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Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb (1964)

Reviewed by Tom Ender

Among the many film masterpieces made by Stanley Kubrick, this film continues to be a major triumph. That it is still so relevant says a great deal about the world in which we live. Dr. Strangelove was released in 1963 closely following one of the hottest periods of the Cold War. It is a movie about nuclear war, a shadow that still haunts the world today. The direction by Kubrick is brilliant as are the portrayals by a truly great cast. Peter Sellers plays multiple parts in this film and is outstanding in each.

The opening credits run over a scene of a B-52 bomber being refueled in flight in a somewhat suggestive fashion. The story opens with RAF Group Captain Mandrake (Peter Sellers), an “exchange officer,” receiving orders from Gen Jack Ripper (Sterling Hayden) the commanding officer of Burpelson Air Force Base to send their bomber wing instructions to execute “Plan R” - a nuclear attack plan.

The scene switches to a B-52 piloted by Major Kong (Slim Pickens) and his crew, which includes James Earl Jones in his first movie role. As they receive the instruction to execute “Plan R” they are naturally hesitant and double check their work as well as confirm the instructions from the base before accepting the veracity of the situation. However, they decide that the orders are genuine and as the background music plays “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” they set out to fulfill them by going “toe to toe with the Russkis,” as Maj. Kong puts it.

The scene shifts again to an apartment near the Pentagon, where Gen. “Buck” Turgidson (George C. Scott) and his secretary are “working” very late. “Buck” receives a phone call, taken by his secretary while he is “occupied.” The caller conveys the news of Gen. Ripper’s giving the “go code” to his bomber wing for execution of “Plan R.” Although Turgidson is aware of the meaning of this, he still takes a fair amount of time to decide to leave his secretary and head to the “War Room.”

The scenes in the movie switch between Major Kong’s B-52, Burpelson Air Force Base with mainly Gen. Ripper and GC Mandrake (often discussing “precious bodily fluids”) and the Pentagon War Room. There is a large meeting in the War Room run by President Merkin Muffley (also Peter Sellers) during which “Buck” Turgidson advises taking advantage of the situation to make an all out attack on the Russians. Later in the movie, the War Room (where fighting must be avoided) is where Dr. Strangelove (also Peter Sellers) makes his appearance.

Although Dr. Strangelove is an incredibly dark film, it is at the same time extremely funny. In addition, it has characters, and scenes involving those characters, which have become cultural icons. Major Kong, Generals Ripper and Turgidson, and definitely Dr. Strangelove himself may be recognized by those who have never seen this film. The various DVD versions of Dr. Strangelove all have different sets of extras with accordingly varied prices. Stanley Kubrick made several fine antiwar films, but Dr. Strangelove is the one that rises above even those other great movies as a masterwork.

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