Fail-Safe - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Fail-Safe Reviews

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July 10, 2017
This movie is intense, brilliantly acted, and very understated. As a result, it also feels very realistic... and terrifying.
Super Reviewer
½ June 16, 2017
Old school psychological drama tightly wrapped around the question of limited nuclear engagement, still something of a conundrum in the mid-60s. In the fashion of the day many of the characters are little more than paper thin cutouts, there to advance the plot and nothing more (the writers did shake up the salad a little though to add spice, so against typecasting the main dove of the film is an Army general, while the main hawk is a college professor), but despite this only flaw here is one elephant of a film.
April 24, 2017
It is the early-mid-1960s and the Cold War is at its peak. An intruder on US radar sends US nuclear-armed bombers to their standby points just outside Russia - their Fail-Safe points. The alert turns out to be a false alarm and the bombers are stood down. However, due to a mechanical error one group of six supersonic bombers is ordered to proceed to its target - Moscow. Desperate to avoid World War 3 the US does everything to prevent the bombers reaching their target, including helping the Russians shoot them down. It becomes a race against time and mistrust with the fate of the world at stake.

1964 gave us the greatest movie on Cold War paranoia and the lunacy involved in the nuclear arms race. It was a rather funny and satirical movie with a very powerful and serious message. Directed by the great Stanley Kubrick it had Peter Sellers in three different roles and included an iconic image involving Slim Pickens. I am, of course, referring to Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Stop Worrying And Learned To Love The Bomb (Dr. Strangelove for short).

Fail-Safe was released in the same year and, while it covers many of the same themes and even has a similar plot, it is not in the same league as Dr. Strangelove. Using humour to convey the lunacy of the situation, Dr. Strangelove conveyed its message effortlessly and entertainingly, even subtly, while still retaining the direness of the situation. Fail-Safe resorts to soapboxing speeches and cartoon villains to get its message across.

Not that Fail-Safe is bad - it is still very intriguing and tension-filled. However, many of the scenes and characters are incredibly irritating. Walter Matthau's Professor Groeteschele has to be one of the most one-dimensional, cartoon-like characters in all of cinema history.

Add in a very implausible, contrived solution to the crisis and you feel cheated out of seeing what could have been a very powerful, realistic drama.

Overall: interesting and watchable, but only just. The US-Russia negotiations, the air battle scenes and the intrigue make for good watching. Any scenes involving Walter Matthau/Professor Groeteschele make you think of switching off.
October 2, 2016
I cannot recommend this movie enough! It was one of the best watching experiences I've had in a very long time. It's such a shame that this movie came out in the shadow of Dr. Strangelove, which essentially has the exact same plot. However, Stale-Mate delivers the same story with such earnestness that you cannot help but look past the fact that you've seen this movie before. The tension is painful, the agony and helplessness of the characters is so relatable to the viewer that the feeling of hopelessness almost brought me to tears. If you love cinema, especially forgotten or overlooked masterpieces, you owe it to yourself to watch this.
September 21, 2016
"Fail-Safe" is a tense black-and-white film about the military and diplomatic maneuvering of President Henry Fonda as he struggles to avert a nuclear holocaust. "Fail-Safe" was made over fifty years ago, but because it was directed by master Sidney Lumet, it still has the power to keep this retiree on the edge of his seat just as much as when he first saw it as a teen.

Some classify this movie as a Cold War thriller, but its scope is wider. "Fail-Safe" concerns itself with the horror of technology gone haywire. Thus, it has much in common with all Frankenstein and all zombie movies, as well as with "Ex Machina," "War Games," "2001: A Space Odyssey," and "Robocop."

How much of "Fail-Safe" is Hollywood fantasy? In 1964 were there really attack plans that after a minimal amount of time had absolutely no abort option? If so, this one-man-jury finds the architects of such technology guilty of the ultimate war crime: Stupidity in the First Degree.
July 25, 2016
While it is hard to say if Peter George's Red Alert story works better as a black comedy (Dr. Strangelove) or as a serious war thriller (Fail-Safe), Sidney Lumet's adaptation of Fail-Safe is worth it just for the shocking ending.

Alfred Hitchcock - "Master of Suspense"
Robert Wise - "Master of Craft"
Stanley Kubrick - "Master of Perfection"
Sidney Lumet - "Master of Endings"
July 16, 2016
super-another lost review
½ July 15, 2016
A thorough, illuminating look at the suspense and dread in America during the Cold War years. The dialogue demands critical consideration and compassion for the entire spectrum of beliefs which the characters represent.

Why have I never heard of this gripping thriller until now? Probably because of the lack of patriotism of certain plot-points.
*SPOILER* The unlikelihood of one major, reprehensible decision by the president of the U.S. is actually the reason I couldn't give the film a full 5 stars despite how amazing the rest of the movie was.
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 October 1, 2015
The lighting, acting, and suspense is all TOP NOTCH.
October 5, 2014
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 14, 2014
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.
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