Fail Safe (1964)
Reviewed on 2010 July 30
Cold War era nail-biter, filmed in crisp and yet grim black and white, that answers the question of what happens if we accidentally drop a nuclear weapon on Russia. It’s not pretty.
Brigadier General Black (a young Dan O’Herlihy, The Old Man himself from Robocop) wakes up from a vivid and horrible nightmare, but he has a job to do. He’s a soldier and advisor to President of the United States (Henry Fonda), and the President needs him more than ever right now. Through a glitch from hell, the sort of thing that makes you understand how people started spinning yarns about gremlins, we’ve sent bomb-laden planes headed for Moscow. The President assures the Soviets that this is a horrible accident, but if the planes reach their destination — if the Russians can’t stop our pilots — he’s prepared to prevent retaliation by making a wrenching sacrifice as an olive branch.
Sidney Lumet’s direction is brilliant, omitting music from the movie and thus making it even eerier. The casting against type was also interesting: Walter Matthau was great as the sharp-witted (and tongued) Groeteschele, but I couldn’t take my eyes off Larry Hagman as an intense Russian interpreter trying to talk the whole Kremlin off the ledge.
Four chocolate morsels.