“Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” was released in 1964 and was co-written & directed by Stanley Kubrick. It stars Peter Sellers in multiple roles, George C. Scott as General Buck Turgidson, and Sterling Hayden as General Jack D. Ripper. The film is a satire comedy about the nuclear arms race and what would happen if the U.S. and Soviet Union engaged in nuclear warfare during the Cold War. In the film, crazed U.S. General Jack D. Ripper organizes a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union behind the back of the President of the United States, causing the U.S. government to scramble to stop the attack before it’s too late. Despite this seemingly dark and depressing premise, Kubrick and his team were able to craft a legitimately funny film which holds up to this day.
Unsurprisingly to film lovers, Kubrick’s direction for this movie is phenomenal. He brought his signature beautiful all in-focus shots and iconic imagery to the film, and also was able to balance so many different themes & tones while still making the film hilarious. For example, sometimes scenes of military battles and comedic exchanges would occur back-to-back, and under most directors, this would feel jarring and unfocused, but Kubrick somehow maintained the same lighthearted tone throughout.
Additionally, under Kubrick’s direction, the actors in “Dr. Strangelove” gave some of the finest comedic performances in cinematic history. George C. Scott gave one of his best performances as Turgidson. He brought a heightened level of intensity and energy to the character and had over-the-top mannerisms which worked perfectly for the film. Meanwhile, Peter Sellers played three characters in the film: President Muffley, Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake, and the title character, Dr. Strangelove. With President Muffley he brought great comedic timing, with Mandrake he brought the perfect straight-man persona, and with Dr. Strangelove he brought a scene-stealing character. Speaking of Dr. Strangelove, it’s important to note that he has very few scenes in the film. The fact that his name is the title of the film is almost a joke in and of itself, though he was still a fun character.
The film cuts back and forth between three sections: the President with Dr. Strangelove & Turgidson in the War Room, General Jack D. Ripper and Mandrake at the Burpelson air force base, and Major Kong & his crew on an air force bomber. All three sections are enjoyable, but the scenes in the War Room are probably the best. They’re hysterical due to the dialogue and the exchanges between all of the great characters. For example, the President goes on calls with an ally in the Soviet Union named Dimitri, who feels lonely and complains that the President never calls him “just to say hello” while the Soviet Union is under threat of a nuclear bomb.
The film is more than just a comedy, however, as it touched on the perpetuation of the Cold War, nationalism, the military-industrial complex, and other political topics. It’s also an excellent example of how to insert political messaging into a film. Kubrick put the narrative in front of the themes instead of behind them and never blatantly targeted any political affiliation, while most modern movies which try to make political statements do the opposite and end up being preachy.
“Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” is a thoroughly entertaining movie which balances its important themes with its own unique style of humor. The movie is extremely rewatchable and it is my favorite Stanley Kubrick film. Plus, it has the best movie trailer of all time: