Published on November 27th, 2007 | by Chris1
If you think living in today's terrified "war on terror" world is, well, terrifying. I can only imagine what it must've been like to live in the shadow of constant fear of impending nuclear doom. And really the world was closer to total obliteration then than any single terrorist event that could happen now.
1964's Fail Safe is based on the Burdick-Wheeler Novel of the same name, and explores that terror in great detail. Really this is a story about the fallibility of both man and machine, that if left unchecked can have disastrous consequences. Additionally its a great example of 60's experimental film making.
The story if you're not familiar with it goes something like this. While performing routine exercises in response to various unidentified threats, one bomber group doesn't get the signal that it's "not for real" and continues on towards its ultimate goal: The destruction of Moscow. From there everyone from the pilot's wife to the President of the United States (Henry Fonda) tries everything within their power to stop a chain of events that only leads to disaster.
In one respect the story is very similar to the later War Games. Due to some technical glitches in the bomber group's radios, caused by Soviet radio interference, they don't get the signal to return to business as usual. The classic failed-machine scenario. After that first event we bear witness to more technology that is supposed to help in these situations cause even more problems, such as the radar decoys and formations.
In another aspect we are shown the ultimate point of failure when it comes to warfare of any kind, the human factor. Once the "Fail-safe" point is crossed, the bomber group has been told to ignore any further orders from anyone, which they do with machine-like consistency. Trust, or rather a lack thereof is the main driving force behind this failure of the human element, as neither side seems to want to believe the other even in the face of impending doom.
The final result is a strange decision on behalf of the president, and addresses the question of "what is fair" when it comes to war. Where do we draw the line at acceptable losses? This question comes up early on in the film by the consultant Groeteschele (Walter Matthau.)
You'll also find yourself amazed that so much tension and drama can be drawn from a set of talking heads and two relatively static sets: The Offutt AFB war room and the President's Bunker. There really isn't any soundtrack to speak of, and that only adds to the level of tension, as there's nothing else to focus on but the actor's faces and their reactions. The entire film is shot in an incredibly harsh, almost noir style with lots of distinct shadows and simplistic set design. Again, it draws your attention to the actors and their plight.
The whole Gen. Black (Dan O'Herlihy) / Matador thing which opens the film, and is touched upon at the end is a bit of a mystery. I haven't read the book in ages so I don't remember what that is all about, but it doesn't really fit into things at all.
I can't say enough good things about this picture. A lot of the pontification at the beginning with Groeteschele and Black and the rest of the generals seems to get a little thick, but really it sets the stage for the battle which has yet to be played out, as you'll find yourself asking the same questions.
There are a lot more familiar faces as well, from the nervous translator Buck (Larry Hagman) to the troubled and defiant Col. Cascio (Fritz Weaver), the steadfast Gen. Bogan (Frank Overton) and even the trapped Congressman Raskob, played by Sorrell Booke, who you'd later come to know as "Boss" Hogg(!)....
Fail Safe is one of those pictures that define an era. In this case, the cold-war paranoia and panic of the early 1960's. It's a great look into the mindset of the day, and is an excellent picture in itself.
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One of the greatest anti-war thrillers ever, FAIL-SAFE stars Henry Fonda, Walter Mathau, Dan O'Herlihy, Larry Hagman and Fritz Weaver (in his film debut) as a group of military men on the verge of World War III...
DVD InformationBinding: DVD
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audience Rating: Unrated
Manufacturer: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Original Release Date:
- Henry Fonda
- Walter Matthau
- Fritz Weaver
- Dan O'Herlihy
- Frank Overton
- Factory sealed DVD
71 of 75 people found the following review helpful
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This review is from: Fail-Safe (DVD)Preceded and overshadowed by the film "Dr. Strangelove," "Failsafe" provides a serious version of a nuclear weapons crisis between the United States and the Soviet Union. The plot in "Failsafe" is remarkably similar to its satrical cold-war counterpart with the National Command Authority having to prevent full scale nuclear war after one its bomber squadrons accidentally receives the "Go" code to strike Moscow. A computer communication malfunction at the US Air Force's Strategic Air Command is the culprit, and within minutes, the President dispatches fighters to shoot down the bombers after his service chiefs recommend the course of action. The fighters are unsuccessful and the President begins working with the Soviet Premier to prevent the bombers from reaching their target. Under the President's orders, SAC is on line with the Soviet High Command to help intercept the bombers. After one of his Air Force generals predicts the likelihood of a bomber getting through, the President... Read more
67 of 72 people found the following review helpful
Great movie from a great book,
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This review is from: Fail Safe [VHS] (VHS Tape)
Most books, even the great ones, unfortunately do not translate well onto the big screen. Fail Safe is a happy exception to the rule.0
The story is now two generations old. Mechanical error sends six bombers towards the Soviet Union (remember them? they used to be our one mortal national enemy). The President and the government try all they can to recall them, to no avail.
Emotions understandibly run high. Men get stretched to the breaking point, and some snap. The President makes a terrible sacrifice, to convince the Russians that it WAS an accident. The price of this ticket it incredibly high.
Forget about the comparisons with Dr. Strangelove (which is a great movie in its own right). They belong together only by their contrasting styles.
This movie is chilling in Black & White. You will never think of J.R. Ewing again the same way, after seeing Larry Hagman in the role as the President's translator.
35 of 36 people found the following review helpful
TERRIFYING IN 1964, TERRIFYING TODAY,
This review is from: Fail-Safe (DVD)I've seen this film several times, and it NEVER ceases to scare me... it concentrates on the true power technology holds in the world, and the devastating results that can occur when technological problems arise. An error in our defense system sends an erroneous message to fighter pilots patrolling our airspace, who obey it and head off to bomb Moscow! The situation is handled, if not resolved, with a truly horrifying result.
No shortage of GREAT acting here... Henry Fonda as The President... Larry Hagman as the translator who helps during phone conversations between The President and his Russian counterpart. And Walter Matthau as a Civilian Advisor. As always Matthau is brilliant, as are all the actors. Dom DeLuise appears as one of the techs at the US Air Defense HQ; this is the only "serious" role I've seen DeLuise play.
This film goes further than the mere "technology runs wild" theme; it brings up the frightening questions, "What's REALLY going on up there... Read more
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Summary: Fail Safe is one of those pictures that define an era. In this case, the cold-war paranoia and panic of the early 1960's. It's a great look into the mindset of the day, and is an excellent picture in itself.