Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
I love it when I don’t know too much about a movie. Of course I’d heard of Dr. Strangelove (what movie-lover hasn’t) but I can honestly say that I was unfamiliar with the premise. All I knew were images of Peter Sellers looking like a mad scientist who was undoubtably Strangelove, a crazy. Maybe if I paid more attention to the title I’d gain some sort of intuition that a nuclear war might be involved.
Peter Sellers stars times 3 alongside George C. Scott in this Stanley Kubrick dark-comedy classic. Psychotic General Ripper (Sterling Hayden) of the US Air Force issues a nuclear attack on Russian soil as part of “Plan R,” an emergency war plan meant to surpass the President’s authority in case of his death in an attack by the Soviets. Meanwhile a team of politicians and President Merkin Muffley, alive and well, (Sellers 1) meet with General Buck Turgidson (Scott) in the war room (no fighting in there) to frantically bring it under control. As part of “Plan R” already airborne B-52s, however, have no means of being reached without a three digit pass code to recall the bombers. Oh yeah, and the Rooskies have a super-secret “doomsday machine” that will blow up the whole world if they’re attacked.
Captain Lionel Mandrake (Sellers 2), executive officer to General Ripper, learns through pop-music on the radio that we are not, in fact, at war and attempts to convince Ripper to recall the bombers. When he doesn’t, Ripper locks Mandrake in his office. They have good times chatting about fluoridation and purifying bodily fluids and commies and women and how politicians can’t be in charge of war.
Also in the War Room is Dr. Strangelove (Sellers 3), an ex-nazi weapons man in a wheel chair with hand problems – but it’s cool because no one in the room finds it abnormal that he attempts to strangle himself every few minutes. He addresses the President as Mein Führer several times and seems to know a thing or two about doomsday-ness.
Now THIS is the right attitude to have about the end of the world. Let’s welcome that apocalypse with yee-haws. The main thought floating through my head while watching was “what CAN’T Kubrick do?” He’s no man of consistency. I’d never guess he’d throw a comedy into his repertoire though, and it’s kind of crazy how good it is. The script combined with the spontaneity and perfect delivery of the actors is hilarious satire.
First of all, Peter Sellers rocks this show. The Pink Panther can do it all and some. Three (could have been FOUR) roles for the man and he’s just as hilarious in each part. Conversing with the President of Russia (“Now, I’m just as sorry as you are!”) or blasting off Coke machines (If you don’t get the President of the United States on that phone you know what’s going to happen to you? You’ll have to answer to the Coca-Cola Company.”) or that iconic last scene as Dr. Strangelove… Sellers is genius.
George C. Scott, however, hardly shies next to him. He, too, is hilarious as General Buck Turgidson. Absurd, and over the top, he embodies that part. Watching him and Sellers (as the President that is) go at it is a bundle of laughs. Slim Pickens as ‘King’ Kong (would you get a handle of these names?) is also a highlight as the Texan Major in one of the B-52s, and though Sellers would have been good in this role, Pickens is awesome. “Two pairs a nylon stockin’s. Two pair a prophylactics. Shoot, a fella could have a good time on this in Vegas.”
It’s a comedy in its own way, but it isn’t comedic. It’s impeccably relevant with the Cold War fear. It’s a dark subject, but it makes us laugh at that fear of all things. It does what political satire does best. It’s all about laughing at the people who don’t know that there is something funny about them. It’s subtle, but outrageous. I love that it can get us ROFLing and be a piece of art at the same time. It’s got Kubrick’s touch in the camerawork and film-noir elements.
This accompanies 2001 as some of the best freaking amazingness that eve came out of Stanley Kubrick. Though I love My Fair Lady I do wonder at which is better suited for the Best Picture title… One of the greatest WTF endings in the business, “Mein Führer, I can WALK!” and this classic will always be just that, a classic. 9/10