Rock Hudson played Thomas McKenna, the president of the United States in the 1982 TV movie, 'World War III'. The 4-hour 2-part movie went on air over the weekend celebrating the 100th anniversary of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's birth - the former President of the United States who had led many Americans through the Great Depression and most of World War II. 

Set in December 1987 - the year marking the 70th anniversary of the Russian Revolution of 1917, Tom Shales of the 'Washington Post' noted, the final cut of this make-believe TV movie eliminated the original year chosen for the apocalypse: 1987. Instead, the possibility of the final war took place "in the amorphous terrain known as The Future." The year 1987 also marked the 200th birthday of the signing of the U.S. Constitution. David Obst originally came up with the idea for 'World War III' at Universal Studios. 

David Soul played army colonel Jake Caffey told Associated Press in 1982, "As it goes these days, it wasn't expensive enough or it was too expensive to do as a film and Bill Finnegan and Boris Sagal acquired it because they knew they could do it for television at a price that was feasible." Written by Robert L. Joseph, Part I of 'World War III' ranked the 28th highest rated program nationally that week. In Los Angeles, the movie attracted 20% ratings. Part II did better ranked 7th with 23.5% ratings (roughly 19.2 million TV households were counted watching). 

Director Boris Sagal of 'Masada' died in May 1981 in a helicopter accident at Timberline Lodge, Mount Hood, 60 miles from Portland, Oregon while filming background scenes. In 'World War III', Oregon substituted for Alaska. David Greene took over for Boris Sagal on one week's notice. David Soul continued, "Believe it or not, we shot all the Alaskan snow scenes on a stage at Zoetrope Studios. We sweated on that stage in fake snow with the temperature soaring. Rock Hudson, who'd done snow scenes in 'Ice Station Zebra', stood by laughing at us." The snow paid homage to the Cold War.

Critics applauded the movie 'World War III' for telling the story in a matter-of-fact manner without hysteria. Bill Hayden of 'Gannett News Service' observed, "It is the plausibility of dealing with the scenario's situations only on a political level and not on a human level that makes this production devastatingly frightening." 'World War III' explored the possibility of a confrontation in Alaska between Soviet and American troops that would bring the two superpowers to the edge of nuclear war. 

The premise was that the U.S.S.R was suffering repeated crop failures and the Russians were on the verge of going hungry. The U.S. would not sell the Soviets any wheat so the Soviet Union took actions against the U.S. by launching a desperate invasion of Alaska to force the Americans to lift the embargo. The Soviets seized the Alaskan oil pipeline, threatening to blow it up unless grain shipments to a starving Russia resumed.

The American farmers in 'World War III' were clamoring for an end to the grain embargo, initiated as leverage against the Soviet presence in Afghanistan, Poland and the then Yugoslavia. Rock Hudson told Paul Ryan, "When I first read it (the script) I thought it shouldn't be made. Don't make this. But then again I thought absolutely it must be made to make us human beings realize what idiots we are and consequently I played the role."

David Soul believed, "I don't think this picture raises any questions. The questions are already there. What’s new is that people don’t want to think about them. They hope if they ignore it it will go away. What it does is allow it to have a vicarious experience with something we’re afraid of. I suppose there are some seemingly simplistic answers.

"Such as two colonels, an American and a Russian, who meet and say this is the end of war. We’re not in control of our destiny, what we’re doing is stupid. They meet to seal an end to their fighting – and the KGB agent, the political force, interferes. I think the film raises in a real high tension situation what the dangers are if you deal with this only on a political level and not on a human level.”

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