China Syndrome, The (1979): Relevant Nuclear Drama Starring Jack Lemmon, Michael Douglas, and Jane Fonda

Columbia (Michael Douglas IFC Production)

“The China Syndrome,” directed by James Bridges, is an engagingly effective, stylishly shot suspense melodrama about the dangers of nuclear plant.
The tale, penned by Bridges, Mike Gray and T.S. Cook, describes in quite a realistic detail some of the horrific things that could happen if we are not alert enough as to the safety procedures of our electrical generating plants that are powered by nuclear energy. 
Set in Southern California, this highly topical film, which became chillingly prophetic after the Three Mile Island accident, benefits from its high-level cast, headed by Jane Fonda, Michael Douglas and Jack Lemmon, who all give down to earth performances, devoid of their star personas.
Fonda plays Kimberly Wells, a smart, ambitious TV news reporter, who, for a change, doesn’t let her private life take over her public image. Michael Douglas is cast Richard Adams, Kimberly’s cameraman, a 1960s radical turned into a 1970s skeptic.

But perhaps best of all is Jack Lemmon, as Jack Godell, a high-level officer in the nuclear-energy station where Kimberly and her TV just happen to observe what the PR man dismisses as “a routine turbine trip.”

However, digging deeper in their investigation, the reporters realize that what they had just witnessed is far from routine; it’s a “potentially costly event,” to use professional jargon. In fact, the malfunctioning could have resulted in a “meltdown”-called the China syndrome-leading to the destruction of the plant and the creation of a radioactive cloud capable of wiping the entire state of California.

Bridges and his co-writer make a compelling case, providing enough evidence to make us all more concerned, even alert, about nuclear energy and its potentially destructive implications. This is especially the case of the professionals who need to assume greater responsibility. In the course of the take, both Kimberly and Jack Godell must make moral and ethical decisions, based on their professional knowledge and skills, and also value system.
James Bridges, who previously directed the James Dean melodrama, “September 30, 1955,” makes a huge leap forward as a filmmaker of serious dramas, building suspense into his narrative from the very first scene.
It’s a testament to Bridges’ intelligence and talent as director and scribe that “The China Syndrome” is effective as a chillingly prophetic melodrama, as an anti-nuclear message picture (without hitting you over the head), and as a vastly entertaining, well-acted movie, due to the high-caliber ensemble involved.
“China Syndrome” assumed personal meaning for the stars, as Jane Fonda and Michael Douglas (who also produced the picture) were known for their social activism, and Jack Lemmon had earlier narrated am anti-nuclear documentary.
Oscar Nominations: 4
Actor: Jack Lemmon
Actress: Jane Fonda
Screenplay (Original): Mike Gray, T.S. Cook, and James Bridges
Art Direction-Set Decoration: George Jenkins, Arthur Jeph Parker
Oscar Awards: None
Oscar Context
Dustin Hoffman won the Best Actor Oscar for “Kramer Vs. Kramer,” and Sally Field the Best Actress for “Norma Rae.”
The Original Script award honored Steve Tesich for “Breaking Away,” and the Art Direction went to Bob Fosse’s stylized musical, “All That Jazz.”