I had just finished reading an article in Premiere magazine on Henry Fonda. It mentioned one of the roles he was born to play, the President of the United States in a movie called Fail-Safe. I love Henry Fonda and have seen many of his greatest performances, but this one had somehow slipped past me. Luckily, I happened to see that it was on AMC and I TIVOed it and watched it this weekend.
Fail-Safe could be easily classified as a horror movie, but it would more likely be classified as a suspense-thriller. It is a movie that shows what might happen if the computers that seem to run everything in life malfunction and cause a mistake that could change the world forever. The computers in this case are the computers that run the military and control the instructions for the military during the height of the Cold War. The mistake in this case is the very real threat of nuclear war. It is up to Henry Fonda and his staff to figure out how to stop this from happening.
For a movie that was released in 1964, it holds up extremely well. I didn’t expect to be sucked in and on the edge of my seat, but I was sweating the outcome. The acting is very well done and that is to be expected with the director being Sidney Lumet. Henry Fonda does not appear until about half way through, but he really takes over for the rest of the movie. The supporting cast is very good, including Walter Matthau portraying a scientist you wouldn’t want to be deciding the outcome of this situation if this actually happened. Dom DeLuise also appears in the movie with a small supporting role.
I believe the premise still works to this day because computers control more now than they did in the 60’s. Who’s to say there won’t be a malfunction that causes a crisis like this in our times? Who’s to say we haven’t already suffered something like this, but we just don’t know about it? I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to go all X-Files on you, but you never know, and that is why it translates so well.
This is a serious movie; don’t go into this film looking for light entertainment. It will get you on edge and keep you there until the heart stopping end. I highly recommend this movie and think it will continue to mess with your mind many days later.