The China Syndrome (1979)

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I know the vibration was not normal. A lot of films depend on luck to make a success – and a matter of days after this was released there was a major incident at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania. So a story about an accident in a nuclear plant that is filmed by a TV crew that usually does soft news and how that impacts on the news cycle, the plant supervisor and potentially the wider environment, saw reality and cinema converge in the most immediate fashion.  Kimberly Wells (Jane Fonda) has nice hair and does a great job covering idiotic stuff to put at the end of the evening show in LA but wants to cover more serious stories. Cameraman Richard (Michael Douglas) and soundman Hector (Daniel Valdez) accompany her to a local nuclear plant where they witness a shudder that supervisor Jack Godell (Jack Lemmon) says should not have happened and he quarrels with colleague Ted Spindler (Wilford Brimley) about safety when the reactor is going to be cranked up. The film is stopped from being broadcast and the news crew try to protect Jack when he holes up in a motel so they can get an exclusive story. His bosses are on a mission to stop him from going public at an environmental hearing and are prepared to leave no murder attempt unturned … Written by Mike Gray, T.S. Cook and director James Bridges, this was produced by Michael Douglas, who has always recognised a zeitgeist when he’s met one. This is as much an indictment of the politics of news production as it is about the propaganda behind the supposed safety of nuclear energy. Nobody comes out of this looking good. Excellent, tense storytelling, all the more extraordinary for a total lack of music other than Stephen Bishop’s theme song: the shudder of the reactor is terrifying enough and the acting from Fonda and Lemmon is superb, embodying their emblematic images as frustrated feminist activist and sympathetic conscientious objector – and in that order!

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We’re Not Married (1952)

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A mild anthology romcom from screenwriter Nunnally Johnson whose main attraction these days is Marilyn Monroe:  she’s one half of a set of couples whose marriages are deemed null and void because Justice of the Peace Victor Moore conducted the ceremonies in the week prior to his appointment being formalised. The segments look at the effect the news has: Ginger Rogers and Fred Allen are the unhappy couple playing happily married for a huge radio audience. Marilyn is Mrs Mississippi and hubby David Wayne is fed up holding the baby so he’s only too glad to stop her disappearing to beauty pageants. Paul Douglas and Eve Arden barely speak to each other. Louis Calhern is too glad to dump gold-digger Zsa Zsa Gabor. And soldier Eddie Bracken (in a play on a role he did for Preston Sturges …) needs to remarry his pregnant bride before he ships out. If you want to see who among them remarries, you had better watch. But the payoff to really enjoy is Marilyn’s.