Having heard both fellow film nerds and famous movie directors praise and/or impersonate moments from Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 classic Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb, I decided to extend my voyage into Stanley Kubrick’s filmography even further, with very little expectations in hand. Perhaps this worked in my favour, as I immediately found myself in awe of the technical virtuosity, brilliant performances and sly sense of humour present in this part black-comedy, part satire, part war film of a masterpiece.
Anyone who has heard of Dr. Strangelove knows that it features the greatest performance (or in this case, performances) from comic genius Peter Sellers, who should have won the 1965 Oscar for his work. Sellers plays not one, but three characters, all completely different from each other in appearance, voice, motives, etc, never failing to breathe life into every role. His usage of improvisation not only compliments Kubrick’s orchestral style of direction, but provides us with one of the best performances of all time. While incomparable to Sellers, George C. Scott is great as Gen. Buck Turgidson, and James Earl Jones, who is best known as the voice of Darth Vader, manages to sneak in a small role as Lt. Lothar Zogg. Although Sterling Hayden is believable in his role as Gen. Ripper, it feels like a direct replica of his performance in The Godfather, except in a general’s clothes.
The story of Dr. Strangelove, penned by Kubrick, Terry Southern and Peter George, is expertly paced within the 95 minutes, and serves as a great lesson on the military and politics of the Cold War. Like other great films set during a particular conflict in modern history, such as Casablanca and Apocalypse Now, Dr. Strangelove serves as a great contemporary piece, and is one you should watch with subtitles on, so you can follow the dialogue and learn about the terminology and technology used in this period. In addition to this, there is an endless array of iconic shots, scenes, and lines, such as “Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This a war room!” and “Mein Fuhrer! I can walk!”.
Dr. Strangelove is not your typical comedy that is littered with punchlines; rather, it is a clever satire of the pompous nature of the military, the messiness of politics and the nervousness surrounding nuclear annihilation, with a few jokes that are subtle, clever and funny. The hilarity is bolstered by the absurdly comical names of the characters and locations, such as Col. Bat Guano, Maj. King Kong, Gen. Jack D. Ripper, the Bland Corporation and the Burpelson Air Force Base. By tackling one of the most difficult and subjective genres in all of film (black comedy), Kubrick proves himself to be adept in every genre. If you look at his body of work prior to Dr. Strangelove, he had already tackled the war, thriller, drama, epic and romance genres, with many more to come afterwards.
Although he does receive assistance from Star Wars cinematographer Gilbert Taylor, Kubrick’s background in photography serves him well in the film, as all the shots in the film are flawlessly lit and framed, and the aerial shots of planes are executed to perfection. His tandem passion for chess explains his insane attention to detail to the terminology, production design, psychology, costumes and vehicles present in the film. With the help of James Bond designer Ken Adam, the main setting of the war room is expertly constructed like a poker table to cheekily suggest that the world’s fate is in the hands of generals and politicians who are bickering with each other. This is another testament to Dr. Strangelove’s reputation as a timeless movie that still holds up to this day, whether you are an expert on the Cold War or not.
Rating - ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆