Film review: Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964), directed by Stanley Kubrick
Number 35 on IMDb’s Top 250 list is this peculiar film, in which a general (Sterling Hayden) decides to take the Cold War into his own hands and start a nuclear war. He’s the commander of an air force base which is home to the atomic bombing squadrons patrolling near the Soviet Union, and tells them to execute a certain protocol.
Everyone thinks it’s a drill at first, until they realise the general has locked himself in a room, and sealed off the base. They also soon realise that the protocol executed requires a specific code before any messages can be sent through to the aircraft to call off a strike, and the only person who knows the code is the insane general.
Meanwhile in the War Room, the President (Peter Sellers) has to try solving the situation after being briefed by another general (George C Scott). Are there no failsafes in place? No sir, you specifically asked for this particular protocol to not require any of those – and to make matters worse, he also has the manic Germanic Dr Strangelove (Peter Sellers again, he also plays an RAF officer on loan to the air force base that started the whole thing) to let him know what is going to happen if they fail to stop the bombers.
Also starring Keenan Wynn as Colonel Guano, Slim Pickens as Major Kong, James Earl Jones as Lieutenant Zogg, Peter Bull as the Russian Ambassador, and Tracy Reed as Miss Scott.
Things go from bad to worse in this film, at least if you’re not wanting a nuclear holocaust on your hands! To think that one crazed officer can spark World War III, and that the bureaucracy around it to stop it from happening can be put aside by other bureaucracy.
Dr Strangelove is allegedly black comedy, but it wasn’t very funny. It’s a satire, and it’s amusing, but it’s not exactly laugh-out-loud funny, more laughter-getting-stuck-in-your-throat kind of funny. I really enjoyed it, even if the dread I felt kept rising. “Oh gosh, it’s really going to happen isn’t it?”
Loved seeing George C Scott, and I thought he looked a lot younger than in Jane Eyre (1970), only to find out that this film came out a measly six years earlier, so he wasn’t that much younger. I had seen in the information that he was going to be in it, but it wasn’t until a while in when I realised why his character looked familiar.
Another familiar face that it took me a little time to recognise was James Earl Jones. A lot younger than I’ve seen him before, as I know him from things he’s done after Star Wars.
Peter Sellers, wow. I have seen him before but not really thought much about it, but he’s incredible! It took me a little while to realise that he plays three different characters – that alone is a feat not easily surpassed! Then to think he also played those three characters so incredibly well, and so incredibly different is impressive. You have the stiff upper lip RAF officer, so typically British, then the professional US President, and the madcap former Nazi who’s trying desperately to live by Basil Fawlty’s “don’t mention the war!!” order. And failing miserably too, of course. Absolutely incredible performances!
I enjoyed the film more than I thought I would, and while it seems dated now, you’re still left wondering what would happen if some high-ranking officer decided the world needed a reboot. There’s no Cold War anymore, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t still plenty of nuclear warheads to go about …
4 out of 5 doomsday devices.