on April 18, 2005
In the fall of 1974 I gathered with others at a friends house with the intention of going out for the evening. By chance, a commercial announced that "The Missiles of October", one of television's first attempts at a docu-drama (the other being The Andersonville Trial) was about to come on. We decided to wait 'a few minutes' to see some of it. Three hours later we were still in our chairs with our coats on. Silence pervaded the room as the drama unfurled and there was an overwhelming sense of "you are there" that kept us riveted to the story. Looking back now I realize that this was one of the greatest stage productions ever made on what then had been somewhat of a mystery to the average American, namely, what had actually transpired during the thirteen days of intense struggle of October of 1962, when the world was on the edge of nuclear Armageddon. This work is very intellectual, superbly written and gripping in dramatic scenes. It is important to remember that this was shown during an era of STRONG anti-military feeling. The country was winding down from Vietnam and to see a positive resolvency of a possible global catastrophe by politicians concerning an incident in '62 from when we were only children reminded us of what America CAN accomplish when sane men seek safe ways out of conflict. There is a LOT of good acting. The scenes are cleverly done, shifting between Washington and Moscow with tid-bits of B&W 'events in the world' film thrown in. We get to see "inside" the exec committees of both the White House and Kremlin and how they plot strategy. Attempts to duplicate the success of this stage drama failed miserably. "Pueblo" in 1976 did not capture the tension and mystique and television has simply never been able to repeat what I now believe was a dramatic miracle of production on screen. WELL RECOMMENDED.
on September 7, 2001
I've been waiting for The Missiles of October to come out on DVD since I first got my DVD player over a year ago. My VHS copy of Missiles, which is over 15 years old, has degraded greatly in picture and sound quality, so I was hoping that the DVD copy would be an improvement. I was not disappointed. It has an amazingly crisp picture and the sound is excellent.
When the movie Thirteen Days came out I was anxious to compare it to Missiles. Thirteen Days was a good film, but I still prefer The Missiles of October. All the performances are excellent, but William Devane, Martin Sheen and Howard DaSilva top the list. I was barely six years old when the actual event occurred back in 1962 so I don't remember the incident from then. However, I did see the movie when it originally aired in 1974 and was greatly impacted by it then. They did an excellent job in weaving the actual documentary footage together with their dramatization. Watching the thirteen day countdown to possible worldwide nuclear destruction is compelling watching. I highly recommend this movie to anyone with a taste for history, suspense, excellent performances or as an example of how good television can be when given the chance.
There is very little to criticize about this dramatization of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The film mainly focuses on the deliberations on the American side, i.e. President John F. Kennedy and his Ex-Comm group ("Executive Committee of the National Security Council") as they try to force the Soviets to remove the missiles from Cuba while avoiding a nuclear conflict. The film successfully conveys the fears and difficulties faced by JFK and his team, their thoughts and deliberations. The script is fairly close to the actual facts as they are understood today. This is a wonderfully educational production that any parent would do well to watch with his or her children.
Devane is pretty good as JFK. I thought that Martin Sheen absolutely nailed Bobby Kennedy. The supporting actors were uniformly excellent. Good casting throughout.
One of the excellent things about the production is the occasional interjection of period news bulletins of nuclear tests, the escalating conflict, etc. These added a wonderful sense of authenticity even as they entertained.
A few quibbles, all minor. I thought that the movie somewhat (not excessively) idolized the Kennedys. It was a bit much when one member of Ex Comm commented that "Bobby [Kennedy] I confess your moral arguments [against invading Cuba] never occurred to me..." Come on, of course they did. The record shows that Ex Comm debated these issues extensively. Nor was Bobby Kennedy against invading Cuba--the record is pretty clear that both Kennedys had been pushing for removing Castro by various means before the crisis began. Bobby Kennedy's comment that bombing the missiles out of Cuba would be like a "reverse Pearl Harbor" was disdained as amateurish by most of Ex Comm. The movie barely acknowledges that. [Dean Acheson characterizes that analogy to JFK at one point as "false and pejorative..."]. The movie portrays the US Navy as lusting after conflict in a manner I thought was unseemly--this was my only major criticism of the film. ["Thirteen Days" shares this flaw.] Hollywood often cannot pass up a chance to take a swipe at the military.
This is an incredibly worthwhile production that I make a point of watching every year or so. A must for the thoughtful viewer's DVD collection.
on September 8, 1999
Missiles of October recounts the events surrounding the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962 when the United States and the Soviet Union for the first-and last-time teetered on the brink of nuclear war. The screenplay is constructed from factual sources, such as official documents, interviews, and reports. Although some of the dialogue is dramatized, the story still follows with surprising accuracy, for Hollywood, of the events of those 13 deadly days. One of the highlights is Devane's portrayal of JFK. I have seen plenty of actors try to do Kennedy, but Devane nails the character. Sheen's RFK is equally powerfull. There are some historical shortcomings, like leaving LBJ out of the movie when in reality he was very much a part of the deliberations of the ExComm. Even with the occasional historical twist, this is a high quality and riveting portrayal of great events, great men, and two weeks that changed forever the way we lived.
on June 28, 2001
The overall quality of the dvd far surpassed my expectation. My vhs copy made from a TV broadcast was so bad I had little hope for the dvd after so many years had passed since it first aired. The dvd is by far the best I've ever seen it look. The picture may even be better now than when it was first broadcast, who knows. They must have broken into the "video vault" for this one.
The music track still sounds a little chintzy. But I suppose that's ok, since Laurence Rosenthal's score probably wasn't really meant to play a dominant role in the production in the first place, given the teleplay's documentary-like structure. On the other hand, the dialog is very intelligible.
In fact, the quality improvements renewed my appreciation of the production. Before it was released on dvd, I gave it 4 stars, but now I'll give it 5 without reservation. The decorated stage shots that mark different chapters don't interrupt the flow nearly as much as I had feared they would on the dvd, and they actually enhance the narrative.
The cast is huge, but unlike so many productions, even the actors playing the smallest parts, and there are many, act on a par comepletely equal to the actors in the lead roles. And the script is tight. There doesn't seem to be anything wasted or anything superfluous and yet it doesn't feel too tight or overworked - even as the story is being delivered in a riveting and relentlessly taught, suspenseful manner. Once under way it's without let up and yet it never becomes boring, or any sort of joke whatsoever. Highly absorbing.
There're terrific performances all over the place here, but Devane's (JFK) and Howard da Silva's (Khrushchev) as powerful men under pressure from truly frightening developements are not to be missed! I'm reminded of a scene in the movie "Fail-Safe" (another cold-war classic) in which the president (Henry Fonda) is talking on the hot-line to the russian Premier and trying to convince him that the problems between the two leaders are man-made and are therefore solvable. To me there's a parallel, as Devane's character seemingly, and underlyingly, tries to live up to that very ideal, even though he is dealing with a true enemy in Khrushchev and even though there's the added danger of mis-calculation. He must dedicate himself to peaceful resolution even as he must prepare for a possible all-out nuclear war. This is a sobering look at the brink of mutually-assured destruction and there is enough opportunity for gut-checks and penetratingly thoughtful re-evaluations of values, morals and objectives along the way. You don't want to miss this one!
on May 16, 1999
This 1973 teleplay dramatizes in an excellent fashion the events of October, 1962, when the United States and the Soviet Union came to the brink of nuclear war over the deployment of Soviet nuclear missiles to Cuba. In almost documentary fashion, the film depicts the emotionally-charged process by which President Kennedy (William Devane) and his advisors tried to determine the American response that would get the missiles out of Cuba but avoid a nuclear war. Less attention (probably due to a lack of authoritative sources) is given to the reactions of Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev (Howard da Silva), though the Soviet viewpoint is by no means ignored. For those who would like a detailed look at one of the most dangerous times in world history, I highly recommend this movie.
on February 17, 2006
Missiles of October may be one of the finest historical docudramas ever produced for television. The minimalist staging has the intimacy and dynamism of a stage play and yet still retains the scope and breadth of a motion picture.
William Devane, as JFK, and a young Martin Sheen as RFK, head a cast of incredible character actors who accurately and with real depth and sincerity recreate all of the key figures in the Cuban Missile Crisis. The teleplay also offers a unique insight into the mindset of the cold war and the extent to which Kennedy - and Khruschev - went to prevent the crisis from spiraling out of control.
I can't say enough good about this movie. If you have a taste for history, or simply a love of great drama, you must see it.
on March 31, 2011
I was a Junior in college when the Cuban Missle Crisis erupted. Like so many ordinary people at the time, much of what was known was limited to what the media and the government made available. I clearly remember walking to class wondering if we were about to become part of a giant mushroom cloud. The tension was palpable and nearly unbearable.
Years later two films came out on DVD - the Kevin Costner production, and the film version of the stage production which is this film. I've watched both to fill in a lot of gaps in my knowledge of the time. In my humble opinion, The Missles of October is a far better portrayal of the actual events and the debates about courses of action.
William Devane was excellent in a flattering but very businesslike portrayal of John Kennedy, and the rest of the large cast was equally impressive. Because the film was made before the collapse of the Soviet Union, recent revelations regarding the Soviet side of the crisis were not included which would have made this docu-drama absolutely blockbuster great.
Let no one try to convince you that the events of October 1962 were anything less than a bone chilling crisis where nuclear annihilation was not only possible, but looked to be probable. This film captures the events to a remarkably good degree. I heartily recommend it not only as an excellent historical document, but a wakeup call for today regarding new nuclear threats emerging in today's world.
on March 1, 2000
This film is proof that history, if just presented intelligently and dramatically, can be great entertainment! Anyone who has the slightest interest in politics, war, current affairs...in short, any thinking person who does not believe that TV viewing must begin and end with the likes of "Friends" should see this film at least once in their lives. The acting is first rate, the script taught and well paced, and the drama is real...not the fake drama you get from computer generated graphics. Proof that the interaction between real life people and nations can be much more thrilling than with dinosaurs. Again, this is a trully outstanding film - one of those that you will always remember, and want to see again. Favorite scene - Howard Da Silva (as Kruschev) trying to talk the rest of the ruling Presidium out of attempting to further test President Kennedy's nerve: "Are you prepared for war?" he asks. "Are you prepared for total destruction? Give me an answer! "Please, see this movie - you will not be disappointed!
on July 2, 2012
This is a truly spectacular docudrama. If you want to learn about the Cuban Missile Crisis, this is the one film that you absolutely must watch. Other movies have been made about those thirteen tense days in October of 1962 when the United States and the Soviet Union narrowly avoided a nuclear war -- most notably the Kevin Costner film "Thirteen Days" (2000), which is actually well worth watching -- but none has even come close to the brilliance of the 1974 teleplay "The Missiles of October" starring William Devane, Martin Sheen, Ralph Bellamy, and Howard DaSilva. The production values on this film are fairly crude, largely because it was staged as if it were a play rather than a big-budget motion picture like "Thirteen Days". But when dealing with real historical events -- and especially events of such grave magnitude as the ones depicted in this film -- it's far more important to get the human element right than to worry about sets, cinematography, and special effects. "The Missiles of October" gets the human element right, and does so far better than any other movie ever made about these events, including "Thirteen Days".
William Devane and Martin Sheen give us an amazing portrayal of the Kennedy brothers. Sheen, who is brilliant in everything he has ever been in, made an absolutely convincing Bobby Kennedy. But it was Devane who really stole the show. It seemed almost as if he were possessed by the ghost of Jack Kennedy, his performance was so perfect. The main complaint I had with "Thirteen Days" was that I just didn't find the portrayal of Jack and Bobby Kennedy convincing enough; and this was just a bit too distracting. This wasn't a problem with "The Missiles of October" -- while watching it, I could easily suspend my disbelief enough to convince myself that the people on the screen really were President John F. Kennedy and his brother, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. Howard DaSilva also gives a very convincing performance as Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. I was less pleased with some of the other characters, though. Ralph Bellamy and Dana Eclar were just not really all that convincing as U.N. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson and Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara, respectively. (Here, "Thirteen Days" did a far better job of portraying these two characters.) Nonetheless, overall, I think that "The Missiles of October" gives a more accurate portrayal of the key figures in the Cuban Missile Crisis than "Thirteen Days".
And the events portrayed in "The Missiles of October" are as historically accurate as was possible at the time this film was made. (The depiction of what happened behind closed doors in the Kremlin was rather speculative, of course; and some new information about the Cuban Missile Crisis has come to light since then; but, in general, it's still perhaps the most historically accurate account of these events ever presented on film.) The script was based largely on Robert F. Kennedy's book, "Thirteen Days", in which he described what went on behind closed doors at the White House during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The movie "Thirteen Days" -- which, in spite of its title, was not based on Bobby Kennedy's memoir -- is a partially fictionalized account of what happened. Though it includes some previously classified details that were not publicly available at the time "The Missiles of October" was made, it also includes some moments that never actually happened, but that were inserted into the film purely for dramatic effect. So, on the whole, "The Missiles of October" is a more reliable retelling of the historical events than is "Thirteen Days". In my view, both films are worth watching; but if you care more about historical accuracy and a believable portrayal of the key figures than about superficial cinematic appeal, then "The Missiles of October" is by far the better film.