October 1, 2015

The masterpiece known as Dr. Strangelove is one of director Stanley Kubrick’s most outstanding works and a classic in all rights. Not only has it cemented itself in movie history as one of the greatest comedies ever made, but it has also become timeless in every sense of the word.

Before writing this review, I saw the movie on four separate occasions, twice on the big screen and twice on my laptop, and with each viewing – as with all great movies – I noticed new things about it. On the second viewing, I noticed the style that George C. Scott brings to the film; his performance is the driving force in the movie, overshadowing even the triple performance by Peter Sellers and the crazy nuclear war-hungry general played by Sterling Hayden. With all the quick and sudden movements, the wide-eyed expressions, the pauses and the fidgety nature, I almost thought I was watching a Jim Carrey or a Donald O’Connor performance. This is most evident in a scene in which Scott’s character Gen. Turgidson describes the capabilities of one of his pilots by saying, “Why he could barrel that baby so low, I’ll tell ya”, with arms stretched out, mouth agape, and bouncing about like an infant girl, completely oblivious to the fact that his pilot is about to bring about the end of humanity. His mixture of facial and physical expressions truly brings out the comedic possibilities.

Kubrick’s strategic layout of the locations makes for a film that feels elegant in its simplicity. Unlike most films today, which have over 40 different locations all loosely tied together, Dr. Strangelove is shot in mainly 3 locations: an Air Force base, the War Room, and the inside of a B-52 bomber. The film opens with the general-gone-mad Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden) giving the order for his wing of B-52 bombers to deploy their nuclear payload on every major city in Russia, on the belief that the Russians were “poisoning the essence of our precious bodily fluids.” The only man willing to stop this potential nuclear war is British Liaison Group Captain Mandrake (Peter Sellers), who listens to Ripper’s ranting but can do little to defuse the situation. We then cut to the War Room underneath the Pentagon where a horrified President Muffley (Sellers again) discovers that the bombers cannot be called back nor can they be destroyed. He eventually tells everything to the Russian premier, resulting in one of the most hilarious scenes in the movie: a one sided serious nuclear talk with a drunk Russian leader.

Dr. Strangelove is filled with amazing performances, and the key notion the comedy is based on is that people who try to be funny are never as funny as people who try to be serious and fail miserably! A normal person acting like a clown will never be as funny as a clown trying to act like a normal person. And the characters in Dr. Strangelove are all clowns, but they just don’t know it.  One of the funniest performances in the film thrives on the idea that Dr. Strangelove’s serious talks are constantly being interrupted by his comedic right hand that seems to have a mind of its own, constantly strangling him and breaking into Nazi salutes.

The ending is one of the most memorable in all of movie history and although I won’t spoil it for you here, I can safely say that it is both funny and thought-provoking. The film was made in 1964, at the height of Cold War tensions, and although the special effects are not what we are used to today, the story and comedy more than make up for it. With Dr. Strangelove, Stanley Kubrick made one of the most brilliant political satires by creating a situation that is both scary and feasible. As famous movie critic Roger Ebert wrote, “Strangelove and 2001’s A Space Odyssey are two of Kubrick’s most outstanding works, and they follow a similar premise, man develops machinery that functions with perfect logic to bring about a disastrous outcome.” So give it a try, I guarantee that you’ll love it.