“We’re talking about war, not mass-murder”
This was a tough call. On the one hand you have the folks who believe that this is incredibly funny… but then, I know, it is dated. The whole ‘contextual classic’ argument is raised here – whereby it is a classic because of when it was made opposed to the timeless nature of the film. Before I continue, it is the former. This is about the fears and concerns of the sixties … but then again, politics always comes back around again and the idea that a powerful person makes dumb-ass decisions that place the rest of the country at risk is nothing new.
An Unneccessary Fear
In a similar way to the Coens Burn After Reading, I believe that Dr Strangelove uses film to highlight the unneccessary fear that was prevalent in society at the time. The Coen Brothers laughed about the ridiculous nature of surveillance – how if every phone was bugged and every PC tracked, then how on earth could they control anything. The amount of administration to resource such a task – surveillance over every single thing in the world – was simply ridiculous. Hence the comedic nature of the film. Nearly 45 years prior, Stanley Kubrick was making the a film, using comedy, to make the same point.
The whole plot revolves around the rebel General Ripper (Sterling Hayden) – a man who triggers “Plan R”. Plan ‘R’ is a system that bombs Russia using Atomic Bombs. The Joint-Chief of Staff (C. Scott) wants to use the attack as a way of defeating Russian “Commies”. The comedy lies in the lack of control and complete absurdity in what ‘could’ happen. On the one hand, we consider if such an occurence could happen – somebody powerful, going a little nuts, and consequently starting nuclear war and/or desttorying the world. On the other hand, we can assume that there are protocols in place to stop this type of thing from happening. Strangely enough, the German nuclear physicist (Dr Strangelove) has Nazi links so we cannot help but consider how, to some extent, the idea of a ‘perfect race’ seems ridiculous … but unfortunately, there was a time, when these thoughts are what began World War II.
The Style of the 60’s
One thing which is brilliant about this film is the iconic image of the sixties it portrays. The film is shot entirely in black and white (except for A-bomb videos) giving the film a classical pseudo-importance. The comedy of the time is exemplified in casting Peter Sellers – an actor who, additionally in ’63, had starred in iconic 60’s film The Pink Panther opposite David Niven and Robert Wagner. Peter Sellers also manages to play multiple roles in the guise of Mandrake (the employee of General Ripper) the President of the United States and playing Dr Strangelove himself. These three roles – the creator (Strangelove), the decider (POTUS) and the everyday man (Mandrake) – present completely differeing opinions and feelings, with positions that are completely opposite to each other.
Additionally, we have sex-references throughout! The opening credits showing the phalic refuelling of the airplane to begin and then, throughout, the use of terms such as ‘penetration’ constantly remind us of how bombs, war and destruction could be associated with masculine power, dominance and animalistic urges. Even the production-design is by Ken Adams – a designer synomous with the James Bond films having designed the sets for Dr No, Goldfinger, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice and many others.
Incredible Lines and Quotable Dialogue
Why this film will be forever remember is due to the memorable dialogue and the script written by Stanley Kubrick, Peter George and Terry Southern. Stanley Kubrick, we know, has worked on many scripts having gained screenplay credits for many of his films, including Full Metal Jacket, 2001:A Space Odyssey and A Clockwork Orange. Much like A Clockwork Orange, Dr Strangelove was based on the novel Two Hours to Doom – or alternately titled Red Alert – by Peter George, who is credited as co-writing the script. Terry Southern is third in the mix and, amongst other credits, he is also credited for Easy Rider – Dennis Hopper’s profound end-of-an-era film of 1969.
Here are a few lines from the film:
“Well, I’ve been to one world fair, a picnic, and a rodeo, and that’s the stupidest thing I ever heard come over a set of earphones”
“He said war was too important to be left to the generals. When he said that, 50 years ago, he might have been right. But today, war is too important to be left to politicians.”
“That’s right, sir, you are the only person authorized to do so. And although I, uh, hate to judge before all the facts are in, it’s beginning to look like, uh, General Ripper exceeded his authority”
“Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room.”
These are endlessly quotable and insightful – the complete contradictions of the anture of war summarised through a satire on the cold-war simply shows the genius of Kubrick, George and Southern
I think it’s Funny …
Problem is for me is that I didn’t laugh as much as I thought I would. With only one-watch under my belt, I feel that I must take some time to reflect and then rewatch the film to ‘get it’ more. At any rate, the flawless script and the iconic look of the film alone puts this up there with the ‘best’ Kubrick films. In time, I will appreciate it more. It summarises many feelings about the Cold War and the fear that many at the time may have felt – but, above that, it laughs about it and relaxes you into seeing the completely ridiculous nature of some of the assumptions people had at the time.