8.0/10
17,295
149 user 41 critic

Fail-Safe (1964)

Not Rated | | Drama, Thriller | 1965 (UK)
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:

Sidney Lumet

Writers:

Walter Bernstein (screenplay), Eugene Burdick (from the novel by) | 1 more credit »
Reviews

Watch Now

From $2.99 (SD) on Prime Video

ON DISC
3 nominations. See more awards »

Photos

Learn more

More Like This 

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
Fail Safe (TV Movie 2000)
Drama | Thriller
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.4/10 X  

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

Directors: Stephen Frears, Martin Pasetta
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
Drama | 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
Crime | Drama
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.6/10 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
Edit

Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Dan O'Herlihy ... Gen. Black
Walter Matthau ... Dr. Groeteschele
Frank Overton ... Gen. Bogan
Edward Binns ... Col. Grady (as Ed Binns)
Fritz Weaver ... Col. Cascio
Henry Fonda ... The President
Larry Hagman ... Buck
William Hansen William Hansen ... Secretary Swenson
Russell Hardie ... Gen. Stark (as Russell Hardy)
Russell Collins ... Knapp
Sorrell Booke ... Congressman Raskob
Nancy Berg Nancy Berg ... Ilsa Wolfe
John Connell ... Thomas
Frank Simpson Frank Simpson ... Sullivan
Hildy Parks ... Betty Black
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:

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

Genres:

Drama | Thriller

Certificate:

Not Rated | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
Edit

Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

1965 (UK) See more »

Also Known As:

Fail Safe See more »

Filming Locations:

USA See more »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Mono (RCA)

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »
Edit

Did You Know?

Trivia

Seen on the paper file folder, Gen. Koniev's full name is Alexandr'h Koniev. 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

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

References Mondo cane (1962) See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

See more »

User Reviews

" Maybe It IS Hell ... "
24 November 1999 | by stryker-5See all my reviews

It is 1964 and the Cold War is raging. If the US military's Strategic Command spots any unidentified object in the skies, American nuclear bombers are ordered to a series of 'Fail-Safe' points. Unless they receive the stand-down command, the aircraft will head for target cities in the Soviet Union. Once beyond the Fail-Safe Point, and locked onto their targets, the bombers cannot be recalled. Crews are trained to disregard all signals, whether they be commands or entreaties, and continue on their mission. After all, any plea to turn back may be soviet subterfuge. This perverse logic of nuclear warfare, as one pilot puts it, "eliminates the personal factor".

The film conjectures what might happen if the system buckles. Suppose a technical mishap allows a bomber group to stray beyond Fail-Safe. Would the soviets accept the anguished apologies of an American president? Or would they regard it as a treacherous trick? Should human beings place everything they hold dear at the mercy of electronic systems? What if the rationale of nuclear strategy parts company with human logic?

Made less than two years after the Cuba Missile Crisis, "Fail-Safe" is clearly very heavily affected by that trauma and what it revealed to us all. We see a decent American President in the bizarre context of a nuclear showdown. Cut off from the society he knows and understands, the president is locked deep in some claustrophobic bunker, his only real human contact being the 'enemy' soviet premier. The American is wise and morally sound, and equal to the emergency. His Russian counterpart is emotional and unpredictable, but rises above his indoctrination to attain real dignity when the chips are down. Another of the Cold War insanities is played out - these two foes will spend the last hours of life on Planet Earth locked together psychologically, far from their loved ones.

Henry Fonda is first-class as the president. He brings authority and dignity to the part, exuding Ivy League self-assurance. Larry Hagman plays Buck, the translator from Russian into English, who spends the crisis in the bunker at the president's side. A moment's thought would convince any intelligent viewer that huge liberties are being taken with the truth. In reality, the president would have a team of advisers around him throughout (as indeed Kennedy did during October 1962). There would be phalanxes of interpreters listening in, to insure against even the tiniest mistranslation, and whole companies of psychologists to gauge every nuance of the Russian leader's mood. However, for clarity and dramatic power, the film has the president relying solely on the nervous young Buck. Simultaneous translation is a good dramatic device, because it avoids the distraction of subtitles or the absurdity of a Russian leader speaking fluent English.

Walter Matthau, against type, plays a heartless nuclear expert. Professor Groeteschieler advises the Pentagon top brass on nuclear strategy. He is a ruthless cynic who represents the Barry Goldwater end of the spectrum, and Matthau acts the part consummately well.

Sidney Lumet is one of the great directors, and his stylistic signature is apparent all through this fine film. From the very start, our peace of mind is stripped from us. We see a bull dying in the bullring, and the film's title is flashed up almost subliminally. These broken, discordant images place us immediately in a world of troubled dreams where no comfort is to be had. The American pilots look more like robots than men, in their heavy facemasks which amplify their breathing - or is it fear which creates that rasping edge to their inhalations? When the order to proceed beyond Fail-Safe flashes up in the cockpit, the pilots look at it in motionless silence, their very stillness conveying the tragedy in all its emotional power.

In "Twelve Angry Men" Lumet cast Henry Fonda as the voice of America's liberal conscience beset by the darker forces of the human psyche. Part at least of that film's artistic success is attributable to Lumet's skilful use of lenses in order to flatten the image and intensify the claustrophobia of the jury room. Here, the director employs similar visual techniques to heighten the dramatic experience. With his director of photography, Gerald Hirschfield, he employs chiaroscuro lighting and extreme close-up to amplify the tension of the final minutes, and even shoots Fonda through a fish-eye lens to impart a sense of psychological dislocation.

By a process that is itself logical, nuclear confrontation brings us to insane conclusions. Once both sides comprehend what is happening, they co-operate fully, sharing military secrets, as the humans unite against their mortal enemy, The Bomb. General Bogan (Frank Overton), America's Cold Warrior, is distraught when the Russian missiles fail to destroy American aircraft. Finally, we have the absurdity of an American bomber circling over New York, preparing to destroy five million American lives at the president's command. Life must go on, so plans are drawn up to rescue not people, but the commercial records of American companies from the debris of the metropolis.

Colonel Black (Dan O'Herlihy) is the keeper of the liberal flame. By a cruel irony, he becomes Death itself, and his tragedy is the tragedy of progressive thought. The 'hotline', established post-Cuba, is used very effectively in this film. Shot in exaggerated perspective, the phoneset dwarfs the president, symbolising the way in which the technological behemoth has swamped human decency. In a grimly powerful coup de cinema, the president hears his ambassador's phone melting and knows that the worst has happened. "No human being did wrong," says the Russian premier, as disaster darkens the earth. The American leader counters with, "We let our machines get out of hand." And there, in a nutshell, is the moral of the film.


110 of 126 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you? | Report this
Review this title | See all 149 user reviews »

Contribute to This Page



Recently Viewed