Second Acting The Bedford Incident

There is a Broadway tradition of second acting shows. That basically means you come in with the crowd returning from intermission and only see the second act… but without paying for a ticket. I’ve never done it – always wanted to.

I think about that term whenever I pick up a movie in midstream That’s what I did tonight with my favorite cold war thriller, “The Bedford Incident.”

The Bedford is a destroyer, commanded by Richard Widmark. It’s the early 60s and tensions between us and the Russians are very high. Widmark stumbles upon a Russian sub and then plays a cat and mouse game until the unlikely conclusion.

The cast is unbelievable and their portrayals are effortless. There’s Widmark, of course, Sidney Poitier, James MacArthur, Martin Balsam, Wally Cox, Eric Portman and a very young Donald Sutherland.

What has always hooked me on this movie, and what I remember word-for-word, is the climax. Widmark is on the bridge, arguing with two passengers not under his command (Poitier and Portman).

Captain Finlander (Widmark): “Don’t worry Commodore. The Bedford will never fire first. But, if he fires one, I’ll fire one.”

Ensign Ralston (MacArthur): “Fire one.”

And with that, a very tightly wound and rattled James MacArthur presses the button and fires a missile. It is perfectly edited and perfectly played.

This is one movie that’s great to watch all the way through and exceptional to second act.

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