Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Essential Cinema - 1




FAIL-SAFE


ACTORS:
Dan O'Herlihy
Walter Matthau
Frank Overton
Ed Binns
Fritz Weaver
Henry Fonda
Larry Hagman


DIRECTOR
Sidney Lumet


SCREENPLAY
Walter Bernstein


CINEMATOGRAPHER
Gerald Hirschfeld A.S.C.


SYNOPSIS
A squadron of nuclear armed bombers is accidentally sent to destroy Moscow. The film centers around the deliberations of the politicians and military officers as they attempt to control the crisis and its potential ramifications.


CONCEPT IN RELATION TO THE VIEWER
Hard to envision in this day and age, but this film played toward the paranoia fostered by the cold war and the military industrial complex in the United States during the early 1960s. Taking the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) to its limit. The film is dark and intense, with a minimum of special effects or military imagery. The age old struggle of good and evil, right and wrong, redemption and the ego are in full force here. The underlying message is one of technology getting away from its human controllers.


PROS AND CONS
The film is well done and an acting tour de force for some of the cast. Henry Fonda, as the president, is a cross between Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan. Larry Hagman (before I Dream of Jeannie and Dallas) shows that he was a capable actor as the presidential translator. The Oscar here would have to go to Walter Matthau as the serious and calculating foreign policy professor who only sees opportunity in the incident and backs up his optimism with cool logic and projected death counts.

When it came out in the 60s, this film was considered subversive and anti-American for its portrayal of a military industrial system that had failed. It spread fear through the population that a nuclear attack could be considered an accident. As a backlash, Stanley Kubrick created the film "Dr. Strangelove" as a farcical black comedy with the same theme. All in all, a fascinating glimpse into a world that the youth of today (those under 30) have little understanding of. Back then, we were our own worst enemy and afraid of our own shadow.