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The movie Fail-Safe takes place during the cold war, when the United States was fighting with the Soviet Union over communism. Henry Fonda stars as the President, and Walter Matthau plays a civilian advisor.
The movie opens with General Black dreaming of a bull being speared by a bullfighter. When he awakes, he goes to the Pentagon for a meeting. In the meantime, a senator is touring the command center in Nebraska, when something appears on the big screen. They fear it is the long awaited attack from the Soviet Union.
American planes are sent to the fail-safe point, which is a point that if they cross, they can not be called back. Five U.S. bombers are sent carrying nuclear warheads to the Soviet Union. The unidentified aircraft that was seen on the big screen turns out to be a commercial airliner, but a mechanical failure strikes the air base that commands the bombers. The base is now out of contact with the bombers, so the pilots proceed to Moscow with the intention of destroying it with a nuclear strike.
A large portion of this movie follows characters as they try to stop the U.S. bombers from a nuclear attack against the Soviet Union. Walter Matthau s character, Groeteschele, is an arrogant civilian advisor who consults the President on nuclear war. He believes that nuclear combat is a feasible method of war. He realizes that nuclear war could destroy the entire war, but he does not believe the U.S. should slow down, as does General Black. Groeteschele believes that if the U.S. were to slow down, Russia would have more nuclear weapons, and this would put the U.S. at a disadvantage.
Fail-Safe is more about the issue of nuclear war than it is about communism. There is a scene in the film that deals with communism in a one-sided way. Groeteschele provided the pro-nuclear attitude in the film, and he also made comments about Communists, showing the fear that people in that time period had.
Once it is obvious that there is no turning back for the U.S. bombers, the film focuses on the consequences of bombing Moscow. The President negotiates with the Soviet leader with the help of a translator. This compromise avoids an all out war with the Soviet Union.
The characters are well portrayed throughout this film. Henry Fonda does a wonderful job as the unfortunate President, as does Matthau with his character. This movie is very suspenseful and speaks powerfully of nuclear war.
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