Fail Safe (spoilers of course)

I know the Russians were jamming them at first, but there appears to be no recall code. Well that makes no ****ing sense.

They surrender? Tough. The US and USSR work it out? Tough. A mistake? Tough.

Fantastic movie nonetheless.

There was a recall code; it was just issued too late as the bombers had passed the “fail safe” point. The insane part was that people would have then (and might still today) follow orders to end the world even when they contacted by their spouses who told then that they were making a mistake.

Yeah, but there should be a recall code at all times.

But the camera work on that scene where they call in for the final time is electrifying.

“This is the President! Stay on the line!”…wife cuts in, crew starts going nuts, wife starts screaming. Goose bumps.

Interesting thing to me was how many of the actors were often involved in comedies, or better known for them – Walter Matthau, Larry Hagman, even Henry Fonda’s been in light stuff. But this is the only movie I know of where Dom deLuise has a strictly dramatic role (which he pulled off remarkably well).

The actor who played Boss Hogg also appears.

You have no conception of what Cold War paranoia was like. Everything in Fail Safe was logical at the time, and is clearly explained in the movie. The entire purpose of a fail safe point was that once the order to attack was given, there was no going back. The reasoning was that the enemy might be sending fake information, and that your wife might just be coerced to beg you to call it off.

And we still live with that today, except that the “fail safe” point is at ignition of the ICBM or SLBM which would carry nuclear weapons to their release points. Once the code is received and confirmed, war and mass death is inevitable. And while the system is built around the institution of robust authentication, it is also built around the philosophy of “launch-on-warning” i.e. if there is something that looks like a nuclear attack, the response is to attack in kind before response capability is compromised. With a single executive command, validated by a second person, many hundreds of millions of people could be dead inside of half an hour.

Sleep well.


I’m pretty sure the US never adopted launch on warning - I think we were willing to wait for the start of a nuclear strike. The Soviets did have launch on warning, at least sometimes. That makes Stanislaw Petroff all the more heroic. Sleep well!

I’m as big a fan of this movie as anyone. Having said that. . .

Was there anything to the brief scene between Groeteschele (Matthau) and Ilsa Wolfe (Nancy Berg) that advanced the plot? I didn’t see any benefit in either the movie or the novel.

I remember seeing Fail Safe as a kid–after I had made a model of the B-58–and remember saying to myself, “Hey, the crew doesn’t sit like that!”

You would be entirely wrong in that assumption.

The degree to which “launch-on-warning” is implemented is subject to debate, but with the reduced active nuclear arsenal and particular vulnerability of ballistic missile submarines to any nation with satellite magnetic anomaly detection and supercavitating torpedos, it is an inevitable and necessary consequence of deterrence.


Just a weird statement on the fascination and sexiness, I guess, of global extinction. How does Lucy’s…err…problems advance the plot of Godfather? Sex sells.

I suppose I could make some kind reference to how ‘impotent’ Groeteschele is at the end of the movie. He was wrong after all.

I’ve actually referred to Groeteschele a couple of times in the last few days when people who weren’t even alive in 1991 pretend to understand how Putin’s or ‘The Russian Mind’ works. I don’t, but I don’t think it’s smart to compare how you would react compared to Putin.

Crap! (I had a much stronger word initially, but this isn’t The Pit.) The fact we haven’t wiped ourselves out yet proves that we are the luckiest species in the galaxy. We all sit under the sword of Damocles, even in these post-Cold War times.

It isn’t as hair trigger as it was during the Soviet era, but yes, we live in a world where a single mistake could result in the deaths of tens or hundreds of millions of people.


I thought the scene was to establish just how cold, aloof, calculating, and how detached Groeteschele could be.

You have to wonder what would have happened if that Chelyabinsk meteor strike in 2013 had happened 25 years earlier.

'Cause they were flying a Vindicator. It only *looked *like a B-58.

Is it true though? Is there a point after which bombers will not turn back come hell or highwater?

As for launch on warning, I don wonder how would a real political leadership react. Would they launch anyway or perfer to ride out a strike, especially if they have some sort of second strike capability.

There were recall codes (it was a major plot point in Dr. Strangelove, but pilots were trained to only respond to the codes. In Fail Safe, the transmission of the codes was being jammed. It was restored, but by then the planes had reached the point where they had been trained to ignore any recall codes.

I never caught that Matthau’s character was named “Professor Groeteschele.” The name can be parsed to mean “little grotesque.”

I would hope that the first thing a leader of either nation coming into power would do is to express to his counterpart that no matter how bad things get, how unfriendly we are…I will never launch an all out first strike against you.

…but then that reminds me of the end of that mini-series “World War III” where each leader says he will stand down, recall his bombers and expresses friendship and hope for the future. Then hangs up the phone and says “He didn’t believe me.” And neither recalls their bombers.