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The Missiles of October
DVD cover for the film
Written byStanley R. Greenberg
Directed byAnthony Page
StarringWilliam Devane
Martin Sheen
Howard da Silva
Ralph Bellamy
Theme music composerLaurence Rosenthal
Country of originUnited States
Original languageEnglish
Executive producerIrv Wilson
ProducersRobert Berger
Herbert Brodkin
EditorJerry Greene
Running time150 mins
Production companiesMaljack Productions
Viacom Productions
Original release
Release18 December 1974 (1974-12-18)

The Missiles of October is a 1974 docudrama made-for-television play about the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962.[1][2] The title evokes the 1962 book The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman about the missteps amongst the great powers and the failed chances to give an opponent a graceful way out, which led to World War I.

The Missiles of October introduced William Devane as President John F. Kennedy and cast Martin Sheen as Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. The teleplay was originally broadcast by ABC-TV on Wednesday, December 18, 1974.[1][2] The script was based on Robert Kennedy's posthumously-published 1969 book Thirteen Days: A Memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis.


In 1962, United States U-2 flights reveal the Soviet Union is placing ballistic missiles in Cuba, only a few miles from American shores. President Kennedy collects a group of advisors from his cabinet and the military to assess the situation and develop a strategy to negotiate the withdrawal of the missiles. Tensions run high as Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev refuses to cease operations. Kennedy goes public with the information and announces the U.S. will establish a quarantine around Cuba to block further shipments. Khrushchev responds that the Russians will breach the blockade. An American U-2 pilot is killed over Cuba during a reconnaissance mission. Finally, the crisis is resolved and nuclear war avoided when the Soviets agree to withdraw its missiles conditioned upon the U.S. promising never to invade Cuba.


Production notes

The title of the play was influenced by the 1962 book The Guns of August by Barbara W. Tuchman, which describes various events leading to World War I and had been read by US President John F. Kennedy shortly before the crisis.[3] In the play, Kennedy compares events in the book to the crisis with the Soviet Union.

Staged as a two-and-a-half hour television play, the production eschews physical action and detailed sets and wardrobes in favor of emphasis on dialogue, emotion, and decision-making. The plot depicts how the world came close to the brink of but eventually stepped away from global thermonuclear war and highlights the roles of President Kennedy, US Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, US Ambassador to the United Nations Adlai Stevenson, and former US Secretary of State Dean Acheson during the crisis.

The Missiles of October gave the US general public its first look behind the scenes at the inner workings, disagreements, and ultimate consensus of the Kennedy administration to blockade Cuba, rather than invade to dislodge the just-discovered partially completed Soviet nuclear missile emplacements in Cuba. It details US attempts to give the Soviets room to negotiate without appearing to capitulate and periodically depicts Khrushchev reporting progress of the events to his Communist Party cohorts.

Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson, who was a member of EXCOMM and was present at most meetings during the crisis, is not portrayed in the docudrama.

The play was directed by Anthony Page with writing credits given to Stanley R. Greenberg and Robert Kennedy. The play is noted for Sheen's changing accent throughout the play as well as his several flubbed lines in the first several acts.


Technical Director Ernie Buttelman won the 1975 Emmy Award for outstanding achievement. There were several other Emmy nominations, including outstanding drama or comedy special, outstanding supporting actor in a comedy or drama special for Ralph Bellamy, and outstanding writing in an original teleplay for Greenberg. The same year Greenberg won the Humanitas Prize in the 90-minute category.

In 1997, the play won a Producers Guild of America Hall of Fame award.

See also


  1. ^ a b Thomas, Bob (18 December 1974). "'Missiles of October' about Cuban crisis". Eugene Register-Guard. (Oregon). Associated Press. p. 15B.
  2. ^ a b Holsopple, Barbara (18 December 1974). "Columbia dean seeks to stop 'Missile' airing tonight". Pittsburgh Press. p. 74.
  3. ^ Hindley, Meredith. "The Dramatist". National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Retrieved 2 May 2019.