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Fail-Safe (1964)

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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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Title: Fail-Safe (1964)

Fail-Safe (1964) on IMDb 8/10

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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 large, metal phone the President uses to talk to the Soviet premier was actually a special phone used by explosives companies during blasting. See more »

Goofs

The sequence that shows the B-58 bombers taking off from Elmendorf AFB in Anchorage, Alaska, is incorrect. There were never at any time any SAC bases in Alaska, that's all Alaskan Air Command in that area. Moreover, the B-58 "Hustler" has a combat radius of only 1,740 miles, not close to the 4,000 miles each way from Alaska to Moscow. The bomber in real life, unless refueled in air by an Air Force KC-135 tanker somewhere over enemy territory (one thing the Air Force did not do), would run out of fuel not even half way to Moscow. Only the B-36 (with an un-refueled range of 8,000 miles) or the B-52 (with aerial refueling before entering enemy airspace) could possibly have flown the mission depicted in the film. See more »

Quotes

Prof. Groeteschele: Excuse me. Every minute we wait works against us. Now, Mr. Secretary, now is when we must send in a first strike.
Gen. Stark: We don't go in for sneak attacks. We had that done to us at Pearl Harbor.
Prof. Groeteschele: And the Japanese were right to do it. From their point of view, we were their mortal enemy. As long as we existed, we were a deadly threat to them. Their only mistake was that they failed to finish us at the start, and they paid for that mistake at Hiroshima.
Gen. Stark: You're talking about a different kind of war.
Prof. Groeteschele: ...
[...]
See more »

Crazy Credits

The sounds of a bullfight crowd is heard in reference to Black's matador dream. Then, the squeal of the Russian ambassador's melted phone which the President stated would be heard when New York City was bombed. See more »

Connections

Referenced in The Walker (2007) 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.


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