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By Dawn's Early Light (1990)
"The best defense: Cut off the head of the Soviet chicken." Col. Fargo
By Dawn's Early Light is an HBO Drama starring Powers Boothe (Tombstone) and Rebecca De Mornay. As part of the strategic defense umbrella, they play a pair of pilots on a nuclear equipped B-52 Stratofortress tasked to bomb targets within the Soviet Union.
A very good take off on a similar idea to Dr Strangelove, By Dawn's Early Light contemplates a nuclear exchange between the superpowers triggered by a terrorist nuclear attack on the Soviet Union that seems to originate from Turkey, a NATO ally.
The attack is actually by some rogue Soviet officers but the Soviet automatic response directed at the USA has already left by the time the teletype comes in to the President of the US (POTUS) indicating that the Soviets will accept a limited nuclear counterstrike resulting in 6 9,000,000 deaths without retaliation. !!
Meanwhile, everyone scrambles to implement the emergency plans and the President (Martin Landau) is blinded by the nuclear flash as Washington is vaporized. All land based communications have been knocked out and the POTUS is (wrongly) presumed dead. The highest ranking cabinet official remaining alive, the Secretary of the Interior (Darren McGavin), assumes command and goes aloft in Air Force One, the main command post for Armageddon.
The airborne controllers are also aloft and managing counterstrikes via land based ICBMs, submarine launched missiles, and long range bombers - the B-52s like the one piloted by Powers Boothe. The tension is generated showing attempts to get the system to acknowledge the POTUS's commands and shut down rather than following the Secretary of Interior's hawkish prosecution of the retaliatory strike. The bomber drivers like Powers Boothe are left hovering on station wondering when they will get orders to hit strategic targets or stand down.
The part I enjoyed most about By Dawn's Early Light was the story. It focused on the system and gave a good idea of what exactly is waiting for the alarm to go off; or, "the balloon to go up," as we used to say in the Army. According to the story, there is a massive machine just waiting to trigger itself into action if the proper codes are given. You just have to wonder at what sort of minds were employed building this network, planning for every contingency, and living in this twilight world of being ever ready and yet hoping you are never triggered. I know myself that I just blocked the possibility of nuclear war out of my mind, ever since I was a boy old enough to understand the concept in the late 1950s.
The actors were good, but the production values were typical HBO, meaning less than deluxe. Direction by Jack Shoulder was good given the low bucks resources.
The story, adapted by Bruce Gilbert from the book "Trinity's Child," by William Prochinau was quite good, but I thought the love affair between the two pilots subplot was unnecessary and I guess it gave a reason for De Mornay to be there. Her role otherwise was only as a freak out when Boothe decided to follow the plan as ordered. James Earl Jones as Alice the officer in charge of the nuclear response and Martin Landau as the POTUS and Darren McGavin as the alternate POTUS were exceptionally good.
The DVD is from HBO and the movie is full screen (4x3 aspect), in color, and runs 100 minutes.
More people should see this movie.
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Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Good for a Rainy Day