170 user 65 critic

Fail Safe (1964)

Approved | | Drama, Thriller, War | 7 October 1964 (USA)
2:56 | Trailer
A technical malfunction sends American planes to Moscow to deliver a nuclear attack. Can all-out war be averted?


Sidney Lumet


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





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 ... Secretary Swenson
Russell Hardie ... Gen. Stark (as Russell Hardy)
Russell Collins ... Knapp
Sorrell Booke ... Congressman Raskob
Nancy Berg ... Ilsa Wolfe
John Connell ... Thomas
Frank Simpson Frank Simpson ... Sullivan
Hildy Parks ... Betty Black


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


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


Drama | Thriller | War


Approved | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

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Did You Know?


In the movie, no year or date is given for the events. But in the novel, the authors state in the introduction that the events take place in 1967. This is consistent with details given about different characters and their backstories; for example, Groteschele is forty-eight years old, and his job search after college graduation was interrupted by Pearl Harbor. And on Grady's bomber, the sealed packet containing the printed Fail-Safe code is dated March 13. See more »


Immediately after Grady cuts off communications with the President a negative image shot of a B-58 is seen. The plane has the Convair logo and swash on its vertical stabilizer. This footage was of a plane owned by the Convair corporation from an air show, and not an active plane belonging to the USAF. See more »


Prof. Groeteschele: [viciously slapping a beautiful young woman who has tried to seduce him after a cocktail party] I'm not your kind.
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Crazy Credits

introducing Fritz Weaver See more »


Featured in And the Oscar Goes To... (2014) See more »

User Reviews

A cold war classic
20 March 2006 | by johno-21See all my reviews

This cold war era classic certainly made you think if it's storyline was possible. The plausibility of the solution to avert an all-out retaliatory nuclear war that the American and Soviet leaders decide on in the film is still debated but this film captures the essence of the cold war paranoia in this film directed by Sidney Lumet. This was Lumet's seventh film of his career and he was known for his dramas that were screen stage plays with 12 Angry Men, Long Days Journey Into Night and The Pawnbroker. Henry Fonda heads up an excellent cast including Walter Matthau, Fritz Weaver, Larry Hagman, Dan O'Herlihy, Ed Binns and Frank Overton. In 1958 author Peter George wrote the novel Red Alert and would go on to win an out of court settlement over the authors of Fail Safe, Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler, on plagiarism charges. Interestingly the dramatic novel Red Alert would serve as the basic premise for this dramatic film and in the dark comedy Dr. Strangelove which were both released in the same year by the same studio. Good tension and drama from this script by Walter Bernstein. Weather it could or couldn't have happened as it did in this story it's still a compelling film 42 years later. I would give it an 8.5 out of 10.

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Frequently Asked Questions

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Release Date:

7 October 1964 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Fail Safe See more »


Box Office

Gross USA:

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Company Credits

Production Co:

Columbia Pictures See more »
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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Mono (Westrex Recording System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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