Year of Release: 1964
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
Source: DVD (Own Collection)
Average IMDb Rating: 8.6
Average Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 100%
I know what you’re thinking: “Dr. Strangelove is not a horror movie!!!!!!” I know, I know, but there is a valid reason for this entry here today on MVH. For the entire month of January, Chuck over at Zombies DON’T Run is running Stanley Kubrick month, where he will be discussing all things Kubrick. As a big Kubrick fan, I decided to contribute to this glorious Kubrick celebration by putting in my two cents and discussing one of my favorite comedies of all time, Dr. Strangelove. This film is not your traditional comedy, like a Bridesmaids or a Superbad, since it deals with very unfunny themes like war, communism, and massive global destruction, but it’s the brilliant performance by legendary comedian Peter Sellers that really gets the laughs going out of this black comedy. Sellers, best known for his role in The Pink Panther, plays three different characters in the film: The US President, Group Captain Lionel Mandrake, and the former German scientist Dr. Strangelove.
The United States and Russia are at the peak of the Cold War and US Brig. Gen. Jack Ripper (Sterling Hayden) decides to end the war once and for all by ordering all of his B-52 bombers to nuke the Soviets back to the stone age. The General orders British Officer Lionel Mandrake (Sellers) to lock the base down and to cut off all communication to the outside world. Mandrake suspects that this communications blackout is more than just a drill. Meanwhile, Major “King” Kong (Slim Pickens), captain of the 843rd Bomb Wing, thinks this attack is also a drill. After reviewing the code sent by Ripper, he realizes that this attack is no drill, it’s a call to arms.
Sellers as Group Captain Lionel Mandrake
Back in Washington, the US President Merkin Muffley (Sellers again) and his top military personnel meet in the War Room of the Pentagon to discuss the possibilities of a nuclear war with Russia and to come up with a solution to stop the planes. We learn that the planes can only be recalled by transmitting to them a code that only General Ripper knows. The President sends the Army to Ripper’s base to apprehend him and to give them the code so they can stop the planes. The General, thinking ahead, orders his men to fire on any military personnel who approach the base, telling his men that they are “commies in disguise.”
President Muffley brings the Russian Ambassador into the War Room to help him communicate with the Russian Prime Minister, Dmitri. Air Force General “Buck” Turgidson (George C. Scott) dislikes all commies, and feels that the Russian Ambassador is there to spy on the US’ military strategies and leak that info back to the Kremlin. He protests keeping the Ambassador in the War Room, but the President refuses and keeps him in the War Room anyway. The Ambassador has information that drastically ups the stakes in this deadly chess game: the Russians have built a “doomsday device” that will obliterate all life on earth, triggered by an attack on Russia by any nuclear weapons.
Sellers as President Merkin Muffley
The President asks his top military scientist Dr. Strangelove (Sellers again), an ex German physicist from World War II, for advice on how to stop the doomsday device, but he concludes that the device cannot be stopped, that the only solution is to stop the planes from attacking Russia.
Sellers as Dr. Strangelove
At Ripper’s base, the Army has arrived, but they are being fired on by Ripper’s men. The General is in his office scribbling the phrase “Purity of Earth” all over his paperwork stationary, sitting patiently for news that his plan has worked. Lionel Mandrake goes to the General and demands that he stops his plan, but to no avail. The General decides to kill himself than to let Mandrake or anyone else know the code to stop his diabolical plan.
President Muffley informs Alexi that planes are coming to Russia to bomb them. They both agree to shoot down all US planes over Russian airspace to prevent them from coming through. “King” Kong and his men get hit, but they still are alive, flying to their target, with no radio communication to the outside world due to the damage on their antenna from the attack on them by the Russians.
Mandrake figures out that the code to recall the planes is POE, the phrase that Ripper kept scribbling over and over again. All the planes get the recall code and start to leave Russia…………..except for Major Kong and his boys, who are flying with no radio. Major Kong arrives at one of their targets and decides to go out like a cowboy, by getting on top of the bomb and riding it like a bull all the way to the ground, detonating and killing himself in the process.
Major “King” Kong riding his nuke
With the bomb being detonated and the doomsday device killing all life on Earth, Dr. Strangelove comes up with a solution to keep humanity alive: living underground in caves for the next 100 years to avoid the nuclear fallout from all the bombs. Strangelove wants the smartest, most athletic, and most fertile people to breed to keep the human race alive and going. Meanwhile, the Russian Ambassador is seen taking photos on his spy watch of the War Room, presumably sending them to Russia to let them know what the Americans are doing to handle this problem, making General Turgidson’s suspicions of him being a spy correct. The movie then ends with stock footage of nuclear bombs detonating, giving us a possible glimpse of what is happening all around the world at that time.
I remember watching this movie in 11th grade US History and getting blown away by the story. This film really does propose a frightening thought: what if a top ranked official went rogue and tried to start a nuclear war? That’s what I though to myself in 2001, a whole decade after the Cold War was over. Can you imagine seeing this in 1964, during the height of the Cold War? You would probably be scared to death and invest in a bomb shelter and pray that something like this could never, ever, ever, ever, EVER happen. That’s the exact reaction Kubrick wanted out of people and you know what, it worked. The nation was completely frightened by this film because of the possibility of the unknown: can we trust our people to not fire a nuke? Can we trust the Russians to not fire a nuke at us?
Kubrick really lined up an all star cast that gave amazing performances, from Peter Sellers to Sterling Hayden to George C. Scott to a very young James Earl Jones, this movie really showcased their talent. Sellers was so good in this movie that you forget that the man playing Dr. Strangelove is also the same man playing the US President. When I first saw this movie when I was a teenager, I had no clue who Peter Sellers was or that he played three different roles in the film. After this film, I wanted to watch everything that had Peter Sellers in it. I watched Pink Panther and Lolita, another great Kubrick film, and Peter Sellers really is one of the most underrated comedians of all time.
Kubrick was the best technical director of his era, and it shows in this film. The interior of the B-52 bomber was recreated just by viewing one picture of the cabin from a magazine. The military was impressed that Kubrick was able to basically build the entire body and interior of a spy plane that nobody at that time had ever seen yet. Kubrick also incorporated a lot of matte shots for the exterior of the plane flying over Russia and for the famous “bull riding” scene where Kong rides the nuke like a bull.
Dr. Strangelove is still my favorite Kubrick film to this day. The story, the acting, the directing, the look of the film, everything is perfect. To this day I still laugh at all the jokes in the movie, from the President calling the Russian Prime Minister to let him know his country is about to be bombed to the quick little one liners provided by Mandrake. Any comedy that could still make me laugh after multiple viewings is good in my book. If you haven’t seen this movie yet, shame on you. Rent it. Hell, buy it. It’s damn worth it. I guarantee you that this will be a film you will enjoy for the rest of your life. Until next time.
-Matt De Luna, the De-Lunatic.