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Length:1 Hour 52 Minutes
Cast:Sidney Lumet, Henry Fonda, Walter Matthau, Frank Overton

One little glitch threatens the world with a thermonuclear nightmare in Sidney Lumet's definitive cold-war drama, Fail-Safe. The plot is clean and to the point: A few U.S. bombers are accidentally sent toward Moscow, and the powers that be, including the president (Henry Fonda), spend the next desperate hour or so trying to stop World War III. There are some top-notch war room scenes here, and plenty of philosophical debate about whether nuclear war is winnable, yet despite the sensational subject, Lumet directs with magnificent restraint: Fail-Safe is shot in stark black-and-white and has no musical score. Fonda is the soul of the film as he presides over the crisis from a small bunker below the White House; he gives a brilliantly low-key performance, projecting a kindly, wise, and almost eerie calm, while his unspoken fears are clearly visible in his eyes. The result is a somber, chilling cautionary tale that builds slowly but inexorably to a surprising -- and very disturbing -- climax. Gregory Baird

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