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There is a long list of fine "nuclear holocaust" films-some quite serious in their posture, some with touches of humor, and even some with touches of insanity. There is also at least one movie that fails in nearly all respects to do justice to the subject matter, and my "B.W." and I, along with good friend Orville Redenbacher, had the misfortune recently to view that one: 1990's "By Dawn's Early Light". Starring the usually formidable Rebecca De Mornay as Captain (of a B-52, if one can imagine that...) Moreau, a right-seater, and the sulking, sneering sometime-hunk Powers Booth as aircraft commander "Major Cassidy".
To put this movie in a class with "Bombers B-52" or "Strategic Air Command" is both insulting to the quality of those films, and a travesty in and of itself. It is an insult to the whole genre, even granted the fact that even the best of these flicks falls short of the gamut of emotions that would be run in a real nuclear attack-counterattack scenario, which, up until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, was a real possibility. Hey, as kids, we didn't practice "duck & cover" for nuttin'! This one's just butt-ugly-as a story (based on the '83 novel "Trinity's Child") and featuring heated arguments between military brass, cabinet members, and an "interim" president (since Martin Landau, the "real" president, is hospitalized unaccountably) who is actually the Secretary of the Interior! Hey! I'm not makin' this stuff up! Martin Landau as President! And you thought Nixon was a bad choice!
The plot is at once intricate and shallow: A group of "renegade" Soviet army mugs "steal" (that's right, that's the word the director uses!) an ICBM and somehow transport it (must've had a RAM 3500 at least!) to Turkey (home of NATO forces) and launch then it toward one of their own cities. Madness, hey? Naturally, the Motherland interprets this as an attack by NATO forces, and its "Game-On". The Reds, all the while conversing with the U.S. President, weakly played by Martin Landau, launch a retaliatory strike, but only designed to do as much damage as the first missile, and no more. (Huh? Sudden trust, after being suspected of being under attack? That dog don't hunt!) Then to add another layer of incredulity, China, somehow suddenly aligned with the U.S. (maybe they could forsee a time when they didn't dare let anything happen to us, after all, we owe them so much money!), launches an attack against Russia. Suddenly the dogs of war are barking loudly, as the cities and military targets are incinerated, one by one, in all three countries. The movie purports to resemble the 1964 cult classic "Fail-Safe" which, with stars like Peter Sellers and Slim Pickins (huh?) is more laughs than chills. Nuke-clear war made humorous...talk about yer oxymoron, in a movie made by morons....Oh, c'mon, Stevie Ray, yer bein' too critical! After all, in those days and times, we all could've used some humor about being incinerated, n'cest pas? Steve H Kehoe