Fail-Safe (1964) - Rotten Tomatoes


Fail-Safe (1964)



Critic Consensus: Fail-Safe strikes an impressive chord with its grim, high-minded exploration of the ultimate Doomsday scenario.

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Movie Info

When a misguided transmission sends a squadron of bombers hurtling towards Russia, fully prepared to drop their atomic weaponry on Moscow, an Air Force commander desperately tries to establish radio contact with the planes, but once the pilots have passed the "fail safe" point, they've been instructed to disregard any reversal of orders.

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Walter Matthau
as Groeteschele
Henry Fonda
as President
Dan O'Herlihy
as Gen. Black
Frank Overton
as Gen. Bogan
Edward Binns
as Col. Grady
Fritz Weaver
as Col. Cascio
William Hansen
as Secretary Swenson
Russell Hardie
as Gen. Stark
Sorrell Booke
as Cong. Raskob
Nancy Berg
as Ilsa Wolfe
Frank Simpson
as Sullivan
Hildy Parks
as Betty Black
Janet Ward
as Mrs. Grady
Dom DeLuise
as Sgt. Collins
Dana Elcar
as Foster
Stuart Germain
as Mr. Cascio
Louise Larabee
as Mrs. Cascio
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News & Interviews for Fail-Safe

Critic Reviews for Fail-Safe

All Critics (27) | Top Critics (7)

Lumet... has a knack for landing a tight, winning premise. Fail Safe, a box office failure in its time that's been considered a classic ever since, is no exception.

May 11, 2020 | Full Review…

Fail Safe imagines a no-win situation backing a sturdy, dependable American president in the proverbial corner, where, in a bit of sentimental and masochistically crowd-pleasing fantasy, he manages to do the right thing.

April 28, 2020 | Full Review…

An impressive and disturbing brink-of-doom thriller.

October 21, 2015 | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review…

It packs a melodramatic wallop that will rattle a lot of chattering teeth.

October 21, 2015 | Full Review…

It faithfully translates on the screen the power and seething drama of the Eugene Burdick-Harvey Wheeler book.

June 29, 2011 | Full Review…

Lumet sensibly avoids pyrotechnics in favour of tightening the psychological screws ...

January 26, 2006 | Full Review…
Top Critic

Audience Reviews for Fail-Safe


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.

Kevin M. Williams
Kevin M. Williams

Super Reviewer


This is the flip-side of the coin upon which you find Dr. Strangelove. Riveting performances and incredibly tense telephone exchanges lead to an ending you will not forget. The closing sequence is so impossibly unacceptable that it becomes absolutely believable in its inevitability.

True, it's a bit dated, but If they'd found a part for Peter Sellers in this, I'm sure I would give it a full five stars : ) A seriously amazing movie that came out just months after Dr. Strangelove . Definitely the second best anti-war movie ever. Freakin riveting.

Lanning : )
Lanning : )

Super Reviewer


An incredibly dramatic and intense depiction of the exagerated armamentistic career and the state of paranoia among superpowers, triggered not only by mechanical failures but by fanatism, extreme rigurosity or simple lack of human decency. Lumet's concatenation of silent and claustrophobic close ups work as a time bomb in a countdown to explotion with each passing second and the screenplay has the necessary ideological ambiguity of a tragedy, divergent positions over the same issue bouncing around, leading us to feel uneasy and desperate to work out a solution ourselves if we were among the politicians that decide our fate in the war room. For some, like the pragmatic but souless character played by Walter Matthau, human casualties are only statistics, war is effective to preserve the economical strenght of his country; others like the President played by Henry Fonda, are willing to take any action to straight the balance. An executive decision that seems far fetched, but makes the film even more powerful and rounds up more biblical and mythological allusions to make it seem timeless, therefore a highly probable worst case scenario.

Pierluigi Puccini
Pierluigi Puccini

Super Reviewer

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