Saturday, October 4, 2014
CANON OF FILM: "DR. STRANGELOVE: OR HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB"
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Screenplay: Stanley Kubrick, Terry Southern & Terry George based on the novel Red Alert aka Two Hours Until Doom by Terry George)
Look up “satire” in the dictionary and I wouldn’t be surprised if you saw a picture of Peter Sellers as the title character rolling from his wheelchair in the infamous war room from Stanley Kubrick’s great film, “Dr. Strangelove…”. (Or better yet, the shot of him getting up from the wheelchair) We do however, need a brief history lesson before going any further. During the ‘50s and to some degree lasting all the way up until the 1980s, the U.S. and Russia were in a Cold War, and one of the things they happened to fight over was who could make the bigger weapon of mass destruction. This was also the time of McCarthyism, and the Domino Theory that Communists were eventually going to infiltrate America, and this was two years past the Cuban Missile Crises and apparently do such horrendous things as… Well, if I go on about this too much, I’ll start writing my own comedy film. But, when Gen. Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden, coming out of retirement for the role) talks about his belief that Communists were trying to put fluoride into our drinking water, although this plays for comedy now, this was actually at one point a very popular belief. (I wrote a paper on fluoride once, so I know).
This is why the diluted Gen. Ripper sends over planes with nuclear weapons to bomb Russia. With the renegade on the loose the President (Oscar-nominated Sellers, in one of his three roles) is called to action to figure out what to do, and consults his advisors in the war room. One of the advisors, Gen. Buck Turgidson,(George C. Scott) is exceptionally entertaining as he continually concludes that the best thing to do is for them to do is for the planes to continue on their mission. Meanwhile, up in the plane, they have absolutely no knowledge of what’s going on down below, and are continuing to go forward with the attack piloted by Maj. T.J. Kong. Kong was supposed to be Sellers 4th role in the film, but wasn’t sure about a Texan accent, so Kubrick hired Westerns veteran Slim Pickens to play the part. (I don’t believe the myth that Kubrick didn’t tell Slim that the film was a comedy.)
Kubrick, who I’ve studied more than most directors, was an extreme perfectionist in his work. (Pick any of his films, I can point out all the exactness in the details.) This film however, he cheerily has let some of his actors go at it on their own, and kept a few blunders into the film, including a famous one where George C. Scott fell down unplanned, but stayed in character well enough that is played as funny. The great final scene with Slim Pickens riding a nuclear bomb to the ground is the greatest display of phallic humor ever conceived. It’s weird for Kubrick to have done such a straight comedy, in fact, he originally intended to make a serious film about nuclear annihilation, but inevitably, as the script was being conceived, they just kept laughing and making jokes, and finally they just started putting the jokes in. In fact, with the film opening before Sidney Lumet’s cold war thriller “Fail-Safe”, it actually ruined the effect of that film, which is also a classic, but didn’t catch on with audiences after essentially the parody was released first and was so outstanding, it made “Fail-Safe” seem melodramatic by comparison.
The infamous original ending of the War Room dissipating into a literal pie fight, not withstanding, watching the film now, reveals eerie parallels to some recent modern events, and some major political figures of today can easily be compared to some of the characters in “Dr. Strangelove…” (Tell me you can watch Capt. Turgidson and not think a little bit of Donald Rumsfeld) That said, there’s always been a little bit of absurdity in war, but let’s not debate such a classic farce, and just enjoy the pure humor of it. I believe I may have already exceeded my authority anyway.