Director: Sidney Lumet
Writer: Walter Bernstein & Peter George (uncredited) & Eugene Burdick (novel) & Harvey Wheeler (novel)
i know this might sound odd to people today but, picture it. the world. 1964. it was the hight of the cold war. russia and america were on high alert. the whole cuban missile crisis was still fresh in everyones mind and there was fear among both sides that world war III was a genuine possibility. of course a lot of this had to do with misunderstandings, political posturing and fear mongering on both sides. actually, it might not sound so odd today after all.
this brings us to a film released in 1964 (no not Dr Strangelove, but we will come back to that), Fail Safe. directed by the great sidney lumet the film is an interesting piece of cold was cinema that still holds up pretty well.
the film is about what happens when, due to some kind of electrical failure, an american bomber unit is sent on a mission to destroy moscow. the fail safe protocols put in place to stop this from happening don't work and the protocols put in place to stop the russians from sabotaging such a mission make the unit impossible to stop. what can they do? none of the options are pleasant and the one that the president, played by henry fonda, is forced to choose is shocking and horrific.
Fail Safe feels very much like a play. scenes take place in separate enclosed locations and these sets feel very designed. i could almost picture where the open wall would be for the audience to be sitting and watching. not that this is a bad thing, because i do think that the audience would be on the edge of those seats wherever they may be placed.
some of the dialogue is a little stilted and there is this weird coda metaphor, about one of the general's who is having this nightmare about a matador, that didn't really work for me. however, besides that this is a good movie.
i mentioned Dr. Strangelove earlier and that wasn't an accident. throughout much of Fail Safe my mind kept going to Dr. Strangelove: the bomber mission not planned, the president trying to explain the situation to the russian leader and even talk of a doomsday device. like i mentioned before as well, both films were released in 1964.
now, Dr. Strangelove is a better film, and i also found that the dark comedy holds up better and is even scarier then the straight-up drama of Fail Safe. however, the message behind both films about fear and misunderstanding are as true today as they were 40 years ago and both films are worth checking out.