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Fail-Safe

Year: 1964
Director: Sydney Lumet
Cast: Henry Fonda, Larry Hagman, Dan O'Herlihy, Walter Matthau
When Kubrick heard about this project (released the same year as Dr Strangelove), he threatened to walk if the studio promoted it in competition to his comic satire on the Cold War. They panicked and released the film without any marketing support, so it sunk like a stone.

I actually found it (at the risk of being lynched) a superior movie. That says more about my tastes than any qualities in the filmmaking though - it had no comedy and I respond to that a little more.

Using a disturbingly similar premise to Kubrick's magnum opus, a bomber pilot patrolling Soviet airspace erroneously receives orders to nuke Moscow. Because of the iron-clad security systems involved in both getting orders to pilots and retracting them (the 'failsafe' of the title) it looks like millions of people are going to die in a electronic error at a US bomber headquarters.

They're desperately trying to find the pilot's family to put them on the radio and convince him it's a mistake (he won't listen to any transmissions upon suspicion they're fake - another part of the system) and the President is on the phone to the Russian Premier trying to explain the mistake and offering to bomb New York as well to avoid World War Three.

Tense, believable and dramatic. It showed a close knowledge (if not a perfectly imagined vision) of the chain of command and both the electronic and bureaucratic systems of the US political/military machinery, and how shockingly they can go wrong because of one blinking light. The production was refused co-operation by the armed forces (understandably).

Revisited later in the introductory sequence of WarGames and remade (and broadcast live on TV) by George Clooney, developing into the left-leaning figure he is today post- Syriana.

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