MOVIE REVIEW | ***AFI WEEKEND*** #39. Dr Strangelove: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

“The American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest Movies was selected by AFI’s blue-ribbon panel of more than 1,500 leaders of the American movie community to commemorate 100 Years of Movies”. Every weekend(ish) during 2015, I’ll review two(ish), counting them down from 100 to 1.

“Perhaps it might be better, Mr. President, if you were more concerned with the American People than with your image in the history books.”

Stanley Kubrick was film making genius.  But as several past reviews have noted, I’m not a big fan of Stanley Kubrick.  I can recognise his brilliance, while finding a lot of what he does too showy, cold and generally more interested in showing off than telling a story.  A Clockwork Orange is all style and no substance, and one of the downsides of this AFI Top 100 countdown is that it means I will have to endure 2001: A Space Odyssey again at some time in the near future.  But there’s one movie in Kubrick’s filmography that even I think more than lives up to its classic status.  That movie is the gloriously titled Dr Strangelove: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.

It’s the height of the Cold War, and while his squadron of bombers are in the air on a training exercise, but none the less loaded to the hilt with nukes, Brig. Gen. Jack D Ripper (Sterling Hayden) uses a military loophole to order them to attack Russia.  With their radios turned to a secure frequency, the only thing that will bring the pilots back is a secret code.  A secret known only by Ripper.  When a visiting English officer, Peter Sellers as Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake, tries to get the codes from Ripper, he realises that Ripper has gone completely insane.  Soon, the soldiers on base are fighting off allied Americans who they believe are undercover Soviets

In the Pentagon War Room, US President Merkin Muffley (Sellers again) assembles his chiefs of staff and tries to figure out how to stop the bombers, and the nuclear Armageddon that will come if they drop their bombs.  Also in the War Room is Gen. Buck Turgidson (George C Scott), a pragmatic realist, whose plan will admittedly mean the deaths of tens of millions of civilians.  But he believes any alternative would mean hundreds of millions.

In the air, Maj. King Kong (Slim Pickens) pilots his plane and its devastating payload toward Moscow, following orders and protocol to the letter.  Back in the War Room, the titular Dr Strangelove (yet another Sellers appearance) is brought in to offer his own advice.  A former Nazi and current scientific adviser, Strangelove is charged with counteracting a Russian dooms day device that will detonate if the American bombers are not called back.

I think Dr Strangelove is such an anomaly for me in Kubrick’s because it’s so funny.  This movie has laugh out loud moments every few minutes, with some of the best, over the top, physically funny performances you’ll ever see.  Sellers as Strangelove is cartoon like, and George C Scott’s bug eyed approach to what should have been even the smallest reactions only get funnier as they get bigger.  All of that, in the face of something as dire as nuclear Armageddon, and you’re in for some of the best dark comedy and satire ever committed to film.

Every time I watch Dr Strangelove, it makes me wonder if I’ve been too hard on Kubrick’s work.  So I usually end up tracking down one of his other movies and being disappointed yet again.  The only time it paid off was when watching this lead to watching Full Metal Jacket. So my track record hasn’t been great, and despite being aware of that, watching Dr Strangelove this time around once again made me wonder if I’ve been too hard on Kubrick’s work.  Dr Strangelove really is that good.

Dr Strangelove: Howe I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
Directed By – Stanley Kubrick
Written By – Stanley KubrickTerry Southern, Peter George

Academy Awards
Best Picture (nominated, lost to My Fair Lady)
Best Director (Kubrick nominated, lost to George Cukor for My Fair Lady)
Best Actor (Sellers nominated, lost to Rex Harrison for My Fair Lady)
Best Adapted Screenplay (nominated, lost to Becket)

6 thoughts on “MOVIE REVIEW | ***AFI WEEKEND*** #39. Dr Strangelove: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

  1. Really great write up. I still need to see this but it sounds like I’m more of a general Kubrick than you so Im sure Ill like it a lot. I really loved 2001 but I must admit it is pretty showy and a bit over the top philosophical pomposity at times!

    How many characters was Sellers playing ?

    1. Sellers plays three characters and they’re all great. Apparently he was cast as a fourth as well (the Slim Pickins role I think), but couldn’t play it in the end.

  2. George C Scott was brilliant. Sellers was contained and therefore at his best. And I think Kubrick himself was in peak form. Amazing film.

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