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The International Writers Magazine: Review

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Written by Stanley Kubrick, Peter George and Terry Southern
Starring Peter Sellers and George C. Scott
Paul Rumble


Stanley Kubrick’s Cold War comedy is positively chilling. Despite the collapse of the Soviet Union over fifteen years ago, Dr. Strangelove still remains frighteningly relevant as the irresponsible fingers of dim-witted premiers all over the world dangle closely next to a big red button with ‘Do Not Push’ stamped upon it.

Released shortly after the end of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, the witty script suggests a similar event, only exchanging the cool heads of President John F. Kennedy and Premier Nikita Khrushchev with a cast akin to a troop of clowns. Goon Show maestro Peter Sellers plays three roles: British liason officer, Captain Mandrake, President Muffley and the decidedly odd, ex Nazi -strategist Dr. Strangelove. George C. Scott shows that he is a man very much in control of his face as General Buck Turgidson.

The plot of the film is very simple. The ever so slightly unhinged General Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden) decides to just go ahead and push the red button anyway. He has become convinced that the Communists are poisoning "the purity and essence of our natural fluids'' by cunningly pouring fluoride into the water supply. Ripper rants and raves and smokes a couple of cigars while Sellers’ Mandrake attempts to bring him to his senses and avert nuclear apocalypse. In the meantime the much more reasonable President Muffley gathers his advisors into the instantly recognisable climes of the War Room where he is gradually informed by General Turgidson that the end of the world is pretty much imminent at this point due to the perfectly logical nuclear deterrent system devised by the Soviet Union. Deterrent, in this case is probably the wrong word to use, as once activated the ‘Doomsday Machine’ means that everyone on earth is significantly buggered.
Both Sellers and Scott shine throughout. Kubrick, with his mastership of the film medium relies just as much on body and face as he does with words. Scott is given a lot of space to demonstrate just how fine an actor he is. Every single facial movement he makes is in concert with what he is saying. He plays his part with such fervor that it never seems like he is overacting. Sellers takes the character of Dr. Strangelove in the opposite direction, with an amusingly over the top German accent and a seemingly out of control left hand, which when not trying to strangle the doctor, is attempting to spring into a Nazi salute.
Of course, praise must be given to all the other actors in the film, particularly Slim Pickens as Major T.J. Kong. It has been rumoured that Kubrick didn’t inform Pickens the film was a satire, so his impassioned patriotic speeches to the crew of his B-52 bomber are all played completely straight.

The humour of Dr. Strangelove is based around the seriousness of the situation and how all the characters fail to retain that seriousness. An uintentional slip onto one knee by Turgidson, left in by Kubrick is a good example of this. The absurdness of a key General faced by nuclear annihilation falling over while explaining to the President that the entire world is facing impending doom is side-splitting. Dr. Strangelove is the cinema equivalent of taping a "Kick Me" sign to the Pope’s back, then watching him carry out midnight mass, to several thousand Roman Catholics.
© Paul Rumble
shl60629 at port.ac.uk

Paul studies film and creative writing at the University of Portsmouth

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