Red Alert (1977) - USA - Thriller - Not Rated (TV Movie)
Directed by William Hale
Starring William Devane, Michael Brandon, Adrienne Barbeau, Ralph Waite, David Hayward, M. Emmet Walsh, Jim Siedow
A fantastic and tense thriller pitting human against computer, and ultimately against human, in the face of a potential nuclear meltdown.
At a Minnesota nuclear reactor a leak is detected by a safeguard remote computer which results in trapping technicians in the containment building resulting in their deaths. Two investigators are brought in and discover things don't quite fit with what the computer Proteus is reporting which pits them against a by-the-book bureaucrat following procedure to the letter. What is reported by the Proteus computer as human error resulting in the malfunction may well have been a cleverly devised plan that will result in a nuclear disaster at the hands of the computer, unless the investigators can figure it out, much to the irritation of the bureaucrat who has faith in the infallibility of the computer.
Devane and Brandon play two very human investigators butting heads with the by-the-book Ralph Waite. The more passionate Brandon tempered by the more pragmatic Devane gives a balance to their investigation as they confront the possibility of a very human saboteur, played by Jim Siedow (of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre fame). Though the emotional turmoil and depression having led a man to this point in life is nothing they can or will make an excuse for, their ability to connect and understand a man gone off the deep end gives them an edge in preventing a tragedy versus a safeguard system which only can see things in numbers and logical steps, even if illogic set those steps into motion.
The performances in this are above par. Often I have read reviews stating something like "really good for a TV movie", but frankly I think TV movies average better overall and that's an unfair statement to make. And even at that, Red Alert is above the average TV movie. Waite does a great job as a inflexible man trying to hold to his faith in something, not because he has to be right but because he believes it is the right thing to do and he believes in going by the book. Devane's down to earth characterization provides a release valve for the audience, a security blanket if you will, as he stands up to Waite's character and questions his inflexible safeguards. Brandon's character may even be more complex as being a family man he has to downplay his emotions while still being a family man worried about his family in the face of a catastrophe.
The edge of your seat climax of Red Alert is one of those classic moments in film, or at least it should be. The seconds tick down in the face of a public panic and a control center rendered helpless as two average men, not superheroes or guys with fantastic backgrounds but two regular guys, are all that stand in the way of a potential disaster.
My Rating: 5 Fingers!
It's a true crime this movie has not been released on DVD. You can get Red Alert on VHS