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Fail-Safe (1964)

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Ratings: 8.0/10 from 13,216 users  
Reviews: 126 user | 31 critic

American planes are sent to deliver a nuclear attack on Moscow, but it's a mistake due to an electrical malfunction. Can all-out war be averted?

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(screenplay), (from the novel by), 2 more credits »
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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
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Colonel Grady (as Ed Binns)
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William Hansen ...
Russell Hardie ...
General Stark (as Russell Hardy)
Russell Collins ...
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Nancy Berg ...
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Frank Simpson ...
Hildy Parks ...
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Storyline

A series of human and computer errors sends a squadron of American 'Vindicator' bombers to nuke Moscow. The President, in order to convince the Soviets that this is a mistake, orders the Strategic Air Command to help the Soviets stop them. Written by KC Hunt <khunt@eng.morgan.edu>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Taglines:

It will have you sitting on the brink of eternity! See more »


Certificate:

Approved | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

 »
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Details

Country:

Language:

Release Date:

15 January 1965 (Finland)  »

Also Known As:

Fail Safe  »

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

(RCA Sound Recording)

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

The big screen in the control room at Omaha was entirely front-projection, and had to be very carefully contrasted to appear clearly on black and white film. This posed a problem for the crew, as the air in the room had to be totally clear of dust so as not to disrupt the image (and make the projection obvious). The screen in the war-room used the same film-stock but was rear-projection. See more »

Goofs

After professor Groeteschele concludes his remarks on the casualties that NYC will suffer and the need for excavating large corporations' records (which are vital to the economy), he crosses in front of the "tactical" screen. The screen displays the sixth "defensive" bomber (which carried no bombs) and its spread of "decoy" transmissions. At this point in the film, the Russian fighters have already focused on and destroyed this bomber (to general Bogan's dismay) and the final bomber (which has no decoy capability) has dropped below radar, never to be seen on the tactical screen again. It is likely that this scene was moved during editing. See more »

Quotes

Prof. Groeteschele: [after recommending an unprovoked attack by the U.S. on Moscow] And the Lord said, gentlemen, "He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone."
See more »

Crazy Credits

[FINAL CREDIT]: The producers of this film wish to stress that it is the stated position of the Department of Defense and the United States Air Force that a rigidly enforced system of safeguards and controls insure that occurrences such as those depicted in this story cannot happen See more »

Connections

Referenced in The Governor & J.J.: File Safe (1970) See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

See more (Spoiler Alert!) »

User Reviews

 
How do you show your good will when your own bombers are about to mistakenly nuke Moscow?
17 February 2000 | by (Twin Cities, Minnesota) – See all my reviews

That's the biggest moral dilemma this movie puts in front of its characters. It falls to the President (ably played by Henry Fonda) to make the agonizing decision of how to handle the situation without causing a global thermonuclear war.

From the Soviet point of view, here's what happens. The hot line in Moscow rings. The premier picks it up to hear the American president explaining that three unstoppable bombers are on their way to obliterate Moscow. Oh, but it was an accident. We didn't mean to send them out, sorry. And we can't call them back, because they're beyond their fail safe position (and thus are trained to maintain complete radio silence and ignore any communication they may receive), and we can't shoot them down because they're way out of our range. Sorry. Our bad.

The pacing of the movie moves from a calm, cool tone while various media figures are shown around the facility in charge of all the bombers. Then it picks up a tiny bit as the facility detects a bogie over Hudson Bay. And this is where the situation begins that eventually leads to the erroneous deployment of a nuclear strike against the Soviet Union. Although it seems small at the time, this is the metaphorical horseshoe nail that loses the kingdom. ("For want of a nail....") From this point, the movie steadily increases the suspence as progressively more drastic measures are taken in the effort to stop these bombers, with the situation growing more desperate by the moment. I started out firmly positioned on my seat, but by the end I had moved further and further forward towards the edge of my seat until eventually I couldn't even sit still. Too much suspense.

There are quite a lot of technical errors in the film (for instance, due to the Air Force refusing to assist in the film, they had to resort to a fairly limited set of stock footage for the shots of aircraft, which are thus extremely inaccurate) but it remains a good movie. If you can ignore the errors in set design and stock footage and concentrate instead on the dialog (which is where the action is anyway), watching people rise to the challenge or snap under the pressure, this is a movie you will never, ever forget.


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