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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 »
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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

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 big screen in the control room at Omaha was entirely front-projection, and had to be very carefully contrasted to appear clearly on black and white film. This posed a problem for the crew, as the air in the room had to be totally clear of dust so as not to disrupt the image (and make the projection obvious). The screen in the war-room used the same film-stock but was rear-projection. See more »

Goofs

The interior shots of the bombers, Convair B-58 Hustlers (see Trivia), actually were shot inside of a commercial airline simulator then under repair at a a New York airport. The three crew members sit within feet of each other, in an open cockpit layout. In an actual B-58, the world's first supersonic bomber (and capable of twice the speed of sound), the three-man crew of pilot, bombardier/navigator, and defense systems specialist were separated by banks of equipment, and had no physical contact with one another. To make survivable ejection possible on such a high-speed aircraft, each compartment was specifically designed as wholly contained clam-shell "pod" that would disengage intact if the need arose. As a result, the crew had to rely on an internal telecommunications system to talk, or a string-and-pulley system that ran along the cabin wall to exchange notes if those systems failed. It's speculated that this early "jettison pod" design was incorporated as a presidential safeguard on modern 747 versions of Air Force One, as implied in the 1997 Harrison Ford movie thriller "Air Force One", and that it also inspired the crew containment compartment of the space shuttle. See more »

Quotes

Gen. Bogan: Sergeant Collins! On the double!
[Collins races to General Bogan at the main communication board of SAC headquarters]
Gen. Bogan: You're backup man on fire control, aren't you?
TSgt. Collins: Yes sir.
Gen. Bogan: Do our Vindicator missiles have both infrared and radar-seeking capacity?
TSgt. Collins: [tentatively] Yes sir.
Gen. Bogan: [grabbing Collins forcefully toward the radio mike] Loud and clear! They've got to know we're on the level!
TSgt. Collins: [fearfully] It has both capacities, sir!
Marshall Nevsky: [Over the radio] Can the radar-seeking mechanism be overloaded by increasing the ...
[...]
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Crazy Credits

introducing Fritz Weaver See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

Brilliant
25 November 2001 | by XRANDYSee 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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