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4.0 6
Director: Sidney Lumet, Henry Fonda, Walter Matthau, Frank Overton

Cast: Sidney Lumet, Henry Fonda, Walter Matthau, Frank Overton


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Based on the novel by Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler, Fail-Safe is set for the most part at Strategic Air Command headquarters, where a misguided transmission sends a squadron of bombers hurtling towards Russia, fully prepared to drop their atomic weaponry on Moscow. Air Force commander Frank Overton desperately tries to establish radio contact with the


Based on the novel by Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler, Fail-Safe is set for the most part at Strategic Air Command headquarters, where a misguided transmission sends a squadron of bombers hurtling towards Russia, fully prepared to drop their atomic weaponry on Moscow. Air Force commander Frank Overton desperately tries to establish radio contact with the bombers, but once the pilots have passed the "fail safe" point, they've been instructed to disregard any reversal of orders. Racing against time, US President Henry Fonda, through his interpreter (Larry Hagman), informs the Russian premiere of the impending nuclear disaster. Working in concert with SAC, the Russians send up interceptors to shoot down the American bombers, while some of the planes run out of fuel and crash. Unfortunately, one aircraft, piloted by Edward Binns, manages to escape destruction and continues on its fatal mission. Realizing that Moscow is doomed, the President must decide how to avert World War III. Featured in the cast of Fail Safe are Walter Matthau as a hawkish scientist, Fritz Weaver as a round-the-bend colonel, and Dom DeLuise (billed as "DeLouise") as a weeping sergeant. Fail-Safe is followed by a government-dictated disclaimer insisting that the events leading up to the nuclear disaster depicted in the film could not possibly happen.

Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble - Gregory Baird
One little glitch threatens the world with a thermonuclear nightmare in Sidney Lumet's definitive cold-war drama, Fail-Safe. The plot is clean and to the point: A few U.S. bombers are accidentally sent toward Moscow, and the powers that be, including the president (Henry Fonda), spend the next desperate hour or so trying to stop World War III. There are some top-notch war room scenes here, and plenty of philosophical debate about whether nuclear war is winnable, yet despite the sensational subject, Lumet directs with magnificent restraint: Fail-Safe is shot in stark black-and-white and has no musical score. Fonda is the soul of the film as he presides over the crisis from a small bunker below the White House; he gives a brilliantly low-key performance, projecting a kindly, wise, and almost eerie calm, while his unspoken fears are clearly visible in his eyes. The result is a somber, chilling cautionary tale that builds slowly but inexorably to a surprising -- and very disturbing -- climax.
All Movie Guide - Michael Costello
Sidney Lumet's cold war thriller, adapted from the novel by Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler, is a reasonably tense and well-played cautionary tale on the threat of nuclear holocaust with echoes of the then-recent Cuban missile crisis. The plot, which bears such a striking resemblance to that of Dr. Strangelove that director Stanley Kubrick threatened the studio with a plagiarism suit, centers on a group of SAC bombers that receive a mistaken order to unload nuclear warheads on Moscow. Lumet's theater and live television experience dovetailed nicely with a script that called for SAC headquarters to become the sole locus for most of the film, creating an atmosphere of claustrophobic suspense. Most of the steps in this doomsday genre follow a familiar ritual, and there is little here that is new. Familiar as the material may be, Lumet evokes fine performances from an excellent cast, including Henry Fonda, Walter Matthau, Fritz Weaver, and Larry Hagman.

Product Details

Release Date:
Original Release:
Sony Pictures

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Henry Fonda President
Walter Matthau Groeteschele
Frank Overton Gen. Bogan
Edward Binns Col. Grady
Dan O'Herlihy Gen. Black
Fritz Weaver Col. Cascio
Larry Hagman Buck
William Hansen Secretary Swenson
Russell Hardie Gen. Stark
Russell Collins Gordon Knapp
Sorrell Booke Cong. Raskob
John P. Connell Thomas
Frank Simpson Sullivan
Hildy Parks Betty Black
Janet Ward Mrs. Grady
Dana Elcar Mr. Foster
Stuart Germain Mr. Cascio
Louise Larabee Mrs. Cascio
Frieda Altman Jennie
Nancy Berg Ilsa Wolfe
Dom DeLuise Sgt. Collins

Technical Credits
Sidney Lumet Director,Producer
Walter Bernstein Screenwriter
Albert Brenner Art Director
Harry Buchman Makeup
J.C. Delaney Set Decoration/Design
Harry Falk Asst. Director
Gerald Hirschfeld Cinematographer
Storyboard Inc Special Effects
Anna Hill Johnstone Costumes/Costume Designer
Charles H. Maguire Associate Producer
Ralph Rosenblum Editor
Max E. Youngstein Producer


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Fail-Safe 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
mike-s More than 1 year ago
QAlong the lines of Seven Days in May, Fail-Safe puts the world in a situation that no one wants to deal with. Mainly because the solution to to horrific for either side. Fonda is excellent as the President with Walter Matthau turning in one of his best dramatic performances. A very young Larry Hagman and Fritz Weaver both bring a strong sense of purpose to their roles.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A disturbing film, thought provoking, but, in places, not aging very well. It does represent very neartly the hair trigger anxiety of the Cold War, a topic that the folks on the ground deal with in a marvelously clinical fashion, and with psychological unsettling in the bomber. I suppose the point is forced in places, and I don't want to call this movie mediocre, because it scared me half to death when I saw it - as a kid. Watching it later the grim feel of the movie becomes a little monotonous. Buy it, but also buy Dr. Strangelove if you want the full range.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is what happens when we place more faith in our machines than in our fellow man.Having said that,this is an intense film made to feel even more'real' by the lack of 'mood' music.The final scene is the most poignant I can think of,what with the President and General Black both aware of the sacrifices they will make.And that final countdown... there's no more for me to say.
fredsped More than 1 year ago
During the 60's there was a real chance that someone would "push the button" and fry a good portion of the human race.It is hard to say how close or how many times we came close. "Fail Safe" is the story of the failure of technology that is supposed to protect us. A US bomber gets past its fail safe point and is heading to bomb Moscow. Everything possible is done to stop it. There is a high degree of tension in this movie. It was filmed in black and white which adds to the tension. It has many great actors. I don't want to give away any of the movie, but it is a must see. The most interesting character is played by Walter Matthau. He is a college professor who believes that people like himself are more important than the average citizen and therefore should be saved to help repopulate the human race, because of his superior intelligence.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago