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Fail-Safe (1964)

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

Director:

Sidney Lumet

Writers:

Walter Bernstein (screenplay), Eugene Burdick (from the novel by) | 1 more credit »
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3 nominations. See more awards »

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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
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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:

Not Rated | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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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

Production Co:

Columbia Pictures See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Mono (RCA)

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

The conversation in the rec room about automated aircraft has come true; they are so common that they can be purchased for pocket change nowadays. It is worth noting that the B-58 Hustlers in this film (the stand-ins for the "Vindicator" bombers) were the first fly-by-wire planes in military service, this meaning that the controls were electronic and were not directly connected to the hydraulic systems that managed the control surfaces or throttles. A notoriously difficult plane to maintain, it also had one odd feature. The military had the planes upgraded with remotely controlled machine guns, but if the plane was at full speed when fired (faster than a bullet), the bullets actually followed in the direction the plane, but at a slower speed. 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

Defense Secretary Swenson: General Stark, are there any papers or documents in New York which are absolutely essential to the running of the United States? General Stark?
Gen. Stark: No sir. There are important documents, but none of them absolutely essential.
Admiral Wilcox: Will there be any warning given? A lot of lives could be saved if people had a few minutes.
Defense Secretary Swenson: On this short notice, an alert to a big city would do more harm than good. It only produces panic.
Admiral Wilcox: What about this?
[...]
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 Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures (2001) See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

 
Despite its limitations, A Thought-provoking Cold War drama
28 November 2005 | by pizzawarrior1956-1See 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 ???


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