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!

Podcasts of the Week Ending August 25th


BackStory :: In the Shadow of the Mushroom Cloud

Stories of the United States and nuclear weapons, including the hotel with the secret bunker for Congress, nuclear bomb testing and the birth of the Las Vegas tourist industry, and women in the Manhattan Project.

To The Best of Our Knowledge :: Being Sincere in the Cynical World

Different stories of maintaining sincerity among the world’s cynicism.

HUB History :: Amelia  Earhart in Boston

Before Amelia Earhart become a famed, groundbreaking aviator, she was a social worker in a Boston settlement house.

Radiolab :: Post No Evil

The evolving document that guides what is allowed and what is forbidden on Facebook.

Start Making Sense :: Democrats: Centrism is Not the Answer!

Podcasts of the Week Ending February 17


A bumper crop of erudition for your ears this week.

The Memory Palace :: Hercules

With Washington’s Birthday coming up, a reminder that our first President held people in bondage because he enjoyed what their labor provided without having to pay for them.  The story of Hercules, a talented chef, who successfully escaped slavery.

Smithsonian Sidedoor :: Killer Viruses and One Man’s Mission to Stop Them

The story of the 1918 Influenza Pandemic and the efforts of Dr. Maurice Hilleman to create vaccines to prevent later outbreaks.

The Nation Start Making Sense :: Elizabeth Warren on Monopoly Power

Elizabeth Warren wants to make fighting monopolies part of the Democrats agenda again. Also, the truth behind Warren Buffett, and white working class Trump voter.

The Truth :: Nuclear Winter

 A spooky story set in an outdated nuclear missile silo.  Don’t worry, it’s fictional!

Afropop Worldwide :: Africa and the Blues

A fascinating look into musicologist Gerhard Kubik’s research into the traits of blues music that connect with the music of different regions of Africa.  Read more here: http://afropop.org/articles/africa-and-the-blues-an-interview-with-gerhard-kubik

StoryCorps :: In the Neighborhood

The story of the multi-talented François Clemmons, most famous for playing Officer Clemmons on Mister Rogers Neighborhood, his friendship with Fred Rogers, and their quietly bold statement for civil rights and equality.

 

 

Podcasts of the Week Ending December 9th


99% Invisible :: The Nut Behind the Wheel

A history of how the auto industry and road engineers avoided including safety measures in their designs in their cars and highways leading to countless deaths, and how they blamed everything on the driver.  Yes this should make you think of firearms manufacturers.

Fresh Air :: The Golden Age of Comics

An interview with Cullen Murphy who took over writing “Prince Valiant” from his father in the 1980s.  Murphy remembers how special the full-color Sunday comics section was for children, and the community of comic artists in Fairfield County, CT.  Not mentioned in the interview, Murphy and I went to the same high school, albeit he attended well before I did.

Hidden Brain :: What Can A Personality Test Tell Us About Who We Are?

Hidden Brain examines personality tests such as the Myers-Briggs.  Scientific or a glorified form of astrology?  Worse still, how employers are misusing these tests in personnel decisions.

Fresh Air :: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner

Daniel Ellsberg discusses “The Pentagon Papers” and top secret plans for nuclear war that he discovered as a national security analyst in the 1960s but was not able to reveal to the public at the time.  A chilling look into the United States’ militaristic past and present.

Hub History :: Boston and Halifax, a lasting bond

One hundred years ago, a collision in Halifax Harbor caused a munitions ship to explode, devastating the city and causing thousands of deaths and injuries.  Boston responded by sending a train with medical personnel and supplies to help the survivors.  To this day, Nova Scotia continues to thank Boston by providing a Christmas tree every year.

60 Second Science :: Yeti Claims Don’t Bear Up

Science disappoints us again by showing that evidence of the Yeti is genetically just a bear.  Well, not “just,” because bears are important to, and these studies tell us more about them.

The Bernie Sanders Show :: Our Budget Priorities with Elizabeth Warren

Two of our few remaining sensible Senators discuss important things that make sense.

Decode DC :: The Changing Race of Immigration in America

A history of immigration to America focusing on who was allowed to “become American” and who was excluded, and the government’s role in all of this.