Movie Review: No 34. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

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Movie Review: No 34. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

A ridiculous title for a ridiculous movie. How apt.

We didn’t quite know what to expect when we decided to give Dr Strangelove a go. Andy thought it was going to be a romance (given the repeated use of the word ‘love’ in the title no doubt). I thought it was going to be a boring cold war movie.

Turns out, I was much closer to the truth than Andy, although I would replace the word “boring” with the word “baffling”. Neither of us had expected a comedy.

‘Dr Strangelove’ is a dark comedy about the arms race between Russia and the USA. In the same vein as movies like ‘Mr Smith goes to Washington’ or ‘Wag the Dog’, the film highlights the absurdity of politics. I loved both ‘Mr Smith’ and ‘Wag the Dog’, so you might assume that I would love Dr Strangelove. I’m not sure that I did, though. I’m reallly not quite sure how I felt about Dr Strangelove!

The opening scenes proceed almost like a documentary about the mating habits of aeroplanes, which is both nonsensical and mildly disturbing (particularly when you’re expecting a serious war flick). It only gradually became appparent that the film was intended as a comedy, then after that it’s hard to imagine how you didn’t pick it up sooner…

Perhaps because it’s not particularly funny?

B52 Bomber pilot, ‘Slim Pickens’ opens proceedings by ditching his helmet and donning his cowboy hat to bomb “the Rooskis”. A prominent ‘Peace is our Profession’ sign is used throughout the film as a comedic device to show the irony of war.

Really, you could probably sum up the whole movie in this brief exchange:

General Jack D. Ripper: Mandrake, do you recall what Clemenceau once said about war?
Group Captain Lionel Mandrake: No, I don’t think I do, sir, no.
General Jack D. Ripper: He said war was too important to be left to the generals. When he said that, 50 years ago, he might have been right. But today, war is too important to be left to politicians. They have neither the time, the training, nor the inclination for strategic thought. I can no longer sit back and allow Communist infiltration, Communist indoctrination, Communist subversion and the international Communist conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids.

Ripper’s obsession with “precious bodily fluids” is frightening, but I can empathise with his feelings regarding the “Communist flouridation plot”. Those bloody commies turned my teeth yellow! Thanks for nothing, guys!

With names like ‘Jack D. Ripper’ and ‘Slim Pickens’, it feels like a Leslie Nielsen film without the Leslie Nielsen. Surprisingly, there is a little Eddie Murphy in there too, with actor Peter Sellers playing three characters: Group Captain Lionel Mandrake, President Merkin Muffley, and the eponymous Dr. Strangelove. According to imdb, Sellers is “Often credited as the greatest comedian of all time”. I don’t know about that (Eddie and Leslie would surely give him a run for his money), but I did enjoy his feeble presidential fumblings.

’12 Angry Men’ rears its 10-pumpkined head again with George C. Scott (aka Juror #3) billed as General ‘Buck’ Turgidson. Didn’t they have any other actors in those days? With 12 jurors they must have quickly run out. To be fair, Scott managed to raise the biggest laugh from us with his line:

Sir, you can’t let him in here. He’ll see everything. He’ll see the big board!

There is one thing I will say for ‘Dr Strangelove’, and that is that it is home to possibly the most bizarre scene of any movie, ever. It is a scene that itself has been parodied in a Simpsons “couch gag”, and I suspect it is the kind of scene that will stay with me even through my senile years as a source of occasional amusement. I’d argue that the movie is worth watching for this one scene alone (although there are plenty of others to hold your interest throughout)…

Unaware that his mission has been recalled and suffering significant damage from enemy fire, pilot Slim Pickens is desperately trying to nuke something, anything, on Russian soil. With the bomb doors sealed shut, he leaves the cockpit and makes his way down to the belly of the plane to manually release the bomb doors. As the bomb is finally released we see Slim Pickens, cowboy hat in hand, riding the warhead and screaming “Yee-haw!” as it plummets towards the earth…

One day, when I am a little white-haired old lady in a nursing home, you might find me gently rocking away in my chair with a little smile on my face. If I am too off with the fairies to explain it, you may safely assume that I am inwardly giggling about that scene.

7.5 bomb-riding pumpkins. Yee-haw!

Have you seen ‘Dr Strangelove’? Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments below.

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6 responses »

  1. Great review of a great movie. What I remember most is how much that movie made me cringe. Whether it was the US soldiers shooting at each other, the US giving the Russians the locations of all of their planes so they could be shot down.. such a well written dark comedy. If it wasn’t so funny you’d be crying!

    My favourite line:

    – The whole point of the doomsday machine is lost if you keep it a secret! Why didn’t you tell the world, eh?

    – It was to be announced at the Party Congress on Monday. As you know, the Premier loves surprises.

    Facepalm!

    -Vera

  2. This is one of those films that you’ve heard numerous references to over the years including things like the Simpson’s couch gag, which you immediately recognise, but have never actually seen. I saw it for the first time about 2 years ago. I thought I’d seen the movie before, a long time ago, or at least seen parts of it, but when I actually watched the movie, it wasn’t what I expected.

    I remember hearing the president’s name and I thinking “Did they just say his name was ‘Merkin Muffley’??” (A merkin is a pubic wig).

    What I loved about the film was the bizarre dialog…

    General Jack D. Ripper: Were you ever a prisoner of war?
    Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: Well… yes I was, matter of fact, Jack. I was.
    General Jack D. Ripper: Did they torture you?
    Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: Uh, yes they did. I was tortured by the Japanese. Jack, if you must know; not a pretty story.
    General Jack D. Ripper: Well, what happened?
    Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: Oh, well, I don’t know, Jack, difficult to think of under these conditions; but, well… what happened was they got me on the old Rangoon-Ichinawa railway. I was laying train lines for the bloody Japanese puff-puff’s.
    General Jack D. Ripper: No, I mean when they tortured you. Did you talk?
    Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: Ah, oh, no… well, I don’t think they wanted me to talk really. I don’t think they wanted me to say anything. It was just their way of having a bit of fun, the swines. Strange thing is they make such bloody good cameras.

    Funny.

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