Part of the reason I started up a new website is because recently I’ve been in the mood for good old-fashioned cold-war era nuclear war stories. So after several nights of working to get the site going, I decided to take a break and fired up a movie I’ve watched a few times before, but not for several years.
In 1958, Peter George wrote a novel called Two Hours to Doom, later popularized as Red Alert. The novel tells the story of a bomber group that thinks it’s been ordered to attack Russia, and the efforts of the US military to prevent them from dropping their bombs on Moscow.
That plot might sound familiar if you’ve seen Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb because Red Alert is the basis of that film.
It may also ring some bells if you’ve seen the original version of Fail Safe from 1964. That movie was based on another novel, Fail-Safe, that was so similar to Red Alert that Peter George sued the authors for copyright infringement.
Whether or not Fail-Safe ripped off Red Alert, I couldn’t tell you. I’ve read both books and prefer Red Alert. But when it comes to the film versions, because I tend to prefer serious, realistic stories over dark comedies, Fail Safe comes out way ahead of Dr Strangelove, in my book.
The 1964 version of Fail Safe stars Henry Fonda as the president and is absolutely worth watching. But I’ve seen it relatively recently, so I decided to watch the remake from 2000 tonight.
Fail Safe aired on CBS on April 9, 2000, as a live teleplay, broadcast in black and white to call back to the time it takes place. It was the first live drama aired on CBS in almost 40 years, and the occasion called for a cast of notable actors. Richard Dreyfus as the president, with George Clooney, Harvey Keitel, Don Cheadle, Brian Dennehy, Sam Elliot and Noah Wyle rounding out the performers.
The 2000 live version is almost 30 minutes shorter than the original, so there are no subplots to distract from the main story. Aside from the occasional cough into an actor’s microphone, it certainly doesn’t feel like it was shot live. With a cast like that, you’d expect the acting to be top notch, and being in black and white really does make it feel like an old 60s film.
I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, so I’ll just say that it’s good, and if you’re interested in the atomic war era, then this version of Fail Safe should be high on your list of films to track down.
As far as I know, it is not available to watch for free on any streaming services, but it’s well worth the $3 it would take to rent it.
For now, you’ll have to settle for the trailer to see if it piques your interest.