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Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Starring: Peter Sellers, George C. Scott
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Rated: PG
RunTime: 95 Minutes
Release Date: January 1964
Genres: Comedy, Drama, Classic

*Also starring: Sterling Hayden, Keenan Wynn, Slim Pickens, James Earl Jones, Peter Bull

Review by Jerry Saravia
No Rating Supplied

As cynical satires go, there is nothing as audacious, thought-provoking and scary as "Dr. Strangelove," Stanley Kubrick's superb film on what if the United States and Russia were involved in an accidental nuclear attack, and what if it was the fault of the U.S.

The unstable, loony General Jack D. Ripper (played by the commanding, towering presence of Sterling Hayden) is the C.O. of the Burlepson Air Force Base who has access to the code that can send an SAC (Strategic Air Command) wing on its way to bomb Russia. The general initiates the order to bomb Russia, but the irony is that no immediate war is taking place and Russia has no intention of bombing the U.S., though they have every intention to counterattack with their prodigious Doomsday Machine. This is cause for concern at the Pentagon where the President of the U.S. (Peter Sellers) has a meeting in the War Room trying to pinpoint why this unplanned attack was initiated. The President is joined by an ex-Nazi strategic adviser, Dr. Strangelove (again played brilliantly by Peter Sellers), and the stubborn General Buck Turgidson (George C. Scott), the head of the Joint Chief of Staff, among other officials. General Buck sees no harm in destroying the Commies and risking the lives of innocent people whereas Dr. St rangelove sees a future where mine shafts will have to be utilized to accomodate the population before being affected by radiation ("Ten women to every man.") In the meantime, the President calmly explains to the Soviet Premier that it all boils down to a crazy man who went and "did a funny thing."

"Dr. Strangelove" was released back in 1964 at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis when nuclear missiles were a worlwide threat - a "Fail-Safe" error could possibly happen and there is nothing in the film that exaggerates that possibility. That is why it was so controversial - the satire in it bit everyone loud and clear. In fact, outside of 1983's "Testament," "Dr. Strangelove" is one example of what can go wrong in a nuclear crisis and why all nuclear weapons should be disarmed. We may be at peace with Russia now but back then, the potential for such a disaster was a strong reality (in a sense, it could happen today since nuclear weapons still exist).

The suspense builds and becomes wire-tight in the hands of director Kubrick, who helmed the similarly chaotic, suspenseful "The Killing" - both films dependent on time as a factor in a crisis. Here, it becomes a chaos for the audience since the attack is inevitable unless the code is revealed to recall the several nuclear-armed planes. One of them is led by the B-52 pilot, Major "King" Kong (Slim Pickens), who reminds his crew that medals and promotions will be handed out when all is said and done. Naturally, Kong has his reservations about the deliberate attack, but his questioning it is reserved in favor of his patriotic duty, even if it means to literally ride on one of those bombs himself.

General Ripper, however, has no intention of revealing the code, especially to the British military attache (also played by Sellers), and they have a couple of humorous scenes together where Ripper explains that distilled water and preservation of bodily fluids is essential in the face of the Russians who want to control everything.

"Dr. Strangelove" is an anti-war, anti-nuclear weapons statement done with biting humor and bitter irony, but it is more effective than Sidney Lumet's serious "Fail-Safe" because it takes such a no-holds-barred approach with its satirical pull. As Kubrick said while writing the film with Terry Southern ("Candy"), "the things you laugh at most are really the heart of the paradoxical postures that make a nuclear war possible." From its phallic symbols of B-52 planes to the sexual connotations of Ripper's philosophies and General Buck's relationship with his secretary ("Of course, it is not just physical") to the hysteria and absurdity in the War Room (a memorable set piece), "Dr. Strangelove" pokes fun but remains scarily real - the threat and the inevitable doom of nuclear fallout is felt from first frame to last. Like Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange," you are left unsure whether to laugh or to take it seriously. But when you hear Vera Lynn's "We'll Meet Again," you can feel Kubrick's pathos of a world at war with itself.

Copyright 1996 Jerry Saravia

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