Or…How I Learned to Keep Being Afraid of the Bomb
In the mid 60’s, the US and Russia were at the brink of nuclear warfare and at any given time, a button could be pressed and missles would be launched resulting in a near annilhation of the Earth and its population. Whether by mistake or by a rogue aircraft, the world in a war in which one bomb destroys a nation is serious business and a major concern and source of fear in America. Surely, a movie that deals with it and its consequences is serious business and a movie starring Walther Matthau and Henry Fonda, two established stars, would result in a hit film and win lots of awards. That is, unless a movie is released within the past year that hilariously lampoons this concept and includes a landmark comedic performance by Peter Sellers.
That movie is of course, Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece Dr. Strangelove (Or How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb), which will is much much higher on this list. The movie I am writing of in this entry is Fail Safe, an unfairly overlooked Sidney Lumet film that mirrors the plot of Dr. Strangelove, but deals with the topic of nuclear warfare in a serious fashion. When Fail Safe debuted, despite its superior direction and an excellent turn by Matthau, the movie wasn’t met with the gravity it deserved since Kubrick already made everyone laugh quite hilariously about nuclear war.
Does this mean that Dr. Strangelove never should have been made so that Fail Safe could get take its rightful place in the echelon of film? No. Strangelove was one of the greatest satires ever made and its place in film history is exceptionally important. However, perhaps Fail Safe could’ve gotten its act together and come out a year earlier.
I look at Fail Safe with the same sort of eye I give to superior Atomic age parable films like The Day the Earth Stood Still and The Atomic Café. These are all serious film documents that detail on film the national mood on the subject of atomic war, which paralyzed the nation in fear for the better part of two decades.
Where Lumet took a script (based on a critically acclaimed book) and made it a statement on America’s “worst fear,” Kubrick expressed the sentiment that the nation’s leaders were just as clueless as the populace. Social commentary vs. social satire with the same plot, one could say. Though in Fail Safe, there was certainly fighting in the war room. This movie also proved yet again, that no one does smug like Matthau. Even as the world is being destroyed, he is as cynical and sarcastic as ever and he probably made a warhead in that giant nose of his too.
About the Top 800 Project:
Using the They Shoot Pictures Starting List of 8800 films (LINK) and my Netflix ratings, I sifted through the list and of the 4500 films I’d seen, I selected a random number of films I liked more than the others. The list was about 812 films. I kicked off 12 to get an even 800. The list chronologically goes up to 2009. Each blog entry will list ten films, one of which will be discussed in detail. The ten films will then be posted toThe Top 800 Master List, a Google docs file compiling them. When the countdown finishes in what will be probably be a really a long time, I will begin discussing random films that I didn’t get to before.