The following review is written by guest writer Jeff Aronoff.
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (more commonly known as Dr. Strangelove) is a 1964 satirical political black comedy war film directed by Stanley Kubrick, written by Stanley Kubrick, Terry Southern, and Peter George, produced by Hawk Films, and distributed by Columbia Pictures. It's based off of Peter George's 1958 novel, Red Alert. The film stars Peter Sellers and George C. Scott. It was nominated for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Director, but did not win any of those. In 1989, it was selected for preservation by the National Film Registry for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
"Gentleman, you can't fight in here! This is the war room!" - President Merkin Muffley
In the heart of the Cold War, United States Air Force General Jack D. Ripper orders planes under his command to drop hydrogen bombs over Russia under a plan only to be carried out if the Russians have initiated nuclear war. This leads to a tense conflict between the Russians and Americans as the president of the US tries to fix the problem, all leading to counseling by the enigmatic Dr. Strangelove.
It all starts with Peter Sellers. When an actor plays multiple roles in a movie, it sometimes comes off gimmicky. Other times it shows the actor’s versatility. In Sellers’s case, he delivered three separate brilliant performances. His Captain Lionel Mandrake was the moral compass of the movie. His President Merkin Muffley was a serious leader, but had the personality lapses and psychological ticks that fit perfectly in satire. And then there was Strangelove himself. His performance was brilliant and still echoes today. The character delivered the details of nuclear fallout as if he had swallowed both an ethical academic and a mad scientist, each fighting to escape with every word. I’ve read that Sellers’s brilliance as an actor was in “playing characters who don’t realize how absurd they are.” That was Strangelove.
I also liked Kubrick’s commitment to the purpose of the film. Yes, this was satire, but it was also pure absurdity, and it never wavered from that. It was meant to confuse, offend and disorient the audience. It leaves you unsettled, and Kubrick could have given you a reprieve somewhere along the way, but he never did. The film had you laughing at the impending end of the world. When the credits roll, you’re not sure where your own ethics lie, leaving you to wonder if you’ve absorbed a touch of the film’s namesake character.
Finally, I enjoyed the layers. Dr. Strangelove was a work of kitsch-art, yet it juxtaposed all its strange-ness and humor against the single most serious issue of the time. The result is a jarring and direct political statement about the threat of nuclear war: Our leaders can be unreliable, unaccountable, corrupt, or much worse, so why on earth would we trust them with technology that could vaporize much of humanity with the push of a button? The Cold War is over - they say - but the message still weighs heavy sixty years after the film.
As outstanding as Sellers was, George C. Scott’s performance did not match. His character was supposed to be impulsive and hyperactive, so you expect sudden changes in his tone and personality, but his shifts from military seriousness to hyper and childish seemed to come at strange times. Given how important Scott’s character was, his performance caused the film to trip over itself at times.
I also thought Kubrick’s focus on absurd satire caused him to disregard details and plot points. The film’s style was supposed to be rough around the edges, but it tipped a little too far, causing the production to come across as amateurish. I’ll give Kubrick the benefit of the doubt and assume this was all on purpose, but it was still distracting and made the movie choppy to watch at times.
Final Thoughts and Score
Dr. Strangelove is considered one of the greatest movies of all time, and I can see why. It’s a movie unlike any other you’ll ever see.
I will go Savory here. Age range is 7+.
SWEET N' SOUR SCALE
Sweet (Great) Savory (Good) Sour (Bad) Moldy (Terrible)
"Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb"
Fun Factor: 7/10
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Rated PG for mild violence and action, mild language, disturbing themes, suggestive material, thematic elements
Released on January 29, 1964
1 hour and 34 minutes
Peter Sellers as Captain Lionel Mandrake / President Merkin Muffley / Dr. Strangelove
George C. Scott as General Buck Turgidson
Sterling Hayden as Brigadier Jack D. Ripper
Keenan Wynn as Colonel "Bat" Guano
Jack Creley as Mr. Staines
Slim Pickens as Major T.J. "King" Kong
Peter Bull as Soviet Ambassador Alexei de Sadeski
James Earl Jones as Lieutenant Lothar Zogg
Tracy Reed as Miss Scott