Dr. Strangelove (1964) — A monument to Kubrick wit

“Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room.”

Justin’s rating: It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine… as in a fine radioactive powder.

Justin’s review: It’s part of the human condition to use laughter as a form of defense when the only other option is a hysterical scream of absolute terror. Like when you wake up and see Kyle hovering over your bed, axe in hand and sunglasses on face, drooling a bit: “Ha ha, Kyle! You certainly scared me, you kooky nut!” Or whenever you watch the evening news and have to provide your own sarcastic commentary track to keep the haunting images at bay.

Now, I’m no friend of Stanley Kubrick — to be honest, I think he’s a hack auteur who’s been worshipped far too much for films that are largely self-indulgent, boring drudgery. That’s my policy of being up front with you. I also have a rash. But hopefully I’m also one who will grudgingly concede credit where it’s due, and Kubrick has done a few things “all right”. The creepy entirety of The Shining, for instance, or the first half of Full Metal Jacket, or how he used incriminating photos in his will to force Steven Spielberg to make A.I.. The final piece of my approval comes in the form of Dr. Strangelove, and after that, the rest of his film collection can burn deep in the pit of hell, where feisty imps shovel smoldering manure on top of them.

Dr. Strangelove is also unique in the fact that it seems to appease both serious film critics and most casual movie watchers. Typically, film classes will pour over and analyze movies that boast rich subtext, complex camera movements and multi-layered themes. This does not translate to “fun”, however, but instead more of a grueling prison term that must be endured so that you can get out of there and let the next generation of students be tormented by the misunderstood genius of some French film director who made a two-hour silent film of a guy staring at a mirror, in black and white. It’s symbolism people!

While film students may enjoy pinning Dr. Strangelove to the dissection table and pulling it apart, we’re free to just revel in the dark humor and great performances. I hadn’t seen this in many years, and having gone back to watch it, I found myself surprised that a movie with basically three sets and dialogue by the pound could be this entertaining.

Deep in the middle of the Cold War, Kubrick took a serious novel about nuclear escalation and somehow twisted it into a black farce that became many people’s way of laughing at something so terrifying. Up in one of many nuclear B-52 bombers, Capt. Kong (Slim Pickens) receives some scary news: the US has been hit in a first strike by commie forces, and they’re ordered to retaliate with atomic bombs in return. This couldn’t be happier news for the crew, who envision all of the promotions as war heroes that they’ll receive by the radioactive ants who are the only survivors back at home.

Unfortunately, the Air Force base that issued this attack order did so from faulty intelligence, but by the time the only British officer on base figures out the mistake, the place is locked up tight, with communication silence, and orders all bombers to do the same. Deep inside the War Room, the President and his cabinet find themselves in a completely ridiculous and frightening scenario; the USA will strike first at Russia, and they have no way of recalling the bombers.

Like Catch-22, Dr. Strangelove spirals from zany situation to lofty heights of insanity that you’d only wish you were witty enough to write this stuff. The bulk of the film’s content and humor takes place in ping-pong conversations between (typically) a straight man who’s horrified as to the situation, and a crazy man in power who sees this as a golden opportunity for US dominance. Never mind the 20 to 200 million casualties.

Much has been made out of the fact that Peter Sellers (the Pink Panther series) played not one, not two, but three separate roles in this movie far before Austin Powers made it fashionable. The most recognizable of the three is the titular Dr. Strangelove, an ex-Nazi mad scientist with an uncontrollable arm who’s working for the American military. Other characters are equally great, such as the stupidly crazy General Turgidson (George C. Scott). Keep your eyes open for James Earl Jones (the voice of CNN, Darth Vader and Mufasa) as one of the bomber crew, too!

Although it’s a bit like desecrating holy ground, I have to be equally fair in pointing out a number of hang-ups about this movie. It is somewhat uneven in pace, crude in set design and special effects (although those were probably intended), and if you’re not in the mood to listen to people talk, you might as well jump out of the nearest convenient window and I mean right now, mister. The biggest turn-off is that if you ever bring this movie up in conversation, you’re going to have to contend with the know-it-all air of a snobby film connoisseur who will seek to impress you with some arcane tidbit of Kubricivity.

Just go ahead and shove them out of the nearest convenient window and I mean right now, mister.

Heather’s rating: So I probably should have jumped out of the nearest convenient window.

Heather’s review: I liked what Dr. Strangelove had to say. I loved the quirkiness of it all, the great quotes, and I totally got the social commentary. I just…the pacing of this movie made me feel like I was being dragged through shards of broken glass.

A friend of mine popped this in the DVD player last night. You know how it is when someone raves madly about a film or TV show, and when you tell them that you’ve never seen it they get these huge eyes and their mouth falls into that “O” shape. Immediately they shuffle through their DVDs or drag you to the nearest video store to fill that imagined void in your pop culture life. So then you’re strapped to your couch like Alex DeLarge in that movie theater (but only in a symbolic sense, of course. That is, unless you have some REALLY interesting friends) and are subjected to your friend’s movie tastes. You feel obligated to sit there for the entire showing, even if you feel as if you’re being dragged through broken glass.

And honestly if it had not been for my excited friend across the living room from me, laughing hysterically every minute or so, I probably would not have finished this movie. Though, in the good Doctor’s defense, I was already exhausted when I tried to watch it. This is NOT the movie to watch if you are already very tired. Maybe drink a few cans of Redbull and one of those energy shots, then you’re guaranteed to make it through the film. If your heart doesn’t explode first. As I mentioned earlier the pacing is odd. Sometimes the rapid-fire dialogue caught my interest, made me laugh, and I could almost imagine re-watching this. But mostly my mind was screaming “GET ON WITH IT!”

When it was all over I hurriedly changed the subject so that my friend wouldn’t ask me how I liked the movie. I was afraid I might strangle him. So instead I hopped off the couch and asked if anyone wanted brownies. He and my husband ran into the kitchen, drooling. Problem averted. Nothing distracts men like home baked goods.

Maybe I’ll give this a try again someday. There were some genuinely hilarious moments (“I DEEPLY respect you as a human being!) and great quotes (“Animals could be bred and SLAUGHTERED!).

Besides I always love it when I watch another source of MST3K riffs.

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