Fail Safe (1964) comes back into vogue

Remember the Cuban missile crisis, 1963?  The Soviet Union was setting up missile silos in Cuba, we blockaded, the Soviets backed down, but we came close to a total nuclear night.  The next year saw two movies depicting nuclear war, Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, and Lumet’s Fail Safe, the last one which comes to light here, in the wake of the bantering we have from the White House I explain:

Trump is recalling a thousand retired Air Force pilots to active duty, and they are prepping for B-52 bombers to be fully loaded and ready to roll 24/7.  Actually, we used to have such bomber squadrons flying round the clock — that ended with the breakup of our longtime enemy, the Soviet Union, in 1991.  Now the part of Russia has been replaced with a tin man in North Korea, his film name could be “Rocketman,” and a camp movie of that name might already be rolling out onto the tarmac, but I digress.

Well, in Fail Safe, released in October 1964, Henry Fonda played the President, and I wish we had players like that in that office now.  In the action packed movie, Sac was at Offutt Air Base in Omaha, and those guys thought a bogey was entering our airspace and they scrambled a squadron of Vindicator bombers, loaded to the gills, to their Fail Safe points, for further orders, and a computer glitch sent the wrong order (oops) and one determined bomber commander refused to believe the stop order was real and dropped a thermonuclear baby on Moscow (toast).  The Ruskies had tried a jamming radio signal at just the wrong time (bad idea) but to avoid a worse result, Henry Fonda (our fearless leader in the film, remember this didn’t really happen), had our boys drop one on New York City to even the scorecard, killing his wife and a lot of other people.

I saw the black and white film at a church youth group as a 12-year-old and the message to work for peace stuck with me ever since, and since we now have new plans to have B-52s ready on the tarmac, with recalled Air Force pilots ready to fly, it is time to bring Fail Safe out of mothballs, for reference here, kapish? In the 1964 film, the mythical Vindicator bombers were played by Convair B-5B Hustlers, and the fighters we sent to stop the carnage were Convair F-102s, McDonnell F-101s and Lockheed F-104s, but in today’s potential remake, the B-52s are real and the stakes are real, mark my words on that.

The problem is, we have a president that isn’t acting as presidential as Henry Ford would in that starring role, and the other guy, Rocketman, has lots of missiles ready to rain carnage down on 20 million South Koreans in harm’s way, with 50,000 American servicemen closer to that front, and let’s hope upon hope that ramping up the rhetoric with B-52s, fully loaded, doesn’t make one or the other hit that button, the one that sends planes out, or missiles in. Let’s all go online and watch Fail Safe, 1964, black and white, true, but the remake could be in vivid color if it happens and that’s that.

PAUL PETERSON

Storm Lake