Monday, December 6, 2010

#122. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

DVD Synopsis: Stanley Kubrick's celebrated black comedy classic about an "accidental" nuclear attack was nominated for four 1964 Academy Awards. Created during a time when the paranoia of the Cold War was at its peak, the film still seems surprisingly relevant today. Convinced the Commies are polluting America's "precious bodily fluids," a crazed General (Sterling Hayden) orders a surprise nuclear air strike on the USSR. His aide Captain Mandrake (Peter Sellers) furiously attempts to figure out a recall code to stop the bombing. Meanwhile, the U.S. President (Sellers again) gets on the hot line to convince the drunken Soviet premier that the impending attack is a silly mistake, while the President's adviser (and ex-Nazi scientist) Dr. Strangelove (Sellers once more) confirms the existence of the dreaded Doomsday Machine -- a new secret Soviet retaliatory device guaranteed to end the human race once and for all!

Produced at the height of the Cold War, Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove tells the story of how one man's insanity triggers an all-out nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union.  Yet, despite such grim subject matter, Dr. Strangelove is unmistakably a comedy, and features a number of prodigiously funny moments. 

George C. Scott is Gen. Buck Turgeson, an intensely patriotic advisor to the President who, at one point, suggests that the United States fully commit to a war with the Russians, justifying it by way of a study that claimed the U.S would suffer only “modest and acceptable civilian casualties” in such a war…a mere 10-20 million dead, tops. When this ‘acceptable’ number of the General’s horrifies the President and his staff, Turgeson curtly replies, “Look, I’m not saying we won’t get our hair mussed a bit”. 

Scott, arrogant as all hell, is hilarious in this scene, but its Peter Sellers who delivers Dr. Strangelove's funniest, and most oft-quoted, line. Scott's Gen. Turgeson has just caught Russian Ambassador de Sadesky (played by Peter Bull) with a spy camera, and as the two of them are wrestling around on the floor, Peter Sellers, as President Merkin Muffley, walks over and chastises them, saying “Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here…this is the war room!” 

Still, not everything in Dr. Strangelove is a laughing matter. To coincide with the jokes on the ground, director Stanley Kubrick also brings us on-board a bomber piloted by Maj. T.J. ‘King’ Kong (Slim Pickens). In order to ensure that the scenes on the bomber rang true, Kubrick never informed Pickens or the other actors (including a young James Earl Jones) that Dr. Strangelove was going to be a comedy.  As a result, the tension aboard that aircraft remains genuine, and their bombing run, which, if successful, will bring about the end of the world, is filled with excitement and peril. 

After all, nuclear devastation can’t be all fun and games, can it?


Klaus said...

If I had to pick a favorite movie, Dr. Strangelove may well be it. I never tire of watching this movie.

If you haven't already done so, I'd recommend that you watch Fail Safe (1964). Basically the same movie, except that it is definitely NOT a comedy.

DVD Infatuation said...

@Klaus: STRANGELOBE is a movie I never tire of either. There are so many wonderful scenes that it just never gets old. And as good as Peter Sellers is in this movie (and he is very, very good), my favorite performance is delivered by George C. Scott, who's so wildly patriotic as Gen. Buck Turgeson that he cracks me up completely.

I have seen FAIL SAFE, and that is also a great movie. It and STRANGELOVE would make a great double bill.

Robert M. Lindsey said...

One of my all-time favorites! (if you can't tell, I'm going through your A-Z list). My review is at

DVD Infatuation said...

Robert: This is a tremendous film; hilarious! Sellers shines, but I also really enjoyed Scott in this picture.

Thanks for posting the link. I'll be sure to check it out!

John said...

A tour de force by Peter Sellers in his three roles. George C. Scott and Sterling Hayden (who guards his bodily fluids) give exemplary performances. You've given some great lines; one of the most telling comes from the old Nazi, Dr. Strangelove himself, when he has to explain to the Russian that the purpose of a doomsday weapon is lost if it's kept a secret!

Unknown said...

Barry lyndon should be in your list. A Kubrick fan must not miss that movie.