Movie Name: Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
Studio: Hawk Films
Release Date(s): January 29, 1964
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Brigadier General Buck Turgidson (Sterling Hayden) is having a bad day…and unfortunately, he has access to nuclear weapons. When Sterling orders Wing Attack Plan R activated, Major T.J. “King” Kong (Slim Pickens) and his crew is off to Russia to make a preemptive attack. As Group Captain Lionel Mandrake (Peter Sellers) tries to get the code to call off the attack from Ripper, a group including General Puck Turgidson (George C. Scott), Dr. Strangelove (peter Sellers), and President Merkin Muffley (Peter Sellers) try to head off the attack with the Soviets and plot their next move…the end is near!
Directed by Stanley Kubrick (who also helped write the screenplay), Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb is loosely based on Peter George’s 1958 book Red Alert (or Two Hours to Doom). Following Lolita in 1962, the war satire comedy was well received by critics and often tops lists of the best comedies (and sometimes films) of all time. The film was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Actor (Sellers), Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay and was part of the first films inducted into the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 1989. The movie has also received a remastered Criterion release (Criterion #821).
Dr. Strangelove is a “strange” movie. Kubrick originally intended to adapt Red Alert as a serious film, but allegedly couldn’t get past the absurdity of the situation leading to a dark, dark comedy about nuclear war. Having grown up in the Cold War, I had these fears (although I hadn’t seen the movie)…it was the fears of the world that a doomsday would come and everyone would die.
The movie’s script is incredibly smart by playing it very straight and in its straightness becoming a complete comedy. Classic lines like “Gentlemen. You can’t fight in here. This is the War Room!” and “Have you ever seen a Commie drink a glass of water” are delivered so straight forward and with English dry humor that they become comedic. In addition to this, you add the whole absurdity of the Cold War where no one wins…and everyone dies. It is ripe for satirizing and the script gets it right.
The cast is also perfect. Part of the movie’s original selling point for studios was Sellers playing multiple roles like he did in Lolita. Sellers has the fun three characters of the President, Strangelove, and Mandrake but the cast is also rich with supporting actors. George C. Scott is a scene stealer but he didn’t get along well with Kubrick who tricked him by including many of his intentionally over-acted “run-through” takes because of their tone. Slim Pickens shot to fame after this movie as the commander of the plane (and missile rider). The movie also features Sterling Hayden (as the insane Brigadier General), Keenan Wynn, and a young James Earl Jones as one of the bombers.
A bit of Dr. Strangelove hasn’t aged well, and that is the bomber. The movie often took a model and just superimposed it over mountains, land, ocean, etc. It is forgivable for the time and that fact that both the War Room and Slim Pickens’ missile ride are so iconic in film legacy…you can forget the goofy plane (plus, the movie uses music perfectly).
Dr. Strangelove is a great film that is worthy of multiple watchings. The movie went through some changes before its release and it was racing Fail-Safe. It was delayed due to Kennedy’s assassination (which also led a line being changed from Dallas to Vegas) but also had a change in the movie’s ending which originally was a pie fight (Kubrick denied any ties to Kennedy’s death with this though some credit it to the event). The movie is an oddity that some have tried to replicate and many have failed. It is a sign of the times when the movie was made and almost historical in its presentation of the feeling of the Cold War…a must! Kubrick followed Dr. Strangelove with 2001, A Space Odyssey in 1968.