Though he’s better known today for the cult classic Mommie Dearest (1981) and being the uncle of pop superstar Katy Perry, Frank Perry was once known as one of the prescient independent filmmakers working in Hollywood. He and his wife Eleanor made waves with their debut feature David and Lisa (1962), which earned both of them an Oscar nomination for their screenplay and Frank an Oscar nod for Best Director; for their follow up, the couple had Cold War paranoia in their sights with Ladybug Ladybug. Kino has licensed the movie from MGM – the film’s current rights holder – for its home video debut.
The Production: 4.5/5
The calm of a beautiful day is shattered when a rural elementary school’s early warning alarm system goes off, signaling that a nuclear strike may be imminent. Not sure whether or not this is a false alarm, the school’s principal (William Daniels) sends the students home in groups with a teacher leading the way. One group lead by Mrs. Andrews (Nancy Marchand) has a building sense of dread about the supposedly impending nuclear holocaust; when some of the children in that group does reach a bomb shelter, the dread hasn’t gone away and there’s still uncertainty about whether or not World War III has started…
Though there have been many films that’ve speculated on the prospect of nuclear war, few touch upon the intimate scale quite like Ladybug Ladybug. Frank and Eleanor Perry looked to an actual incident at a California elementary school as the basis for their film and decided to focus on the psychological aspect of the story. The result is one of the most emotionally tense movies to deal with the domestic side of Cold War nuclear paranoia, occasionally easing with some moments like the kids singing a song and playing during their walk home. While it may be a bit languid in pacing, it’s effective in building said tension about the uncertainty surrounding the alarm; this is more pronounced in scenes showing how each of the children react to the idea of a nuclear holocaust. While it’s not always mentioned in the same breath as On the Beach (1959), Fail Safe (1964) and Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) in terms of most memorable movies dealing with the fears of nuclear war, Ladybug Ladybug deserves to be mentioned amongst them for its straight arrow approach in detailing how these fear affect people psychologically rather than politically; it’s truly one of the hidden gems of 1960’s filmmaking.
The majority of the cast here came from Broadway and TV backgrounds, but some would go on to much greater fame. William Daniels, playing the school principal in his feature film debut, would later achieve success on TV as the voice of KITT in Knight Rider, Dr. Mark Craig in St. Elsewhere and Mr. Feeny in Boy Meets World. Also appearing in her first movie is Estelle Parsons in a brief walk on part as the mother of one of the distraught students; she would later win a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Bonnie and Clyde (1967) and has become known on TV as Beverly Harris in recurring appearances on the sitcoms Roseanne and The Conners. In what was her second feature film role, Nancy Marchand makes a memorable impression – in what is likely the most prominent role amongst the adults in the movie – as the increasingly dread filled Mrs. Andrews, the chaperone of the main group of children; she achieved much of her success on the stage and small screen, winning 4 Emmy Awards for her work on TV’s Lou Grant and a Golden Globe Award for her work on The Sopranos. Rounding out the cast here among the adults are Jane Connell as the school dietician, Jane Hoffman as the school’s art teacher, Kathryn Hays as the school’s secretary, James Frawley (later a director in his own right) as the truck driver who picks up Mrs. Andrews towards the end of the film, Richard Hamilton as the father of one of the students and Judith Lowry as the grandmother of another students; amongst the kids, standouts include Miles Chapin as Joel, Christopher Howard as Steve, Alan Howard as Luke, Linda Meyer as JoAnn, and Marilyn Rogers as Sarah.
3D Rating: NA
The film is presented in its original 1:85:1 aspect ratio, taken from a new 2K scan for this release. Film grain is organic, with gray scale and fine details given a faithful representation; there’s minimal instances of scratches, dirt, dust, warping or tears present here. Overall, this is likely the best the movie will ever look on home video.
The film’s original mono soundtrack is presented on a DTS-HD Master Audio track for this release. Dialogue is strong and clear, with the sound mix and sparse – yet effective – Bob Cobert score also given equally faithful representation as well. There’s minimal to no instances of flutter, crackling, hissing or distortion present, which means that this release likely represents the best the movie will ever sound on home video.
Special Features: 3/5
Commentary by film historian Richard Harland Smith – Recorded for this release, Smith talks about the movie’s production history, its cast and crew and the real life incident which inspired this movie.
Teaser Trailer (0:44)
Bonus KLSC Trailers – Diary of a Mad Housewife, Doc & Hello Again
While it was overlooked by audiences upon first release (probably because it cut a little too close to the bone too soon), Ladybug Ladybug is a brilliant underrated gem of a drama that’s worthy of reappraisal today. Kino’s Blu-ray release should aid in that reappraisal with a great HD transfer and a highly informative commentary track as a special feature. Very highly recommended.
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