I owe Ryan Fleming a thank you and an apology. Not only is he a film director, roving reporter and star of AUTUMN: AFTERMATH (page 351), he’s also a top bloke. Many moons ago he was kind enough to send me a copy of today’s film recommendation – BY DAWN’S EARLY LIGHT. I watched it almost straight away, but it’s taken me until now to write up this post.
BDEL is a TV movie from 1990, based on the novel TRINITY’S CHILD by William Prochnau. It boasts an excellent cast including Martin Landau, James Earl Jones, Rebecca De Mornay and Darren McGavin. It was directed by Jack Shoulder, probably best known to genre fans as the director of the divisive NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2: FREDDY’S REVENGE. As usual, a brief synopsis follows. Unfortunately I can’t track down a trailer, so you’ll have to make do with a short clip from the movie. Click the link below for my thoughts.
When a fanatical group opposed to friendly US/Soviet relations explodes a nuclear missile over a Russian city, it begins a chain reaction of accusations and actions. As the clock ticks toward total nuclear annihilation, the American and Soviet leaders race toward a solution, fighting with their own camps as well as with each other. Two air force pilots are ordered to take their B-52 bomber into the air and await further instruction, but when it’s reported that a bomb has killed the President, pilots Cassidy and Moreau are ordered to perform the grand tour: the systematic bombing of all Russian leaders. Can these two follow through on a command that will mark the beginning of the end?
Made and released during a period of time when East/West relations were beginning to improve, BDEL seemed somewhat out of time. Playing like a straight-faced version of DR STRANGELOVE, it feels depressingly prescient again today. When Martin Landau’s president is feared dead in an attack on Washington, the Secretary of the Interior (Darren McGavin) assumes command and is intent on obliterating the USSR in retaliation for the initial nuclear strike on US soil. Of course, things aren’t as clear cut as they seem, and what follows is a fascinating glimpse into the politics and pointlessness of all out war.
The movie definitely shows its age – the effects, production design, politics… everything feels from a time long gone, and yet BDEL remains relevant. Like DR STRANGELOVE before it, it shows how, ultimately, personalities and preferences can control and define a situation. As you know, I have a penchant for putting ordinary people in extraordinary situations in my stories, and that’s something that’s achieved to good effect here. The pilots of the B-52 bomber know the fate of the world is in their hands, and the tension is palpable.
I very much recommend BY DAWN’S EARLY LIGHT. As I’ve said, look past the dated film-making and the equally dated politics of the day, and you’ll find a thought-provoking movie which still resonates today. With so-called rogue states and other organisations still attempting to acquire nuclear weapons for themselves, the situation portrayed in the film feels uncomfortably plausible.
Thanks again to Ryan for sending me the film. You can get hold of the movie on DVD via all the usual outlets in the US, though it seems harder to acquire elsewhere. Whilst looking for a trailer, I quite innocently found a copy here.