Ladybug, Ladybug (1963)


Directed by Frank Perry

Written by Eleanor Perry and Lois Dickert

Starring William Daniels, Kathryn Hays, Jane Hoffman

Tagline: Frank and Eleanor Perry, makers of David and Lisa, have produced a new motion picture . . . a picture dedicated to life.

Trivia: Inspired by a real life incident that occurred at a school during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Nuclear war thrillers were staples of the early 1960s, many of them became instant classics such as Dr. Strangelove and Fail SafeLadybug, Ladybug is less talked about, but no less compelling than the aforementioned films.  Unlike the other two movies, Ladybug, Ladybug is told from the perspective of children. Every child actor gave a convincing performance in a meditative film on a terrifying, but all too real, scenario.

The story begins at a rural grade school on a clear spring day.  During the Cold War era school children were subjected to air raid drills, the famous “duck and cover” cartoons instructed them to hide under their desks in case of a missile attack. On this particular day, the secretary notices an alarm going off, indicating that a nuclear attack is imminent. Uncertain of what to do and unable to get confirmation, the school staff decides to send the students home.

What follows is a series of poetic scenes of children reflecting on their own mortality. As they walk home they wonder if there will be a future. One girl’s family owns a bomb shelter (as many Americans were instructed to do at the height of the Cold War) and many of the children congregate there.  In a heart rendering scene, they decide the world should give children the right to vote on the issue of nuclear conflict. But they also argue over how to use the supplies and who should be in charge, mirroring the pettiness of the adult world. They also talk about their future plans; one girl speaks movingly of her dream to be an opera singer.

Frank Perry directed the film with a deft touch, capturing the hope and innocence of childhood, while juxtaposing it with the potential terror about to fall on them. Just as Dr. Strangelove satirized the absurdity of the Cold War, Ladybug, Ladybug looks at the psychological toll it took on children and the powerlessness of their elders in the face of such an existential threat.

Many films were made during the Cold War questioning the logic of the arms race, few more powerful than Ladybug, Ladybug.


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