Sunday, November 29, 2015

FAIL-SAFE ! One of the Cold War's Excellent Books, Movie, and TV Show

FAIL-SAFE was originally printed as a serial in The Saturday Evening Post, then as a book in 1962, in 1964 it became a movie starring Henry Fonda, Walter Matthau and a very young Larry Hagman, and uniquely, it became a live broadcast TV show in 2000.

First the Book
Original 1964 Book Cover
Written by Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler, published in 1962 at the height of tensions between the USSR and USA. Which is acknowledged in the Preface section - "The people in this novel are our contemporaries and they deal with a problem that is already upon us. It is being discussed daily in Washington, Moscow, London, and elsewhere by heads of state, diplomatic and military experts. Men of good will and ill have been agonizing over the problem for years. They have found no solution". The balance of the Preface goes on to explain the reason they wrote the book and make a prediction that, thankfully, never came true - "The accident may not occur in the way we describe but the laws of probability assure us that ultimately it will occur. The logic of politics tells us that when it does, the only way out will be a choice of disasters".

What a great way to start a novel about the nuclear threat. To predict that what they write in the book as fiction, may well become fact in the future. Especially in 1962 during the Cuban missile crisis!

The predicted accident did not happen because we, the American Cold Warriors, faced down the Soviets and by our dedication, perseverance, and strength, we convinced them to not continue the Cold War.

The book is slightly different than the movie in that on the written pages within numerous chapters, time allows for a much deeper character development and exploration. One major difference I noticed is that the Matador reference in the movie, is not in the book at all. I liked the conflict depicted within General Black in the movie and looked for it in the book. The book is a quick read and I finished it in a week's worth of reading in bed before sleep. It is written well enough to allow your mind to visualize the scenes, though I did keep seeing the movie version of the depicted scene from memory when the written words replicated the movie scene. I did not watch the movie again before reading the book. The book's end is less climatic than the movie but it must have been very hard for the writers to come up with an ending that describes the nuclear destruction of New York. The movie does the ending really well as you will see when you watch it.

I give the book 5 Stars. The book is available for purchase at Amazon with prices ranging from $2.99 to $60.00 for a first edition. I found my first edition in a church thrift store for $2.00.

The Movie
Original 1964 Movie Poster

Original 1964 Movie Trailer

I love the movie. It really is a toss between this one, Dr. Strangelove, and the Bedford Incident as my favorite Cold War movie. 

Dr. Strangelove came out before FAIL-SAFE and I have read revues that the audience expected FAIL-SAFE to be a black comedy competing with Dr. Strangelove and were disappointed when they realized it was a fictional realistic drama. 

Drama it is. And a strong one given the temperament of the world at that time with the Cuban Missile Crisis still influencing the American psychic. The USSR and the USA were building their respective nuclear arsenals more and more every day during these times. The Cold war was raging and here is a movie depicting a technological accident that could start WWIII. Though it did not do well in the box office it has become a classic and one of TCM's Essentials movie to watch. The movie is based on a fictional novel so it does take license on military procedures, references, and depictions of aircraft, etc. You Air Force veterans that were in SAC at this time would be better suited to comment on if the military portions were realistic or not.

I give the movie 5 Stars. The movie is available for purchase in a DVD and as a download from Amazon Video. I rented it on Amazon for $2.99.

The TV Show
2000 Made For TV Live Acting Version

April 2000 Live TV Version Trailer

This version of FAIL-SAFE is a live broadcast on CBS in 2000 that follows the original movie to the "T". The dialog seems to be the same, the scenes seem to be the same, and I thought I was watching a Hollywood remake with current actors. Don't get me wrong, I liked it. The actors involved are the top stars of that time, their performances are excellent and I wholeheartedly recommend watching it. It is done in black and white and because it is a DVD of the original live broadcast airing you get the sense that you are watching it live. Even down to the flubbed line here and there. No redo in live TV! 

I give it 5 Stars. The DVD is available online for purchase. It is not available on Amazon Video. I got my copy at the dollar store bargain bin.

The TV live broadcast version is what started the whole idea to read the book, watch the original movie, and the TV version to do a blog post on the differences.

Read the book, watch the original movie, or watch the TV live broadcast version. Or do all three as I have! You will enjoy it no matter how you consume the story. 

In my opinion, it is a Proud Cold Warriors' must do item!

Burdick, Eugene & Wheeler, Harvey, FAIL-SAFE, McGraw-Hill, 1962, New York, Print
FAIL-SAFE, Columbia Pictures, released September 15, 1964, Movie
FAIL_SAFE, Warner Brothers, released April 16, 2000, staged and telecast on live TV

Thank you to for the digital images. Original 1962 book jacket design by Larry Lurin.

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Where did you serve? Military or Civilian? Stateside or Overseas. Fulda Gap? Berlin? NATO? CIA? State Department? The Dew Line? On a Missile Battery? Down in a Silo? At Sea? Under the Sea? In the Air? According to the VA over 26 million Vets are still alive. I'd bet that most served in the 1945-1991 time frame and I'd like to share your story on this blog. As long as it isn't still classified, email me with your story and I will post it here.