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Joan's review of "Dr. Strangelove"

Updated on September 26, 2014

Why I love Dr. Strangelove

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964), written and directed by Stanley Kubrick, is a satirical black comedy about nuclear holocaust and the Cold War. Ridiculous situations and eccentric characters collide in the worst possible ways as the future of life on earth hangs in the balance.

The storyline is a riot and the performances are unforgettable. Without question, one of the best movies of all time. On this page, I'll give my own little analysis of Dr. Strangelove and talk about some of the ways this great movie has affected me.

According to Wikimedia Commons, images from the movie "Dr. Strangelove" are in the public domain.

Dr. Strangelove credits

Directed by:
Stanley Kubrick

Actors:
Peter Sellers
George C. Scott
Slim Pickens

Oscar nominations:
Best Actor in a Leading Role (Peter Sellers)
Best Director
Best Adapted Screenplay
Best Picture

The original theatrical trailer for Doctor Strangelove

Here's a one-paragraph review of Dr. Strangelove

Dr. Strangelove, Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (Special Edition)
Dr. Strangelove, Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (Special Edition)

There's nothing better than a well-executed comedy of errors. And Dr. Strangelove is one of the best comedies ever. Contrived absurdities and mishaps are set against the most serious possible circumstance, the destruction of the world. Terrific acting and a wonderful script make this movie hilarious and terrifying at the same time.

 
Kubrick tricked George C. Scott into playing Gen. Turgidson far more ridiculously than Scott wanted to. He had Scott do over-the-top practice takes, saying they would never be used, as "warm-ups".  When Scott saw the final cut, he was furious.
Kubrick tricked George C. Scott into playing Gen. Turgidson far more ridiculously than Scott wanted to. He had Scott do over-the-top practice takes, saying they would never be used, as "warm-ups". When Scott saw the final cut, he was furious.

Overview of "Dr. Strangelove"

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb is based on the novel Red Alert by Peter George. The novel was a straightforward drama. The decision to make the film a satire came about because Stanley Kubrick realized how many elements in the story were really absurd when analyzed closely. He decided that he would have had to leave out major portions of the book if he had tried to keep it as a serious drama. The only way to tell the tale was as a comedy.

In the story, one Air Force general figures out a way to single-handedly order a first strike nuclear attack on the USSR, setting in motion a chain of events that seems unstoppable and will result in unthinkable destruction. Everyone from the general's first officer to the President of the United States is desperate to derail the freight train of destruction.

As frightening as the subject matter is, the movie is nonetheless incredibly funny. Saying something moronic with a completely straight face is so much funnier than delivering wisecracks with a big wink and a knowing grin. The screenplay had a wealth of great comic lines in it, and these were supplemented by hilarious ad-libbing from Peter Sellers, especially in his role as the President.

There is also a fair bit of sexual innuendo in the film, from the opening shot of the fighter plane to the names of the characters, to Ripper's reason for thinking he's been sabotaged by the Communists. None of it is loud or in-your-face, and a lot of the terms are words that only people who scored high on the SAT would understand. Some reviewers think that Kubrick uses these references to make a statement about the psychosexual motivations for warfare. I think he's just keeping up the comedy quotient.

Who do you like most in the movie? - All the acting in Doctor Strangelove is great, but who is the best?

Which is the best acting performance in "Dr. Strangelove"?

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Columbia Pictures agreed to finance Dr. Strangelove on condition that Peter Sellers play at least four major roles. This stemmed from the studio's impression that much of the success of Lolita (1962) was based on Sellers playing multiple roles.
Columbia Pictures agreed to finance Dr. Strangelove on condition that Peter Sellers play at least four major roles. This stemmed from the studio's impression that much of the success of Lolita (1962) was based on Sellers playing multiple roles.

Starring Peter Sellers, Peter Sellers, and Peter Sellers

Another remarkable feature of Dr. Strangelove is Peter Sellers's performance in three different roles, each memorable and unique. He is cast as Captain Lionel Mandrake, as the President of the United States, and as the mysterious Dr. Strangelove. His work in the film earned him a Best Actor nomination.

Playing Mandrake was the easiest of the roles for Sellers, who had served in the British military during World War II and was known for doing impersonations of his superior officers. This is my favorite of his three performances, with Sellers on pins and needles as an officer who is trapped in an office with the mad general who ordered the attack.

To play President Merkin Muffley, Sellers adopted a Midwestern accent and is said to have used Adlai Stevenson as his inspiration as he tries to fix a colossal military screw-up. His monologues representing one-half of his phone conversations with the Soviet premier were largely ad-libbed and very funny.

Doctor Strangelove, a presidential adviser, is a handicapped former Nazi who's on our side now. Sellers plays him with a thick German accent and lots of bizarre tics and gestures. Strangelove is not as far removed from his past as we would like him to be, occasionally doing a Nazi salute inadvertently or calling the President "Mein F├╝hrer."

Kubrick had also intended for Sellers to play Maj. Kong, the fighter pilot. Sellers was apprehensive about doing the Texas accent required for the role, but finally mastered it. During shooting, however, Sellers sprained his ankle and was unable to work in the cramped set that portrayed the cockpit of Maj. Kong's plane. A lot of Sellers's ad-libs as Kong were preserved and written into the screenplay. The role was then given to Slim Pickens, a native Texan who took to it like a fish to water.

Stanley Kubrick on the set of Dr. Strangelove
Stanley Kubrick on the set of Dr. Strangelove

What a choir director can learn from a movie director

(because I'll use anything as an excuse to talk about choir directing)

Stanley Kubrick was deeply, almost obsessively, concerned with the possibility of nuclear holocaust. He decided to make a movie based on Red Alert because he was driven to send a message about his views on nuclear weapons and the Cold War mentality.

But he still considered it important to make an engaging, entertaining, and visually beautiful film. He spent huge amounts of time and effort on designing stunning sets, casting terrific actors (including a hottie in a bikini), and writing a hilarious screenplay. Did that mean that he was forgetting his underlying purpose? No. He did all of that in the service of his underlying purpose. And it worked. Dr. Strangelove is now an indispensable part of our public consciousness about the nuclear threat.

That resonates with me as a gospel musician. Sometimes people want to imply that if gospel musicians care too much about making their music beautiful and appealing, they are losing sight of "what's really important", the message of the music. I believe that putting effort into making the highest-quality music reinforces the music's message and brings it to life, if it's done right. Doing something that people like doesn't automatically make you a sell-out.

Sterling Hayden served with distinction in the OSS during World War II.  After the war, he had a brief membership in the Communist Party and was targeted by the House Un-American Activities Committee.
Sterling Hayden served with distinction in the OSS during World War II. After the war, he had a brief membership in the Communist Party and was targeted by the House Un-American Activities Committee.

Analysis of themes from "Dr. Strangelove"

War is too important . . .

Reviewer Gene Phillips echoed the message that impressed me the most as I once again watched Dr. Strangelove. Phillips said: "Kubrick, who is always on the side of humanity in his films, indicates here, as in 2001: A Space Odyssey, that human fallibility is less likely to destroy man than the relinquishing of his moral responsibilities to his supposedly faultless machinery."

There is only one person in the entire movie who originally wanted a nuclear war to take place. And yet, because of the policies, protocols, and technologies that have been put in place, the rest of the world is strait-jacketed into carrying out the wishes of one idiot.

The insane general famously says, "Clemenceau once said . . . war was too important to be left to the generals. When he said that, 50 years ago, he might have been right. But today, war is too important to be left to politicians." The real message of the movie is that the power of life and death is too important to be left to fallible men. We need to learn what we can handle and what we can't.

Rumor has it that Kubrick did not tell Slim Pickens that Dr. Strangelove was a comedy while they were filming.
Rumor has it that Kubrick did not tell Slim Pickens that Dr. Strangelove was a comedy while they were filming.

Just because you think something is "unthinkable" doesn't mean it won't happen

Sometimes we're good at telling ourselves that certain things will never happen. It's a form of denial. "In theory, we should be prepared for this or that, and we'll go through the motions of being prepared for it, but we won't get too worried about it because it would never really happen. It would be too horrible."

Originally, the machine gun was seen as a weapon so horrible it would make war unthinkable. Now machine guns are on our city streets. The unthinkable becomes commonplace.

In Strangelove, we see the soldiers who prepare every day for something they think will never happen. It's clear that they don't expect it to happen because when it does, everyone's first response is denial/disbelief (Capt. Mandrake thinks it's a drill, Major Kong thinks his men are joking around, Gen. Turgidson thinks someone misunderstood a message). But the training and preparation that the fighting men have gone through has prepared them to carry out the unthinkable when commanded to, and they're actually ready to do it.

In this sense, Dr. Strangelove is trying to be an obvious wake-up call to people who think that some things we have created and prepared are too awful to ever really happen.

There's a 1984 article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists called Normalizing the Unthinkable by Lisa Peattie, which examines these issues. (By the way, in an analysis of Peattie's article, Edward Herman actually uses the adjective "strangelovian".)

The pies in the background were for the intended final scene, a pie fight.  But the scene was scrapped.
The pies in the background were for the intended final scene, a pie fight. But the scene was scrapped.

People can give themselves over to a mindset in a way that outlasts any type of reason or reality

There's an episode ("Let That Be Your Last Battlefield") in the original Star Trek series that features two men who are the sole survivors from their planet. Even though the rest of their population has destroyed itself in a war over skin color, the two of them return to their desolated planet and continue on trying to kill each other. Similarly, in real life, there are gangbangers who have moved to other cities or even been deported to other countries and still claim their same gang affiliations and even recruit others in their new environment to kill and die in the name of Los Angeles turf that they have never even seen. Their view of the world runs so deep that they can't let go of it, even when everything it was attached to is gone.

We see the same thing in Dr. Strangelove. The hatred and mistrust that fuels their US-vs-THEM paradigm has so captivated their minds that they feel certain that their descendants, nuclear holocaust survivors, after 100 years of living underground, will still be USes and THEMs, freedom-loving Americans and filthy godless Commies who will want to continue the very same rivalry.

A sampling of "Dr. Strangelove" reviews

Each one covers a different aspect of the movie, and each one is worth a read.

The novel that "Dr. Strangelove" was based on.

Source

Have your say about "Dr. Strangelove"!

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    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 2 years ago

      Thank you. Excellent article and review. I would really love to see footage of Peter Sellers playing, practicing, the Major Kong role. It would be a great side by side. I remember when the nightly news mentioned Slim Pickens passing it was the riding the bomb down scene they showed. One thing, Lionel Mandrake was an RAF Group Captain, equivalent to a USAF Colonel.

    • Ann Hinds profile image

      Ann Hinds 2 years ago from So Cal

      I loved the movie when it was released and appreciate it even more now. Those of us who lived through the cold war and expected to be vaporized by the atomic bomb at any time have a unique perspective on the movie. Great review!

    • james g pete profile image

      james g pete 3 years ago

      What's really funny, insanely funny, is that when the film came out war with Russia was a viable option. After years of children crawling under their desks at school as part of an air raid drill, basement bunkers being sold with all the necessary water and food to survive for six months, mass hysteria results. It's like showing your kids a horror movie every night before they go to bed.

      And even as the film came out we were in Viet Nam, and that decade long nightmare was largely orchestrated by Dr. Henry Kissinger, who might have beat out Sellers himself for the role of Strangelove.

    • eightieschild profile image

      eightieschild 4 years ago

      One of my all-time top movies. Have seen it a dozen times probably and it still cracks me up. Peter Sellers is a comedy genius. :)

    • geoffhoff profile image

      geoffhoff 4 years ago

      I found this lens when you mentioned your Dr. Strangelove lenses on someone else's lens, then I saw your lens listing them all and I'm making my way through. Wow. That was hard to write.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      lol, at first, i didn't realize that the general, the president, and dr. strangelove himself played by the same person!

      this movie is one of kubrick's masterpiece

    • profile image

      LuizAvila 4 years ago

      The best movie ever!!!

    • jdpslc profile image

      jdpslc 4 years ago

      Great Review! i love this movie, one of Kubrick's best hands down!!

    • profile image

      H-ilarious 4 years ago

      "Gentlemen, You can't fight in here, this is the war room." This film is the definition of satire, something that I devote my lens to.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      pretty bad movie...

    • Countryluthier profile image

      E L Seaton 5 years ago from Virginia

      Great dark comedy. Selllers was at the tip top of his game. Not that the other actors weren't!

    • Tom Maybrier profile image

      Tom Maybrier 5 years ago

      Great lens. I love Peter Sellers and this is one of my favorite films.

    • Swisstoons profile image

      Thomas F. Wuthrich 5 years ago from Michigan

      One of my favorite movies. I first saw it when stationed in Korea years ago. I laughed til tears rolled down my cheeks. I've seen it several times since with the same results. And I've smiled as I read your excellent lens which brought back memories of my favorite scenes. If you watch the scene in which Sellers as Strangelove is speaking with all the characters lined up behind him, watch English actor John Bull who plays the Russian ambassador. He almost loses it. I wonder what take they were on at that point. I'm laughing out loud as I type this, remembering the scene!

    • sockii profile image

      Nicole Pellegrini 5 years ago from New Jersey

      Wonderful lens on one of my fave films. I love Kubrik's work.

    • TonyPayne profile image

      Tony Payne 6 years ago from Southampton, UK

      Great review of this classic Peter Sellers comedy. Even though it's classified under Comedy and not War Movies, I am featuring it on my War Movies Angel Blessings lens and lensrolling it there. magic dust has been sprinkled :)

    • profile image

      dannystaple 6 years ago

      I loved this film! After reading this, I'll have to watch it again though!

    • mikerbowman profile image

      mikerbowman 6 years ago

      Best. Movie. Ever.

    • LabKittyDesign profile image

      LabKittyDesign 6 years ago

      HE'LL SEE THE BIG BOARD! Heh heh.

    • Peregrina LM profile image

      Peregrina LM 6 years ago

      It's a great movie--and your review is really interesting!

    • drifter0658 lm profile image

      drifter0658 lm 6 years ago

      I saw this lens in your forum sig and stopped everything I was doing to come and read this. It is well worth the mumbling I'll get from my client....

      Dr. Strangelove has always been right at the top of my favs list; for all the reasons you give. Kubrick was a genius in all of his films, but this was undoubtedly his best. Peter Sellers...well...what a great actor he was. "Being There"....need I say more.

      This was awesome!

    • FanfrelucheHubs profile image

      Nathalie Roy 6 years ago from France (Canadian expat)

      I've seen this movie only once a long time ago. It's time for me to revisit this great classic!

      Great review!

    • profile image

      GrowWear 6 years ago

      Have never seen it; have been wanting to, but just have never gotten around to it. Dark humor is my favorite kind of comedy. :) Thank you for bringing Dr. Strangelove back to the forefront for me. :)

    • TreasuresBrenda profile image

      Treasures By Brenda 6 years ago from Canada

      I've ceased being surprised these days when people write about a movie about which I know nothing. Thanks for the information!

    • profile image

      reasonablerobby 6 years ago

      One of my favourites too. A lens packed with helpful information!! Awesome.

    • SusannaDuffy profile image

      Susanna Duffy 6 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      I love Dr Strangelove too! I still use bits and pieces from that film, for example when I hear myself pushing some point home to my friends in a manner that's getting just too loud, I raise my arm up toward the Nazi salute and push it down with the other arm. It never fails to ease the tension, Blessed by an angel today ( /one-hundred-lens-blessings)

    • RhondaAlbom profile image

      Rhonda Albom 7 years ago from New Zealand

      Believe it or not, I have never seen this movie. Glad I read your review, saw it on get cracking

    • OhMe profile image

      Nancy Tate Hellams 7 years ago from Pendleton, SC

      Super review. Peter Sellers is a hoot.

    • evelynsaenz1 profile image

      Evelyn Saenz 7 years ago from Royalton

      Until I saw the movie I never would have thought that a movie about the end of the world could be funny. Great review.

    • Ramkitten2000 profile image

      Deb Kingsbury 7 years ago from Flagstaff, Arizona

      This is a first-rate movie review lens. I've not seen this film, but now I'm inspired to see if they've got it for rent locally.

    • amy1980 profile image

      amy1980 7 years ago

      This is great! Transported me back to the first time I saw this movie. I often tell my kids there is no fighting in the war room and they just roll their eyes!

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