Scripted by Walter Bernstein, based on Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler's best-selling novel, the film tells in an utmost serious mode the story of a U.S. plane that's accidentally ordered to bomb U.S.S.R., thus plunging heads of American and Soviet governments into crisis of decision-making as time runs out.
High-tension drama, done in a bleak and grim mode and directed with taste and intelligence by Sidney Lumet, it stars Henry Fonda (as the American President), Walter Matthau, Dan O'Herlihy, Fritz Weaver, Larry Hagman, and other gifted thespians.
Released by the same studio (Columbia) just seven months after the Kubrick farce, “Fail Safe” suffered at the box-office by following “Dr. Strangelove,” a wild farce based on similar premise. Rumor has it that Kubrick threatened Columbia with a plagiarism lawsuit, forcing the studio's brass to release his film first.
Audiences opted for Kubrick's biting, off-the-wall satire, though “Fail Safe” continued to enjoy life as a stage play. It's a nice companion piece to Lumet's earlier (and better) “12 Angry Men,” also with Fonda, and staged in similar style, relying on close-ups for creating a claustrophobic atmosphere.