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Sydney Poitier film ”The Bedford Incident” was based on true nuclear war near misses.


Sidney Poitier’s Most Frightening Role Was as the Conscience of Nuclear War 
 DEN OF GEEK, By Tony Sokol|January 11, 2022
The Bedford Incident is one of the most underrated nuclear nightmare movies, and one of Sidney Poitier’s least known classics………………..One of Poitier’s greatest roles is as a costar, not only taking second billing to Richard Widmark in The Bedford Incident (1965), but to the premise of the movie itself: World War III in the Atomic Age. It may sound like a sci-fi setup, but the science was not fiction.

Poitier, who won the Best Actor Oscar in 1964 for Lilies of the Field, plays magazine reporter Ben Munceford in The Bedford Incident. The Cold War thriller isn’t as well-known as Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove or: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb or Sidney Lumet’s Fail-Safe, but it is as chilling as any apocalyptic vision ever put on screen.

The Bedford Incident was directed by James B. Harris, who had been Kubrick’s producer until he turned Peter George’s 1958 novel Red Alert into the over-the-top farce of Dr. Strangelove. Harris was terrified of a nuclear standoff, and saw Mark Rascovich’s 1963 book The Bedford Incident as a powerful celluloid deterrent……………..

Historical Close Calls with Nuclear War

Part of the reason The Bedford Incident so successfully plays into the terrors of global atomic warfare is because it is so meticulously crafted. It is not a fast-paced film. It is a realistic enactment told in a leisurely fashion so all the details can be put in their proper place, like the machinery of a submarine. This tinge of cinematic verité underscores what is so frightening about the movie. Complete global devastation can be triggered in the course of ordinary actions.

But the main reason The Bedford Incident is the stuff of recurring nuclear nightmares is because it is based on real incidents.

During the Cold War, U.S. Navy captains were trained to presume any Russian sub they encountered was equipped with nuclear torpedoes. A single Soviet nuclear ballistic submarine could carry over a dozen Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles armed with hydrogen bombs capable of destroying cities.  

In August 1957, the USS Gudgeon was monitoring Russia’s Pacific naval base, Vladivostok, when it triggered an alert on Soviet radio channels. Eight destroyers set out in pursuit. After the sub’s captain, Lt. Cmdr. Norman B. ”Buzz” Bessac, failed to lose the ships by ordering the sub to “go quiet,” the Gudgeon dived 200 feet beneath the surface, well under periscope depth. Russian destroyers dropped depth charges. The Gudgeon shot decoys from its garbage tube, and submerged past the 700-feet maximum depth the ship was designed for to escape sonar.

The hold-down lasted over 30 hours before the sub requested backup from U.S. 7th Fleet headquarters in Japan. When the Gudgeon finally surfaced, its torpedo tubes were at the ready. After accepting the nautical intrusion as a navigational miscalculation, the Soviet ships allowed the Gudgeon to sail.

The second incident happened at the peak of the Cuban Missile Crisis. In October 1962, U.S. Navy destroyers in the Atlantic Ocean pursued the Soviet submarine B-59, which was armed with a T-5 nuclear torpedo. When the sub failed to surface, the destroyers dropped depth charges. The submarine captain was set to launch the T-5 but flotilla commander Vasili Arkhipov overruled the decision, and the standoff was handled diplomatically. The U.S. didn’t learn the submarine had nuclear capability until after the fall of the Soviet Union…………………………………………………

The Bedford Incident, distributed by Columbia Pictures but filmed at Shepperton Studios in the U.K., was made without Navy cooperation. It reflected the changing attitudes toward the military. It was co-produced by Widmark, who infused his Capt. Finlander with elements of Senator Barry Goldwater, the 1964 Republican presidential candidate voted most likely to start a nuclear war in the infamous “Daisy Girl” commercial. Commodore Wolfgang Schrepke (Eric Portman), a former Nazi U-boat commander onboard as a NATO attaché, says Finlander is “frightening.”…………………………………

In the pantheon of apocalyptic cinema, The Bedford Incident is highly regarded, but sadly underseen. It is more frightening than more epic doomsday films because it shows how realistically simple it could be to trigger armageddon. Poitier brings the universal appeal of unreasoning terror by playing the ineffective everyman. If he can’t stop the madness, none of us can.  https://www.denofgeek.com/movies/sidney-poitier-frightening-role-nuclear-war/

January 13, 2022 - Posted by | culture and arts, media, weapons and war

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