“A Live TV Event”, Fail Safe marks to my knowledge the only disaster movie to be broadcast completely live from start to finish on TV! Just a shame that its really a lot of men talking and shouting at each other.

Released: 1964

Runtime: 1hr 54 mins

The Premise

When the “Fail Safe” (HA! You know its doomed by its name) technology goes faulty and tells a plane (piloted by George Clooney – see he IS bad for everyone’s health) to declare nuclear war on Russia, everyone is forced to talk a lot to try to resolve the issue.

The Disasters Face

Nuclear war, radiation, fluffed lines and an awful lot of on-screen coughing and throat clearing!

The Execution

Fail Safe was broadcast live so there is absolutely no effects and very little in the way of moving camera work. Instead, you are forced to be completely invested in the characters and the actors’ performances. This film is purely a military affair. You’ll bounce between the war room, the plane on its way to bomb Moscow and the President who is busy on the phone with the Russians trying to prevent war. There’s plenty of big names in the movie and for what is essentially a live theatre performance, everyone stands up to the task. excellently. There is an awful lot of coughing though and especially early on there is a real sense of “we’re live, look at us, quick throw as many miming extras in the screen as possible!!!” It’s actually quite funny because any moving noises are very loud, such as a dart hitting the dart board and yet you cant hear anyone else talking around them. As a result of being live, the audio quality isn’t great. There are only a few fluffs in lines too and they’re very quickly recovered. As a live production its great.

There is a lot of chart and screen watching in the war rooms

My problem was that it is so militant that I didn’t connect with it at all. It’s interesting to see the President trying to be emotional and stressed and Richard Dreyfuss does what he can but aside from that, it’s completely “Code Red”, “Take them Down” adĀ infinitum. It just didn’t grab me at all until the last 15 minutes when the stakes are raised and by then it was too little too late.

The Effects

Does a fade to white count?

Why It’s Worth Watching

If you prefer your disasters more military-focused than people focused, this is absolutely for you. It’s also great to view as a live performance and admire how it was done. Drinking game for counting coughs and throat clearings are a must if the film doesn’t grab you and you must down the drink if you spot a fluffed line. Best way to watch I think!

Best Death

Although Millions die, nothing is shown at all. The only on-screen death is that of Blackie (why is there always dodgy names in these movies?), who knowing his wife and children are about to perish, gives himself a lethal injection which in itself is a very sad moment, significantly underplayed.

On the telephone to God – much of the world’s fate hangs on the line

Favourite Character

Because everything is so militant, only really two or three characters portray any emotions at all. Richard Dreyfuss as The President was the one I was cheering for as he is acting his socks off in despair.

Weirdest Moment

Nothing particularly is weird in this film except there’s one point where everyone is looking at the screen of fighter planes on a map and they’re all actually just spinning round in a circle looking a bit confused. Apart from that, the audio of people walking or shuffling papers being the only noises heard in massive debates going on in the background is quite fun for a mini-gaffe!

Drinking Game

Military jargon or a fluffed line

Random Trivia

Peter Fonda does love a disaster movie, and it would be the first of two where he’d play the President. 1979’s Meteor is the other.


Fail Safe does nothing wrong. The problem for me was Fail Safe done nothing for me. Barely anyone has a personality and therefore you can’t attach yourself to anyone and so you’ve nothing to really invest in, try as the actors may. I was left wanting more and although the twist in the tail at the end was sad and shocking to a degree, being a live tv show meant it had to limit its depth to pure militant actions. Not my cup of tea.

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