Movie Review: Dr. Strangelove (1964) #AtoZChallenge


I’m participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge by watching and reviewing some of my favorite movies of all time that I haven’t watched in a long time. This post contains SPOILERS!

Title: Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
Release Date: January 29, 1964
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Production Company: Hawk Films
Synopsis:

A rogue United States Air Force general, Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden) initiates a first-strike nuclear attack on the Soviet Union using protocols that were designed only to be used if the President and federal government were incapacitated.  Group Captain Lionel Mandrake (Peter Sellers) of the UK Royal Air Force attempts to talk Ripper down, but soon realizes that Ripper is paranoid beyond rationality.

Meanwhile, President Merkin Muffley (Peter Sellers, again) meets in the War Room to discuss how to avert catastrophe.  General Buck Turgidson (George C. Scott) advises going all-in on a nuclear attack on the USSR to reduce American casualties.  But with the help of the Soviet Ambassador Alexei de Sadeski (Peter Bull) and Mandrake, the bomber wing is recalled.

Unfortunately, one B-52 Stratofortress bomber under the command of Major T. J. “King” Kong (Slim Pickens) loses its radio equipment and cannot be called back or shot down in time.  The Soviets have created a Doomsday Device that detonates if their country is struck by a nuclear attack and will lead to the death of all human and animal life on the planet for 93 years.  German scientific adviser Dr. Strangelove (Sellers, in his third and most bizarre role) suggests a small population of Americans can be persevere by living in a deep mine shift.  The movie ends with the world’s destruction by nuclear explosions as cheerful music plays.

When Did I First See This Movie?:

I had a sick day from high school and decided to watch some of the movies my mom had taped on VHS.  Dr. Strangelove quickly became one of my favorite movies. It was one of those discoveries you have when you’re a kid when you think no one before the seventies swore or said anything bad about the government, and then you learn that your fore bearers could do very sophisticated satire indeed.  I remember in college when a professor had a screening of the movie and I brought some friends along who’d never seen it. Then I got to watch them as the brilliance of this movie slowly dawned on them.

What Did I Remember?:

I remembered the details and the major plot points very well.  And all those brilliant, quotable lines.

You’re gonna have to answer to the Coca-Cola company.

Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room.

If the pilot’s good, see, I mean if he’s reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low… oh you oughta see it sometime. It’s a sight. A big plane like a ’52… varrrooom! Its jet exhaust… frying chickens in the barnyard!

I hasten to add that since each man will be required to do prodigious…service along these lines, the women will have to be selected for their sexual characteristics which will have to be of a highly stimulating nature.

Mr. President! We must not alloooooooooow a mine shaft gap!!

Sir! I have a plan… Mein Fuhrer, I can walk!

What Did I Forget?:

I noticed things I’d never realized before including:

  • The President’s phone call to the Soviet premier, where he talks to him like he’s calming a child, is very much like a Bob Newhart sketch.
  • Dr. Strangelove is visible at the table in the War Room far earlier in the movie than I realized.
  • Just how brilliant George C. Scott is at military double speak such as “I hate to judge before all the facts are in,” as well as the sheer joy he takes in describing the skill of the US pilots before realizing they’re doomed.
  • The War Room spends a lot of time just talking about ridiculous stuff that they don’t have time to talk about.

What Makes This Movie Great?:

I believe this is the only Stanley Kubrick comedy, and that is due to the fact that Kubrick and his writers realized that it was impossible to tell this story as a drama.  The movie starts out playing it straight and only gradually ramps up the humor until it reaches its absurd climax.  It’s too bad Kubrick didn’t do more comedies.

Peter Sellers in his triple role, George C. Scott, and Slim Pickens all put in spectacular performances.  Curiously, with the exception of Dr. Strangelove, none of the characters act in a particularly over-the-top way, but the often mundane dialogue they have in extreme circumstances leads to hilarity.

I can’t imagine what it was like to watch this movie a little over a year after the Cuban Missile Crisis, and months after President Kennedy’s assassination.  Some people say that The Sixties began in 1964, and Dr. Strangelove played a big part in creating the social change of the turbulent decade to come.

What Doesn’t Hold Up?:

This movie is 56 years old and should feel incredibly dated.  Despite the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, this movie still feels frighteningly relevant because we still live in a world with arsenals of nuclear weapons that can be accessed by any lunatic that gains power.

Is It a Classic?:

Most assuredly.  Probably in my all-time Top Ten.

Rating: *****

5 more all-time favorite movies starting with D:

  1. Dead Poets Society (1989)
  2. Delicatessen (1991)
  3. Do the Right Thing (1989)
  4. Donnie Darko (2001)
  5. Duck Soup (1933)

What is your favorite movie starting with D?  What would you guess will be my movie starting with E?  (Hint: an 80s movie about the rise of personal computers).  Let me know in the comments!

5 thoughts on “Movie Review: Dr. Strangelove (1964) #AtoZChallenge

  1. Yes, Yes, Yes! definitely in the Top Ten. Peter Sellers at his most brilliant. Only one thing to add. Peter Sellers is Henry Kissinger in that role. Terrific entry/review, thank you,

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I saw it back when it came out and mainly remember the nut riding the bomb in. A classic, but I wouldn’t trace the 60s to it’s after affects.

    My favorite D movie is a Mexican movie, Danzon.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I am a big fan of Kubrick’s movies. This falls just under 2001. I saw it as a kid and didn’t get all the politics at the time, but over the years I’ve watched it again and again. Like you, there are little things you notice every time you go back to it.

    Side note: The Alamo Drafthouse in Yonkers has that last scene in the lobby. You can get up on the facsimile bomb, cowboy hat in hand (they provide) and get a picture of it with you in the Slim Pickin’s role. Yeeee Haaaa

    Liked by 1 person

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