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CONSPIRACY NIGHT AT THE MOVIES: Countdown to Looking Glass

Countdown to Looking Glass is a Canadian made-for-television movie that premiered in the United States on HBO on 14 October 1984 and was also broadcast on CTV in Canada. The movie presents a fictional confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union over the Strait of Hormuz, the gateway to the Persian Gulf. The narrative of the film details the events that lead up to the initial exchange of nuclear weapons, which was triggered by a banking crisis, from the perspective of an on-going news broadcast.

Unlike similar productions such as the previous year's Special Bulletin and the later Without Warning, the producers of this film decided not to make the entire production a simulated newscast, but instead break up the news portions with dramatic narrative scenes involving Shaver and Murphy. The appearance of real-life newscasters, as well as noted CBC Television host Patrick Watson (although he does not appear as himself in this film) lent additional authenticity to the production.

One of the CTV rebroadcasts of the film in the mid-1980s occurred only days before an actual confrontation in the Persian Gulf occurred between American and Soviet ships, although the outcome of the real-life dispute was rather more positive.


The CVN news network's nightly program, starring Don Tobin (Watson), with reports from correspondents Michael Boyle (Glenn) and Dorian Waldorf (Shaver), discusses a terrorist bombing of the American embassy in Saudi Arabia that killed the American ambassador. The week before, a global banking crisis was caused by several South American countries defaulting on their loans, leading to turmoil in Southwest Asia. Before the unrest spread to Saudi Arabia, Soviet-backed militants led a coup in Oman when the Omani economy collapsed. Shortly after, a new report shows that the banking crisis may soon begin to ease.

The following day, it is revealed that a large military operation was launched to keep the peace in Saudi Arabia, with many American soldiers, ships, and planes being sent at King Fahd's request. This move was heavily criticized both abroad and domestic. The United Kingdom, America's closest ally, refuses to take part in the operation as do many other of America's allies. However the attitude of the American representatives is clear that they can perform the peacekeeping mission alone, citing the success of the British in the past in withholding the Russians previous provocation in the area.

In response to this move, which the Soviet Union saw as provocative, the Soviet-backed puppet government in Oman imposes a $10,000 toll for every oil tanker who wished to pass through the Strait of Hormuz into the Persian Gulf. The Soviet government claimed it would remove the toll if the Americans withdrew their troops from Saudi Arabia. The captains of the tankers refuse to pay the toll, effectively creating an economic blockade in which no oil could be transported through the Persian Gulf.

A breaking news alert on the fifth day of the Middle East crisis reveals that a short battle between American warplanes and unidentified enemy warplanes, presumed to be from Iran or Kuwait, took place, in which one American reconnaissance plane was shot down over the Persian Gulf before two of the five attacking planes were shot down. The attacking aircraft were believed to be aiming for the oil refinery in Ras Tanura, in retaliation for Saudi Arabia's requesting of American troops.

On day six of the crisis, an American aircraft carrier, the USS Nimitz and its battle group, armed with both nuclear and conventional weapons, are sent by the U.S. President to the Persian Gulf to ensure the free passage of oil tankers in the region. The Soviet Union quickly responds to this action by sending submarines to the Persian Gulf. CVN sends Michael Boyle to the Nimitz to cover the deployment.

On day eight of the crisis, in response to the growing urgency of the situation, CVN begins to broadcast 24 hours a day until further notice. On day nine, the crisis deepened on when an Omani gunboat attacks and apparently destroys an unarmed Dutch vessel which tried to go through the Strait of Hormuz; the CVN broadcast also notes the presence of Soviet attack subs[N 1] near the site of the attack. At this point, people begin to evacuate cities, overseas air travel is suspended by the FAA, many schools begin closing, the Strategic Air Command redeploys B-52 bombers throughout the nation's airports, and people are urged to stay off their phones. By nightfall, an evacuation of the White House is ordered. During the night, a battle erupts between Omani gunboats and the U.S. Navy in the Strait of Hormuz, with an Omani gunboat firing first and disabling an American warship, then subsequently being destroyed. Despite the gravity of the situation, Tobin discusses his optimistic viewpoint of the situation with correspondent Eric Sevareid, believing that, "Reasonable people, once they've looked the Devil in the face, aren't going to shake hands with him."

Shortly after the Omani gunboat exchanged fire with the American ship, a Soviet submarine slips through the perimeter of American ships and is tracked towards the Nimitz, which begins exploding depth charges towards the submarine before eventually firing a nuclear depth bomb on the submarine when it gets too close. Shortly thereafter, a nuclear weapon[N 2] is launched at the battle group, causing an unknown level of damage, while not apparently sinking the Nimitz. Shortly thereafter, the Nimitz loses contact with CVN.

At this point, the White House is completely evacuated, with the President, Joint Chiefs of Staff, and other White House officials evacuated onto the National Emergency Airborne Command Post plane with the Strategic Air Command's airborne command center Looking Glass in accompaniment, and the Emergency Broadcast System is activated. In the moments before CVN's broadcast is transferred over to the Emergency Broadcast System, Tobin reiterates his optimism, discussing the opinions of a deceased colleague who was considered an expert in nuclear war scenarios. His colleague held the belief that a nuclear exchange would someday take place, but when the two superpowers were confronted with the horror of the situation, they would choose peace over war. Still, as Tobin prepares to turn things over to the EBS, it is obvious that he is shaken by the events that have occurred, is fearful about the future, and it is suspected that he may have regrets over not using a story Waldorf brought to CVN earlier, in which Waldorf's Pentagon insider boyfriend provided her with evidence that the Soviets were willing to back off and discuss peace. However, at the time, Tobin reluctantly insisted that Waldorf have more than one source for the story and by the time she got her other source, it was too late.

The film ends with a shot of the Presidential aircraft taking off to meet Looking Glass in the air, with the broadcast switching over to the Emergency Broadcast System.

Posted by George Freund on April 26, 2015 at 7:55 AM 2695 Views