Dr Strangelove - 1964

Dr Strangelove - Released January 29, 1964. Directed by Stanley Kubrick

Kubrick pokes bitter fun at the 'cold war,' that tense political situation between the United States and the Soviet Union, and it brings to mind the old adage about holding a wolf by the ears: you don't like it but you don't want to let go, either. In the story (by Kubrick, Peter George and Terry Southern), a crazed American air force general (Sterling Hayden as Gen. Jack D. Ripper) sends a force of B-52 bombers into Russian air space to start World War III, in an effort to, as the general says ,"to protect the purity of our precious bodily fluids."

Yes, he's completely "gone off the rails," as the movie tells us, but he's not the only one. The War Room (a very large concrete looking structure that appears to be half-bomb-shelter) at the U.S. Pentagon is soon packed with military brass and experts, along with the United States president (played by Peter Sellers, who has three different roles in this movie, including the title character, Dr. Strangelove). The movie character's names are padded to be inside-jokes, and there'smore in the rest of the movie, which is partially a restrained Mad Magazine examination of the trouble with nuclear weapons.

In the tense War-Room scenes, the professionals logically go through each of the scenarios on how to solve the situation without provoking the Russians into launching an all-out nuclear counter-strike, and soon they have Soviet Premier Kissoff on the phone, and American-Soviet detente is working perfectly to solve the problem, despite the fact Kissoff is drunk and the main American general (George C Scott) is frantic with paranoia about Soviet tricks. The Americans explain the situation and offer to help the Soviets shoot down any American B-52s that won't respond to being called back - - it all works out and the entire bomber wing sent into Russia by General Ripper is nullified. The Americans and the Soviets celebrate their achievement and cooperation. But then...

Slim Pickens (as pilot Major Kong) riding a nuclear war head, whipping his cowboy hat back and forth, rodeo style, is the visual calling card of this movie, which is full of goofy characterizations (Peter Sellers plays the American President completely straight, except when talking to the drunken Soviet leader, in which case he sounds more like the host of the long-running children's program Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, but is in fact using a character style he had utilized on a British comedy program called The Goon Show). In all, Sellers plays three roles: Group Captain Lionel Mandrake, a British RAF officer; President Merkin Muffley; and Dr. Strangelove, a wheelchair-bound nuclear war expert and a former Nazi recruited by the Americans after WWII. George C. Scott as General Buck Turgidson seems like an early dry-run for the characterization he later brought to his work on the 1970 film Patton.

The quality of Kubrick's satire lies partially in how he attacked his theme of nuclear-insanity residing in the upper-echelons of governments. No one is portrayed as incompetent, though everyone is a bit strident, and consequently funny, and except in the case of Sterling Hayden's General Ripper, no one is particular "insane," it's just that they are all too human. With doomsday imminent, they start pitching ideas on how to keep the human race going during a century of nuclear fall-out of "Cobalt-Thorium G," and their solutions are just as ridiculous and self-absorbed as the process that originally produced the problem.

Original Page September 20, 2016

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