Frank Addison (Gene Barry) is a nuclear physicist. He lives in Los Alamos with his wife Martha (Lydia Clarke) and their young son Tommy (Lee Aaker). Frank works on top secret projects for the government. Tommy and his friend, Peggy (Bonnie Kay Eddy), take a field trip to Santa Fe with their teacher Ellen Haskell (Nancy Gates) to enjoy the Annual Santa Fe Fiesta. During a puppet show there is a drawing for various prizes. One of the tickets that Tommy has is the winner of a new bicycle. When Tommy doesn’t respond Ellen realizes that Tommy is not at the puppet show. Peggy, who had been sitting next to him, says she doesn’t know when he left or where he went. Ellen franticly looks all around the Fiesta for him.
In the meantime, Frank has returned home from work. Shortly thereafter a telegram comes to the house telling the Addisons that Tommy has been kidnapped. The telegram tells them that they will get instructions at a dance being given that night. After they receive the telegram, they get a call from Ellen telling them that Tommy is missing. Frank pretends that he picked Tommy up at the fiesta so as not to let on that Tommy has been kidnapped. That night at the dance Ellen tells her boyfriend Russ Farley (Michael Moore) about the incident. Russ is an FBI agent working undercover as a newspaper reporter. When he finds out that Frank spent the afternoon at the hospital concerned about a colleague’s injury he realizes he never picked up Tommy and something is not right.
At the dance Frank and Martha receive another note telling Martha to be at the Santa Fe Cathedral the next day. At the Cathedral Martha receives a call at a phone booth with instructions. The kidnappers want the top secret blueprints on constructing an Atomic bomb. To buy some time Frank puts together a fake file. He is interrupted by FBI agent Inspector Harold Mann (Milburn Stone) and Agent Farley. The FBI takes over the case and tries to follow the fake file hoping to catch the leader of the kidnappers and find Tommy, but things don’t go as smoothly as they had hoped.
“The Atomic City” was released in 1952 and was directed by Jerry Hopper. It is a suspense crime thriller with espionage undertones. The movie was filmed on location in Los Alamos and the Puye Cliff Dwellings. The movie was Gene Barry’s theatrical debut and was released a year before his role as Dr. Forrester in “War of the Worlds" 1953. The title may make it sound like a science fiction movie but it is more of an espionage thriller and a drama. Instead of wanting money, the kidnappers want secrets. The movie is fast paced, taut and well done. It is an interesting cold war story and a bit of propaganda U.S. style.
The Atomic City is a reference to Los Alamos, New Mexico, a top-secret research facility. The gated community was home to scientists and their families. In essence it was a company town where scientists built the atomic bomb, the focus of the Manhattan Project. Much of the land to build the city was confiscated from Hispanic homesteaders and Native Americans. It was basically self-contained and included a hospital, schools and churches. There were no private businesses. The entire town was run by the Army Corps of Engineers.
The Puye Cliff Dwellings are ruins of an abandoned Pueblo village. The Cliff Dwellings were home to about 1,500 Pueblo natives between 900 and 1580 A.D. The dwellings were designated a National Historic Landmark in 1966.