Director: Stanley Kubrick
Starring: Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, Slim Pickens, Sterling Hayden
My admiration for the works of Stanley Kubrick is growing and growing. After watching the brilliant ‘A Clockwork Orange’ years ago (and many times since), I’ve more recently discovered ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ – which blew me away – and ‘Full Metal Jacket’, which was pretty good too. Next up for me – made very easy by Netflix – I ventured into the bizarre world of ‘Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb’. For obvious reasons, I will refer to this film as simply ‘Dr. Strangelove’ henceforth.
Set in post-war America, amidst Soviet tensions, a crazed US General launches a bombardment of missiles on Russia; an attack that will unwittingly trigger a nuclear “doomsday” device, implemented by the Russians as a deterrent. With time running out, the President of the United States and his advisors, along with a fanatical, xenophobic General and the Russian Ambassador, huddle together in “The War Room” to find a way to disarm the missiles and prevent the end of the world.
In terms of narrative, I actually found ‘Dr. Strangelove’ to be a little disjointed and hard to follow, with the action jumping around frantically between the War Room, the military barracks and the fighter jets carrying the troublesome missiles. Because of this, I will split my analysis into three parts. The scenes in the fighter jets were the least memorable and arguably least important, save for an iconic image of a man straddling a missile. Over at the military barracks, we get an interesting exchange between Brig. General Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden) and Group Captain Lionel Mandrake (Peter Sellers), as the latter desperately tries to talk down his deranged superior. Peter Sellers shines here, offering excellent comic relief opposite the much more serious Sterling Hayden. In the iconic War Room, Sellers also pops up as the surreal Dr. Strangelove, an expert in nuclear physics and a former Nazi. Again, Sellers here is darkly comical and entertaining.
It is the War Room which provides much of the humour for this most dry and sardonic of comedies. Jack-of-all-trades Peter Sellers also plays the President of the United States, who delivers the best line of them all when he breaks up a fight between General Turgidson (George C. Scott) and the Russian Ambassador (Peter Bull), telling them: “You can’t fight in here! This is the War Room”. It’s almost pleasing to think of the President as such a mild mannered, blissfully unaware man, with telephone exchanges between the POTUS and his Russian counterpart being hugely entertaining, verging on chit-chat. If only things were that simple in the real world.
I say this quite often, but I don’t think the term “acquired taste” could apply to a film anymore than this one. If you’re not afraid of black and white, old films, and you like your comedy to be strange and dark, you might just enjoy ‘Dr. Strangelove’. With this film being on Netflix at the moment, it can’t hurt to give it a go, but I guarantee that the average audience won’t take a liking to this film.