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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?



(screenplay), (from the novel by) | 1 more credit »
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Cast overview, first billed only:
Colonel Grady (as Ed Binns)
William Hansen ...
General Stark (as Russell Hardy)
Nancy Berg ...
Frank Simpson ...
Hildy Parks ...


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


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Drama | Thriller


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Release Date:

15 January 1965 (Finland)  »

Also Known As:

Fail Safe  »

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Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?


Some reference works (eg Colonna Sonora) credit Hal Schaefer as composer of the music score. In fact, the Columbia record division did issue his five minute Fail Safe suite on a 7-inch disc in 1964 (Colpix Records CP 751) with the film promoted on the actual label: FAIL SAFE - A Columbia Pictures Release. Schaefer's music, performed by the Hal Schaefer Quintet, was a somewhat nervous and dissonant jazz work, fairly appropriate to the film's content. However, director Lumet decided to release the film with no background score, so Schaefer's music only exists on the promotional disc. See more »


Throughout the film, the U.S. bombers are referred to as Vindicators, when in fact they are B-58 Hustlers. See more »


Gen. Bogan: Sergeant Collins! On the double!
[Collins races to General Bogan at the main communication board of SAC headquarters]
Gen. Bogan: You're backup man on fire control, aren't you?
TSgt. Collins: Yes sir.
Gen. Bogan: Do our Vindicator missiles have both infrared and radar-seeking capacity?
TSgt. Collins: [tentatively] Yes sir.
Gen. Bogan: [grabbing Collins forcefully toward the radio mike] Loud and clear! They've got to know we're on the level!
TSgt. Collins: [fearfully] It has both capacities, sir!
Marshall Nevsky: [Over the radio] Can the radar-seeking mechanism be overloaded by increasing the ...
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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 »


Featured in Henry Fonda: The Man and His Movies (1982) See more »

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User Reviews

Despite its limitations, A Thought-provoking Cold War drama
28 November 2005 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

I mentioned in another comment about a series of movies made during the mid-1960's, that I call 'political noir'.

These films are easy to spot, in that there were made in B&W, dealt with a American institutional crisis and seemed to always feature Henry Fonda somewhere in the cast.

On all three counts, this film fits that criteria.

Because this film came out around the time of "Dr Strangelove", it was somewhat overshadowed, and because of the nearly identical plots, there was even talk of plagiarism, even though this film was based on a novel by two Washington-based journalists with a remarkable insight of the workings of government and was directed by Sidney Lument, one of the cinema's great directors.

Also, unlike "Dr Strangelove", which seemed to receive major studio backing, money and the freedom offered by being produced in Great Britain where this satire was more appreciated, "Fail-Safe" was independently produced in New York on a limited budget, without official backing by the Defense Department, which explains all of the flaws complained of by many viewers and posters on this site.

Yet in spite of these limitations, Lument pulls off a major coup by presenting us with an authentic piece of Armeggeddon.

In a real-time view, we watch as a million-to-one technical fault 'orders' a wing of American bombers to attack Soviet Russia, and the Defense Department and the President are helpless in trying to stop it.

We are also witness to how our military operates, trying to plan military policy, and debating theory and possible results.

Such things are sensible and harmless as far as these things go, until 'the day comes' when reality displaces theory.

Walter Matthau, who is more well-known for his comic talents ("The Odd Couple", "Grumpy Old Men"), than being an accomplished dramatic actor, is shown at the height of his powers as Prof. Groteschelle; a defense policy wonk, whose obsession with defense preparedness and Marxist theory reaches the point of detachment from human emotion, as he blindly recommends that no action be taken and the bombers be allowed to complete their mission, resulting in 'final victory' over Communism.

This is in direct contradiction to General Black, a compassionate Air Force officer who is also an intellectual, who desperately urges that every means be made to stop the bombers before it is too late.

However, it turns out to be too late, at least on the American side.

We watch how technology becomes a hindrance, as much as the distrust between the two superpowers seems to be, as the President and the Soviet Premier desperately try to seek a solution to this disaster.

The tragedy about this is that someone thought they should remake this in 2000, which in a way is flattering but certainly could not come close to the original work.

But, this only proves that the subject of 'accidental war' is still a concern.

However, how can one do better than Henry Fonda ???

51 of 57 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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I don't buy one of the underlying premises in the film robert3750-92-607013
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