Based on the novel by Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler, Fail-Safe is set for the most part at Strategic Air Command headquarters, where a misguided transmission sends a squadron of bombers hurtling towards Russia, fully prepared to drop their atomic weaponry on Moscow. Air Force commander Frank Overton desperately tries to establish radio contact with the bombers, but once the pilots have passed the "fail safe" point, they've been instructed to disregard any reversal of orders. Racing against time, US President Henry Fonda, through his interpreter (Larry Hagman), informs the Russian premiere of the impending nuclear disaster. Working in concert with SAC, the Russians send up interceptors to shoot down the American bombers, while some of the planes run out of fuel and crash. Unfortunately, one aircraft, piloted by Edward Binns, manages to escape destruction and continues on its fatal mission. Realizing that Moscow is doomed, the President must decide how to avert World War III. Featured in the cast of Fail Safe are Walter Matthau as a hawkish scientist, Fritz Weaver as a round-the-bend colonel, and Dom DeLuise (billed as "DeLouise") as a weeping sergeant. Fail-Safe is followed by a government-dictated disclaimer insisting that the events leading up to the nuclear disaster depicted in the film could not possibly happen.
by Hal Erickson synopsis