9 April 2007 | bkoganbing
Serious As a Crutch
Interesting that both Failsafe and Dr. Strangelove both came out in 1964 the year that Barry Goldwater and his candidacy brought up the nuclear issue. After seeing both those films together with the flip comments Goldwater made about nuclear war, he was never to be anything other than a Senator from Arizona.
Everyone remembers Stanley Kubrick's black comedy Dr. Strangelove about a nuclear exchange. Failsafe which is as serious as a crutch is less remembered. Still viewed today it still has an important message, maybe more important now than when it was a bi-polar world. At least everyone then seemed to be on one side or the other.
My favorite performer in this film is Frank Overton who worked mostly in television. On the big screen he's probably best known as the small town sheriff in To Kill A Mockingbird. Though he did a lot of television work until he died in 1967, Failsafe turned out to be his last big screen performance. Overton does a great job as the general in charge of the Strategic Air Command in Omaha who is very reluctantly trying to help the Russians shoot down SAC bombers who've had one squad of them accidentally given the go ahead for nuclear war.
Henry Fonda is the beleaguered president of the United States who is issuing commands from a deep underground bunker beneath the White House with only Russian interpreter Larry Hagman there. The whole claustrophobic atmosphere adds to the desperation of Fonda's performance. By the way note the large closeups of Fonda as he's trying to order the SAC bombers back from their mission.
You might also note in a tiny role at the SAC command center Dom DeLuise in a very serious role as a sergeant. This may be the only time DeLuise ever had a serious part.
At the Pentagon is Defense Department consultant Walter Matthau also in a serious role as a Herman Kahn type, looking to 'win' a nuclear exchange. He's one frightening fellow.
The world is no longer bi-polar, but the lessons of Failsafe have yet to be learned.