I think it's probably abundantly clear that one of my favourite movies of all time is Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learnt to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. I'd ordered this puppy a while ago and it had just come in today.
I have never seen a movie that has, at the same time, terrified me and amused me as greatly as this one. The movie deals with a General (Jack D. Ripper) who goes insane and launches a nuclear strike on Russia believing that the US, unable to recall the bombers, will have to commit to total thermonuclear war to avoid being wiped out in the inevitable retaliatory strike.
The Americans are then informed of a Doomsday Machine created by the Russians because they couldn't close the missile gap. The Doomsday Machine has the potential to destroy all life on Earth and will detonate if and when any attack on Russia is made.
The race is now to storm General Ripper's base and send the recall codes.
One plane, damaged, is unable to be recalled and is slowly making its way towards its targets in Russia.
The acting in the movie is superb. Peter Sellers tackles three different roles (the U.S. President, Colonel Mandrake and Dr. Strangelove) and does an amazing job of them. There are long segments in the film where Peter Sellers simply improvised; and it is some of the funniest dialogue that I've ever heard.
The part where he has to call the Russian premier, who is drunk at a party, and explain to him exactly why American bombers were heading towards Russian is priceless:
"You know how we've always talked about the possibility of something going wrong with the bomb. The bomb, Dimitri. The hydrogen bomb. Well, now what happened is, one of our base commanders, he had a sort of, well he went a little funny in the head. You know. Just a little... funny. And uh, he went and did a silly thing. Well, I'll tell you what he did; he ordered his planes... to attack your country. Well let me finish, Dimitri. Let me finish, Dimitri. Well, listen, how do you think I feel about it? Can you imagine how I feel about it, Dimitri? Why do you think I'm calling you? Just to say hello? Of course I like to speak to you. Of course I like to say hello. Not now, but any time, Dimitri. I'm just calling up to tell you something terrible has happened. It's a friendly call. Of course it's a friendly call. Listen; if it wasn't friendly... you probably wouldn't have even got it."
His portrayal of Dr. Strangelove is also quite amazing. According to the documentary that came with the DVD the editor of the movie had a hard time cutting and splicing the film because as soon as Peter Sellers would finish his lines the cast would completely crack up.
It isn't hard to imagine; the character Dr. Strangelove has a hard time controlling the right side of his body—how's that for symbolism, kids? —His right hand is constantly "sieg heiling", or choking him or moving his wheelchair around as he delivers some deliciously absurd lines.
His Colonel Mandrake, a British officer on an officer exchange program is also very precise; a performance perfected when Sellers would impersonate officers when he was in World War II.
One of the sharpest pieces of satire occurs when Mandrake, who has the recall codes, is unable to call the President because he doesn't have enough change and has just been arrested by a soldier, "Bat" Guano, who is hesitant to shoot open a Coke machine to get the necessary change because it is "private property."
You know how sometimes actors are given Oscars for second-rate films because the academy felt bad for ignoring a better performance in an earlier film? Well, my father believes, and I agree, that George C. Scott was probably given the Oscar for his role in Patton for being passed over his performance as General Buck Turgidson in Dr. Strangelove.
General Turgidson was one of the Generals summoned to the War Room when all shit broke loose. He plays an ignorant, religious, anti-communist with a voracious sexual appetite.
Slim Pickens plays Major "King" Kong, the pilot of the plane that can't be recalled or shot down. He was chosen because he looks and acts like a cowboy in real life and, in fact, when he first showed up on set people commented that he was already in costume not realizing that he actually dressed like a cowboy all the time.
Sterling Hayden is menacing as General Ripper, the person who has set in motion these deadly events. He reminds me of John Wayne in the way that he plays the part.
I thought it was just a coincidence until my father pointed out that Colonel Mandrake is similar to that of Alec Guinness in The Bridge over the River Kwai.
I then realized that the performances were meant to be reminiscent of these other actors and roles, and that this was part of the satire.
Also, James Earl Jones has his film debut in this movie as one of the crew of Major Kong's plane.
Music adds great atmosphere to the movie. The movie begins with a beautiful piece of instrumental juxtaposed with, on screen, footage of two planes refueling mid-flight as if it were some sort of lovemaking sequence.
The most recognizable song in the movie is When Johnny Comes Marching Home, and old war song that dates back to the American Civil war. However, this song that is probably as much a part of American history as the Civil War was is used to devastatingly sinister ends.
The song (no vocals) plays every time footage of the bombers making their way to Russia is shown; so, as you see the planes flying, you have this relentless melody being played in your head.
There are times when only the drums are heard and times when the melody is hummed with an almost religious fervor. Every time I hear that music and see the planes I always feel a little uneasy.
The movie also ends with another old war song, this time a sentimental ballad that also dates back to one war or another.
The satire in the move is very dark, but also spot on; the U.S. president stating that he will not tolerate fighting in the War Room, the obsession with a tactical display of Russia that is constantly referred to as "the big board," the fact that the Russian ambassador takes photos of "the big board" even after learning that world will probably end and that said photographs are essentially useless; the scene with Major Kong riding a missile as if he were a cowboy, Colonel Mandrake being told that if he messes with the Coke machine he will have to deal with the Coca Cola company, General Rippers paranoid delusions, that trigger nuclear war, being caused by an instance of erectile dysfunction. Woo, longest sentence ever.
The movie isn't merely a comedy; when it's understood that the world might end Dr. Strangelove proposes a plan that will allow mankind to survive. He suggests that a select group of people, the Generals and politicians of course, could inhabit mineshafts deep in the Earth and there form a new society who will be ready to inherit the Earth after the nuclear fallout has dissipated (and they've worked their way back to their previous GNP).
To do this, he says, there will have to be a ratio of 10 women to every man, all chosen because of their fertility and their general attractiveness.
He states that, for men only, the monogamous relationship will have to cease to exist; really, what he's suggesting is a return to that patriarchal society where men are MEN and women simply baby makers.
This leads to the two most sobering lines in the movie: General Turgidson, more and more exited by the world that Strangelove is proposing and still ever paranoid about the "commies" starts raving about how they must not allow a mine shaft gap.
Earlier in the movie the main concern was not allowing the Russians to have a missile gap, now it's the end of the world and they're still playing those nonsense games—they haven't learnt a thing.
Straight after this Dr. Strangelove, also excited about the world he is proposing, gets to his feet, and realizing that he has just stood, calls out "Mein Fuhrer, I can walk!" Fascism? Fascism.
The documentary on the making of Dr. Strangelove is almost as funny as the movie itself. Originally, Peter Sellers was slated to play the role of Major "King" Kong, the pilot of the only plane that couldn't be recalled.
Apparently, Sellers was having a massive row with Kubrick over how a scene should be filmed or something when he fell, 15 feet, out of the prop cockpit and broke his leg, rendering him unable to play the role. This led to Kubrick seeking out Slim Pickens for the role instead.
The documentary, talking about how much Dr. Strangelove had become a part of popular culture, told of when Ronald Reagan, soon after being inaugurated, asked a member of the White House staff to show him where the War Room was. On being informed that the White House didn't actually have a War Room, he said stated dejectedly that he'd seen one in Dr. Strangelove. At least he didn't choke on a pretzel.
Another interesting fact was that the movie was due to be released on the day that Kennedy died. There's a bit where Major Kong opens his survival kit and on finding rations, drugs, prophylactics, etc, states (paraphrasing) that "a fella could a have a good time in Vegas with all of this."
Apparently, the original take had Major Kong saying that "a fella could a have a good time in Dallas with all of this," and that this was later dubbed over.
I'd never noticed earlier but on being aware of it it's clear to see that Major Kong says one thing and mouths another.
Another strange extra on the DVD is the series of "split screen" press interviews. Apparently, it was common for a studio to film a mock interview where a person answered some scripted questions. Afterwards, an interviewer would be filmed asking the scripted questions. The two bits of footage were spliced together thereby giving the impression that a proper interview had taken place. Weird, huh?
I hope that what I have written will be of some assistance.
Incidentally, much love and much respect to my good friend Arfy who, for no reason, bought me a copy St. Anger by Metallica AND, knowing that I wouldn't like it, gave me his blessing to exchange it for any another CD. Thank you.
Published on Saturday, 14 June 2003
I hope that what I have written will be of some assistance.