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Watching Fail Safe last night on CBS should have been a wake up call to other networks that live television programs need a new awakening. The film was handled just as the original was, but of course with a cast of very talented film actors (eg. Harvey Keitel, James Cromwell, Hank Azaria, etc.). The production was shot in glorious black and white with no soundtrack, in fact the only noises heard besides voices were rockets taking off and a few very effective sounds. Like the original, the film ended quite ominously and then listed the present countries with nuclear capabilities. I'm hoping that if anyone out there missed this one-of-a-kind television event, that they (CBS) replay the film eventhough it won't be live anymore, it should still be seen by any political fanatics and certainly by all true film lovers. -B.
Set during the Cold War in the '60's and filmed in
B/W for atmosphere, this telemovie is a compelling "what
if?" scenario. What if a nuclear-capable nation
gives an order to strike the enemy - by accident?
What if there is no way to recall that order? What
will it take for the enemy to believe that it is a
This remake of a 1964 film explores issues which are as timely today as they were during the Cold War...and will continue to be until worldwide disarmament is achieved.
The telemovie is also presented interestingly, like a play, with "acts" titled on the screen. Also it was apparently shot with just one take for each scene.
The movie covers the Cold War policies revolving around the tension of possible imminent war with Russia. The US would keep bomber squadrons in the air at all times, ready to head into Russia at the order of the President. However, there is always the danger of Russian intervention to prevent our attacks, and several "fail safes" are in place to prevent the Russians from stopping our forces.
However, after a mechanical error sends the go-ahead code to the "fail safe box" on a bomber squadron, all this starts working against the US. These bombers start making their way towards Russia, given the order to proceed--their target, Moscow.
The television production of "Fail Safe" was almost certainly the greatest event ever accomplished in the television format. The plot of the already great 1964 movie was not significantly altered, although it was changed slightly to suit the live nature of the show. The last half of the movie proceeds in real-time format, adding to the tension, and the ending is so chilling, it will leave you shaking in your seat, unable to move as the end credits roll. It is the most powerful anti-war message I have ever seen, and reminds us of the horrors of the thermonuclear world we live in, and are in danger of every day, even now.
This is one of those rare life-altering experiences that only perhaps once in several years the television format is able to offer.
This is a very interesting concept - a feature-length movie shot live to
air. What I thought was particularly funny was the fact that I only
one missed line in about the first 45 minutes, and that was in the
The whole way through this movie I was thinking about Dr Strangelove, but hey, that's what you get when you make a movie about American planes mistakenly given the order to drop nuclear bombs on Moscow at the height of the Cold War.
This is a good movie - and there is a sense of immediacy to it because there are no special effects, funny lights, odd sound effects, there's no background music, nothing but what goes on. It's like watching a play in your own home. Okay, so it was hard to hear some of the lines because someone coughed in the background, or he was whispering a bit too low, or whatever. But the fact still remains that this is an engaging plot with a great ending, and it's all the more laudable for having been done live, with no safety net.
Eight from ten.
This was a noble but flawed attempt by producer George Clooney to recreate the tense Cold War drama of the 1964 production. I liked the black & white photography but because it was broadcast live, the dialogue seemed painfully fragmented with stretches of dead air at times. It would have been better if it were taped and edited in the usual manner. Not as tense as the original but still a valiant effort. Nevertheless I think some classics should never be remade. See the original.
I was surprised that someone wanted to do another film adaptation of this book now that the Cold War is fading into the past. Even so, the situation still provokes real tension while watching it play out. I was born after the original Fail-Safe was made, so I didn't watch it until a few years ago. I found it to be an excellent film, and this one is a worthy follow-up. The live angle was also a gutsy move, and except for a few sound drop-outs, it was seamless. Let's see more live TV!
Excellent television production, done live, but it didn't matter. Excellent performances, great direction. Compares well with 1964 film version starring Henry Fonda. Kudos to George Clooney as the driving force for making this happen. Bring back live TV!
Clooney was the force behind this experiment in live tv drama and it pays off handsomely. Dreyfus as the president, Wylie as Buck, Dehenney as the general all turn in excellent performances in this taut drama of military readiness gone sour. The "letterboxed" black and white production marginally updated for today's politics and political correctness gets high marks for creating a terse drama depicting horrifying possibilities.
This is absolutely inane to broadcast a live play in black-and-white. Even Shakespeare's audiences saw their plays in color. Black and white may be dramatic when Spielberg uses it in a movie about Nazi Germany, but a live play??? With a contemporary setting?? Ridiculous!!!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Note: These comments make reference to the original 1964 "Fail Safe" and
may have SPOILERS. Please read accordingly.
"Fail Safe", the teleplay, is a faithful copy of the 1964 original, but the question should be: Why? Why was this remade?
The original--which I first saw at the height of Reagan's cold war in the early 1980's--was a masterpiece of dramatic tension that managed to reach beyond the particulars of its time. The teleplay doesn't do this. Mind you, it's a good teleplay. The acting was fine, particularly Brian Dennehy in an outstanding role as General Bogan. It was live. It was technically very well produced, and as faithful to the original as can be (shot in black & white and letterboxed).
That's its problem. It's hard for a teleplay such as this to recapitulate the Cold War in a way that makes it real for most of the audience, let alone re-define such a film as "Fail Safe". "Fail Safe", for its drama, was a film of its time and as such is (and was) very dated. Although the 2000 teleplay, in a postscript, makes reference to nations that have nuclear weapons, it's very unlikely that "Fail Safe"'s scenario could now happen as presented. (Just imagining President Clinton in Richard Dreyfuss' role is example enough, though there are some eerie parallels between Dreyfuss' President and Clinton as the film implies.) As a child of the Cold War (born in 1963) and as scared of nuclear conflict as anyone, I am amazed at how quickly this period has faded from public consciousness. This teleplay won't change that a bit.
Moreover, the nature of television works against it. I remember Lumet's film as being a dark, claustrophobic nature that fit its storyline perfectly. The teleplay was brightly lit by comparison and looks for all the world like one of Rod Serling's teleplays from the 1950's.
(For that matter, why not remake "Requiem for a Heavyweight"? It isn't dated a bit and has lots of relevance for today's sports-star-crazed society.)
This, though, may have been the best CBS and George Clooney could do, if they really wanted to make a cautionary tale about nuclear weapons. There are too many other TV-movies in this subgenre, most of them doomed by their own fearmongering and sentimentality ("The Day After", for one). Any contemporary remake of "Fail Safe" would immediately face the same problems.
"Fail Safe" 2000 is a good teleplay with a great cast. But it never needed to be made in the first place. Anyone wanting to really know what that era was like should rent the original 1964 film, plus "Dr. Strangelove", and watch both films back to back. THAT will give you a much better sense of those days than this teleplay will.
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