Fail Safe (2000 TV film)

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Fail Safe
Failsafe2000.JPG
DVD Cover
Directed by Stephen Frears
Produced by Tom Park
Screenplay by Walter Bernstein
Based on the novel 
by Eugene Burdick
Harvey Wheeler
Starring George Clooney
Richard Dreyfuss
Noah Wyle
Cinematography John A. Alonzo
Production company Warner Bros. Television
Country United States
Language English
Original channel CBS
Original airing
  • April 9, 2000 (2000-04-09) (United States)
Running time 86 minutes

Fail Safe is a 2000 televised broadcast play, based on Fail-Safe, the Cold War novel by Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler. The play, broadcast live in black and white on CBS, starred George Clooney, Richard Dreyfuss, Harvey Keitel, and Noah Wyle, and was one of the few live dramas on American television since its so-called Golden Age in the 1950s and 1960s. The broadcast was introduced by Walter Cronkite (his introduction, also broadcast in black and white, is included in the DVD releases of the film).

The novel was first adapted into a 1964 film of the same name directed by Sidney Lumet; the TV version is shorter than the 1964 film due to commercial airtime and omits a number of subplots.

Plot[edit]

The time is the early-to-mid-1960s, the height of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. An unknown aircraft approaches North America from Europe. American bombers of the Strategic Air Command (SAC) are scrambled to their fail safe points near Russia. The bombers have orders not to proceed past their fail safe points without receiving a special attack code. The original "threat" is proven to be innocuous and recall orders are issued. However, due to a technical failure, the attack code is transmitted to Group Six, which consists of six Vindicator supersonic bombers and four escort fighters. Colonel Grady, the head of the group, tries to contact Omaha to verify the fail-safe order (called Positive Check), but due to Soviet radar jamming, Grady cannot hear Omaha. Concluding that the attack order and the radar jamming could only mean nuclear war, Grady commands Group Six towards Moscow, their intended destination.

At meetings in Omaha, the Pentagon, and in the fallout shelter of the White House, American politicians and scholars debate the implications of the attack. Professor Groteschele, who is loosely based on John von Neumann and Herman Kahn, suggests the United States follow this accidental attack with a full-scale attack to force the Soviets to surrender.

The President orders the Air Force to send the four escort fighters after the bombers to shoot down the Vindicators. The attempt is to show that the Vindicator attack is an accident, not a full-scale nuclear assault. After using their afterburners in an attempt to catch the bombers the fighters run out of fuel and crash, dooming the pilots to die of exposure in the Arctic Sea. The fighters fail to destroy any bombers.

The President of the United States contacts the Soviet premier and offers assistance in attacking the group. The Soviets decline at first; then they decide to accept help.

Meanwhile, the Soviet PVO Strany air defense corps has managed to shoot down two of the six planes. After accepting American help they shoot down two more planes. Two bombers remain on course to Moscow. One is a decoy and carries no bombs. The other carries two 20 megaton devices. General Bogan tells Marshal Nevsky, the Soviet commander, to ignore the decoy plane because it is harmless. Nevsky, who mistrusts Bogan, instead orders his Soviet aircraft to pursue the decoy aircraft. The Russian fighters are then out of position to intercept the final American bomber. The decoy's feint guarantees that the remaining bomber can successfully attack. Following the failure, Nevsky collapses.

As the bomber approaches Moscow, Colonel Grady opens up the radio to contact SAC to inform them that they are about to make the strike. As a last-minute measure, the Soviets fire a barrage of nuclear-tipped missiles to form a fireball in an attempt to knock the low-flying Vindicator out of the sky. The bomber shoots up two decoy missiles, which successfully leads the Soviet missiles high in the air and Colonel Grady's plane survives.

With the radio open, the President attempts to persuade Grady that there is no war. Grady's son also attempts to convince him. (In the 1964 film it was Grady's wife who tried to do this.) Under standing orders that such a late recall attempt must be a Soviet trick, Grady ignores them. Grady tells his crew that "We're not just walking wounded, we're walking dead men," due to radiation from the Soviet missiles. He intends to fly the aircraft over Moscow and detonate the bombs in the plane. His co-pilot notes, "There's nothing to go home to." Meanwhile, the American president has ordered another American bomber to circle over New York City with 40-megaton payload, which should be dropped in case of the bombing of Moscow. The American ambassador in Moscow reports about the final moments of the Russian capital before being evaporated from the blast.

The American bomber receives an order to drop its bombs over New York City in order for the destruction of Moscow to be reciprocated and a Third World War avoided. It was earlier revealed that the American President's wife was in New York while the events of the film transpired, meaning she would be killed in the blast. The pilot of the American bomber, General Black (Harvey Keitel), commits suicide with a lethal injection just after releasing the bombs.

Cast[edit]

See also[edit]

  • Arc Light, a World War III scenario set post-cold war, where a strategic nuclear exchange between the Russia and the US is followed by a conventional World War III in the midst of a major US economic crash and a constitutional crises.
  • Invasion, a 2000 novel by Eric L. Harry portraying a future Chinese invasion of the US after China becomes a global superpower.
  • The Third World War: The Untold Story by General Hackett, portrays a conventional Soviet invasion of Western Europe, including the behavior of the formally neutral Ireland and Sweden, and internal Soviet debates and thinking.
  • Team Yankee, a 1987 novel by Harold Coyle set in Hackett's scenario
  • Red Army, by Ralph Peters, showing a Soviet invasion of Western Europe from an entirely Soviet perspective.
  • Red Storm Rising, a similar World War III scenario covering a conventional Soviet invasion of Western Europe, by Tom Clancy
  • The Third World War by Humphrey Hawksley depicts a slow building crises that culminates in a nightmarish World War III involving nuclear and biological weapons.
  • Trinity's Child by William Prochnau, portrays a sudden nuclear attack by the USSR upon the United States, followed by an eruption of global warfare.
  • By Dawn's Early Light, TV movie based on Trinity's Child
  • The Last Ship by William Brinkley. Portrays a sudden massive nuclear exchange between the superpowers, with further escalating exchanges over a four hour period leaving most of the northern hemisphere choked in radioactive fallout. The ship loses contact with the U.S. Navy, and then investigates various sites around Europe and Africa starting with Naval Station Rota in Spain, making contact with other stray ships, military and civilian. All the consequences of the exchange for the crew, and humanity as a whole, are explored.
  • Special Bulletin, a 1983 made-for-TV movie about nuclear terrorism, shot in the style of simulated news broadcasts
  • Countdown to Looking Glass, a TV movie made in the form of a news broadcast following a deterioration in NATO-Warsaw Pact relations that ends in nuclear warfare.
  • The Day After, a 1983 made-for-TV movie about a NATO-Russian nuclear war.
  • Damnation Alley, a 1970s movie about a sudden Soviet nuclear attack.
  • Deterrence, a 1999 French-American movie about a Walter Emerson, about a man who's just become US President in the same manner as Gerald Ford, without having been elected. Emerson is on a campaign tour, trapped by a storm in a small town diner, when he gets word Iraq has invaded Kuwait a second time, and is poised to do the same to Saudi Arabia. With US troops committed in a separate engagement on the Korean peninsula, Emerson decides the only way to stop Iraq is to threaten to air-burst a 25 megaton nuclear weapon above Baghdad.
  • Miracle Mile, a 1988 movie about an ordinary group of people, who learn, via a phone call from someone in an ICBM silo (who was trying to reach their father at the diner) that a nuclear exchange is about to take place, thus within the hour Soviet missiles will rain down on them. Some believe it and try to flee, while others scramble around the city to find loved ones in a desperate attempt to join those already headed for the airport.
  • The Sum of All Fears, a 2002 movie with Ben Afleck and Morgan Freeman. Terrorists plant a nuclear weapon in a US city in an attempt to frame the Russians for the attack and prompt the two powers to wipe each other out.
  • Threads, a 1984 UK film about a major Soviet nuclear attack on the United Kingdom.
  • On The Beach, a 2000 film about the aftermath of a series of major nuclear exchanges between the US-Russia-China choking the northern hemisphere in fallout which is slowly spreading south to humanity's last refuge in Australia.
  • Special Bulletin, a 1983 made-for-TV movie about nuclear terrorism, shot in the style of a simulated news broadcast.
  • Testament, a 1983 American film which tells the story of how one small suburban town near the San Francisco Bay Area slowly falls apart after a nuclear war destroys outside civilization.
  • When the Wind Blows, a 1986 animated British film that shows a nuclear attack on Britain by the Soviet Union from the viewpoint of a retired couple.
  • Able Archer 83, NATO command post exercise that resulted in the 1983 nuclear war scare and changed thinking about nuclear war in Britain.
  • Operation Square Leg a military analysis of the effects of a nuclear war on Britain.
  • Protect and Survive, the 1970s British government information films on nuclear war.

References[edit]


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