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Fail-Safe(1964)

Released in the same year as the dark satire Dr. Strangelove (1964), this earnest anti-nuclear war thriller garnered strong reviews but lost out at the box office. Many audience members felt they had already seen the story and laughed at nuclear disaster in Stanley Kubrick’s picture. Sidney Lumet’s more serious rendition was largely overlooked. Since then, however, audiences have come to appreciate the lethal logic by which Lumet spins his tale of a computer glitch that puts the world on the brink of nuclear Armageddon. Working mostly in a few claustrophobic settings— a bunker beneath the White House, a Pentagon conference room and Strategic Air Command (SAC) headquarters in Omaha— Lumet generates suspense through hushed silences and intense performances from Henry Fonda as the U.S. President, Larry Hagman as his Russian translator, Walter Matthau as a conservative adviser and Dan O’Herlihy as a loyal general. Lumet also borrowed techniques from independent films, including zoom shots within scenes, freeze frames and negative images (which help disguise the use of stock footage of planes in flight). The film proved so influential that President Lyndon Johnson modeled one of his election ads on it. (d. Sidney Lumet, 112m, Digital)

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