Stanley Kubrick was something of a Jack of all trades in the cinema world. Every one of his films now warrants the title ‘golden oldie’, but it is Dr. Strangelove that really stands out. This Cold War comedy manages to be both deeply disturbing and absolutely hilarious at once.
The plot surrounds a manic American general who sets in motion a nuclear holocaust as mutually assured destruction appears to be realised. This is not the easiest concept to make a comedy out of, especially in 1964, the height of the Cold War and just two years after the Cuban Missile Crisis. Yet, Kubrick and the established cast manage to pull of this feat through overwhelming satirical performances. Peter Sellers multi-roles as the painfully British RAF captain who flounders his way through conversations with a deranged general, an effeminate and ineffectual President Merkin Muffley, and the eponymous Dr. Strangelove, a repressed wheelchair bound Nazi. George C. Scott perfectly portrays the overzealous commie-hating General Buck and James Earl Jones puts in an early performance as Lt. Lothar Zogg, a pilot on one of the planes sent to bomb Moscow.
Dr. Strangelove features some of the most iconic scenes in cinema, as does almost any Kubrick film.
Dr. Strangelove features some of the most iconic scenes in cinema, as does almost any Kubrick film. Strangelove’s personal battle with his own fascist limb provides a lot of scope for interpretation. The shot of Slim Pickens riding a nuclear bomb like he’s at a small town rodeo is far less ambiguous and has become one of the most pervasive images of the futility of nuclear war. The film has become so iconic that changes were made in government policy after its release to ensure that in this case, life would not imitate art. We may in fact owe the lack of any nuclear holocaust over the last 55 years to the existence of this film.
Despite being a work of satire, the film is a convincing cautionary tale.
Through all of the drama of impending doom, witty dialogue and brilliant set pieces abound. Politicians and generals bicker ceaselessly in the war room as American bombers edge ever closer to the Russians, and Captain Mandrake negotiates with a telephone operator as he seeks an audience with the President. Finally, generals suggest retreating down deep mineshafts to survive the fallout but even at this late hour, they worry about another post-apocalyptic arms race. Despite being a work of satire, the film is a convincing cautionary tale.