Dr Strangelove

George C Scott as Buck Turgidson

Dr Strangelove is an excellent black comedy which sends up cold war paranoia and the possibility of a nuclear holocaust as two war-hungry and psychotic US generals set about triggering an all out war. The film was released in 1964 and is based on a novel by Peter George. Kubrick co-wrote the screenplay and he produces and directs the feature with the hilarious Peter Sellars starring in three roles. This is a quality production and a clever piece of satire which still seems relevant today.

The trouble begins with a nefarious plan hatched by Joint Chief of Staff Buck Turgidson (George C Scott), US Air Force Commander Jack D Ripper (Sterling Hayden) and the Head of Weapons Research an insane, wheelchair bound, ex-Nazi Dr Strangelove (Peter Sellars). An attack is ordered supposedly as part of a training exercise but once launched it cannot be recalled. The President (Peter Sellars) tries desperately to avert disaster by phoning the Russian Premier from the Pentagon while the RAF's Captain Mandrake (Peter Sellars) attempts to convince the lunatic Commander Ripper to turn over the codes he needs to stop the attack.

Peter Sellers as Dr. Strangelove

The action moves along at a good pace and is driven by an excellent script and some fantastic acting performances. The tension of the situation is built up well as the President is unable to effectively deal with the threat and discovers that the Russians have a doomsday device which will be automatically triggered by any successful attack. This is a nice dig at the stupidity of military procedures and supposed failsafes.

Kubrick's direction is terrific as he brings the various caricatures to life. We get a sense of the sweaty atmosphere of the war room and the insanity of the generals with some great close-up angles. The animated insanity of Turgidson is made all the more obvious as he is surrounded by serious, motionless men. The action is in black and white and the scenes in the war room particularly are beautifully shot. The image of the pilot plummeting to earth astride a huge nuclear bomb like it was a bucking bronco is especially unforgettable.

Pilot rides a nuke

Each of the characters is brilliantly portrayed, although caricatured they have a ring of truth about them and the acting is good enough not to be considered hammy (maybe with the exception of Dr Strangelove himself). There are lots of nice touches and scenes particularly between the RAF Captain and the mad Commander Ripper who harbours a major delusion about the Communist conspiracy and the fluoridation of water. Sellars makes the film with his portrayal of three very different characters; my favourite is the RAF Captain, a moustache wearing stiff upper lip type but quick to spot the danger and the closest to stopping the threat. George C Scott is also very good as Turgidson and frighteningly convincing.

This film was made fairly early on in the cold war and provides a compelling and intelligent criticism of the military build up and the potential disasters which our elected leaders and unelected army might visit upon us. The insanity of the situation is made perfectly clear and it provides the basis for most of the humour. The pact between misguided politicians and fanatical military leaders still exists today and still provides a huge threat to all of our safety.

This is a definite classic and well worth watching. A winning combination of acting talent, superb direction and a fantastic script produces a funny and frightening film which can´t fail to entertain.


Reviewed by Simon Hill

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