(United Kingdom, 1964)
Watching Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove can lead to a depressing recognition. The movie is so brilliant, clever, and wickedly funny – as black and edgy a satire as has ever been filmed – that, by comparison, it makes most of today's so-called "comedies" seem like warmed-over leftovers fried in a microwave oven then left out in the sun to rot. The first time I watched Dr. Strangelove, in a social studies class in junior high school (circa 1979), I wasn't that impressed. After all, it was in – gasp! – black and white. Maturity and repeated viewings have radically changed my opinion. Only four years after seeing the movie for the first time, I was extolling its virtues during an oral presentation for a high school current affairs class. Like Peter Sellers, I took on various different roles for the report. Unlike Peter Sellers, I was horrible (although I did elicit a fair number of guffaws). The cold war is a thing of the past – as much an historical relic as the Berlin Wall – but its passing has not robbed Dr. Strangelove of its power or humor. Cautionary tales like this rarely go out of style, especially when they skewer their targets with such lethal force. "You can't fight in here! This is the war room!" By playing three roles, Sellers steals the show. Yet George C. Scott was so good as the pompous General Turgidson that he became a front-runner for a biography of Patton. Most experts believe that, had it not been for Scott's Turgidson, we would have seen another actor in the 1970 film. Many have wondered how long it would take for a Kubrick movie to make it onto the Top 100. This is the first, and there's another yet to come.
Plot Summary (Spoilers Possible):
The film opens with a deranged General Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden) declaring a "Code Red", sealing off his airforce base, and ordering a nuclear attack on Russia. When his assistant, RAF Group Captain Mandrake (Peter Sellers), advises moderation, Ripper replies that he intends to launch a pre-emptive strike to stop a Communist infiltration which is "sapping and impurifying all of our precious bodily fluids." In Washington D.C., an emergency meeting is called to determine how to react to the crisis. Present are President Merkin Muffley (Sellers), a man whose effete personality is adequately described by his name; General Buck Turgidson (George C. Scott), whose least favorite color is red; Dr. Strangelove (Sellers), an ex-Nazi scientist who is now head of the United States' weapons development program; Soviet Ambassador de Sadesky (Peter Bull); and the rest of the higher-uppers at the Pentagon. Meanwhile, aboard the bomber "Leper Colony", we are introduced to the crew that will play a vital role in the events about to transpire. Led by Major "King" Kong (Slim Pickens), an old-fashioned, gung-ho cowboy type (complete with hat and Texas accent), these men are as loyal and anti-Communist as they come.
When you consider the history of motion pictures, certain watershed films leap to mind - productions which have left their mark on the craft. Without a doubt, one of those is Stanley Kubrik's 1964 masterpiece, Dr. Strangelove (or, as it's subtitled, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb). As political satire, few movies come close to this level of accomplishment. In the case of Dr. Strangelove, the barbs and quips (both subtle and obvious) hold up as well today as they did thirty years ago. The genius of Dr. Strangelove is that it's possible to laugh - and laugh hard - while still recognizing the intelligence and insight behind the humor. The film is always saying something, and a viewer would have to be deaf and blind not to recognize the targets of the sarcasm. In fact, I'd worry about anyone who takes this movie too seriously. That, after all, isn't the kind of person Dr. Strangelove is aimed for; it's the kind this film takes aim at.
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