Dr Strangelove

1964 movie

If you haven’t seen it:

drstrangeloveDr Strangelove is a very dark comedy – subject matters do not come much darker than global thermonuclear holocaust.

Peter Sellers plays three roles – the president, a British officer, and the titular wheelchair-bound ex-Nazi scientist. The story revolves around an insane US general’s attempt to bomb Russia.

“Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” (to give it its full title) was several years ahead of its time. In 1964 distrust of the military and anti-nuclear sentiments were not yet commonplace, and this film paved the way for future satires, encouraging them to question more and challenge authority. In other ways though, it was perfectly timeless – is the situation today with North Korea so much different to that with Russia a few decades ago?

The real reason you should watch it though, is that it is so funny. Peter Sellers was one of the best comedy actors ever, and here he is at the top of his game. Group Captain Mandrake and President Muffley are good comic characters, but it is the extraordinary character Dr Strangelove who (despite not appearing until the movie is over half way through) steals the show. You will never forget him.

 

If you have seen it:

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SPOILER ALERT: The plot summary and comments below contain details that might spoil your enjoyment of the movie if you have not already seen it.

Plot:

dr-strangelove-awkward
Peter Sellers never felt comfortable doing love scenes.

US Air Force Base commander, General Ripper believing that there is a Communist conspiracy underway to poison the water supply, decides to initiate an attack against the Soviet Union. He issues the attack code to his B52 bombers, which are loaded with nuclear bombs. An exchange officer, Group Captain Mandrake, realizes the general is insane, and tries to persuade him to cancel the attack, but the general refuses to disclose the recall code.

When the President hears the news, he calls Soviet Premier Dmitri Kisov on the hotline, to give him information to help them shoot down the American planes. However, Kisov (who is drunk) says that the Soviets have a doomsday device which will automatically destroy all life on Earth if ever the Soviet Union is attacked with nuclear weapons.

The President calls upon eccentric scientist Dr Strangelove, a former Nazi and weapons expert, for help. Dr Strangelove explains the technology behind the Doomsday Device and suggests it would also detonate if anyone attempted to deactivate it.

dr-strangelove-cola-wars
In the cola wars of the 1960s, Pepsi were known for fighting dirty.

U.S. Army forces arrive at the air base to arrest General Ripper and obtain the recall code from him. Fearing torture, Ripper shoots himself without revealing the code. However, Mandrake correctly guesses it from some scribbles that Ripper had made on a pad, and he eventually manages to contact the Pentagon and get the code to the President.

The recall code is issued to the planes, and they turn back toward base, except for one whose radio has been damaged by an anti-aircraft missile. That plane continues towards Russia. The mechanism for releasing the bomb has also been damaged, so aircraft commander Major T. J. “King” Kong goes to the bomb bay to open the damaged doors manually, straddling a nuclear bomb as he repairs sparking wires overhead. When he effects his electrical patches, the bomb bay doors suddenly open, the bomb releases and Kong rides it to the ground like a rodeo cowboy, whooping and waving his cowboy hat.

The bomb detonates, triggering the doomsday machine. Dr Strangelove begins to outline a plan for saving the fittest and most intelligent of the human race in a nuclear bunker, with ten attractive women to every man, to enable repopulation. The film then cuts to views of multiple nuclear explosions, accompanied a haunting “We’ll Meet Again” by Vera Lynne.

 

Steve Sunday Says:

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The War Room – during peace time it was used for training TV weathermen.

There is an often-told story that at the beginning of Ronald Regan’s presidency, when Regan was being shown round the White House for the first time, he asked to be shown “the war room”, only to be told there was no such room. This story is usually told with a wry smile, and yes, it is a funny story, but I actually find it quite comforting. I think that it is a good thing that the man with his finger on the button at the height of the cold war had seen Dr Strangelove – maybe he learned a valuable lesson from it that saved us all from world war three. I think all presidents of all countries should be made to watch it before their inauguration.

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On that bombshell

Sometimes I yearn for the days when we all believed that nuclear annihilation was imminent. It seemed inevitable that America and Russia between them would destroy the world; there was nothing we could do about it, so there was little point in worrying about it. Furthermore, there was little point in worrying about anything else, since we were all going to die soon anyway! Ever since the end of the cold war I have done nothing but worry about things – about global warming, AIDS, paedophiles, the millennium bug, whether or not I will get cancer if I only eat four portions of fruit and veg per day, the banking crisis, mad cow disease, gun crime, Sarah Palin, bird flu, swine flu, and what will happen if I put the wrong sort of cardboard in the recycling bin. Most of these these things were marketed as end-of-civilization events, but none have actually had any real impact on my life at all. The worst thing is, I know that somewhere out there is a journalist currently working on a new story that will give me something else to worry about. Damn you Glasnost!

 

Trivia Trish Says:

  • When Kubrick first had the idea to do a movie about nuclear war, he read over 50 books on the subject. Originally, the movie was going to be a drama / thriller, it was not until some way through the production process that he decided it would work best as a satire.
  • The film was shot in England because Peter Sellers was involved in a divorce and could not leave the country.
  • Peter Sellers was originally supposed to play four roles – the fourth being Major Kong, the B52 pilot. Sellers however, broke his leg during filming and was unable to continue, so American actor Slim Pickens was brought in to replace him.
  • George C Scott originally gave a restrained performance as General Buck Turgidson, and Kubrick asked him to do a few practice takes where he deliberately overacted. When these practice takes were what appeared in the final movie, Scott was angry, and vowed never to work with Kubrick again. Eventually though, Scott conceded that it was one of his favorite performances.
  • The young black man playing Lieutenant Zogg on the B52 was James Earl Jones, in his first ever screen role. Jones later became famous as the voice of Darth Vader.
  • dr-strangelove-strangeglove
    Strange glove

    The black glove worn by Dr Strangelove was one of Stanley Kubrick’s. Kubrick had taken to wearing it on set because he had found himself handling a lot of hot light bulbs. Sellers thought the glove looked sinister, and borrowed it for his character.

  • The title credits were hand written by Cuban graphic designer Pablo Ferro. The incorrect phrase “Base on the novel Red Alert” was not spotted and made it into the opening credits.
  • The assassination of President Kennedy, just before the film’s planned release, led to it being delayed over a year, until it was felt the public were ready to see such a satire. The only change made was Major Kong’s comment about the survival kit – it was originally “A fella could have a pretty good weekend in Dallas with all that stuff”, but “Dallas” was overdubbed with “Vegas” as the assassination took place in Dallas.
  • dr-strangelove-pie-face
    Muffley’s efforts to shave in the War Room were hampered by the lack of a mirror.

    The final scene of the movie was supposed to be a mass food fight in the war room, with cream pies serving as a metaphor for the missiles that were flying everywhere. When the scene was shot though, the actors were all laughing and enjoying themselves, and Kubrick realized he could not use it. Also, because of the mess that had been made, it could not be reshot. The mushroom-cloud montage was a last minute idea.

 


Top Ten changes in the Steve Martin remake of Dr Strangelove:

After “The Pink Panther”, surely it’s just a matter of time before Steve Martin turns his attention to Sellers’ monochromatic masterpiece, and decides that it needs a remake. We anticipate however, that Mr Martin might make a few changes to the original:

  1. Strangelove is a dentist, not a doctor.
  2. The reason his right arm behaves so strangely is that it is possessed by Lily Tomlin.
  3. Major Kong played by Rick Moranis.
  4. Bombs also carried on trains and automobiles.
  5. General Turgidson is a wild and crazy guy.
  6. In a new subplot, Muffley’s daughter is about to get married.
  7. Ripper gets his instructions to destroy the world from a traffic sign.
  8. Mandrake runs the motor pool and has lots of wacky scams.
  9. The film will not be in black and white, except for Martin’s eyebrows and hair respectively.
  10. It will not be funny.

Chris the Critic says:

Dr Strangelove is the ultimate black comedy, one that makes unthinkable horror hilariously funny. The film is a model of barely controlled hysteria in which the absurdity of the hypermasculine Cold War posturing becomes devastatingly funny – and at the same time, terrifying in its accuracy. Once or twice Kubrick seems to be striving too hard for laughs (such as the soldier being sprayed in the face after shooting the Coca-Cola machine) but the movie does also contain some truly remarkable comic performances, especially from Peter Sellers.

A brilliant satire of the insanity of superpower politics, which, like George Orwell’s “1984”, has entered the lexicon of modern political discourse.

Main Cast and Crew:

Group Captain Lionel Mandrake
/President Merkin Muffley
/Dr Strangelove – Peter Sellers
General Buck Turgidson – George C. Scott
General Jack D Ripper – Sterling Hayden
Major TJ Kong – Slim Pickens

Directed by Stanley Kubrick
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