Dr. Strangelove (1964)
aka: Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
A film directed by Stanley Kubrick

Genre: Comedy / Sci-Fi / Thriller / War

Film Review

Dr. Strangelove photo
The blackest, and almost certainly greatest, black comedy of them all, Dr Strangelove thinks the unthinkable and achieves the impossible, finding humour in the prospect of global thermonuclear annihilation. Doubtless the film had its greatest impact when it was first released, just after the Cuban Missile Crisis at the height of the Cold War in 1962, the closest that mankind has so far come to blowing up the planet. Yet the film continues to have a powerful resonance and offers a compelling and strangely unsettling viewer experience. The Cold War may have ended, but the possibility of us all going up in a cloud of radioactive smoke remains a chillingly realistic outcome, particularly as an increasing number of nations are lining up to join to the nuclear club.

Dr Strangelove is not only a brilliant satire on Cold War hysteria and lunatic militaristic posturing (here the war-lust is rightly represented as just another facet of the suppressed male libido), it also pinpoints the one fundamental flaw in the much-vaunted strategy of mutually assured destruction (referred to by those in the know as M.A.D. and by everyone else as mad), namely that no system, however well designed, is foolproof. If a nuclear weapon goes off in the next century and triggers a holocaust that will wipe us all out, it will most likely be down to what Microsoft would term an undocumented feature.

Dr Strangelove marked a new high for Stanley Kubrick. Although the director had made a number of significant films prior to this, including his earlier anti-war drama Paths of Glory (1957) and a superlative adaptation of Nabokov's Lolita (1962), this was his first great auteur piece, the beginning of his run of cinematic triumphs that would include 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), A Clockwork Orange (1971), Barry Lyndon (1975) and The Shining (1980).

Not only is Dr Strangelove a supremely funny film that offers the most cogent argument for the outlawing of nuclear weapons, it is also a stunningly crafted piece of cinema. Kubrick knew instinctively how to construct a visual image that would deliver the greatest impact, emotionally and intellectually, and this is apparent throughout this film. Note the contrast between the static, almost unreal scenes in the War Room and the almost documentary realism in the cockpit scenes and the sequences where the airbase is attacked, achieved through innovative use of handheld camera. The political and military leaders are, as always, completely detached from the reality of the ludicrous situation they have created. Like the other great cineastes, notably D.W. Griffith, Sergei Eisenstein and Alfred Hitchcock, Kubrick understood that images, not spoken words, are the means by which the true filmmaker communicates with his audience. Words are just window-dressing.

With Peter Sellers cast in not one but three roles, all played to perfection, the film could hardly fail to be a comic masterpiece. In their contract with Kubrick, Columbia Pictures had stipulated that Sellers would play four roles, but the actor was reluctant to play Major Kong and, after he sustained a minor injury, the part was given to Slim Pickens, who is an admirable replacement. Whilst Sellers dominates this film, reaching new heights of hilarity as the deranged Dr Strangelove, there are some memorable contributions from his co-stars. George C. Scott almost steals the show as the military man who sees all-out war as the solution to every problem and Sterling Hayden is frighteningly convincing as the general whose paranoid aversion to fluoride in tap water drives him to light the blue touch paper. And who can forget the sight of Pickens riding astride the atom bomb as it falls to Earth, unleashing a truly horrifying blast of Vera Lynn?  A propos, any resemblance between the mad Texan cowboy who can't wait to nuke his opponents and a future president of the United States is purely coincidental...
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Film Credits

Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Starring: Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden, Keenan Wynn, Slim Pickens, Peter Bull, James Earl Jones, Tracy Reed, Jack Creley, Frank Berry
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