Friday, August 9, 2013

[Review] Fail Safe - Original and TV Remake

In this Cold War drama from director Sidney Lumet, a malfunction in the U.S. Strategic Air Command control system sends false orders to a squadron of nuclear armed B-58 Bombers to fly beyond their fail safe point to destroy the Soviet capital of Moscow. The America President and his military commanders try desperately to call the squadron back, but their sophisticated system and strict procedures prevents them from doing so. So while further efforts to prevent the attack continue the President must convince the Russian Premier it's all a big mistake.

Fail Safe is like a serious version of Dr. Strangelove as there are many similarities with the plot. For such a low budget film it’s incredibly well done. There’s a constant sense of pending doom and tremendous tension; created from just three different locations which are simply just rooms full of men discussing the situation. Apart from the some military stock footage we see and hear the events play out via a giant computer screen combined with radio and phone conversations. It’s the simplistic approach that makes the film work so well.

Performances are very strong, particularly from Henry Fonda as the American President and Walter Matthau as political scientist Prof. Groeteschele. The film raises the issue of mankind’s dependency on machines and computers; also the logic behind nuclear war, or lack of logic. It’s a like a game of Noughts and Crosses, you can’t win and the best move is not to play at all. 

This remake of the 1964 Cold War drama was actually a live televised broadcast play from CBS that aired on April 9th 2000 presented by veteran journalist Walter Cronkite.

The plot is identical to the original which involves a U.S. bomber armed with nuclear weapons receiving false orders to destroy the Soviet capital of Moscow, due to a malfunction with the U.S Strategic Air Command computer system.

This version is almost 30 minutes shorter as some of the sub-plots from the original film are not included which doesn't affect the overall outcome; they were mainly character based plots.

I enjoyed this teleplay just as much as I did the original film and the cast is equally impressive. I loved Richard Dreyfuss as The President and also Brian Dennehy in a very strong supporting role. Hank Azaria as the political scientist Prof. Groeteschele, who was originally played by Walter Matthau was an odd casting choice by he does a fine job in the role.

If you've seen the original Fail Safe definitely check this one out. It's really impressive knowing that it was filmed live.

By Kevin Bechaz

Credit Where Credit's Due

Fail Safe (1964)
Director: Sidney Lumet
Writer(s): Walter Bernstein
Starring: Dan O’Herlhiy, Walter Matthau, Henry Fonda, Frank Overton  
Runtime: 112 minutes
Release Date(s): USA: September 15, 1964

Fail Safe (2000)
Director: Stephen Frears
Writer(s): Eugene Burdick, Harvey Wheeler
Starring: Richard Dreyfuss, George Clooney, Brian Dennehy, Sam Elliott, Harvey Keitel
Runtime: 86 minutes
Release Date(s): USA: April 9, 2000

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