At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

MPAA Rating: PG/ Genre: Dark Comedy/ Stars: Peter Sellers, Peter Sellers, Peter Sellers (no that is not a typo), George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden, Keenan Wynn, Slim Pickens, Peter Bull, James Earl Jones, Tracy Reed, Shane Rimmer/ Runtime: 94 minutes

I feel it must be said that every single time here lately I have had the incredible opportunity to rewatch a movie that is a part of master filmmaker Stanley Kubrick’s filmography I often find myself puzzling over just what exactly would this iconic helmer think of the 21st century had he gotten the chance to live to be part of it. Indeed would he be concerned at seeing that man and technology are close to having the same bond as Bowman and Hal in 2001: A Space Odyssey? Would modern combat and the brutal depictions of it remind him of how he showcased what war can do to a man on a psychological level in Full Metal Jacket? Would it unnerve him to witness as society tries to medically eradicate every single potential flaw from people as if they were strapped in a chair next to Alex from Clockwork Orange? Finally, and bringing us to the film of Kubrick’s that I have the pleasure of reviewing today, would the escalating menace of complete and total destruction courtesy of nuclear weaponry still rub this quite visionary helmer as both comically inevitable and absurdly deranged as it did when he made the choice to make his film Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, or just Dr. Strangelove for short, into a pitch-black and quite biting satire of a comedy? Indeed we may never know for sure, but what we do know is that even though Dr. Strangelove is most assuredly a cinematic landmark, it is also so much more. It is also a disturbing work of art, a set of thinly-disguised prophecies, a sharp with its wit comedy, a nerve-shredding exercise in suspense, and a chance to test just how absurd a film can go among other noteworthy descriptors. Thus if you have never decided to check out one of the most iconic films from one of the most iconic helmers in the history of the business and backed by a truly dynamic cast then please do so. Not only because it’s a truly iconic entry in the comedy genre, but because it’s a truly legendary film period.

The plot is as follows: Loosely in the most extreme manner possibly adapted from a British author by the name of Peter George’s pitch-black thriller novel from 1958 known as Red Alert, coincidentally the same source material that we got the nihilist also released in 1964 thriller Fail-Safe from, Dr. Strangelove is a truly relentless, topsy-turvy rampage through a potentially horrific geopolitical conflict that quickly sees the US and Russia head to the edge of mutually-guaranteed annihilation. Our story starts as we quickly witness a cracked Brigadier General by the name of General Jack D. Ripper (think about it long and hard) command his base’s B-52 squadron to attack Russia, and upon doing so, promptly barricades himself in his office with his second-in-command, one Captain Lionel Mandrake (Peter Sellers), and vehemently refuses to recall the bombers and defuse the situation. Meanwhile we see that at the lovely government building known as the Pentagon, a gruff and very gung-ho Air Force General by the name of Buck Turgidson is soon briefing the President (Sellers again) on just what is going on whilst also persisting that perhaps the best way to deal with this rogue group of bombers is to support their advance on Russia. Instead of listening to his pro-America general however, we soon see the President call and caution the Soviet Premier of the impending crisis, and in a sign of good faith, permits the Russian Ambassador Alexi de Sadesky to be a part of their war room campfire discussions. However, when the Ambassador divulges the existence of a top-secret counter-measure that was recently created in Russia, one that which incidentally is designed to do no more and no less than slaughter every living thing on Earth in the event of an attack of a nuclear nature, tensions run wild, Turgidson goes off the deep end, and the President must turn to an unlikely advisor in the form of a former-Nazi strategist named Dr. Strangelove (Sellers yet again) to help the leaders of both countries struggle to find a solution to this issue before it is too little, too late…

Now it should be noted right off the bat that Kubrick manages to brilliantly utilize such concepts as irony, absurd comedy, and that ol’ devil political satire way more potently than either of the superpowers at the heart of this tale of madness could ever hope to utilize the various weapons at their disposal. Indeed not only is every single character in this so blind to just how grim things are, and so self-centered in their thoughts and reactions that the only pulled punch the film possess is in reality more of an all-aware wink towards you, the viewer that everything you are about to see unfold before your very eyes is more realistic than any person would like to concede. It is also worth pointing out that no matter how simplistic the gag being delivered is, Kubrick is able to utilize it to hurl a batch of knives with clear and intense precision at a variety of targets, and as a result, is able to draw more blood from one scene in this film than a lot of other highly regarded satires are able to in their entire runtimes. Indeed I challenge you: please identify for me another film that deals with the downright futile nature of a large-scale face-off between a pair of countries, the off-kilter mindsets of those who have the power to push the proverbial buttons, and the out-of-nowhere hilarity that could come about as those in power try to conjure up some form or fashion of order amidst all this anarchy? Oh and while you are at it also please name for me both another movie helmer who could give an audience a frighteningly realistic military perspective being delivered from a convulsing, wheelchair-ridden former Nazi as well as another iconic film that is all at once unnerving, amusing, revealing, bold, and as fulfilling as this one. Having difficulties doing so? That’s ok… did I.

Of course, it should come as no surprise to learn that Kubrick’s arresting way of bringing to life this riveting tale of A Tale of 2 Superpowers is not the only thing that has helped to make this film so memorable and engaging. Indeed Kubrick manages to turn his vision over to a group of truly talented performers who repay the trust this master film helmer has put in them and provide just the right performances to fit in this look at a world gone stark raving mad. Indeed this starts with the powerhouse trilogy of performances put forth by Peter Sellers which are both truly magical and absolutely phenomenal in equal measure since his President is woefully incompetent, his RAF captain is horrifically confused, and his crazed German mad doctor is delightfully unnerving. Yet regardless of who he is portraying at any given time, Sellers still manages to be in full control of both his various mannerisms as well as expressions and therefore chooses to depend on much more under-the-radar, if you’ll pardon the pun, cues just as much as his typical highly over exaggerated physical comedic chops in order to make each of his performances their own person. Indeed it is almost as if Sellers has simply vanished without a trace, and in his place we are given a trilogy of screwed, power-craving maniacs on the cusp of annihilation. Also dynamic in this is none other than George C. Scott since not only does he, without realizing it, establish the foundation for his at the time future performance as General Patton, but he manages to match both Sellers’ work ethic and reckless abandon quite admirably. Indeed, as General Turgidson, Scott presents us with a suspicious of everyone and severely overworked buffoon who simply cannot bring himself to break away from his own narrow-minded manner. Not only that, but he manages to literally jump, trip, rant, and roll his way across the war room in the manner of an addict who is in the midst of one crazy high. Indeed separately, it is safe to say that Sellers and Scott are purely dynamic, but together they are a true powerhouse of acting through and through. Yet equally as remarkable are the smaller yet still just as loony performances provided in this film from Slim Pickens, Sterling Hayden, Peter Bull, and James Earl Jones. Indeed every single person in this cast is able right from the start to pinpoint with startling accuracy the tone that Kubrick is aiming for and then delivers a performance that fits that tone to a t. However, even when taking into account the absolutely incredible group of performances from this truly talented group of thespians, it is both how astonishingly relevant and timely even in the more “knowledgeable” days of the 21st century that has really ensured that Dr. Strangelove will always be a timeless work of art. Indeed I feel anyone studying political science or just wanting to enter political office in general would be doing themselves a huge favor by analyzing just what Kubrick is trying to convey to us and then hang on to them forever.

All in all there is only three, an unholy trinity if you will, of possible excuses that exist in the entire universe for you choosing to look past Dr. Strangelove whenever it is on and choose to watch something else: bullheaded ignorance, lack of taste in what constitutes as a genuine iconic piece of filmmaking, or the Russians have managed to absorb all of your major bodily fluids (those of you who have seen the film will surely know what I am talking about here). Suffice it to say however that if you fall into the first group of people that I mentioned, I would just like to assure you that this satirical pitch-black dark comedy from one of the master filmmakers of the 20th century is wittier, edgier, and more comical than the vast majority of so-called “comedies” that are pushed out into the world today.  If you are in the second group of people that I mentioned well consider this an incredible opportunity for you to get a little bit more educated on what iconic cinema truly can and often does look like. However, if you are a member of the unfortunate last group that I had the heart to mention….well I guess there are just some of us who there is no hope for in this world after all, but don’t let that stop you from checking this true masterpiece of cinema out. Now if you’ll excuse me I have to go break-up a fight in the War Room…..On a scale of 1-5 I give Dr. Strangelove a solid 5 out of 5.