FAIL-SAFE (1964) is a tense (although heavy-handed) anti-war thriller with an all-star cast, which includes Henry Fonda, Walter Matthau, Dan O'Herlihy, and Larry Hagman. The action starts when, because of a computer glitch, a squadron of nuclear bombers is sent toward Moscow to attack. The U.S. military is unsuccessful at trying to recall or stop the bombers, so the President (Fonda) must find a way to deal with the situation and prevent an all-out nuclear war with the Soviet Union.
FAIL-SAFE provides an intriguing situation that is sure to entertain, even if the execution is a bit overly-dramatic. All the actors give fantastic performances, and the direction within the claustrophobic set is very well done. Editing and cinematography are also first-rate. If the movie has a fault, it is the super-serious, almost pretentious tone it seems to have (especially when dealing with such an implausible scenario). A little warmth and emotion would have done wonders for this story.
This is a very clear DVD from Columbia/Tri-Star that displays much of the crisp black-and-white detail that has been lost on previous VHS and LaserDisc transfers. There is a bit of grain in some scenes but not enough to distract. No compression artifacts were visible. The print is generally free of speckles or scratches, although the film occasionally uses "stock footage" that is of lesser quality and shows more wear. The transfer is presented in 1.85:1 widescreen (enhanced for 16x9 viewing). The framing seemed a little tight on many scenes to me, and I wonder if the film has been cropped too much to achieve this ratio. This quibble aside, this is an impressive transfer.
This mono soundtrack sounds fine, with no distortion. All sounds and dialog are easy to understand. French and Spanish audio is also provided.
Columbia/Tri-Star has released FAIL-SAFE as a true special edition, with an excellent running commentary from director Sidney Lumet. There is also a featurette, theatrical trailer, and the usual biographical information. Subtitles are available in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean and Thai.
Ultimately, I think FAIL-SAFE crumbles under the weight of its own seriousness and self-importance. Still, it has an interesting premise, great performances, and is sure to stir some interesting thoughts and debates after viewing. I can recommend this as an entertaining, suspenseful rental.