Thursday, February 09, 2012

151 - Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb (1964)

DVD Box
During the Cold War a mad American general launches a nuclear attack on the Russians. Trouble is, no-one knows how to stop it.

Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper is paranoid about the Russians poisoning the United States through its water systems, so uses a little-known politically induced system to launch a nuclear attack on the Russians. He places the base into lock down, meaning that everyone will have to fight him for the stop codes and the only man inside the base that could stop everything is the nervous exchange officer, RAF Group Captain Lionel Mandrake (Peter Sellers) whom Ripper has complete control over.

When The President (also Sellers) catches wind of the crisis he confronts his Generals and when they fail to resolve the situation he enlists the help of Dr. Strangelove (again, Sellers), a former Nazi who warns The President of a lethal Soviet weapon that could destroy the world.

Theatrical Poster
Source: Wikipedia
Sure, its a storyline that sounds as if it should be funny, but so many mistakes could be made in this satirical comedy.

For one, the stereotypes could be far too overdrawn and garish. Neither happen here, despite the British being cast as level-headed wimps, the Americans as battle-hardy incompetents and the Russians as political fanatics. On appearance it is clear who is from which nationality and as they open their mouth you can't help but laugh.

The film also makes jokes at humanity's reliance on technology. Neither America nor Russia is depicted as having any control over their machines past the fail-safe point, often hampered by the number of measures to appease their political opponents. Peter Sellers handles his characters brilliantly showing the crisis from three different political viewpoints. In fact, Sellers is so natural in the three roles that it is hard to tell who he plays and who he doesn't.

The difference between the military approach and how a politician would handle the situation is also strikingly hilarious; director Stanley Kubrick hit this nail bang on the head. While the general is calling for a pre-emptive strike in anticipation of the Russian retaliation, the President is crying down the telephone to his opposite Premier in Moscow, apologising profusely for mistakes. This is later highlighted at the ending as the film soars to a remarkably accurate finale.

It is miraculous that Dr. Strangelove didn't descend into an absolute farce but, as such, it teetered right on the edge of oblivion. A bit like the Cold War then, really.

2 comments:

  1. Re. descending into an absolute farce - Kubrick originally planned to end the film with a custard-pie fight in the war room. He filmed the scene for a week, but later decided that it was too much farce/slapstick, and cut it out.

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    1. I read that when I was researching for the review. It would have changed the film's outlook from satire to anarchy, which I think would have ruined it. A good decision by Kubrick to axe the scene, I think.

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