Guest Blog by author A.D. Bloom…. Fascination With Nukes and Fail Safe.



Fail Safe was a 1962 book made into a 1964 movie about nuclear war between the US and the Soviets. Though not graphic, it has a body count in the millions. At the time of its release, it had to compete with Dr. Strangelove (nuclear black comedy and a favorite of mine). Both were produced when America and American moviegoers were at what may have been the highpoint of public anxiety related to the very real threat of nuclear obliteration. A movie about nuclear war made at a time like that leverages popular fear of and fascination with that threat to put paying butts in theater seats. I don’t mean to speak ill of it. I very much like the movie and wouldn’t knock it for doing that. Heck, fear and fascination with nuclear obliteration is what drove me to find Fail Safe and watch it (and so many other apoc/post-apoc movies). That’s one reason this scene sticks in my mind. The Professor seems to equate that fascination in Ilsa with actually wanting to push the button in some kind of power-mad ecstasy of murder and annihilation. I have a fascination with nukes. I watch test footage even, but I don’t want to nuke anyone. What the hell, Prof?

Perhaps the intended function in this scene was to establish how the character is the kind of guy you can trust with a nuke. I’m not sure. If you’ve seen the movie or read the book, then maybe you can tell me exactly what happened here. Why the hell did he suggest Ilsa wants to murder everyone?


Scene: the Professor is driving Ilsa home from a Washington power party where she appeared to get hot and bothered listening to him talk about nuclear war and the deaths of millions. He’s an expert and a man of power. She’s young and hot and attempting a seduction through the end of the scene. He’s Walter Matthau.)

Ilsa Woolfe: … know there won’t be any survivors, will there?

Professor Groeteschele: Not many.

Ilsa Woolfe: None. None at all. That’s the beauty of it.

Professor Groeteschele: I’ve heard nuclear war called a lotta things, Miss Woolfe. Never beautiful.

Ilsa Woolfe: People are afraid to call it that, but that’s what they feel.

Professor Groeteschele: The beauty of death?

Ilsa Woolfe: Don’t patronize me. What else but that are you selling, Professor? And we all know we’re going to die, but you make a game out of it, a marvelous game that includes the whole world. You make it seem possible.

Professor Groeteschele: It is possible. Even probable.

Ilsa Woolfe: You make death an entertainment… something that can be played in a living room.

Professor Groeteschele: As good a place as any.

Ilsa Woolfe: No. No, there’s an even better place. Turn in there.[Professor Groeteschele steers his car into that road and stops the car. Graveyard?]

Professor Groeteschele: This where you live?

Ilsa Woolfe[laughs] Don’t joke.

Professor Groeteschele: Why not? I’m a joker. I make death into a game for people like you to get excited about. I watched you tonight. You’d love making it possible, wouldn’t you? You’d love pressing that button. What a thrill that would be, knowing you have to die to have the power to take everyone else with you. The mob of them with their plans, their little hopes, born to be murdered. Turning away from it, closing their eyes to it, and you could be the one to make it true. Do it to them. But you’re afraid, so you look for the thrill someplace else. And who better than a man who isn’t afraid? [Ilsa Woolfe tries seducing him, and he slaps her.] I’m not your kind.



Fail Safe, book 1962 Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler, film 1964 directed by Sidney Lumet, screenplay by Walter Bernstein and Peter George.


The only clip of this scene I could find on youtube cuts out the great lines and focuses on the slap.


Can anyone clue me in as to why he thinks Ilsa wants to murder everyone? And what’s with, “I’m not your kind?”


A.D. Bloom likes watching nuclear testing videos. His favorite is the Cannikin test. He sucks at Warthunder but won’t stop playing it. He writes military scifi novels with titles like The War of Alien Aggression and 2166 – Force Liberty. He doesn’t want to hurt anyone.


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