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

Movie Information

Classic Cinema From Around the World will present Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb at 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 20, at Courtyard Gallery at their new location 109 Roberts St. in the Phil Mechanic Building, River Arts District, one floor down. Info: 273-3332.
Score:

Genre: Cold War Satire
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Starring: Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden, Keenan Wynn, Slim Pickens
Rated: NR

Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) was the perfect film for its time. The subtitle says it all and represents Kubrick’s own idea that Peter George’s straight source novel Red Alert was too horrific to be adapted as anything but a comedy—a pitch black comedy about nothing less than the futility of the Cold War and the end of us all, but a comedy all the same. After years of fearing—almost waiting for—nuclear annihilation, the only way to deal with it was to send it up. Whistling past the graveyard? Well, yes, but it may have been the only alternative to insanity.

So much has been written—some of it even by me—on Dr. Strangelove that there’s probably not a great deal to add at this late date. However, I noticed something while watching it again this weekend that I think might be worth paying attention to. There’s a tendency to place the film somewhat outside of Kubrick’s body of work. It’s shorter than any of Kubrick’s other films of this era—considerably so. Combined with the fact that it’s a comedy (people don’t tend to put the name Kubrick together with “barrel of laughs”), it’s always been the Kubrick picture for people who don’t like Kubrick, for people who find him ponderous, cold and slow.

But looked at in terms of Kubrick’s oeuvre, it’s not all that different. In fact, it seems to me to be very much of a piece with his other films. Yes, it’s shorter, but it isn’t exactly what you’d call action-packed. It never seems to be in a hurry. The style is just as formal and mannered as the other movies. The sense of humor is occasionally broader and more obvious, but it’s the same basic sarcastic, observational tone that merely records the absurdity without engaging it per se.

It may be said to differ from other Kubrick films in that it clearly indulges its star—there are moments where Sellers is being purely Sellers and bending lines to his persona—but it’s hardly unique. Saying that Kubrick doesn’t indulge Jack Nicholson in The Shining (1980) or Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange (1971) would be absurd. Dr. Strangelove connects to those films and to those performances in its own way. And anyone who can look at this film and not think that Patrick Magee was told to play Mr. Alexander in A Clockwork Orange in the manner that Peter Bull plays the Russian ambassador here is, I believe, way off course.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

16 thoughts on “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

  1. Barry Summers

    I always thought that Strangelove was a parody of Fail-Safe, the serious film with the same story starring Henry Fonda and Walter Matthau.

    But I’ve just read that they were produced at the same time, at the same studio (Columbia), and that if Kubrick hadn’t insisted, Fail-Safe would’ve been released first.

    I saw these two films together in a double-feature at a great theater in St. Louis, many years ago. They loved to do things like that – showing Casablanca and Play It Again Sam together, for example…

  2. kjh.childers

    Ken -

    This is without a doubt one of best films ever produced.
    The cast, the performances of Mr. Sellers, in addition to fluoridating water … and the ultimate yahoo of the finale … make this one of my top favorites.

    And, obviously … the great line: Perhaps it might be better, Mr. President, if you were more concerned with the American People than with your image in the history books.

  3. Erik Harrison

    Really, Strangelove seems of a piece with Lolita and The Killing, and to a lesser extent Paths of Glory. I’m quite fond of all of Kubrick’s work, with the exception of Eyes Wide Shut, but there is something about those pre 2001 works where he’s still bound to make films that function and function well as entertainments. Strangelove is probably the most successful of these, a movie rich in ideas that is just, well, fun to watch.

  4. Bill Thomas

    I’m pleased to see you’ve softened your previous position somewhat and awarded Dr. Strangelove 5 stars. Spot on, Ken!

  5. Ken Hanke

    I’m pleased to see you’ve softened your previous position somewhat and awarded Dr. Strangelove 5 stars.

    That’s only an increase of half a star.

  6. Barry Summers

    That’s only an increase of half a star.

    Yeah, if he had decided it was really good, he would’ve bumped it up 3/4.

  7. Ken Hanke

    Damn right. I’d have sat at the paper and drawn that extra 1/4 star in every copy with a pen.

    Now, if anyone can explain why this whole thread of comments is italicized, I’d be curious to know.

  8. JWTJr

    “What? Was it time for my annual bottle of Guinness and I missed it?”

    Seeing the whole page as italicized makes it look like maybe there’s more going on than one bottle of Guinness per year.

    Movie deserves 5 1/4 stars.

  9. Barry Summers

    Damn right. I’d have sat at the paper and drawn that extra 1/4 star in every copy with a pen.

    Now, if anyone can explain why this whole thread of comments is italicized, I’d be curious to know.

    Maybe it was doing that hard fractional ciphering in your head that put your eyeballs on the tilt. Use the abacus, Ken. That’s what it’s there for.

  10. Daniel Withrow

    (Someone missed an < /i > after the last time “Dr. Strangelove” appears in the review. Should be easy to fix!

    I’ve only seen four or so Kubrick films, but this one is absolutely my favorite: its almost unrelenting deadpan gets funnier with every viewing.

  11. Barry Summers

    What italics?

    See the magic that a good nights/afternoons sleep can do? Right as rain until the next “annual” bottle of Guinness…

    …its almost unrelenting deadpan gets funnier with every viewing.

    I agree – it’s dark to the point of Guinness black in some places. Near the end, when Dr. Strangelove’s Nazi hand is choking him & running his wheelchair into people, stealing his sliderule, etc., it’s genuinely pathetic. I find myself feeling sorry for him & cheering when he stands up to scream “Mein Fuhrer! I can walk!!”

  12. T100C-1970

    Hanke is, of course, correct on the connection to “Red Alert”. I had read Red Alert before I saw Strangelove… but at the time I saw Strangelove I was not aware of the connection until the movie started. Having read the book and then watching the movie provided an eye-opening perspective on Kubrick’s artistry because in everything except perspective the movie followed the plot line of the book pretty faithfully– (Now was that recall code POE or OEP or EOP??? )

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