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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?

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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 ...
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General Stark (as Russell Hardy)
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Nancy Berg ...
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Frank Simpson ...
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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:

The screen zeros in on the most suspenseful adventure drama of our age! See more »

Genres:

Drama | Thriller

Certificate:

Approved | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

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Details

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Language:

Release Date:

15 January 1965 (Finland)  »

Also Known As:

Fail Safe  »

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Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

(RCA)

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

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 »

Goofs

In the brief scene when General Bogan is notified that Mrs. Grady's been found the big board shows icons for three Vindicator bombers when at this point all but one had been destroyed. Also, that one Vindicator should have been invisible since it was flying low in the "grass". See more »

Quotes

Prof. Groeteschele: In my opinion they will take no action at all.
Gen. Stark: They're not going to just sit there, Professor
Prof. Groeteschele: I think if our bombers get through the Russians will surrender.
Gen. Bogan: Who's this professor, Mr. Secretary? What's he doing there?
Defense Secretary Swenson: Professor Groeteschele is a civilian advisor to the Pentagon, General. Will you explain your statement, Professor?
Prof. Groeteschele: The Russian aim is to dominate the world. They think that Communism must succeed eventually if the Soviet Union is left reasonably intact. They know that a war would ...
[...]
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Crazy Credits

introducing Fritz Weaver See more »

Connections

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

Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

Brilliant
25 November 2001 | by (Korea) – See all my reviews

I saw this movie via two instances of serendipity. First I just happened to be living in an area that offered The Disney Channel in the basic cable package (which is all I ever get) and that as a Bruce Springsteen fan I was excited that the Disney Channel was going to broadcast a special concert short on The Boss. Of course I'm an older Springsteen fan, so instead of staying up late to watch it I just put a tape in and pressed record. The next day I enjoyed the concert, but forgot to hit stop when it ended. What followed next was "Fail Safe". After a few minutes it caught my interest, and now is one of my favorite films.

I'm not sure if this was a precursor to "Strangelove" or vice versa, for they are both listed as 1964 releases. Oddly they both have the same texture about them which leads me to believe that there was more than coincidence in their respective productions. Both are piece de resistances in Cold War studies. The main sundering is that where "Strangelove" excels in parody, "Fail Safe" is rich in tension.

Of course an anxious film about nuclear war on the brink can easily invoke tension (remember "War Games"?), but this film exceeds a good plot. The filmmakers use a backdrop of soceital depravity to create neurasthenia and presentiment; as shown by the strange and erotic scene with Walter Matthau and the woman in the car (kind of a mass-sadisim, lust thing) and the implied domestic violence in the apartment scene. The movie is also deliciously philosophical (the clever "criminals and file clerks will survive" theory) as well as adroit phsycological character development for all the main characters.

The picture is also darkly filmed, remarkedly minimalist and low-budget as if to show the limits of technology, in order to symbolize the sophistry of our trust in it. BTW I love the Matthau character's (the political science professor) line as he explains the faults of missles that have no human intuition. "The rockets have the defect of their virtues" he says in explaining how they cannot make a conscious decision to abort after receiving an order. But the message in this film is clear; even if technology breaks down it is only a symptom of our doom, ultimately it is humans who are responsible.


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