Nuclear war in the United States is portrayed in a realistic and believable manner. The story is told through the eyes of a woman who is struggling to take care of her family. The entire movie takes place in a small suburban town outside San Francisco. After the nuclear attack, contact with the outside world is pretty much cut off.
Testament is a 1983 drama film based on a three page long story titled “The Last Testament” by Carol Amen (1934-1987), directed by Lynne Littman and written by John Sacret Young. The film tells the story of how one small suburban town near the San Francisco Bay Area slowly falls apart after a nuclear war destroys outside civilization.
Originally produced for the PBS series American Playhouse, it was given a theatrical release instead by Paramount Pictures (although PBS did subsequently air it a year later). The cast includes Jane Alexander, William Devane, Leon Ames, Lukas Haas, Roxana Zal and, in small roles shortly before a rise in their stardom, Kevin Costner and Rebecca De Mornay. Alexander was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance.
About the Story
The Wetherly family—husband Tom (William Devane), wife Carol (Jane Alexander), and children Brad (Ross Harris), Mary Liz (Roxana Zal), and Scottie (Lukas Haas)—live in the fictional suburb of Hamelin, California, within a 90-minute drive of San Francisco, where Tom works.
On a routine afternoon, Carol (a stay-at-home mom and volunteer for school functions such as directing the school play) listens to an answering-machine message from Tom saying he’s on his way home for dinner. Scottie watches Sesame Street on TV as Brad adjusts the TV antenna on the roof, when the show is suddenly replaced by white noise; suddenly, a San Francisco news anchor appears onscreen, saying they have lost their New York signal and there were explosions of “nuclear devices there in New York, and up and down the East Coast.” The anchorman is cut off by the Emergency Broadcast System tone with the Civil Defense Insignia being shown on the Screen, then an announcer’s voice states that the White House is interrupting the program: “Please stand by for the President and do not use the telephone.”
At the introduction of the President of the United States (who is never seen; only the Presidential Seal is shown on the TV), the phone rings but it goes dead along with the TV and electricity just as Carol answers it. Suddenly, the blinding flash of a nuclear detonation is then seen through the window. The family huddles on the floor in panic as the town’s air-raid sirens go off; minutes later, several of their neighbors are running around on the street outside, dazed in fear and confusion. The family hopes Tom will return, but the circumstances are hard to ignore.
The suburb of Hamelin survives relatively unscathed, because apparently the town is far enough from San Francisco to avoid blast damage. Frightened residents meet at the home of Henry Abhart (Leon Ames), an elderly ham radio operator. He has made contact with survivors in rural areas and internationally, and tells Carol that he was unable to reach anyone east of Keokuk, Iowa; a radio report told of a conjectured errant bomb hitting Yosemite National Park, causing trees and rocks to fall from the sky like rain.
He reveals that the entire Bay Area and all major U.S. cities are radio-silent. The morning after the attack, they are joined by a child named Larry (Mico Olmos) who tells Carol his parents never returned home from San Francisco (he was alone all night); he is soon part of the family, but later succumbs to radiation poisoning. Despite Abhart’s efforts, no one knows or finds out the reason for the attack nor the responsible parties. Rumors from other radio operators range from a Soviet preemptive strike to terrorism.
Directed by: Lynne Littman
Starring: Jane Alexander, William Devane, Rossie Harris, Roxana Zal, Lukas Haas, Philip Anglim, Lilia Skala, Rebecca De Mornay
Screenplay by: John Sacret Young
Production Design by: David Nichols
Cinematography by: Steven Poster
Film Editing by: Suzanne Pettit
Costume Design by: Julie Weiss
Set Decoration by: Waldemar Kalinowski
Art Direction by: Linda Pearl
Music by: James Horner
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures
Release Date: November 4, 1983