8.0/10
14,777
134 user 36 critic

Fail-Safe (1964)

Approved | | Drama, Thriller | 15 January 1965 (Finland)
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?

Director:

Writers:

(screenplay), (from the novel by) | 1 more credit »
Reviews
Popularity
1,779 ( 6,579)

Watch Now

From $2.99 on Amazon Video

ON DISC
3 nominations. See more awards »

Videos

Photos

Learn more

People who liked this also liked... 

Fail Safe (TV Movie 2000)
Drama | Thriller
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  

Cold War tensions climb to a fever pitch when a U.S. bomber is accidentally ordered to drop a nuclear warhead on Moscow.

Director: Stephen Frears
Stars: Walter Cronkite, Richard Dreyfuss, Noah Wyle
Drama
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  

A Jewish pawnbroker, victim of Nazi persecution, loses all faith in his fellow man until he realizes too late the tragedy of his actions.

Director: Sidney Lumet
Stars: Rod Steiger, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Brock Peters
The Hill (1965)
Drama | War
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.9/10 X  

In a North African military prison during World War II, five new prisoners struggle to survive in the face of brutal punishment and sadistic guards.

Director: Sidney Lumet
Stars: Sean Connery, Harry Andrews, Ian Bannen
Drama | Romance | Thriller
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.9/10 X  

United States military leaders plot to overthrow the President because he supports a nuclear disarmament treaty and they fear a Soviet sneak attack.

Director: John Frankenheimer
Stars: Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Fredric March
The Best Man (1964)
Drama
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  

The two front runners for their party's Presidential nomination, one principled and the other ruthless, vie for the ex-President's endorsement.

Director: Franklin J. Schaffner
Stars: Henry Fonda, Cliff Robertson, Edie Adams
The Offence (1973)
Crime | Drama | Thriller
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.1/10 X  

A burned-out British police detective finally snaps while interrogating a suspected child molester.

Director: Sidney Lumet
Stars: Sean Connery, Trevor Howard, Vivien Merchant
Action | Crime | Drama
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.5/10 X  

A man, his wife, and their friend, stage a bloody bank robbery, unaware they are stealing money from the Mob.

Director: Don Siegel
Stars: Walter Matthau, Joe Don Baker, Felicia Farr
Crime | Drama
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  

A New York City narcotics detective reluctantly agrees to cooperate with a special commission investigating police corruption. However, he soon discovers that he's in over his head, and nobody can be trusted.

Director: Sidney Lumet
Stars: Treat Williams, Jerry Orbach, Richard Foronjy
Certificate: GP Crime | Thriller
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.4/10 X  

After Duke Anderson is released from prison after ten years for taking the rap for a scion of a Mafia family, he cashes in a debt of honor with the mob to bankroll a caper.

Director: Sidney Lumet
Stars: Sean Connery, Dyan Cannon, Martin Balsam
The Verdict (1982)
Drama
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  

A lawyer sees the chance to salvage his career and self-respect by taking a medical malpractice case to trial rather than settling.

Director: Sidney Lumet
Stars: Paul Newman, Charlotte Rampling, Jack Warden
Vu du pont (1962)
Drama
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.2/10 X  

Eddie Carbone, a Brooklyn longshoreman is unhappily married to Beatrice and unconsciously in love with Catherine, the niece that they have raised from childhood. Into his house come two ... See full summary »

Director: Sidney Lumet
Stars: Raf Vallone, Jean Sorel, Maureen Stapleton
Drama
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 5.5/10 X  

After winning a game show contest, a newlywed couple travels to New Orleans where the husband seeks to collect back his ancestral plantation mansion from his biracial step-brother.

Director: Sidney Lumet
Stars: James Coburn, Lynn Redgrave, Robert Hooks
Edit

Cast

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

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 »

Genres:

Drama | Thriller

Certificate:

Approved | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

 »
Edit

Details

Country:

Language:

Release Date:

15 January 1965 (Finland)  »

Also Known As:

Fail Safe  »

Filming Locations:


Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

(RCA)

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See  »
Edit

Did You Know?

Trivia

Dana Elcar's first film role. See more »

Goofs

The bombers in the film are portrayed using a Convair B-58 Hustler (see trivia entry), except during the final attack on Moscow, when the plane briefly appears as a North American F-86 Sabre Jet instead. Also some on-board footage of an X-15 experimental plane launch is used to depict the contrail of the missiles fired at the last attempt to stop the bomber (also, previous external shots of the bombers did not show much of a contrail, whereas the rocket engine exhaust of the X-15 is clearly visible). See more »

Quotes

Gen. Stark: They're good men, we've seen to that. If their orders are attack, the only way you're going to stop them is to shoot them down.
Brigadier General Warren A. Black: We've got no alternative! This minute the Russians are watching their boards, trying to figure out what we're up to. If we can't convince them it's an accident we're trying to correct by any means, we're going to have something on our hands that nobody bargained for, and only a lunatic wants!
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

Featured in Fonda on Fonda (1992) See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

See more (Spoiler Alert!) »

User Reviews

The Ultimate Moral Dilemma In Superior Cold War Drama
28 May 2003 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

The ultimate moral dilemma confronts the President of the United States when everything goes wrong with the strategic offensive power of a US Air Force bomber squadron, leaving viewers shaken at the end of a superior Cold war drama highlighted by its extraordinary claustrophobia.

Filming of Fail-Safe coincided with filming of Dr. Strangelove, and Stanley Kubrick succeeded in getting his film done first. The earlier publicity for Strangelove hurt Fail-Safe's exposure, and this is doubly disappointing because Fail-Safe is in most ways a superior film, telling its story straight and highlighting superior performances by the entirety of the cast, from Henry Fonda, Frank Overton, Fritz Weaver, and Dan O'Herlihy to a stunningly strong performance by comedian Dom Deluise in a rare dramatic role.

What begins as a routine albiet annoying tour for a visiting Congressman of Strategic Air Command's headquarters in Omaha turns into the ulitmate nightmare. An unidentified aircraft is spotted on a course toward Detroit and airborne bombers are scrambled to fixed points orbiting Soviet Russia until the UFO can be identified. The scramble is routine but this particular one becomes more dramatic as identifying the UFO proves more troublesome than usual, but eventually all is cleared up.

But replacement of a faulty componant in SAC's mainframe briefly flashes the base's plotting board, and activates an attack signal in Bomber Group Six under the command of old-school Colonel Jack Grady (Edward Binns). Attempt to contact Omaha runs into unexpected and mysterious jamming, and the attack signal is verified - Moscow.

It is here that the real nightmare begins, and the President himself must summon Peter Buck (Larry Hagman) down to the underground command shelter in which lies the direct "hotline" oral communication hookup to Soviet Russia's ruling chairman himself. From here the President must coordinate with the Pentagon and SAC HQ to try and stop the bombers, despite endless jamming and the crew's own orders not to answer further contacts.

The actions to stop the bombers drive the drama and bring out the excellence of the cast. Frank Overton is the SAC commanding general whose faith in his systems is shaken by the accident. Fritz Weaver is his XO, driven by shame over his upbringing (shown when he gets into a fight with his alcoholic father before being summoned to SAC HQ) and more likely to crack under the strain. Dan O'Herlihy is a Brigadier General harboring endless doubt about the sagacity of the US strategic arsenal - "We've got to stop war, not limit it," he says, against the better judgement of his peers - who plays a pivotal role in the crisis' outcome.

But even with the excellence of these and others, it is Henry Fonda as the President and Larry Hagman who drive the drama in their hotline conversations with the Soviet chairman; the pivotal angle of these conversations is Peter Buck's whispered comments about the intangibles of the Russian leader's words and expression of them - when the Soviet claims no knowledge of jamming equipment, Buck expresses belief that the Russian is lying - and also his analysis of arguments among the Russian leader's own staff; as the conversations continue on Buck takes on more and more of the role of outright surrogate for the Soviet chairman.

The running battle to stop the bombers leaves the President with a decision that is the only hope, should the bombers succeed, to prevent Russia from a full-scale retaliatory attack that will incinerate the world; the President's decision is of course outrageously implausible in real life but nonetheless works in the context of the film, and leads to a delicious bit of irony at the very end that ties in a bizarre fixation with a matador.

Among the liberties the film takes to tell the story, aside from the hotline telephone (the actual hotline was a teletype transmitter, continuously updgraded over the years), are the types of bombers used and the speed and weapon capability of these craft. Such focus on hardware often hurts dramatic pull, but here it is kept to a minimum and only serves to help move the story along, a nice balance that exemplifies the strength of the story and the performances within.


37 of 49 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

Message Boards

Recent Posts
I don't buy one of the underlying premises in the film robert3750-92-607013
Dan O'Herlihy: harmless old man, or left-wing nut? Bob_Schuka
Would YOU sacrifice New York City ...? blubb06
What does 'I hear you five by five' mean? Lukerdog
More terrifying than any horror film I've seen mase-6
Did he pick New York because they did not vote for him? sprinter1610
Discuss Fail-Safe (1964) on the IMDb message boards »

Contribute to This Page