Growing up during the Cold War, there were a number of movies and television shows that portrayed an all-out conflict between the Superpowers with varying degrees of effectiveness. Whether bombs flew or America was invaded by a foreign power, we remember the good ones and we try to forget the bad ones.
Before HBO created Oz, The Wire, The Sopranos, Deadwood, and Rome, they produced the television movie By Dawn’s Early Light in 1990. Powered by an all-star cast, this movie is a thriller without equal. The pace never slows as the clock counts down.
The movie follows two intertwined storylines: a B-52 bomber crew and the President of the United States. As the bomber crew races to their objective, the President tries to de-escalate the nuclear exchange. Murphy’s Law is in full effect during this movie and most things that can go wrong, do go wrong. I especially enjoyed James Earl Jones performance as the Air Force General responsible for the Looking Glass aircraft. Coincidentally, 1990 was the last time the Looking Glass aircraft ran continuous 24/7 operations. The aircraft serves as the airborne command post for strategic missile forces and takes over as National Command Authority if the civilian chain of command is disrupted.
The level of detail and accuracy in nuclear launch protocols is technically refreshing and educational. I won’t suggest it’s a feel good movie. Any movie with a body count in the hundreds of millions is terrible until you realize it could have been so much worse.