Fail Safe (Live TV)

Fail Safe (Live TV) was a major motion picture of the sixties. This was a time when the cold war was a very real thing.

While not on VHS tape I would like to review this extrodinary television event here.

I feeling old saying this but I remember Playhouse 90 some four decades ago. It was instrumental in cultivating my love for drama and film. The CBS network took a giant leap forward by making a step backward. They permitted George Clooney to present a live, black and white drama on prime time. Fail Safe was a major motion picture of the sixties.

This was a time when the cold war was a very real thing. People had bomb shelters in their basements, school children (myself included) practiced measures to take should the nuclear bombs begin to fall. It was a time of fear, paranoia and distrust. The CBS presentation of Fail Safe returned us emotionally to that time. What they also did, something far more importantly, was to show that TV can be a real medium for talent, thought and emotion. For far too long TV has been almost devoid of meaning. With Fail Safe (Live TV) the hay day of television was returned. To do this in black and white, mono sound and letterbox adds to the innovative presentation. This is not typical TV but it should not be so special. It is about time that quality such as this show demonstrates becomes more prevalent on broadcast TV.

The Fail Safe (Live TV) story is far more complex than the typical TV plot. There is a contest of wills between General Black (Harvey Keitel) a dove in the Pentagon, and think tank leader Prof Groteschele (Hank Azaria in a rare and excellently done dramatic performance) as the hawk ready to crush the Soviet Union. There is the worried President of the United States, Richard Dreyfuss, and his translator, Noah Wyle, desperately trying to convince the Premier of the Soviet Union that the bombers on their way to destroy Moscow was only a mistake. Add to this mix such great actors as Don Cheadle, James Cromwell, Brian Dennehy and Norman Lloyd and you have a tour de force better by a long measure not only than any TV show but also most movies.

Director Stephen Frears is excellent in Fail Safe (Live TV). Unable to do a single retake he must work the actors in rehearsals and make sure everything goes well the night of the broadcast. Unlike his movie Dangerous Liaisons he had to think on his feet to make sure that all the many components required pulling this off goes on with out a hitch. His use of lighting, staging and tempo are master class. You are there. The camera becomes an extension of your own eyes and you have an intimate feeling for dread and concern. Frears proves his mettle here more than most great directors.

All in all Fail Safe (Live TV) was a mesmerizing experience. TV as I remembered from my youth. It was done with a class that is not seen on the shallow shores of television now. I hope that the CBS network realizes what a gem and visionary they have with Clooney and give him free reign to repeat this experience. Clooney may not have been the best Batman but he was instrumental to the return of high quality broadcast television. Bravo, bravo!!!!

Review by Doug MacLean of

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