Film Review: Ladybug Ladybug (dir by Frank Perry)

Long before he played the long-suffering Mr. Feeney on Boy Meets World, William Daniels made his film debut as another school principal in the 1963 film, Ladybug Ladybug.

In Ladybug Ladybug, Daniels plays Mr. Calkins and he’s got a lot more to worry about than just some unstable student with an unhealthy fixation on a girl that he’s gaslighted into loving him.  No, Mr. Calkins has to deal with the very real possibility that a nuclear war might break out at any second.  One day, when an imminent nuclear attack warning signal goes off, no one can be sure whether or not it’s real or if it was an accident.  However, Mr. Calkins takes no chances.  He dismisses school for the day and tells all of the students to go home.

However, there’s a problem.  The school is in a rural area and most of the students live several miles away.  Because it’s early in the day, there aren’t any school buses running.  The children will have to walk home.  To make sure that the kids get to safety, they’re divided into groups.  A teacher is assigned to each group, tasked with keeping the children calm and making sure they reach their houses.

It’s a long walk and the countryside is deathly quiet.  Some of the children talk about what’s going to happen if there really is a war.  Others, being too young to understand the seriousness of the situation, treat it all like a game.  As each child reaches their house, they have to deal with parents who are more concerned about why their child has come home early than the fact that there might be a war about to break out.

Back at the school, Mr. Calkins and a few remains teachers wait.  One teacher tries to clean up her classroom, all the while realizing that there’s a chance that the classroom will never be used again.

And we, the viewers, keep waiting for a bomb to drop or, at the very least, some sort of clarification about what’s really happening.  We wait in vain.  The film’s ending is harrowing but, at the same time, ambiguous.  Is the world ending or are the children going to wake up in the morning and head back to school?  It all depends on how you interpret the film’s final few moments.

Of course, by the time we reach that ending, a group of children has already taken cover in a bomb shelter.  Unfortunately, their self-appointed leader has decided that there’s not room for all the children, which means that one girl ends up getting kicked out.  Wandering around outside, she finds an old refrigerator to hide in.  Your heart sinks as you watch her climb in and close the door behind her….

Ladbybug Ladybug is a grim film.  At times, it runs the risk of being a bit too grim.  The film definitely gets across its point but it’s so relentlessly depressing that it’s a bit difficult to sit through.  Of course, Ladybug Ladybug was filmed around the same time as the Cuban Missile Crisis so, for many viewers in 1963, the film was less an allegory and more just a record of the feelings and fears that they had to deal with every single day.  Towards the end of the film, when one of the children desperately starts to yell, “Stop!  Stop!  STOP!,” he was undoubtedly speaking for an entire generation that grew up under the shadow of mutually assured destruction.

Ladybug Ladybug was one of the many nuclear war-themed films to be released in the early 60s.  One could easily imagine it as being a companion piece to Fail Safe.  While President Henry Fonda is debating whether or not to sacrifice New York, the children are simply trying to get home.

Insomnia File No. 8: From the Hip (dir by Bob Clark)

What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!


Last night, if you discovered that you couldn’t get any sleep around two in the morning, you could have turned to Showtime and watched the 1987 film, From The Hip.

In From the Hip, Judd Nelson plays a character named Robin Weathers.  Of course, his nickname is Stormy.  Robin has just graduated from law school and is working at a prestigious law firm.  He’s ambitious, he’s outspoken, and he’s totally frustrated.  As his co-workers (played, quite well, by David Alan Grier and Dan Monahan) continually remind him, nobody gets to try a case during their first year out of law school.  They advise him to be patient and to wait his turn.

However, a man who is capable of being patient would not be nicknamed Stormy.  It just wouldn’t make any sense.  So, Stormy Weathers schemes his way into the courtroom.  One morning, he intentionally withholds information from the senior partners, going out of his way to keep them from realizing that a trial is scheduled to begin that afternoon.  When senior partner Craig Duncan (Darren McGavin) discovers what Stormy has done, he fires him and makes sure that he never get hired at another law firm … oh wait.  No, he doesn’t because that would make too much sense.  Instead, he allows Stormy to try the case because, at this point, Stormy is the only one who knows anything about it.

The case is a simple assault case that involves two bankers and should be resolved easily but Stormy manages to drag it out for several days and his flamboyant style catches the attention of the media.  The other partners in the law firm — who are all old and boring — want to fire Stormy but Stormy’s client says that, if Stormy is fired, he’ll take his business and his money elsewhere.  Stormy becomes a minor celebrity but — in a rather clever little twist — it turns out that he and the prosecuting attorney are old friends from law school and they conspired to make each other look good.

Anyway, Stormy is now so famous that he gets assigned to defend a college professor, named Benoit (John Hurt), who has been accused of murder.  When it quickly becomes obvious that Benoit is not only guilty but will probably murder again, Stormy is forced to choose between ambition and morality…

When my friend Evelyn and I first started to watch From the Hip last night, I really thought I was going to hate it.  The hot pink neon credits screamed, “Bad 80s movie!” and, because I happen to know quite a few lawyers, I tend to be a 100 times more critical of movies about lawyers than I am when it comes to movies about, say, homicidal fishermen.

And, honestly, From The Hip is a heavily flawed film.  Judd Nelson is miscast and the scenes with his politically conscious girlfriend (Elizabeth Perkins) are painfully shallow and reek of limousine liberalism.  But, if you can get through the weak opening, the film itself is watchable and enjoyable in a dumb sort of way.  John Hurt does a great job as a sociopath and, miscast as he may be, it’s still fun to watch Nelson go insane in court.

From The Hip is not a great film but, in its way, it’s an enjoyable little time capsule.  Believe it or not, there was a time when Judd Nelson starred in a movies that were actually released in theaters.

Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes
  7. Fair Game