Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

Run-time 97mins, Cert PG.

Director - Stanley Kubrick.

Writers - Stanley Kubrick & Terry Southern.

Starring - Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, Slim Pickens, Sterling Hayden & James Earl Jones.


Premise - General Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden) triggers an attack on Russia by a fleet of nuclear warhead carrying B-52 bombers. Whilst British liaison Captain Lionel Mandrake (Peter Sellers) tries to stop him a meeting is called in the Pentagon's War Room. In the meeting President Merkin Muffley (Peter Sellers) takes council from General Buck Turgidson (George C. Scott) and Dr. Strangelove (Peter Sellers) in an effort to stop the threat. All the while Major TJ King Kong's (Slim Pickens) B-52 is headed for its target with its payload.

I really have no idea why it has taken me so long to get round to seeing this film. Being a huge Kubrick fan, a fan of Sellers and since everybody rates it so highly I should really have seen it by now. I’d caught the odd minute or so on late night television, but never seen the whole thing. So, when I saw the DVD in the bargain bin at work I snapped it up quickly.

And I’m glad I did as Dr. Strangelove (I’m ditching the rest of the title to save my typing finger) is an amazing film. It’s blackly comedic, devilishly satirical, incredibly well acted and masterfully directed. This film only further fuels my argument that Kubrick never made a bad film. Barry Lyndon is the worst that I have seen and I wouldn’t exactly call it bad, just not up to Kubrick’s usual amazing standard.

The main thing I took away from the film is just how funny it is. Considering the films age I half expected not to get the jokes, how wrong I was. Every one still hits their mark. The script is positively dripping with fantastically sharp, quotable dialogue. Everybody knows, “Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here. This is the war room!”. But there is also stuff like, “But, he-he’ll see the big board!”, “Mien Fuhrer. I Kan Vawk!”, “I think you’re a prevert.”, “Gee, I wish we had one of them Doomsday devices” and “sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids.” amongst many, many others.

The film is consistently laugh-out funny, but not only because of the blackly funny gags, the quality of the performances is beyond reproach. From no-one more so than Peter Sellers who has three major roles in the film. Mandrake is the straightest, but is still damn funny, a British officer who tries to get the codes from the obviously mad General Ripper. President Muffley is a hoot, the way he speaks to (the heavily drunk) Russian leader on the phone is classic, treating the whole incident like it’s just a minor dispute.

The most over the top character is the titular Dr. Strangelove, an ex-Nazi who is now a US citizen working in weapons R&D for the government. He is wheelchair bound, dressed in black and his right arm seems to have a mind of its own, randomly jumping up for Nazi salutes. He continuously calls the President, Mien Fuhrer and has what can only be described as a lunatic plan for the saviour of the human race.

George C. Scott is excellent as General Buck Turgidson, the President’s Chief of Staff. He has a bunch of good lines as well, but his facial expressions when he is not speaking are classic. At times he looks exasperated, confused, and angry, it’s all hilarious. He takes a personal call in the War Room and the look on his face when he hangs up the phone had me in stitches. He treats his ‘big board’ like a child would treat a toy that they don’t want to share. It’s all top quality work from Scott.

Sterling Hayden also does good work as the clearly bonkers General Ripper. His main concern seems to be the contamination of his bodily fluids. I also really enjoyed Slim Pickens as King Kong (a role originally for Sellers, but given to Pickens when he couldn’t master the accent and broke his leg), a Deep South patriot who will deliver his payload at any cost. It’s amusing to read that Kubrick never told Pickens that the film was a comedy, so Pickens played it straight! I’d hate to see him playing it for laughs!

The film has a deep seam of satire running through it. Targets include the very notion of nuclear deterrent and Cold War paranoia. Given that the Cold War has been over some time now you may think that these jabs will not resonate today, but if you are old enough to remember these times then you will appreciate what is trying to be said. Hell, I’m sure you could apply some of the themes to the current political climate.

Kubrick’s direction is masterful, the film essentially only has three sets, but Kubrick makes us believe we are watching a film with a much broader canvas. The War Room is a classic set and one that has been lampooned in many a film and TV show. The Black and White photography adds depth to the film that many colour films struggle to find. I only wish that the film had a 5.1 soundtrack, the mono mix on the DVD felt a little flat, but it served its purpose.

If I had any real complaint it would be over the ending. Whilst I loved the penultimate scene discussing life after the fallout, I felt the film should have ended straight after Slim Pickens falling on the bomb, and then cut to the explosion monologue. It’s just a small niggling point to be sure, but a noticeable one all the same.

Dr. Strangelove is the very definition of a classic film. It has lasted nearly 40 years and still feels fresh. Quality acting, writing and direction mean that I look forward to re-watching this film many, many times in the future. A highly recommended movie, that I hope younger people will discover over the years and enjoy.



If you enjoyed Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb then check out – Bob Roberts, Fail-Safe, Catch-22.

Poster Quote – Stop worrying and love this film. Yee-haw!


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