How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
Up and until yesterday I was half way through writing my weekly post when with current events rapidly escalating I decided to change the topic.
What could be more appropriate now then to take a look at Dr. Strangelove or: I How Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb.
Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 nightmare black comedy concerns a totally psychotic US Air Force general (Jack D. Ripper) who orders a pre-emptive nuclear first strike attack on the Soviet Union. At the same time the US President and his Joint Chief of Staff advisors debate as to how they can prevent the attack, whilst we also follow the activities of one of the B-52 bombers ordered to attack the Soviet Union.
Initially Kubrick conceived the film as a straight thriller drama but he soon began to see the comedy inherent in the absurd idea of mutually assured destruction:
“My idea of doing it as a nightmare comedy came in the early weeks of working on the screenplay. I found that in trying to put meat on the bones and to imagine the scenes fully, one had to keep leaving out of it things which were either absurd or paradoxical, in order to keep it from being funny; and these things seemed to be close to the heart of the scenes in question.”
When Terry Southern came on board to assist with the screenplay the comedic element flowed and with Peter Sellers playing three roles – Group Captain Lionel Mandrake, President Merkin Muffley and Dr. Strangelove – a comedy movie masterpiece was taking place.
In addition to Sellers, Kubrick also had George C. Scott in an absolutely wonderful over-the-top performance as the ridiculous and hawkish General Buck Turgidson. The characters names in this movie are just priceless – Major T.J. “King” Kong, Colonel Bat Guano and so on.
Scott was apparently tricked by Kubrick into doing the OTT scenes as practice takes and during filming they often played chess where Kubrick repeatedly beat him, which although Scott did not see eye to eye with Kubrick, he respected him immeasurably for his skill at chess.
Eventually, President Muffley has to contact the Soviet Premier to tell him that his country is about to be attacked and the following is just pure comic gold, where we learn that the Russians have built a Doomsday machine.
If this was filmed today you could have a field day with Putin and Biden but I’d have Putin ringing Biden !
The Americans then assist the Russians in shooting down their planes whilst Group Captain Mandrake manages to figure out the CRM code to recall the planes; but one plane still manages to get through and drop its’ bomb.
With the world facing total nuclear destruction, Dr. Strangelove then proposes to the President and his staff that several hundred thousand people live in deep underground mines with a 10:1 female-to-male ratio for a breeding program to repopulate the Earth !
Announcing he has a plan, Strangelove suddenly rises from his wheelchair and exclaims: “Mein Fuhrer, I can walk !” as the Doomsday machine is triggered.
The film then amazingly ends with a serious of nuclear explosions all to the accompaniment of We’ll Meet Again by Vera Lynn. The sheer audaciousness of this ending and the imagination that was behind it is simply breath-taking.
All this in a film with a running time of just 94 minutes.
What make the film so successful and compelling is that it is totally played straight despite the absurd characters and the inherent comedy of it all whilst the design and the sets look totally authentic. Ronald Reagan is supposed to have asked as to where the War Room was when he became US President.
Dr. Strangelove is one of my favourite top 5 films of all time !