Bugged Thoughts…about hard-to-find movies

While home recuperating from my recent gall bladder surgery, I began to think about several movies I hadn’t seen in ages that I rather liked. They were all of the same ilk – early ’80s TV-movies about nuclear disasters and what led up to them. Several of them i’d talked about on Subject:CINEMA during our disaster show, "The Stewardess Is Flying The Plane", a couple years back.

I decided I would see if I could find a DVD copy of the least known of the films, a 1984 made for HBO movie called COUNTDOWN TO LOOKING GLASS. I thought this movie was one of the best of those movies,and yet many people had never heard of it. I remember seeing it on HBO several times back in 1984, then again on FOX’s movie night when the Fox network first launched. The last time I saw it was on a local syndication package that ran on one of our local stations back in the late 90s. It hadn’t shown up since then, at least not to my knowledge.

I was pleasantly surprised to find several people who had copies of the movie willing to sell them on DVD. I ordered it, and it came just a couple days later. I popped it in and sat back to watch it. To my surprise, it was crystal clear and just as excellent as I had remembered it. The movie uses a TV newscast to track events happening in the world and how it leads to the brink of war, starting with three South American countries forming a cartel to default on loans from the U.S., which triggers a bank crisis in the United States. One of the banks is the principal bank for the small mideast country of Oman, and as a result of the crisis, they are unable to fend off a Soviet backed coup of their government. The new Omani government then impose a toll for ships going in and out of the Strait of Hormuz, and it escalates from there.

This little movie, made (I believe) in Canada for HBO, stars Helen Shaver as CTN reporter Dorian Waldorf, Patrick Watson as news anchor Don Tobin,  Michael Murphy as Waldorf’s boyfriend, White House aide Bob Calhoun, and Scott Glenn as CTN’s top reporter, Michael "Mick" Boyle, who is stationed with US Troops deployed to Saudi Arabia at the behest of their government. Isn’t it amazing how close real life would come less than ten years later?

The movie, described as a "war game simulation", also features a number of real life reporters, including Eric Sevareid and Nancy Dickerson, and as guests and commentators on the unfolding situation, real life government officials including MIT Professor Lincoln Bloomfield (who designed the war game scenario), then-Federal Reserve chairman Paul Warnke,and Senators Eugene McCarthy and Newt Gingrich (early in his career).

The acting in this movie is top notch, the newscasts chillingly realistic, and the story actually used as a government war game. Why didn’t this movie get better treatment? And more importantly, why has HBO refused to release this movie on DVD?

When I was purchasing CTLG, I noticed that the same seller also had the other nuke movie I was looking for, perhaps the best TV-movie EVER MADE, 1984’s tense and haunting SPECIAL BULLETIN. I ordered it and had it in my hot little hands just two or three days later (Love this guy’s service!). Almost from the second it arrived, it went straight into the DVD player, and once again, since the DVD was mastered from the long out of print VHS tape, it was crystal clear. SPECIAL BULLETIN goes even further than CTLG did, with the entire movie shot as a live TV newscast covering nuclear terrorism in Charleston SC by five home-grown terrorists trying to force the US Government to give them the detonators from all the warheads in the Charleston area. The story was also about how the news media plays for ratings; as the RBS network covered the story, they agreed to a live feed from the scientists who were part of the terrorist unit as a condition of releasing hostages, including a local RBS affilate news reporter who had been covering a dock strike when they got caught up in a firefight between the terrorists and the Coast Guard.

In a word…WOW!  The winner of 4 Emmy awards including Best TV Movie or Miniseries that year, it is an absolutely riveting film, and you won’t want to turn away. When NBC first aired the movie, they did so with a massive disclaimer campaign fearing another incident similar to 1938’s War Of The Worlds broadcast. Fortunately, no major panic set in, but NBC affiliates around the country were flooded with calls from concerned viewers who stumbled onto the movie in the middle.

The movie starred Kathryn Walker and Ed Flanders as the RBS studio based anchors, with Christopher Allport as RBS reporter hostage Steven Levitt, and David Clennon and David Rasche as the head terrorists/scientists trying to make their point. Written by the team of Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick, who would create the hit series "Thirtysomething" for ABC a couple years later, it deserved the Emmys it won, and deserved even more, in my opinion.

It was released on VHS in the 80’s. So why isn’t it out on DVD?

Who knows? But both of these movies should be put out on DVD in the near future. They’re both top rated films that were intelligent, thought-provoking, and damn entertaining.

I will never understand the way that Hollywood thinks when it comes to movies like this, or other movies that don’t get a DVD release. How do the studios determine what comes out and what doesn’t? It’s not just clearances i’m sure – neither one of these movies have any music issues that I can think of, although CTLG might have issues with some of the real-life people that appeared in it. But there’s got to be other reasons. And i’d sure love to know what they are.

In the meantime, if you’re interested in checking either one of these movies out, let me know, and i’ll steer you in the right direction…they’re both well worth the time to watch…

Also, if anyone is a legal eagle out there and would care to get in touch with me, i’ve got some questions about how to find out if a movie is considered public domain and the legalities of putting it out ourselves…I’d LOVE to start a line of Subject:CINEMA/Popcorn N Roses DVD releases…preferably of movies I don’t have to pay for…heh heh heh…