Dr. Strangelove Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb Reviews
I'm starting with Dr. Strangelove. I've heard of the name "Strangelove" before, but thought it was a James Bond movie. But after learning it was a Kubrick film, and a highly regarded classic, I knew I had to check it out. The general gist of the film is that it is a satire of cold war paranoia and competition with the "Russkies." To be honest, after seeing it, I wasn't blown away. It was funny and Peter Sellers was amazing in all three of his roles. For the time, it was one of the best satires of the cold war ever made (as seen by the raving review in The NY Times). It really shows the ridiculousness of our bureaucracy and incompetence of our military. I think it still holds up today, as we still have a very odd relationship with Russia, but the B52 bomber scenes are okay at best. It's the war room scenes and the scenes with Peter Sellers as Mandrake, and Jack Dr. Ripper (portrayed by Sterling Hayden), which really make it laughable and where the comedy and satire really shine through.
The plot is that Jack Ripper (we'll get the meanings of the names later), is a rogue military officer at the Burpleson Air Force Base. He initiates the B52 bombers (that are in the sky 24 hours a day around the article circle) to bomb Russia and heat up the cold war. He believes that the Russians are poisoning the U.S. water supplies because one time his sperm did not have its "essence." Basically, the fragility of his masculinity set him off. The bombers are off to attack Russia and Ripper takes his base off the grid, to his executive officer Mandrake's dismay and fear (seeing that Ripper is out of his mind), and the war room scenes begin. The three main characters that are important in these scenes are - the president, Merkin Muffley, Buck Turgidson (Chief Army Officer to the Presient), and Dr. Strangelove (a former Nazi scientist who is now helping the U.S. design their bombs etc.). Strangelove changed his name from Merkwuerdigichliebe, once he became a citizen. It's up to these three to try to decide what to do about Ripper. In the meantime, Mandrake is trying to get the code from Ripper that can stop the planes, but Ripper refuses and holds Mandrake hostage. The President then calls in another army base close to Burpleson to get Ripper. Ripper and his men are unable to fight them off and Ripper commits suicide because he wouldn't be able to stand the torture they'd use on him to get the code. Mandrake, now free, finds the code and gives it to the President. The war room officials stop all the bombers (with the help from the Russian President Kissoff), except for one plane which ends up bombing the Russians and setting off their unstoppable doomsday device. The film ends with the song "We'll meet again" and a montage of mushroom clouds.
Let's start with the music. There are only three songs in the whole film, two of which really stand out to me. One is the, "the ants to marching two by two, hoorah, hoorah." This song only plays during the B52 scenes. To me, it's signaling that the soldiers are just ants or pawns in the War Room's eyes, but at the same time, they're the ones that cause the most destruction. Not only because of their pilot's blood thirstiness and "commie" hating attitude, but because of the incompetence of the politicians and generals controlling them. Not to mention, the Russian's doomsday device, which was only instituted because of their fear of the U.S. and the arms race. In the end, all fingers point back to the U.S.'s bureaucratic incompetence. It's hilariously dark. Next is the song, "We'll meet again." This plays at the very end, right after Dr. Strangelove, who's wheel chair bound, realizes he can walk again. He declares, "Mein Fuherer, I can walk!" then the world ends. Before this, Strangelove was talking about how they could create mine shafts to store a population of U.S. citizens so they can continue the human race. "We'll meet again" refers to the fact that maybe the humans will rise again. Or, it could mean that the U.S. and the Russians will meet again if they both create mine shafts. Right before the doomsday device goes off, Gen. Turgidson is complaining about the "mine shaft gap" and the mine shaft race. Here, the comedy lies in their obsession with the cold war. The Americans are so paranoid about the Russians that they don't understand that the world is ending and where they're going, the arms race, space race, mine shaft race, won't matter.
The cinematography of course, is beautiful. I love the lighting, and the sets. The war room looks exactly what a "war room" would look like. I love the angles that Kubrick uses for the audience to see the power of the speakers. Whenever someone in the war room is anxious or trying to get their point of view across, the camera is angled looking up to show that they're in power. It also is there to make them look jarring, we can see the sweat on their face, the veins in their eyes, and spit coming out of their mouth when they talk. Dr. Strangelove is always shown with a zoomed in lens, his head in the center of the screen. Instead of us watching him, he's watching us. In addition, the title is great. I love how long it is and how it shows that this film will be a comedy. Originally, it was supposed to be a drama, but Kubrick rightly thought that the best way to get across cold war paranoia would be comedy. The film isn't laugh out loud funny, but it's not meant to be. It's supposed to make you think, and smile to yourself at how perverse it is.
Now let's talk about the characters and their names. First, there's Peter Sellers who plays three characters in the film - Mandrake, Ripper's commanding officer, The President, Merkin Muffley, and Dr. Strangelove (previously known as Merkwuerdigichliebe, which in German means cherished fate). Seller is brilliant in all his roles. His delivery and accents are incredible, he just blends into everyone he plays. My favorite is of him as the president. I especially love how he talks with the Russian president like they're like little kids in a fight. "I'm more sorry, you can't be more sorry than I am, well in that case, I'm sorry too." "Of course, I like to talk to you, of course this is a friendly call," he says while breaking the news to Russia that their B52 bombers are there to destroy their country. As Mandrake, he's serious and brave. He's not cowardly for not wanting to fight alongside Ripper, he's smart in that he knows he shouldn't, for he needs to figure out the code to save the U.S. and the world. And though he does, his tries are futile. This can be seen not only at the ending, but with the fact that when he tries to call the president he doesn't have enough change no matter how many different types of calls he tries (collect, station to station, etc.). Eventually, he asks someone to shoot the coca cola machine. The guy shoots it but before he does he says, "you're going to be in big trouble with the coca cola company." But we should talk about his performance as Dr. Strangelove, the Fuherer loving, Hitler Heiling, maniacal ex-Nazi, with a robotic arm with a mind of it's own trying to kill him. He's perhaps the smartest one in the room, but also the craziest. He and Turgidson is where the comedy comes from in these scenes. Strangelove, because he was a Nazi, and Turgidson, because he's an America loving blind patriot. They both do a great job at portraying their stereotypes.
Here are some of the meanings of the names (as an English major, I eat this stuff up). Jack Ripper, the one who causes this whole mess sounds like Jack the Ripper, the serial killer in London. The Burpelson Air Force Base where he works, has the word burp in it (which I guess was funny at the time). Then there's Mandrake, a root or herb used to promote fertility (which Ripper seems to lack). Merkin Muffley, the president, is named after two slangs for "female" genitals. Showing that the U.S. "lacks balls," but too much testosterone isn't good either, as seen with Turgidson and the pilot (nick named "King Kong") of the B52 bomber, who wants to go ahead and kill everything. Strangelove, is self-explanatory. He has a strange love, or a perverted love with wanting the world to end, and also with Hitler. I don't know too much about this, but I wonder if Dr. Strangelove was playing off Werner von Braun, the Nazi scientist the U.S. stole during the final days of the war in Europe. He helped start NASA and the Apollo program within it.
The only woman in the film is real life playboy model, Tracy Reed. We see her in the magazine being looked at by a male pilot and later with Turgidson in the exact same position as she was in the magazine, lying on her belly. She has one scene, but is only there to show how virile Turgidson is. Sexual undertones in the film can be seen throughout. Not only with the phallic imagery (from cigars to fuel engine tubes), but with the idea of the mine shafts (1 man to every 10 women to repopulate the earth), and Ripper's precious "bodily fluids/essence." The one person of color in the film is a very young James Earl Jones. He plays one of the crew members in the main B52 bomber. Both Reed and Jones aren't given many lines or much to work with, they play their parts as tokens and that's about it. Neither of them are stereotypes though, or used for laughs, which is good, they're just basic supporting characters.
Lastly, Kubrick gives a lot of juxta positioning with peace and war. For example, "peace is our profession" is the logo of Burpleson Air Force Base. This sign can be seen when the two air forces (Burpleson vs. the one that the president sent to get Ripper) are killing each other because they each see each other as the enemy. Another darkly comedic scene caused by miscommunication, technology doing its job too well, and bureaucracy. There's also talk of the "peace race" to end the cold war. This is said by Russian Ambassador, who is also in the war room with them. He says that the Russians built the doomsday device because they couldn't keep up with the "space race, arms race, and the peace race." The peace race and arms race being the same thing. The Russian Ambassador is the one who sends the codes to set off the doomsday device after hearing Strangelove's plan about the mineshafts because he knows the cold war will never end if they don't destroy the world, an extremely grim, but also very real outcome of the cold war. All the weapons on both sides function like they're supposed to, it's the human greed and competiveness that gets the best of the technology.
All in all, I give the film a 7/10. If you're into cold war satire and history, you'll like it just fine. But to me, the film is slow, and the comedy, though great and with a beautiful pay off, isn't enough to save it from aging.
That can be dangerous for an actor. Directors often ask actors to underplay closer shots, because too much facial movement translates into mugging or overacting. Billy Wilder once asked Jack Lemmon for "a little less" so many takes in a row that Lemmon finally exploded: "Whaddya want! Nothing?" Lemmon recalls that Wilder raised his eyes to heaven: "Please God!" Kubrick, whose attention to the smallest detail in every frame was obsessive, would have been aware of George C. Scott's facial gymnastics, and yet he endorsed them, and when you watch "Strangelove" you can see why.
Scott's work is hidden in plain view. His face here is so plastic and mobile it reminds you of Jerry Lewis or Jim Carrey (in completely different kinds of movies). Yet you don't consciously notice his expressions because Scott sells them with the energy and conviction of his performance. He means what he says so urgently that the expressions accompany his dialogue instead of distracting from it. Consider the scene where his character, Gen. Buck Turgidson, is informing the president that it is quite likely a B-52 bomber will be able to fly under Russian radar and deliver its payload even though the entire Soviet air force knows where the plane is headed. "He can barrel in that baby so low!" Scott says, with his arms spread wide like wings, and his head shaking in admiration at how good his pilots are--so good one of them is about to bring an end to civilization.
Another actor, waving his arms around, might look absurd. Scott embodies the body language so completely that it simply plays as drama (and comedy). In another scene, scurrying around the War Room, he slips, falls to a knee, rights himself, and carries on. Kubrick the perfectionist left the unplanned slip in the film, because Scott made it seem convincing, and not an accident.
"Dr. Strangelove" (1964) is filled with great comic performances, and just as well, because there's so little else in the movie apart from faces, bodies and words. Kubrick shot it on four principal locations (an office, the perimeter of an Air Force base, the "War Room," and the interior of a B-52 bomber). His special effects are competent but not dazzling (we are obviously looking at model planes over Russia). The War Room, one of the most memorable of movie interiors, was created by Ken Adam out of a circular desk, a ring of lights, some back-projected maps, and darkness. The headquarters of Gen. Jack D. Ripper, the haywire Air Force general, is just a room with some office furniture in it.
Yet out of these rudimentary physical props and a brilliant screenplay (which Kubrick and Terry Southern based on a novel by Peter George), Kubrick made what is arguably the best political satire of the century, a film that pulled the rug out from under the Cold War by arguing that if a "nuclear deterrent" destroys all life on Earth, it is hard to say exactly what it has deterred.
"Dr. Strangelove's" humor is generated by a basic comic principle: People trying to be funny are never as funny as people trying to be serious and failing. The laughs have to seem forced on unwilling characters by the logic of events. A man wearing a funny hat is not funny. But a man who doesn't know he's wearing a funny hat ... ah, now you've got something.
The characters in "Dr. Strangelove'' do not know their hats are funny. The film begins with Gen. Ripper (Sterling Hayden) fondling a phallic cigar while launching an unauthorized nuclear strike against Russia. He has become convinced that the commies are poisoning "the purity and essence of our natural fluids" by adding fluoride to the water supply. (Younger viewers may not know that in the 1950s this was a widespread belief.) Ripper's nuclear strike, his cigar technique and his concern for his "precious bodily fluids" are so entwined that they inspire unmistakable masturbatory associations.
The only man standing between Ripper and nuclear holocaust is a British liaison, Group Captain Mandrake (Sellers), who listens with disbelief to Rippers' rantings. Meanwhile, Ripper's coded message goes out to airborne B-52s to launch an attack against Russia. A horrified President Muffley (Sellers again) convenes his advisers in the War Room and is informed by Turgidson, bit by reluctant bit, of the enormity of the situation: The bombers are on the way, they cannot be recalled, Gen. Ripper cannot be reached, and so on. Eventually, Muffley calls the Russian premiere to confess everything ("Dimitri, we have a little problem ... ").
Other major players include the sinister strategist Dr. Strangelove (Sellers a third time), a character whose German accent now evokes Henry Kissinger, although in 1964 nuclear think-tanker Herman Kahn was the likely target. Strangelove's black-gloved right hand is an unruly weapon with a will of its own, springing into Nazi salutes and trying to throttle Strangelove to death. Action in the War Room and on the Air Force base is intercut with the B-52 cockpit, ruled by Major T.J. "King" Kong (Slim Pickens); when he's told by his radio man that the order to attack has come through, he tells them, "No horsin' around on the airplane!"
Major Kong was intended to be Sellers' fourth role, but he was uncertain about the cowboy accent. Pickens, a character actor from westerns, was brought in by Kubrick, who reportedly didn't tell him the film was a comedy. Pickens' patriotic speeches to his crew (and his promises of promotion and medals) are counterpoint to the desperate American efforts to recall the flight.
I've always thought the movie ends on an unsure note. After the first nuclear blast, Kubrick cuts back to the War Room, where Strangelove muses that deep mines could be used to shelter survivors, whose descendants could return to the surface in 90 years (Turgidson is intrigued by the 10-to-1 ratio of women to men). Then the film abruptly ends in its famous montage of many mushroom clouds, while Vera Lynn sings "We'll Meet Again."
It seems to me there should be no more dialogue after the first blast; Strangelove's survival strategy could be moved up to just before Slim Pickens' famous bareback ride to oblivion. I realize there would be a time lapse while Russian missiles responded to the attack, but I think the film would be more effective if the original blast brought an end to all further story developments. (Kubrick originally planned to end the film with a pie fight, and a table laden with pies can be seen in the background of the War Room, but he wisely realized that his purpose was satire, not slapstick.)
"Dr. Strangelove" and "2001: A Space Odyssey" (1968) are Kubrick's masterpieces. The two films share a common theme: Man designs machinery that functions with perfect logic to bring about a disastrous outcome. The U.S. nuclear deterrent and the Russian "doomsday machine" function exactly as they are intended, and destroy life on earth. The computer HAL 9000 serves the space mission by attacking the astronauts.
Stanley Kubrick himself was a perfectionist who went to obsessive lengths in order to get everything in his films to work just right. He owned his own cameras and sound and editing equipment. He often made dozens of takes of the same shot. He was known to telephone projectionists to complain about out-of-focus screenings. Are his two best films a nudge in his own ribs?
Exquisita obra de Stanley Kubrick, con una visionaria contemplaciˇn hacia las consecuencias morales y Úticas de los conflictos internacionales.