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

Movie Information

Score:

Genre: Black Comedy Drama
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Starring: Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden, Keenan Wynn, Slim Pickens
Rated: NR

As a child of the Cold War era — you know, one of those kids who actually went through all the “duck and cover” and “don’t look at the blast” training exercises and got to tour a fall-out shelter on a school field trip at the age of 7 or 8 — I’ve only recently been able to find Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove (1964) funny. It’s been described as a nightmare comedy, and it’s certainly nightmarish, but it took about 40 years of distance to make it much of a comedy for me. But it is one — and an amazingly subversive one that resonates over the years, even while some of the particulars have changed. (In 1964, it was practically a given that many of our top scientists — and Russia’s top scientists — were not only German, but quite possibly ex-Nazis, making the title character with his wayward sieg-heiling arm a logical comedic extension of reality.)

The film presents a scenario (with a disclaimer that it couldn’t happen, which no one quite believed when it came out) in which a nut-case general (Sterling Hayden) starts World War III, and makes it impossible for the U.S. to call it off, resulting in a kind of comedy of errors. The president (Peter Sellers in one of his three roles) tries to palm off the impending attack to the Soviet Premier as a regrettable faux pas — despite the fact that retribution for a nuclear strike is the only possible response from the Russians. What makes the film so compelling — beyond the comedic performances, the canny symbolism equating war with sex, and the rich black-and-white photography — is that it’s unafraid to take its scenario right on into the abyss. It’s as startling today as it was then. Catch it now before it becomes too relevant to be funny again.

– reviewed by Ken Hanke

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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."

2 thoughts on “Dr. Strangelove or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Bomb

  1. misterbill

    I’m glad you finally came around to being able to laugh at Dr. Strangelove. Sorry you wasted 40 years “ducking and covering.” I come from the same generation and I managed to repress all my terror, while at the same time being totally convinced that we were all gonna die! I think the lyrics to an old Jesse Winchester song, “Do It,” helped me over the doomsday hump (e.g., “if we’re skating on thin ice, then we might as well dance…”). I’ve enjoyed your insightful reviews, and and grateful for all the horrible films out there, if only because I get to read your entertaining comments about them.

  2. Ken Hanke

    I’ve enjoyed your insightful reviews, and and grateful for all the horrible films out there, if only because I get to read your entertaining comments about them.

    Thank you. And I’ve no illusions about the fact that a lot of people appreciate the exisence of the horrible films for that reason — the number is in fact probably larger than those who read me for my insightfulness. At least if I can make a less than delicious experience for me entertaining for someone else, some good has come from it.

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