Larry Hagman and Henry Fonda in Fail-Safe (1964)

A Technical State of War

When a machine error leads to some SAC bombers carrying nuclear bombs to go beyond the fail-safe limits it causes panic as these bombers are heading directly for Russia. As the President of the United States is evacuated to his bunker the staff at the SAC headquarters along with the experts at the Pentagon try and come up with a solution communications with Russia are started to try and prevent a war from breaking out. But with every attempt to abort failing the clock is ticking before the President may have to make a last resort decision.

Oh to be an uninformed adult back in 1964, I would imagine watching "Fail-Safe" would have been a horrifying experience with this set up of a possible nuclear war about to occur because a fault in the system prevents the abort from working. Unfortunately it is over 50 years later and the sense of fear and impending doom which this movie trades on doesn't have the same effect and to be honest for me it had no effect. Maybe it still has some sort of nostalgic power for those who remember watching it back then but with are ever increasing knowledge the flaws in the basic storyline are clear to see.

But the thing about "Fail Safe" is that it is a movie which against all odds was made with a surprising amount of style. What I mean is that there was no military co-operation with this movie, the budget could not be bent and nether could the shooting schedule. As such it has to be said that director Sidney Lumet uses what he has to great effect especially the use of camera angles and lighting to create an imposing darkness in every underground room.

Lumet also has an incredible cast at hand with the likes of Walter Matthau, Henry Fonda and Larry Hagman all making this still watchable. Although it has to be said that some of the actors playing officials seem incapable of not delivering lines in Shakespearean style with lots of pauses and booming voices which to me don't feel natural in the circumstances.

What this all boils down to is that as a piece of movie making "Fail-Safe" is impressive and that still makes it interesting. But this movie no longer works as a cold war thriller with a few too many flaws in the storyline making it fall short.