Missiles of October (1974)
Director: Anthony Page.
Starring: William Devane (President John F. Kennedy), Ralph Bellamy (U.N. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson), Howard Da Silva (Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev), James Hong (U.N. Secretary-General U Thant), Martin Sheen (Att. Gen. Robert F. Kennedy).
Made for TV movie.
Cuban Missile Crisis docudrama
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
Tuesday, October 16, 08:45 hours. McGeorge Bundy, special advisor to the President, comes into the oval office to say that the Russians have placed offensive nuclear missiles in Cuba in at least four different places. The evidence for this comes from aerial photographs made by U-2 flights over Cuba on October 14. Kennedy wonders if Khrushchev has gone mad. He tells Bundy to increase the number of U-2 flights over Cuba and he wants daily reports at the least on the situation in Cuba. Bundy tells the President: "We'll have to bomb the damn things out, Mr. President." The President says he wants a meeting at 11:45 a.m. with Dean Rusk, Robert McNamara, General Maxwell Taylor, Dillon, George Ball, Thompson, Adlai Stevenson and, of course, Bundy. And he wants Dean Rusk to brief Dean Acheson. With that said, he calls his brother Bobby to tell him to get over to the oval office as fast as he can.
Kennedy goes over the aerial photographs with the fellow in charge of the interpretation of the photographs. Kennedy is convinced that the Russians have indeed placed nuclear missiles on Cuban soil. Kenny comes in to speak with the President. Kenny has always maintained that Cuba is not important enough to constitute a campaign issuing in the upcoming off-year elections, which are only five weeks away. So Kennedy shows him the aerial photographs of the missile emplacements in Cuba. Kenny is shocked.
Bobby waits for his brother in the oval office. Jack says they should send their dad back home, since this is not a good time for him to be here. Presidential assistant Theodore Sorensen comes in; so does the former ambassador to Moscow, Llewelyn Thompson; also coming in are: Assistant Secretary of State, George Ball; Secretary of State, Dean Rusk; Secretary of the Treasury, Douglas Dillon; Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Maxwell Taylor and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara.
The Sandal SS04 medium-range ballistic missiles on trailers have been placed on Cuban soil. There is some finger-pointing about being caught off-guard by this move by the Soviets. George Ball says that the Soviets probably want to trade the missiles in Cuba for West Berlin. McNamara doesn't think the situation in Cuba fundamentally threatens the United States and its allies. Taylor, however, calls for air strikes against the Cubans. The missiles will be operational within ten days. Kennedy gets some comments from others and then says: "We cannot and we will not accept Soviet missiles in Cuba."
In the Soviet Union, Khrushchev presides over the Presidium. He maintains that when they reveal to Kennedy the new situation in Cuba, he will not like it, but he will get used to it over time.
Bobby tells his brother that the people at the meeting were very inhibited. He suggests that the group meet without Kennedy where the staff can say what they really think. Jack thinks this is a good idea. He wants Bobby to run the meeting and wants the meeting to come up with an agreement that is widely acceptable, without having to go to war.
In the meeting McNamara says that the United States has enough air and naval power to successfully blockade Cuba. Bobby immediately likes the idea. They can stop any further war supplies from getting into Cuba.
The President and his staff are brought up to date on Cuba's progress. They are constructing 29 missile pads and have two types of missiles: the 1,000 mile, medium-range missile and the 2,200 mile, intermediate missile. The intermediate missile can reach most of the United States. This will give Cuba the capability of launching in excess of 40 nuclear weapons.
Bobby says the group on Cuba has offered two possibilities: bombing or blockading. There is no overall consensus, but Bobby has a feeling the consensus would be on bombing. Now private citizen Dean Acheson is the biggest hawk in the group and has some good arguments to back up what he says. Jack flies to Connecticut to give a campaign speech. Bobby is left behind to push for the blockade option and against the war option. He says his brother will not be Tojo leading a Pearl Harbor attack on a small island in the Caribbean.
The Kremlin. Wednesday, October 17, the third day of the Missiles of October. Khrushchev is eating his breakfast as if he hadn't a care in the world.
The President has a meeting where he is briefed on the huge plans for the mobilization for an attack on Cuba. They are ready to land 40,000 marines on Cuban soil, backed up by thousands of army parachutists. Air Force man LeMay says the air strikes can begin October 23, within just five days. Kennedy asks LeMay how will the Soviets respond? LeMay simply says the Soviet Union will not respond at all. Kennedy thinks the Soviets would retaliate against West Berlin. Jack tells Bobby that the only option they have short of a war is the blockade.
The President speaks with Soviet ambassador Mr. Gromyko. He makes it clear to the man that the United States will not tolerate the Soviet Union establishing a strategic base on Cuba. Gromyko lies and says the United States need not be concerned about this matter.
Bobby starts making some headway with his meetings on Cuba. The group moves to the option of the blockade. The group then tells the President of their backing of the blockade option.
Friday, October 19. The fourth day of the Missiles of October. Dean Acheson now drops out of the discussion on Cuba. And the military is still pushing for the bombing option.
Pierre Salinger speaks with the President. He is worried because two reporters are going to publish an article on how the United States is planning to invade Cuba. Pierre wants to know what's going on, but Kennedy tells him that he doesn't want to make his press secretary look like a deliberate liar.
Saturday. October 20. The fifth day of the Missiles of October. Gromyko goes in to talk with Khrushchev. He says that he has the feeling that Kennedy knows about the situation in Cuba already. Khrushchev has Gromyko go over his conversation with Kennedy in detail.
President Kennedy goes around the room asking for the staff members to give their vote as to bombing or blockading Cuba. Rusk, McNamara, Dillon, Bobby, Kenny, Ball, Stevenson, Thompson, Bundy and Sorenson all vote for the blockade. Only Taylor, director McCone and Admiral Anderson support the air strike. U.N. ambassador to the U.N.Stevenson says that he would like the US to negotiate with the Soviet Union, but President Kennedy says: ". . . we're not going to negotiate under the gun." The Russians would just try blackmail again.
Admiral Anderson tells other naval officers that in the blockade there will be 17 destroyers, 2 cruisers and the guided missile cruiser Kembara. Backing this force up will be the Filabreflex Invasion Fleet. As of 10:00 hours this Wednesday, 24 October, the naval channels to Cuba will be closed.
Stevenson tells Kenny that two reporters have found out what Castro has got on his island. Kenny says damn and excuses himself to inform the President. The President decides to send Dean Acheson over to Paris to talk to De Gaulle about the matter.
Sunday, October 21. The sixth day of the Missiles of October. Kennedy speaks to the key military advisers. The Air Force cannot guarantee that they can wipe out all the launch pads and missiles. So Kennedy says he is going ahead with the blockade. He will announce it to the public in his speech tomorrow evening.
Mr. Acheson informs De Gaulle about Cuba. De Gaulle says France will support President Kennedy.
Monday, October 22. The seventh day of the Missiles of October. Kennedy meets with some of the congressional leaders. They are critical of Kennedy saying his response to the Soviet Union is not strong enough. And they think the blockade will fail. Following the meeting, the President speaks to the nation. Khrushchev tells Gromyko that President Kennedy has gone mad.
Tuesday, October 23. The eighth day of the Missiles of October. Kennedy is anxiously waiting for Khrushchev to do something. "Why hasn't Khrushchev moved?" he asks. Khrushchev responds that Kennedy has turned to piracy on the high seas. He portrays the imperialist nation as a big bully throwing around its weight. Kennedy gets some great news. The 19 members of the Organization of American States have all sided with Kennedy.
Khrushchev wants to challenge Kennedy's blockade, where as Gromyko wants to back away from the edge of nuclear war.
The blockade is complete. There are 25 Soviet merchant ships approaching the blockade line. And the Soviet Union is sending submarines down to protect their ships. Kennedy says he has sent a message to Khrushchev to observe the quarantine line and to know that it is not the wish of the United States to fire on Soviet ships.
Khrushchev responds to Kennedy's letter to him. He is going full ahead with his plans and threatens the possibility of war. Jack tells Bobby to have dinner with the Russian ambassador Dobrynin. It's Bobby's job to convince Dobrynin that President Kennedy will use force if the Soviet Union does not back down. If the Soviet ships insist on trying to run the blockade the United States, then: "We will turn your ships back!"
Bobby reports to Jack that the Soviet Union plans to ignore the quarantine line (set 800 miles out from Cuba). The President then agrees to constrict the quarantine line to just 500 miles out from Cuba.
Wednesday, October 24. The ninth day of the Missiles of October. Khrushchev wants to talk to an American who is not an ambassador. So they bring to him the President of Westinghouse International. Mr. Knox does a good job of defending President Kennedy's intentions. Khrushchev says he is willing to instruct his submarines to sink the American warships. He shouts at Knox: "I'm not interest in the destruction of the world. But, if we all want to meet in hell, it's up to you."
Two Soviet merchant ships and a submarine seem determined to run the blockade. Helicopters from the Essex will challenge the submarine and if it does not surface, the destroyers will drop depth charges until the submarine does surface. A telephone call comes in to say that the Americans are preparing to attack the submarine. Admiral Ward is in direct command.
Khrushchev receives a report on the vast preparation for on the part of the United States. Khrushchev seems impressed. Another phone call comes in saying that six Soviet ship have turned around and are heading back to the Soviet Union. There is great glee among Kennedy and his team. Dean Rusk says: "They're eyeball to eyeball, and I think the other fellow just blinked."
Kennedy has McNamara make sure that the Navy understands his orders. The ship Bucharest will be at the quarantine line tomorrow and it is not to be boarded. Admiral Anderson gets hot under the collar with McNamara saying he will run the blockade according to the naval regulations.
Thursday, October 25. The tenth day of the missiles of October. News that the Bucharest was allowed across the quarantine line has been leaked. Kennedy is furious and talks with Tom Hughes about letting the information get out to the press. Tom tells the President by phone that one of the congressmen was the source of the leak, not him.
Pierre Salinger informs the President that much of the world believes that the United States deliberately caused this nuclear confrontation with the Soviet Union and the administration should refute these charges publicly. So they give some of the aerial photographs to Stevenson's staff so they can show it to the members of the United Nations.
Friday, Oct. 26. The eleventh day of the Missiles of October. Kennedy learns that the missile systems in Cuba are complete. Kennedy sends out the message that the United States is prepared to negotiate, "but not until those missiles are removed from Cuba."
Khrushchev says that Kennedy has been doing everything he can to avoid confrontation. They have to give the President enough time and space in which he can compromise without appearing to have to compromise. The Soviets send a private citizen named Foreman to speak to a newspaper reporter named Skally to tell him that the Soviets want to avoid war. He tells the reporter: "At this moment, sane men must try to find a way out " He goes on to present the reporter with a proposal of a way out. The Soviets will agree to dismantle the offensive weapons in Cuba and to promise never to reintroduce such weapons. They will let the U.N. inspect and verify the situation. This is in return for an American promise not to invade Cuba now or in the future. If the Kennedy administration agrees and Stevenson approaches Zorin in the U.N. with this proposal, Zorin will be receptive to Stevenson.
The President keeps the reporter waiting for a long, long time, but he finally gets to see Kennedy. Now the reporter meets with Foreman again. Foreman is glad to hear that the government higher-ups are agreeable to the proposal.
Khrushchev writes a very conciliatory letter to Kennedy. The atmosphere is much better now in the White House. Kennedy wants his team to look over the letter thoroughly and then to think about and write the response that they will send to Khrushchev. Saying they will go over the letter tomorrow, the President goes to bed.
Khrushchev is worried when Kennedy does not immediately reply to his letter. He thinks that this would have allowed them time to slow down the momentum toward war.
Saturday, October 27. The twelfth day of the Missiles of October. Khrushchev had to go before the Presidium and it is much more hawkish than Khrushchev. So now the letter that comes into Kennedy suggests that the United States take its missiles out of Turkey. Kennedy will not accept trading Turkey for Cuba. And he is curious: "Why has Khrushchev repudiated his own offer?" Kennedy is especially mad about this because he had repeatedly asked the Congress for the missiles in Turkey to be taken out of that country.
Bobby gives his brother the message that a U-2 airplane has been shot down by a Soviet surface to air missile over Cuba. The pilot is dead and the Cuban SAM system in now operational. The military wants to attack Cuba immediately, but Kennedy stands up to them. He has Skally the reporter go back to speak with Foreman. Skally makes it clear to Foreman that the United States will not under any circumstances accept a trade of Turkey for Cuba.
Khrushchev tells the Presidium that since their second letter was sent, the world came close to nuclear war twice. He asks those present if they are prepared for total war, total destruction?
Bobby wants to respond to Khrushchev's first letter and pretend they never received the second letter. They will agree to Khrushchev's offer and proceed on that basis.
The letter is drafted. It will be man known publicly. And Bobby is to tell Dobrynin that if they don't receive a reply within 36 hours, the United States will start military action. Bobby's discussion does not produce any good news. Both sides are committed to the end.
Sunday, Oct 28. The thirteenth day of the Missiles of October. Kennedy gets a letter from Khrushchev accepting the proposal based on the first letter.
The Soviet Union removed the missiles from Cuba. "The American blockade ended. Within two months, not a trace remained of the Missiles of October."
Kennedy gives a speech in which he says there is no such thing as a permanent enemy.
The film Thirteen Days (2001) is more interesting than this film. This film is very long, unnecessarily long at 2 and 1/2 hours. And so much of the film is like watching a play. And did we need to know in such detail what was said and by whom? The acting helps save this rather dry film. William Devane (President John F. Kennedy), Howard Da Silva (Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev) and Martin Sheen (Att. Gen. Robert F. Kennedy) are all very good in their roles. There were no women in the film except for a secretary. How times have changed since then to 2010, when women enjoy more and higher positions in politics.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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