The Challenge (1970)

Article 2913 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-29-2009
Posting Date: 8-4-2009
Directed by George McCowan and Alan Smithee
Featuring Darren McGavin, Broderick Crawford, Mako
Country: USA

In order to avert war between the United States and an unspecified Asian country, the two nations settle on a battle of surrogates; each nation will pick one representative to do battle on a small island.

The idea of having the outcome of a war settled by a battle of one individual representative of each side is nothing really new; anyone who has read Fredric Brown’s story “Arena” or seen the “Star Trek” episode of the same name based on it has seen it before. However, the difference in this one is that those other versions have what could be described as a super-powerful referee who organizes the one-on-one confrontation (against the wills of the warring factions) who can enforce the final result; here, it’s the individual countries who agree to the confrontation, and there is no referee. This puts me more in mind of the anti-war advocate who wonders why don’t have the two country’s leaders just battle it out between themselves, a naive notion at best. To its credit, the movie does recognize that its premise is indeed naive by throwing in some plot twists in the second half which seem utterly logical, and it ends in probably what is only the real satisfying conclusion to the premise. That being said, this is a highly entertaining TV-Movie with excellent performances, especially from Darren McGavin, Broderick Crawford, Mako and James Whitmore. Furthermore, the movie makes careful and effective use of sound, especially in its use of silence at crucial moments. Its fantastic content is another issue; though it’s not as clearly an example of science fiction as the models listed above, it does fall under the banner by being in the category of speculative political fiction. Overall, this is a fairly impressive production, especially for a TV-Movie.

1 Comment

  1. Directed by George McCowan. Alan Smithee is a name that the Directors’ Guild allowed directors to use when they wished to have their names removed because the film was taken away from them and altered in such a way that it no longer represented the directors’ vision or work. The correct phrasing in this case would be: George McCowan as Alan Smithee or Alan Smithee (George McCowan), with the former preferred.

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