Fail-Safe - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Fail-Safe Reviews

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½ January 15, 2016
It's unfortunate that this film gets so overshadowed by Dr.Strangelove since it's just as brilliant in terms of the subject-matter. I think it deserves as much recognition as Kubrick's film.

The difference ofcurse being that 'Dr.Stangelove' is a political satire and 'Fail-Safe' is a more serious thriller, they are both expertly executed on their own terms.
December 1, 2015
Read the book, saw the movie when came out. Everyone did. Great story.
½ January 18, 2013
The lighting, acting, and suspense is all TOP NOTCH.
May 25, 2008
Kubrick was right, as usual; this story works better as a black comedy. Though Lumet's direction is typically excellent, the po-faced self-seriousness, particularly in the third act, works against the film's own intentions and makes it hard to take it seriously anyway, especially with Walter Matthau wandering around making an ass of himself. Obviously I liked it, especially in the beautiful, textbook setup, but it does in the end kind of just re-emphasise for me how much of a genius Stanley Kubrick was.
September 14, 2014
Dr. Strangelove was a much better effort.
September 11, 2013
Released in the same year as Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove, Fail Safe suffered in comparison with the similarly-themed and more famous film, which had been released first. This is a shame, because it is an excellent political thriller.

Sidney Lumet made his classic films such as 12 Angry Men, Serpico, Network and The Verdict work so well because of those films' focus on characters and a claustrophobic setting. For Fail Safe he created this sense of claustrophobia, by shooting the majority of scenes in either small, windowless and sparsely furnished rooms within the White House and Pentagon; SAC Command Center dominated by the screen upon which the drama in the sky is unfolding; and aboard the cockpit of Air Force bomber. There is no musical score throughout the movie, further underscoring the sparseness of the film's atmosphere. The conversations between the President of the United States and the Soviet premier are tense and believable, an effect achieved largely through the use of Larry Hagman as an interpreter rather than having the two leaders speaking directly to each other. As time passes, and the stakes grow higher, the tension is cranked up until the US President, is forced to make a horrific decision in order to assuage Soviet suspicions.

The cast is uniformly excellent from top to bottom. In the White House bunker, Henry Fonda as the President gives one of those leading man portrayals for which he was known. He brings just the right blend of authority and humanity to the role. Larry Hagman looks startlingly young and trim as the President's Russian language interpreter. His mannerisms, such as the blink of his eyes, are very much in evidence as his way of conveying to the President what the Soviet Party Chairman is saying and thinking.

In Pentagon War Room, Walter Matthau as a political scientist the is a dark individual with a cold analytical streak that is soon unmasked to reveal a streak of military fanaticism. Counterbalancing him is Dan O'Herlihy as Colonel Black, the voice of reason throughout. The Black character is a framing device for the entire film; it is his recurring nightmare that opens the film and it is the reality of that nightmare that ends it. O'Herlihy's work in Fail-Safe is among the finest of his 50-year film and television acting career. At SAC headquarters in Omaha, both Frank Overton and Fritz Weaver are memorable as senior air force officials dealing with the crisis, and in Anchorage, Ed Binns is effective as the pilot of the lead bomber.

Beyond the cast, the most striking aspect of the film is the atmosphere it creates. The film is in black and white; it's lit from above or the sides creating a stark and sparse environment. This look and feel is uniformly maintained throughout the duration of the film as well as at all its locations. In fact, there is much about Fail Safe that is suggestive of the film noir genre, from the visual style to the mental distress of the principal characters.

By dint of its basic plausibility, its suspenseful script, and the uniform excellence of its cast, it is the epitome of cold war films, on par with its contemporaries dealing with the same subject: Dr. Strangelove and The Bedford Incident.
July 26, 2014
50 years on and Fail-Safe's chilling tale of the dangers of mutual assured destruction sadly remains as relevant and believable as ever. Henry Fonda is riveting as the President, tasked to deal with the most nightmarish of situations: a technical error has sent a squadron of US bombers loaded with A-bombs to Moscow, with little chance of stopping them in time. Sidney Lumet effectively creates a tense atmosphere (even without using a music score to heighten the tone), whilst Gerald Hirschfeld's stark black & white cinematography subliminally tells us everything about this film is a matter of life and death,
July 25, 2014
One of the realest movies ever made.
½ July 12, 2014
One of the most criminally overlooked films in cinematic history, mainly due to the extremely similar and far more popular Dr. Strangelove (my all time favorite film) being released in the same year, Fail-Safe derives more tension than I would have ever thought possible from the mere simplicity of blinking lights on a screen. Sidney Lumet demonstrates his directoral brilliance by attaining riveting performances from his cast and delivering the expected technical appeal with eerie lighting and excellently framed shots.
June 7, 2014
Still, one of the scariest movies you'll ever see.
April 15, 2014
Feels like a serious version of Dr. Strangelove with a ton of famous actors and amazing looking black and white photography.
½ April 9, 2010
Close "Dr. Strangelove", but in a serious way (well, unless you thing Dr. Strangelove is more realistic, which can be perfectly feasible), it is not strange that it was not a success with the hard issues it talks about. Lumet goes to the limit -even too much- to show us the dangers of a nuclear war and to let the machines too much of our decisions. Very hard to watch because it is very intense.
October 27, 2013
Fail-Safe is mostly remembered because it was released the same time as Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, and as a consequence, failed tremendously at the box office. Both films feature the same subject matter and even the same sort of story, but this one plays it completely straight and in a very bleak way. It doesn't feature a whole lot of big names other than Walter Matthau and Henry Fonda (both of whom are great), but it's troubled by a lax pace. That's the only thing really holding it back, because the performances, the dialogue, the cinematography and the direction are all really great. Sidney Lumet did well with this one and even though I love Dr. Strangelove, this a more suitable tackling of the subject matter, I suppose... that is, if you're wanting to take it more seriously.
October 14, 2013
Could a little mechanical mistake trigger a nuclear war? Such a possibility seemed more plausible in 1964 perhaps when Lumet's Fail-Safe and Kubrick's Strangelove were both released, the former dead serious but overshadowed by the latter's satire. Today, it seems more likely that a dirty suitcase bomb will wreak havoc rather than mutually assured annihilation (although the doomsday clock, which now includes threats from climate change and other imminent disasters, is still set at five minutes to midnight). Lumet's film is tense and frightening, with the suspense generated by the distrust between the Americans and the Soviets and the necessity for one to believe the other truly made a mistake rather than an intentional first strike (which some, including political scientist Walter Mathau and defense Colonel Fritz Weaver, are advocating anyway). Henry Fonda is the level-headed and compassionate US president and Larry Hagman is his interpreter to assist with the delicate communication to the Russians (handled in a nice bit of acting by these two). Low budget and framed by a weird dream sequence, but gut-wrenching if you think about the power that politicians really wield.
September 13, 2013
Watched it right after watching the remake. Great movie of the era. Absolutely tragic, cold, and terrifying as the time it was made in.
½ August 6, 2013
A realistic suspenseful drama showing all problems and solutions to nuclear war. It shows mistrust and problems of current and potential policy. It seems to have an underlying liberal feel, but regardless these are important issues.

Fonda has good writing to make him believable as president. Matthau plays the hawkish realist professor and Dom deluis also has a young role as a sgt in the war room.
½ August 19, 2013
Brilliantly acted and starlky realistic cold war' what if?' thriller with Henry Fonda as the President f the United States, Walter Matthau, Frank Overton, Dan O'Herlihy and Larry Hagman.
August 11, 2013
One of my all time favorite movies. The movie is raw tension without ever leaving the confines of interior sets. The acting is phenomenal. Henry Fonda is perfect as the president. Larry Hagman shows his ability as an actor when you compare this role with his eventual role as J.R. Ewing. Dom Delouise even makes premiere as a very put-upon technical sergeant. I would like to say that this movie is an example of how tension and suspense can be created without explosion and unbelievable situations, but I think this movie must be somewhat of an anomaly because nothing comes close to it. The only thing I have seen that can match the same atmosphere is the brief part of Close Encounter of the Third Kind with the air traffic controllers (which is my favorite part of that movie). Fail-Safe is not for everyone though. You have to have an understanding of the nuclear tension between the USA and the old USSR to fully grasp the scope of the dilemma. I can not count the number of times I have watched this movie, and I will stop and watch it every time it comes on.
July 26, 2013
Its a thought provoking movie. its derived from the same book as Dr. Strangelove. I had already seen Strangelove, but yet this one had me engaged throughout. Lumet magic.
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