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Film Review: ‘Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb’

With:
Peter Sellers George C. Scott Sterling Hayden Keenan Wynn Slim Pickens James Earl Jones

Producer-director Stanley Kubrick has with skill and daring fashioned a sharply satirical comedy on a subject as sensitive as Top Security–a nuclear holocaust–in the Columbia Picture release, “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.” This is an ideal vehicle for exploitation, and should do very well at the b.o.

Nothing would seen to be farther apart than nuclear war and comedy, yet Kubrick’s caper eloquently tackles a “Fail-Safe” subject with a light touch. While there are times when it hurts to laugh because somehow there is a feeling that the mad events in “Strangelove” could happen, it emerges as a most unusual combination of comedy and suspense.

Screenplay by Kubrick, Peter George and Terry Southern, based on the book, “Red Alert,” by Peter George, is imaginative and contains many an offbeat touch. Some of the characters have a broad brush in their depiction, but this is the very nature of satire. Kubrick also directed the film by his own production company, and successfully captured the incongruous elements of “Strangelove” with a deft, professional touch.

It all begins when a Strategic Air Command general, a right-winger whose similarities to persons still living is more than passing, who on his own initiative orders bomb-carrying planes under his command to attack Russia. He immediately seals in the base, so that there is no way for the President or anyone else to contact him, nor to countermand his orders, since he has given them in a top-secret code only he knows. From here on it’s a hectic, exciting series of events, alternating between the General who has started it all, the planes en route to the USSR, and the Pentagon’s war room, where the Chief Executive is trying his best to head off the nuclear war.

Again it would seem no setting for comedy or satire, but the writers have accomplished this with biting, piercing dialogue and thorough characterizations. The climax is one with a grim post-script, as the Pentagon begins worrying about the mine-shaft gap in the post-nuclear era, while the Red envoy snakes some pictures of the War room. The moral is obvious.

Peter Sellers is excellent, essaying a trio of roles – a British R.A.F. captain assigned to the U.S. base where it all begins, the President and the title character, Dr. Strangelove, a German scientist aiding the U.S. whose Nazi mannerisms overcome him.

George C. Scott as the fiery Pentagon general who seizes on the crisis as a means to argue for total annihilation of Russia offers a top performance, one of the best in the film. Odd as it may seem in this backdrop, he displays a fine comedy touch. Sterling Hayden is grimly realistic as the General who takes it on his own to send our nuclear bomb-carrying planes to attack Russia. He is a man who blames the Communists for fluoridation of water, and just about everything else. As the cigar-chomping General, Hayden emerges a tragi-comic hero.

There are uniformly fine supporting performances from Slim Pickens, Keenan Wynn, Peter Bull, James Earl Jones, Shane Rimmer, Paul Tamarin and Tracy Reed, latter the only femme in the cast, very good in a bit role, as the Pentagon General’s mistress.

Production is handsomely mounted, with fine work by art director Peter Murton; Wally Veevers, special effects; Laurie Johnson’s music, and excellent photography by Gilbert Taylor.

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Film Review: 'Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb'

UK

Production: Columbia/Hawk. Director Stanley Kubrick; Producer Stanley Kubrick; Screenplay Stanley Kubrick, Terry Southern, Peter George; Camera Gilbert Taylor; Editor Anthony Harvey; Music Laurie Johnson; Art Director Ken Adam. Reviewed at Directors Guild Theatre, Jan. 12, '64.

Crew: (B&W) Available on VHS, DVD. Original review text from 1964. Running time: 102 MIN.

With: Peter Sellers George C. Scott Sterling Hayden Keenan Wynn Slim Pickens James Earl Jones

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