review for Fail-Safe on AllMovie

Fail-Safe (1964)
by Michael Costello review

Sidney Lumet's cold war thriller, adapted from the novel by Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler, is a reasonably tense and well-played cautionary tale on the threat of nuclear holocaust with echoes of the then-recent Cuban missile crisis. The plot, which bears such a striking resemblance to that of Dr. Strangelove that director Stanley Kubrick threatened the studio with a plagiarism suit, centers on a group of SAC bombers that receive a mistaken order to unload nuclear warheads on Moscow. Lumet's theater and live television experience dovetailed nicely with a script that called for SAC headquarters to become the sole locus for most of the film, creating an atmosphere of claustrophobic suspense. Most of the steps in this doomsday genre follow a familiar ritual, and there is little here that is new. Familiar as the material may be, Lumet evokes fine performances from an excellent cast, including Henry Fonda, Walter Matthau, Fritz Weaver, and Larry Hagman.