Three decades before Ben Affleck's "Argo," a Canadian TV film that also aired on CBS told the story of the rescue of six Americans that were being safeguarded at the Canadian embassy from capture.
The big difference? The film lacked the component that made "Argo" "Argo" — that is, the involvement of Tony Mendez, the CIA and Hollywood. On the other hand, it did show the captives getting drunk, as you can see in the clip above.
Lamont Johnson directed 1981's "Escape from Iran: The Canadian Caper" from a script by Lionel Chetwynd (story by Chetwynd and Stanley Rubin). Gordon Pinsent ("Away From Her") played Ambassador Ken Taylor, the role portrayed by Victor Garber in "Argo."It aired on CBS less than 18 months after the rescue.
And that film itself was preceded by a documentary, "Escape from Iran: The Inside Story." Les Harris, a producer on the scripted film, was behind that doc as well.
Generally speaking, the Canadian efforts get more credit for accuracy — aside from not having any of the details of the fake "Argo" movie that was concocted to aid the rescue.
“When I interviewed the hostages,” Harris said (to the National Post) as the Toronto International Film Festival was getting underway, “they told me the escape plot involved them pretending to be part of a business group doing research in Iran — what they didn’t tell me was that it was for a fake movie called Argo.” So he had to make up the specific nature of their business. “That’s the only aspect of my film that’s factually wrong. It wasn’t until 1999, when the CIA officer in charge of the whole operation wrote a memoir and revealed all of the details that I got the real story.”
On the other hand, the Variety review of "Canadian Caper," discusses storytelling deficiencies, not the least of which is the need to make the ending more dramatic — something that "Argo" screenwriter Chris Terrio certainly succeded at.
... a detailed logistical account of the rescue may have been avoided because those events were in fact fairly mundane.
They resulted in an unsatisfying climax — the Americans simply answered a few questions at the airport and boarded their plane out of Iran.
Ordinariness of the conclusion was compounded by a series of quick cuts from scene to scene that robbed viewers of a well-defined struggle to the goal of freedom, and gave them only a few suspenseful snatches of that journey. ...
Earlier, Variety also had a brief review of the Harris documentary:
"Escape From Iran," a documentary reconstruction of how Canadian Embassy staff in Tehran smuggled six Americans out of Iran, was timely and gripping fare. Producer Les Harris recreated the story well, with commentary by all concerned and excellent camera work by Vic Sarin and others who filmed key location once they were all safe at home. It was a story that needed telling and Harris and his team did it well.
In mid-1981, CAA ran an ad in Variety that showcased "Escape From Iran: The Canadian Caper," a nice if unwitting bookend to the "Argo" ad that ran the previous year.