More 4: Wednesday 30 September, 10.50am
US Navy captain Richard Widmark tracks Russian submarines in the north Atlantic. Shipboard journalist Sidney Poitier is increasingly anxious about Widmark’s inflexible attitude. Gripping Cold War drama drifts into Fail Safe waters, buoyed by the commanding stars (it’s one of Widmark’s best performances) and a couple of scene-stealing supporting turns from level-headed medical officer Martin Balsam and twitchy sonar operative Wally Cox.
No mention is made of Poitier’s colour, although it’s addressed in an oblique way – Widmark’s first officer Michael Kane is a Southerner who talks to the journalist in a vaguely patronising manner. Director James B. Harris served his apprenticeship as producer to Stanley Kubrick, maker of the nightmare nuclear comedy Dr Strangelove.
Evidently, Harris didn’t learn how to stop worrying and love the Bomb. And, by the sounds of it, he passed on his concerns to composer Gerard Schurmann – the music, very sparingly used, is the only melodramatic element in the entire picture.