Frank), the Playhouse 90 production of “Alas, Babylon” unflinchingly portrays the tragic aftermath of a major nuclear conflict with the U.S.S.R, including scenes featuring a child rendered blind by a violent bomb flash and a character severely disfigured by radiation burns.

Narrated in flashback with solemn resignation by noir veteran Dana Andrews, the controversial drama was lauded and criticized for its daringly honest exploration of a scenario in which "92 percent of the world's people were killed." While the New York Times praised the "remarkably convincing" performances of an all-star cast including Don Murray, Barbara Rush and Rita Moreno, the paper decried the drama's "moral cloaked in horror," stating that it was "impossible to comprehend what good purpose could be served by… [the] terror and hysteria depicted in the program." Variety disagreed, proclaiming the broadcast as “powerful propaganda for peace.”

Screened as part of the Archive’s UCLA Festival of Preservation in 2015, Playhouse 90: “Alas, Babylon” has since become one of the most requested titles in the Archive’s collection. Please join us for this special presentation of this rare television production, presented with original commercials.

Program notes written by Mark Quigley, John H. Mitchell Television Curator.

DCP, b&w, 90 min. A CBS Television Network Production. Producer: Peter Kortner. Director: Robert Stevens. Screenwriter: David Shaw. Based on the novel Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank. With: Don Murray, Barbara Rush, Rita Moreno.

Preserved by the UCLA Film & Television Archive from the original 2 in. videotape. Video transfer at the CBS Media Exchange. Use of "Alas, Babylon" episode from Playhouse 90 courtesy of CBS Broadcasting Inc.

Watch a promotional TV spot for Playhouse 90: