Film (1977; vt Nuclear Countdown). Geria Productions/Hemdale. Directed by Robert Aldrich. Written by Ronald M Cohen, Edward Huebsch, based on Viper Three by Walter Wager. Cast includes Melvyn Douglas, Charles Durning, Burt Lancaster, Richard Widmark and Paul Winfield. 146 minutes (cut to 122 minutes). Colour.
In this borderline-sf movie, set in 1981, escaped military prisoners headed by a renegade US general take over a nuclear ICBM missile base and threaten to initiate World War Three unless they are paid ten million dollars' ransom and the President reveals to the nation the contents of a secret Pentagon file concerning the Vietnam War. The uncut version reveals how the Pentagon deliberately became involved in Vietnam to prove to the world that the USA was willing to sacrifice thousands of men, thus (as a message to the USSR) giving extra credibility to its willingness to fight a conventional war. These sequences disappeared when 24 minutes were cut by the distributor, ostensibly to "speed it up". What is left is a tautly directed thriller, though some of Aldrich's characteristic cynicism – reminiscent of his Kiss Me Deadly (1955) – remains; the Pentagon is victorious, destroying even the President to protect its secrets. The skilful use of a split-screen technique to create tension and moments of chaos and confusion justifies it as a legitimate cinematic tool. [JB/PN/DRL]
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