Taglines: The story of the extraordinary people who changed our world.
In September 1942, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers General Leslie Groves (Paul Newman) who oversaw construction of the Pentagon is assigned to head the ultra-secret Manhattan Project, to beat the Germans in building an atomic bomb.
Groves picks University of California, Berkeley physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer (Dwight Schultz) to head the team of the project. Oppenheimer was familiar with northern New Mexico from his boyhood days when his family owned a cabin in the area. For the new research facility, he selects a remote location on top of a mesa adjacent to a valley called Los Alamos Canyon, northwest of Santa Fe.
The different personalities of the military men Groves and the scientist Oppenheimer often clash in keeping the project on track. Oppenheimer in turn clashes with the other scientists, who debate whether their personal consciences should enter into the project or whether they should remain purely researchers, with personal feelings set aside.
Nurse Kathleen Robinson (Laura Dern) and the young physicist Michael Merriman (John Cusack) question what they are doing. Working with little protection from radiation during an experiment, Michael drops a radioactive component during an experiment dubbed Tickling the Dragon’s Tail and retrieves it by hand in order to avoid disaster, but is exposed to a lethal dose of radiation. In the base hospital nurse Kathleen can only watch as he develops massive swelling and deformation before dying a miserable death days later.
While the technical problems are being solved, military investigations are undertaken in order to thwart foreign espionage, especially from ‘communist sympathizers’ who might be associated with socialist organizations. The snooping reveals that Oppenheimer has had a young mistress, Jean Tatlock (Natasha Richardson), and he is ordered by the military to stop seeing her. After he breaks off their relationship without being able to reveal the secret reasons why, she is unable to cope with the heartache and is later found dead, apparently a suicide.
Fat Man and Little Boy (a.k.a. Shadow Makers in the UK) is a 1989 film that reenacts the Manhattan Project, the secret Allied endeavor to develop the first nuclear weapons during World War II. The film is named after the weapons “Little Boy” and “Fat Man” that were detonated over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, respectively.
The code names, originally Fat Man and Thin Man, were drawn from characters in the works of Dashiell Hammett. However, there’s a possible secondary allusion to stout project director Gen. Leslie Groves and the slim scientific director, Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer. The film focuses much attention on the frequently strained relationship between the two men.
Fat Man and Little Boy (1989)
Directed by: Roland Joffé
Starring: Paul Newman, Dwight Schultz, Bonnie Bedelia, John Cusack, Laura Dern, Ron Frazier, John C. McGinley, Natasha Richardson, Michael Brockman, John Considine
Screenplay by: Bruce Robinson
Production Design by: Gregg Fonseca
Cinematography by: Vilmos Zsigmond
Film Editing by: Françoise Bonnot
Costume Design by: Nic Ede
Set Decoration by: Dorree Cooper
Art Direction by: Larry Fulton, Peter Landsdown Smith
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures
Release Date: October 20, 1989