Part of Weekend Classics: Politics in B&W.
Sidney Lumet’s tense psychological thriller was released in the same year (and thus overshadowed) by the very similar but more satirical DR. STRANGELOVE. But FAIL-SAFE more than earns its stripes in the canon of great Cold War nail-biters. When an errant transmission sends a crew of U.S. bombers on a mission to Moscow with clear instructions to disregard reversed orders, the President (Henry Fonda) must decide between their fate and all-out nuclear war.
“The topical significance of it endows [FAIL-SAFE] with a special urgency, and Sidney Lumet has directed it in a fast-paced, nervous fashion that gives it momentum and suspense…Unlike STRANGELOVE, it does not make its characters out to be maniacs and monsters and morons. It makes them out to be intelligent men trying to use their wits and their techniques to correct an error that has occurred through over-reliance on the efficiency of machines.” —Bosley Crowther, New York Times (Sept 16, 1964)