Frank Capra’s Science Film The Unchained Goddess Warns of Climate Change in 1958

Last month, we highlighted for you The Strange Case of the Cosmic Rays, a largely-forgotten 1957 educational science film. The production is notable partly because it was shot by Frank Capra, the influential director who had won not one, not two, but three Oscars for best director. And also because the film featured puppets of Fyodor Dostoevsky, Charles Dickens & Edgar Allan Poe. Don’t believe me? Then watch here.

But the subject of today’s post is not The Strange Case of the Cosmic Rays. It’s another of the four films that Capra created for “The Bell Laboratory Science Series.” It’s called The Unchained Goddess, and it has its own reasons for getting highlighted here.

Shown on American TV and later in US classrooms, The Unchained Goddess explains what weather is, and how weather works. And, really quite presciently, it talks about the risk of man-made climate change … in 1958. One of the narrators declares:

Even now, man may be unwittingly changing the world’s climate through the waste products of its civilization. Due to our releases in factories and automobiles every year of more than six billion tons of carbon dioxide, which helps the air absorb heat from the sun, our atmosphere may be getting warmer.

And is that bad, the question gets asked?:

Well, it’s been calculated a few degrees rise in the Earth’s temperature would melt the polar ice caps. And if this happens, an inland sea would fill a good portion of the Mississippi valley. Tourists in glass bottom boats would be viewing the drowned towers of Miami through 150 feet of tropical water. For in weather, we’re not only dealing with forces of a far greater variety than even the atomic physicist encounters, but with life itself.

Interesting dialogue, to be sure. But what makes it all the more intriguing is this: Frank Capra co-wrote the script for the film, and he was no liberal. He was a conservative Republican, who strongly opposed F.D.R. and celebrated American individualism. But Capra studied chemical engineering at Caltech and put stock in scientific research — before it became ideologically anathema to do that.

You can watch the key climate change scene from The Unchained Goddess up top, and the full film below. It’s also added to our collection, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, Documentaries & More:

Related Content:

Puppets of Dostoevsky, Dickens & Poe Star in 1950s Frank Capra Educational Film

Fee Online: Meet John Doe, Frank Capra’s Inspiring 1941 Classic

Global Warming: A Free Course from UChicago Explains Climate Change

132 Years of Global Warming Visualized in 26 Dramatically Animated Seconds

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.