Fail-Safe (1964) - Rotten Tomatoes

Fail-Safe (1964)




Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

Movie Info

When a misguided transmission sends a squadron of bombers hurtling towards Russia, fully prepared to drop their atomic weaponry on Moscow, an Air Force commander desperately tries to establish radio contact with the planes, but once the pilots have passed the "fail safe" point, they've been instructed to disregard any reversal of orders.more
Rating: G
Genre: Drama, Mystery & Suspense, Classics
Directed By:
Written By: Walter Bernstein
In Theaters:
On DVD: Oct 31, 2000
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment


Walter Matthau
as Groeteschele
Henry Fonda
as President
Dan O'Herlihy
as Gen. Black
Frank Overton
as Gen. Bogan
Edward Binns
as Col. Grady
Fritz Weaver
as Col. Cascio
William Hansen
as Secretary Swenson
Russell Hardie
as Gen. Stark
Sorrell Booke
as Cong. Raskob
Nancy Berg
as Ilsa Wolfe
Frank Simpson
as Sullivan
Hildy Parks
as Betty Black
Janet Ward
as Mrs. Grady
Dom DeLuise
as Sgt. Collins
Dana Elcar
as Foster
Stuart Germain
as Mr. Cascio
Louise Larabee
as Mrs. Cascio
Show More Cast

News & Interviews for Fail-Safe

Critic Reviews for Fail-Safe

All Critics (20) | Top Critics (3)

It packs a melodramatic wallop that will rattle a lot of chattering teeth.

Full Review… | October 21, 2015
New York Times
Top Critic

It faithfully translates on the screen the power and seething drama of the Eugene Burdick-Harvey Wheeler book.

Full Review… | June 29, 2011
Top Critic

Lumet sensibly avoids pyrotechnics in favour of tightening the psychological screws ...

Full Review… | January 26, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

An impressive and disturbing brink-of-doom thriller.

Full Review… | October 21, 2015
Empire Magazine

Not only a damn good thriller, but a terrifying account of how easily such technology can malfunction.

Full Review… | October 21, 2015

Grim, bleak and highly claustrophobic ...

Full Review… | October 21, 2015
TV Guide's Movie Guide

Audience Reviews for Fail-Safe


This is the flip-side of the coin upon which you find Dr. Strangelove. Riveting performances and incredibly tense telephone exchanges lead to an ending you will not forget. The closing sequence is so impossibly unacceptable that it becomes absolutely believable in its inevitability. True, it's a bit dated, but If they'd found a part for Peter Sellers in this, I'm sure I would give it a full five stars : ) A seriously amazing movie that came out just months after Dr. Strangelove . Definitely the second best anti-war movie ever. Freakin riveting.

Lanning : )

Super Reviewer


An incredibly dramatic and intense depiction of the exagerated armamentistic career and the state of paranoia among superpowers, triggered not only by mechanical failures but by fanatism, extreme rigurosity or simple lack of human decency. Lumet's concatenation of silent and claustrophobic close ups work as a time bomb in a countdown to explotion with each passing second and the screenplay has the necessary ideological ambiguity of a tragedy, divergent positions over the same issue bouncing around, leading us to feel uneasy and desperate to work out a solution ourselves if we were among the politicians that decide our fate in the war room.
For some, like the pragmatic but souless character played by Walter Matthau, human casualties are only statistics, war is effective to preserve the economical strenght of his country; others like the President played by Henry Fonda, are willing to take any action to straight the balance. An executive decision that seems far fetched, but makes the film even more powerful and rounds up more biblical and mythological allusions to make it seem timeless, therefore a highly probable worst case scenario.

Pierluigi Puccini

Super Reviewer


This movie is pretty much exactly the same as Dr. Strangelove except that it's more dialogue driven, as Lumet's movies usually are. It also has some boring scenes as Dr. Strangelove did. Overall it's pretty good too.

Aj V

Super Reviewer

Fail-Safe Quotes

– Submitted by Al R (4 years ago)
– Submitted by Randy G (4 years ago)

Discussion Forum

Discuss Fail-Safe on our Movie forum!