Dr. Strangelove is my second review of a Stanley Kubrick movie. Earlier I posted a review of his 1960 film, Spartacus which I generally liked, but did not love. Spartacus was a mainstream, straightforward film that he adapted from a novel. For this movie, it is an entirely different story. I loved every single bit of the black comedy which was written by Kubrick himself (which he adapted from the Peter George novel). This is actually one of the best films to come out in the last fifty years. It was a timely movie (for 1964’s audience), and it remains hilarious for the duration of the film even though Kubrick told his actors to play it straight. It was the talent of Kubrick that turned this film into a film he wanted, a quirky black comedy.
Kubrick is known to be a perfectionist in all of his films. He is involved with every detail including sound, editing, etc. He even has his own sound equipment and his own cameras. Because he wanted to be so perfect, it created tension between him and his actors. For example, Kubrick never got along with George C. Scott who played a major role in the movie. Kubrick used some trickery to get Scott, a very hard actor to work with, to get what he wanted and Scott vowed never to work with Kubrick again. Scott, however, did admit he respected Kubrick due to his chess skills, which they played on set every day.
The movie plays out like a spoof, a spoof about the Cold War. At the beginning of the film, General Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden) goes bananas and he orders his bomber planes to annihilate the Soviet Union. He has some crackpot idea that the communist nation is conspiring to destroy the Americans via their bodily fluid. Over in America, in the “War Room,” President Merkin Muffley (Peter Sellers) meets with his advisors to figure out what to do, and they are informed by the Russian Ambassador that if the Soviet Union is destroyed, that would unleash a machine called “The Doomsday Machine” and that will destroy all of humanity.
There are some interesting themes presented in the movie. The main theme is the Cold War, which was a silent war between the United States and the Soviet Union. The early 1960’s was a tense era due to such events like the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Cuban Revolution, in which the Soviets had a hand in. The movie is particularly interested in satirizing MAD, or the mutual assured destruction. Both sides wanted to destroy each other in a nuclear standoff, but they were deterred in doing so because all human life would be destroyed regardless. Another theme presented is a sexual theme, which Kubrick later admitted. The beginning with the airplanes going in to Russia is meant to be the start of the sexual process and Kong’s (a character in the film) ride down on the missile and detonation is meant to be the ending of the sexual process.
The film is famous for a variety of reasons. One of those reasons is Peter Sellers playing three roles. He played President Merkin Muffley, who was based off an American Midwesterner and a has a balding figure. He spoke in a tone that suggested he had a cold, an underlying weakness that Sellers wanted to give to that character. Muffley was played straight by Sellers, but I felt his character was actually hilarious. Sellers also portrayed Group Captain Lionel Mandrake, the only man accessible to the mad General Ripper. Finally, Sellers portrayed Dr. Strangelove, my favorite character in the movie. Strangelove is an ex-Nazi scientist who serves as Muffley’s scientific advisor. I loved the accent Sellers used to portray the wheelchair-bound eccentric. I also loved how he had this thing called the “alien hand syndrome” I just couldn’t stop laughing when Strangelove randomly used the Nazi salute and called the President “Mein Fuhrer” several times over the course of the film. I found it hilarious the Americans would employ former Nazis in the movie. Strangelove appeared to be a menacing antagonist of the movie, and a great one at that.
There are also great supporting turns, mainly in George C. Scott’s character, General Buck Turgidson. He was the advisor who alerted the President to the news and he was really funny. I loved the use of his facial contortions to display his emotions. He reminded me of Jim Carrey, who is famous for his extreme facial contortions as part of his comedy routine. There is one scene where the General was running in the War Room and slipped, then picked himself up again as if nothing happened. According to Kubrick, the scene wasn’t planned but it worked perfectly with the movie. Sterling Hayden had a rather small role as General Ripper at the beginning, but it was a very memorable role. Finally, there is Slim Pickens who plays Major Kong-the leader of the airplane in charge of throwing a bomb on the USSR. Pickens reportedly wasn’t told the film was a comedy, and he played his role straight. With the use of the heavy Southern accent, his role was still funny. His role was actually meant for Peter Sellers, but Sellers didn’t want to do it because he had trouble with a Southern accent and he sprained an ankle and wasn’t able to sit in the cockpit of the airplane.
Whoever thought of the Vera Lynn song playing while a collage of mushroom clouds bursting at the end of the movie was genius. It was a great ending to what was a hilarious black comedy. Dr. Strangelove is seen as one of Stanley Kubrick’s best films and it is very easy to see why. Well, both this film and 2001: A Space Odyssey are his best films, and they share common themes. Manmade machines attempting to destroy humans. Nonetheless, this film was very fun to watch and it made me laugh constantly. As a Cold War farce, the movie does a wonderful job. As for my favorite character, it is Dr. Strangelove hands down. “Mein Fuhrer! I can walk!”
My Grade: A+