Will you press the button to get Lumet's underrated Cold War thriller into the Canon?
BTW: I forgot to mention the LBJ "Daisy" TV ad, also from 1964. Look it up on YouTube - vital historical context!
Amen to Devin's point(s) about film distribution and availability. To shoehorn a 'canon' into what is streaming on American mainstream formats is obviously problematic as it creates a dynamic against films of a certain type or social message, or from specific companies/studios/distributors. Whole countries, genders and directors are therefor maligned to never being seen, let alone considered.
That the conversation was about a film as easy to see/get as a multiple Oscar winner directed by Billy Wilder, only makes it a little funny.
FAIL SAFE? No. It's just not good enough. FAIL-SAFE is almost as funny as DR. STRANGELOVE, just not intentionally. It also doesn't have near the brain. PAWNBROKER, yes. If I was to pick a severally underrated Lumet, I'd probably go THE HILL or THE VERDICT.
A very late, but very enthusiastic YES! One of the aspects of this podcast that I'm most appreciative of is being exposed to movies I had previously little to no knowledge of. This is especially the case with Fail-Safe, which might be my favorite movie that I've been made aware of here.
For those who argue against Fail-Safe's canonization on the basis of its lack of cinematic imagery/storytelling, I (politely!) disagree. A part of Fail-Safe's greatness is its rhythm of subdued visuals for considerable swaths of the run-time, followed by powerful shots/sequences that can make a statement, raise tension, play on our expectations, or all three at the same time. The surreal introduction of Blackie's nightmare, for instance, definitely keeps the events of the movie grounded in the fact that there are people with intense emotions making these decisions. One particular sequence that I like is the would-be takeover by the Colonel, with the image of him proudly standing in front of the room giving the slightest impression that he might be successful. Of course, this is quickly defused when the two MP's enter from out-of-frame while the Colonel is having his big, important close-up. Finally, the last three minutes of this film are outstanding. Beginning with the soul-shattering, high-pitched noise of the Russian Ambassador's phone melting, the movie and the audience are put in a heightened state of emotion. This is compounded by the speed with which we rush to the credits, which gives us an idea of how quickly a mass number of lives can be obliterated. Blackie's suicide becomes even more nauseating in these conditions - our last personal story of the movie is that of a man who wanted nothing more than to spend an evening with his wife living his last moments in extraordinary fear of what he has become. Then there's the countdown. Why does the movie choose the shots it does for this sequence? One shot highlights celebration through dancing, one shot shows conflict through an argument over a car accident. And one shot presents two boys - black and white - standing apart and facing each other.*
How did those two get there? Why is there such distance between them? There doesn't appear to be any active animosity between the two, but one get's the impression that they're both being apprehensive. Why does the camera zoom in on the black boy's face in the ramped-up version of the countdown (incidentally, the last image we see before a flash to credits)? Considering President Henry Fonda's statement earlier in the film about how each country's government had allowed themselves to be overtaken by systems, Walter Matthau's comments on how warfare has essentially remained the same, and America's own history of racial tension, I think at the very least the movie is implying that the capacity to destroy is systematic in nature.
Anyway, my point is that with a few choice shots and sequences between basic tension building, Fail-Safe is able to capture the horror of facing the abyss, while examining how we go there in the first place. Sincere thanks for this suggesting this movie!
*This is the type of shot that the One. Perfect. Shot. twitter account should focus on.
I went through a thing a few years back where I watched just about every cold war era nuclear film. As it happened, I had seen both versions of Fail Safe years prior, so it was good to revisit the original. Perhaps my seeing so many other similar films is why I am voting NO on this. It's very well shot, very well acted etc etc, but it was not socially/historically significant and I don't think it even is effective in it's aim (assuming that this was intended to be an anti-war/anti-cold war message. It never even occurred to me to think of this as anything other than a film to show how the system actually works to ensure best case scenarios in conflict between the US and Soviets. Leaders work it out in a civil manner, giving up New York was a reasonable action, and everyone else gets to keep living. Devin's thought that he would like to see the sequel where we have to live with the consequences of a President agreeing to that the following day would be the anti-nuclear story. Fail Safe shows two leaders who don't want to wipe out the other and actually work to make sure that it doesn't happen. The system works, everyone! There was just one little accident but everyone's square now!
The absurdity of Dr. Strangelove is why it is far more effective as an anti-war/anti-nuke film. It showed how the policy of mutually assured destruction was madness, not a usable tool to maintain balance.
I vote no.
Gotta go no.
Very well-done movie, but I don't know if I can see a path to the Canon. Of course, I saw Strangelove first, many times, so it was impossible not to think of the many, many parallels here. They are two sides of the same coin (although I heard there was a third movie with a similar story...) but I have to say I liked Strangelove better. Better shots, more memorable characters, the delightful sexual/phallic references that send up so much great man dick-wagging. A movie's gotta be more than good for me to vote it in. And while I must assume this film woulda been terrifying for many back in the MAD days, it just didn't grip me enough.
Strangelove killed it. It handled its copyright claim (or whatever) better. It came out first. It made more of an impression at the time. It's more fun. And...well...it's at least equal in terms of craftsmanship.
Neat that the film was made without music, though. It's a worthy film, but I can't vote for one movie that is at least 90% overshadowed by another, superior, movie.
NO. Lumet is clearly Canon-worthy but this is not the film that should represent him or be voted in first. I had not seen it before but I did end up enjoying it quite a bit!
Gonna be a NO. I wasn't able to get into this film, and it's difficult to articulate why. Of course at first I was comparing it to Strangelove, but I think they're different enough so that both can stand on its own. I think the point Devin and Amy made about everyone being a machine is true, but it led to me being sort of bored throughout it. I agree with another user that said that it ends up feeling like an extended television show, albeit one that's ahead of its time. I did like Henry Fonda a lot as the president though. There were some great close-ups of him.
I'll say YES to Fail-Safe, although Dr. Strangelove is better. It's worth pointing out that both Dr. Strangelove and Professor Groeteschele are both based largely on Herman Kahn, but are wildly different takes on the character.
Yes. And if you vote no, slap "I'm not your kind."
It's really too bad this wasn't a versus episode. I mean how more versus could you get than Fail-Safe v Strangelove. Too bad, but then again people maybe would just vote Kubrick not matter what/. Anyways I am so glad you guys pushed me into seeing this film. It definitely feels like 12 Angry Men in the way Lumet shoot what could be very passive looking sequences but injects them with a ton of energy. The situations are perfect and the cold calculating tone reminds me of Contagion but even scarier. This was such an interesting film to watch and very glad I did. Yes! I love Strangelove a little more (satire is so hard to do right) but man this film's reputation as the mediocre "serious" Strangelove is unfounded. Let's break it out of the Strangelove shadow!
I'm yet to rewatch it (it's been ages), but YES.
Definitely better then Dr Strangelove and I'm saying this as someone who sees Dr Strangelove as one of the best movies ever. I didn't realize how terrifying rational thought could be. Also, I was terrified of rational thought. Oh dear god, we really are going to all die. I kinda thought I was just paranoid.
It's a definite yes for me. The movie holds your attention throughout, and wether or not showing the bombers being taken out on the board instead of actually show it was by choice or not, it works extremely well. Henry Fonda's President is just great, and he just shows you the tension extremely well. I could probably say more, but I feel like I'm just repeating the podcast, so I'll end it there.
The Simpsons writers seem to think it belongs in the canon, so who am I to argue with them.
I'm voting yes.
Let me start off by saying I think it's a great movie. But for me one of the biggest reasons a movie should be considered a movie to hold up as one of the best of all time, is if it is a story that could not be told in any other format as successfully. Lumet is a fine director, but most of his work would have been just as meaningful if it had been on TV, as a play, or as a novel. There is not much cinematic about this film, it is merely the format he used to tell a story. So, while I feel the film is a great film, it is not the kind of film I would show someone to introduce them to the art form, because it does nothing to show why film at its best has a different storytelling language than any other art form. I don't really see it as iconic or influential on any other filmmakers either, outside of maybe a broad idea of tackling heavy subjects, but it definitely wasn't the first to do that and movies like the Battle of Algiers do it much more successfully and much more cinematically.
To me, the best filmmakers make movies that wouldn't work as well if they were novels, comics, TV shows or anything else, because they truly utilize the unique visual language of film. Dr. Strangelove is a perfect example of this, a movie that could only exist in its specific medium. Fail Safe is fine, but if you showed someone this as an example of the greatness of the film medium, they might just shrug their shoulders and wonder why people say film can be such a great art form when they saw a play the other day with all the same positive characteristics. Whereas if you put a Kubrick film on like Dr. Strangelove there is something uniquely cinematic about it, and someone isn't going to get an experience like that anywhere else.
Yes. The translation scene with Larry Hagman and Henry Fonda is one of my favorite pieces of acting in any film. Intense but not melodramatic. Like an earlier poster, I always associate Fail Safe with Seven Days In May -- just that cold war vibe. (The two of them would have been a tough death match episode.)
I like this movie and the performances are good, but if feels more like an elevated episode of the long form television stories from the 50s rather than a true cinematic experience. I get that it's tense, but I don't understand the praise for its seriousness over Strangelove's absurdity. I find many of the moments depicted in this film equally as implausible as anything that happens in Strangelove, but it is all played straight and for extreme drama. Why does a reliance on that drama make this a more significant telling of the cold war experience? Despite the farcical nature of Strangelove, it seems even scarier to me. The idea that one rogue General can unilaterally declare nuclear war (which was a real thing) rather than the random malfunction is a far more disturbing and more likely to have succeeded. The malfunction or false alarm has occurred many times and "good" people that were just doing their jobs on both sides managed to avoid global destruction.
I did not anticipate that the main criticisms presented in this podcast were all going to be about Dr. Strangelove. I still don't like the lovefest episodes as much even when a movie I really enjoy is being discussed. This is not a perfect movie. Dr. Strangelove is. So it's a no for me, but it looks like it's getting in anyway. That doesn't necessarily bother me. It's good to have Lumet represented.
Soft yea. Strangelove is better, but this is really good as well.
And if you think Kubrick did some pretty diabolical things to get Strangelove out before Fail Safe, there's the karmic aftermath that Strangelove was supposed to be released in November of 1963, but due to... certain events, Kubrick decided to hold off on releasing it. Then, when the 1964 Oscars came around, it lost everything to My Fair Lady.
Also, thank goodness I'm not the only one that found The Revenant to be as indulgent as it is. Good film, but you could cut out a quarter of it, and you'd have a great film.
A definite YES.
This is a movie who's most logical ending (in the sense of best case scenario) is for the US army to nuke New York. It captures the absurd rationality of mutually assured destruction perfectly.
Also, I think both Fail-Safe and Dr. Strangelove are highly successful in their selective approaches to a post-Cuban Missile Crisis world (Lumet dramatically and Kubrick comically), so saying one is definitively better than the other seems a bit wrong. Lumet's clear-eyed rationality and Kubrick's silly/cynical irrationality hit both aspects of world politics (there are just as many idiots in power as there are geniuses) and confirms that in the nuclear era, both competence and incompetence can easily lead to global destruction.
How can such a seemingly static and talky movie be so TENSE. Big yes for me. Took some chutzpah to call out Dr. Strangelove, but I think y'all have a point!
Gonna be a NO. I wasn't able to get into this film, and it's difficult to articulate why. Of course at first I was comparing it to Strangelove, but I think they're different enough so that both can stand on its own. I think the point Devin and Amy made about everyone being a machine is true, but it led to me being sort of bored throughout it. I did like Henry Fonda a lot as the president though. There were some great close-ups of him.
Gonna be a NO for me. I disagree that it's better with Strangelove (by a large margin), and with two movies that are so similar, I'd much rather have the better one be in the Canon. I think the seriousness just sort of made the whole thing a downer, and while it did look great and Henry Fonda made for a fantastic president, I just could not get into it as much. I feel the visuals for Strangelove are much much stronger. And yeah, the decision to nuke New York is so crazy that it took me out of it, but I did like the deadpan proposal of it.
YES to FAIL-SAFE.
In the Kubrick documentary, A LIFE IN PICTURES, Alex Cox is a talking head and he sneeringly dismisses this film when comparing it to DR STRANGELOVE. I always thought FAIL SAFE was great, and loved it more after that because I couldn't stand the idea of this movie not being hip enough to sit at the cool kids table. I love Strangelove, too, not sure why it has to be either/or.
BTW, yes, Lumet and Vin Diesel did work together, in 2006's FIND ME GUILTY.
Fantastic episode. So glad to see this under seen and often over shadowed film get a little recognition. Definitely a yes for me. That scene with the off handed small talk about the weather is pitch perfect screen writing craft.
One film I always associated with this one is John Frankenheimer's "Seven Days in May." I think it would make for an interesting episode, especially given the...fervor... of this election cycle.
Looking forward to "The Lost Weekend" as this well prepared cinephile already has the DVD on my shelf.
Thank you for forcing my hand to watch this finally.
Absolutely fantastic but being familiar with Strangelove I found it hard to stop comparing the performances and directorial choices. I wish every great movie had two versions; a super dramatic version and a much less serious version. "Manchurian Candidate" shot as "King Ralph" or "Groundhog Day" made by Herzog or Cronenberg.
A hard yes. Super hard. Throbbing.
YES. Such a fantastic film. I find the comparisons to Strangelove to be an interesting conversation as the films themselves have such different approaches to the same material. Lumet's is philosophically realistic while I find Kubrik to be clearly cynical humor, both coming to similar conclusions about the futility of war. Makes for good discussion.
The conversation about duck and cover brought back memories of growing up in Alaska. The Alaska Pipeline was always a target through the end of the Cold War and continued through bombing threats in the First Gulf War. We had school assemblies that discussed how we were supposed react and what we were to do when the bomb goes off. CRAZY.
I initially was questioning why Fail-Safe should be in before Strangelove.
But it's an incredible counterpoint to the satire of Strangelove. Deeply serious and humanitarian, it's a heartbreaking film that almost made me cry at the end. I can only imagine what it would have been like watching it in '64.
YES. I never got around to this, even though I swear by Kubrick and knew of this film in relation to Strangelove. Thank you for the push to finally sit down with it. When the rotoscoped opening ended, I knew I was in for something more than a serious take on Strangelove's plot.
Yes. Without a doubt. First time seeing it. This gives me a chance to revisit strangelove. The main thing is now I need to watch more Lumet. It's a tragedy how little of his filmography I've seen.
Watched this in high school before seeing Dr. Strangelove soon after. Quite the double feature. Easy yes.
I went into this week thinking I couldn't vote for this when there will be a Dr Strangelove episode, despite the fact being a Lumet film it's was more than likely going to be great, but damn by the time that ending hit I had completely about faced.
This is a solid yes, there is certainly room in the canon for two films, both serious and satirical about such a major topic in history.
Yes, yes, yes. Full disclosure I have yet to listen to the ep yet, but when I saw the title appear in iTunes I knew had to vote pre-emptively.
I adore this movie. Might be my favorite Lumet film, right up there with Pawnbroker and Network.
I'm not throwing shade, cause it is also excellent, but I might like Fail Safe even more than Dr Strangelove.
Total yes on this one.
Watching this film made me aware how scary it would be, ya know, just for a thought experiment, if there would be a racist over-reacting reality tv star, who bankrupted 4 companies and had the vocabulary of a child, in charge of the trigger in the white house... keep in mind that the U.S. still has about 7000 nuclear war heads. yikes.
As for the whole comparison to Dr Strangelove: I think Devin made the point very well during the show, by saying that Fail-Safe is the scarier film, because it shows step-by-step how a nuclear war actually could have started, without blaming anybody in particular - and to be scary might just be the main task of such a film. Strangelove distracts from this message by having a bunch of morons in charge, which probably makes for the more entertraining cinematic experience. So, in the end, it comes down to what you really want out of such a subject... Since, as you guys pointed out, the danger was very real in every-day life of average citizens, I think Strangelove's conceptual approach of combining nuclear war with humor is a bit more daring in the way I imagine movie-goers from the 60s would have seen that film: I mean, you've got already the danger and the serious drills in every day life - in which case watching a comedy making fun of that whole concept would be quite a catharsis. Fail-Safe must have looked quite a bit preachy to the audiences back then, and, honestly, a bit boring.
As we live now in a ever-ironic post-nine-eleven world, I like the clear message in Fail-Safe just a tiny bit better than the outlandish nature of Strangelove. We need to be reminded where we come from, and how we got in this political mess, that we are in now. Fail-Safe accomplishes this in a masterful way.
This is a tough one, but I have to say no. It has some fascinating, powerful moments, but as somewhat of a bottle film, the vast majority of the film felt static and not very cinematic. On top of that, I just can't reconcile the fact that the rogue fighter pilots dismissed direct orders from the president to abort their mission as nothing more than a Soviet trick, especially after his own wife begged him to stop what he was doing. That plot point felt so weak in its execution, not once, but twice, that the entire impact of the film's climactic moments were severely undercut for me. The film knew where it wanted go and I applaud it for its thought provoking ending, but it dropped the ball on convincingly getting there by glossing over the failed attempts to stop the rogue pilots. Good film, but the gaps in its logic are too jarring for me to register this otherwise intelligent film as an all-timer.
YES. The amount of tension that Lumet creates with minimal set and action pieces is pretty amazing. The way we all have to deal with the amount of destruction we're capable of is still incredibly resonant. I'd never heard of this film before today, I'm so glad I was pointed towards it. Thanks, Canon!
OK...that made it through so here's my comment: The ending gave me full on nightmares for several days. Being a child of the 80's/The Day After Era this movie was just fuel for the box of nuclear horrors that lurked in my subconscious. The book is brilliant as well. I recommend the book to anyone who loved the movie. So powerful. Sad that Dr. Strangelove's earlier release doomed it to financial failure.
Something wrong with the forum? Can't seem to post? In any case, if this gets through, YES.
Yes. I'm in for any of these cold war films even if I am completely baffled w/r/t anyone ever finding Walter Matthau charming in THAT way.
YES. The ending gave me full on nightmares for several days. Being a child of the Reagan/The Day After Era this movie was just fuel for the box of nuclear horrors that lurked in my subconscious. The book is brilliant as well. I recommend the book to anyone who loved the movie. So powerful. Sad that Dr. Strangelove's earlier release doomed it to financial failure.
It's frustrating to me that Amy and Devin can talk endlessly about films' gender politics, which sometimes are so subtle I'm not sure they're actually there, but when it comes to species politics they are beyond oblivious. Amy's comments on bullfighting bordered on sociopathic IMO.
I wanted to write a post about how I thought Amy lyricizing about bullfighting was gross. But I literally have no idea what word is getting caught in the filter.
I'm trying to post a new thread, but nothing shows up. Have I just lost the privilege or is the weird filter catching it?
Yay. A masterclass in tension.
I vote no. Dr. Strangelove was better.
Going to watch the film right now, but wanted to say that Vin Diesel and Lumet did in fact work together when they made FIND ME GUILTY.
Do new threads need to be manually approved now?
Yes. I've always found Fail-Safe to be one of Lumet's best films
I watched Fail-Safe in college during a "Cold War on Film" class, and I really enjoyed it. However, I still think Dr. Strangelove is more successful dealing with the same topic. Both Devin & Amy really enjoyed how seriously the subject was presented in Fail-Safe, but it's so ridiculous that it begs to be lampooned. So reluctantly, I have to vote no. I'm also curious to see how Dr. Strangelove would do in a Canon episode now. I previously would've thought it a slam dunk for induction, but both Amy & Devin said they like Fail-Safe better. Do others feel that way? And please keep nominating Lumet films. He's got to be one of the most underrated directors of all time.