Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)



A brilliant satirical comedy sending up with intelligence and wit the fret of nuclear war against the Russians. This film is helped even more by the charming and spectacular performances, yes plural by Mr Peter Sellers, a true great in comedic and acting terms.

The plot finds a plan being issued to commence an airborne attack on the Russians, it becomes apparent the order was made with no real basis of threat from the Soviets and an assembly of officials, politicians and other high ranking personnel try to take back the flight orders before nuclear war breaks out.

I’ve always heard about ‘Dr. Strangelove’ as one of the best films made, but had never got myself round to watching it and today I finally have. It’s so good and more amazingly I didn’t even recognise one of the characters as being Peter Sellers, I only found out by looking online. He portrays three people in this film and each one comes with vastly differing personalities. There’s a prim and proper British officer, the American president and the titular character himself; the wheelchair bound former Nazi scientist. The talents of Sellers are on fine display as the officer Mandrake as he subtly shows of worry in that role, his attempt to bargain through a closed bathroom door and the point he stands in a phone booth are showcases of brilliance. Then there’s the more obvious comedy displayed by the very German Strangelove who grimaces in his dazed mad appearance, a crazed hand helps add to the madness as it flings up and into salutes by its own will. The third performance finds Sellers as the president, the more serious role and the one that I didn’t see as him. This character comes with some inspired comedy too though, such as him on the phone with Dimitri; a Russian premier, where they try and outdo each other in terms of who is more sorry. An example of comedy coming from characters little realising how silly they sound, a fine send up of high standing personas.

The black and white helps it look like some war documentary adding to the tense degree of threat. It also makes certain scenes feel more real and atmospheric with shadows and shapes casting real depth into the film. The ‘war room’ with it’s huge round table looks incredible and the lighting helps it come across this way. The shadow cast as Dr. Strangelove lurks in the background watching the men cheer later on in the film feels like some eery hark back to the talents of German Expressionism.

It’s a very male centric movie with only one character being female and she appears in little attire basking under a hot light. She’s stuck in a cliched female profession and also serves as a mistress but she acts well in one of the funnier earlier scenes trying to relay a conversation on the phone to Buck. There is a lot of phone calling in this film which contributes greatly to the feeling of that time with calls being made and not knowing what’s going on, who to trust and what to say.

Stanley Kubrick manages to direct a film that is at once funny and also serious with a tense tone of invading forces being tense even now, so back when this movie was released at the scare of nuclear disaster it probably hit home even more. The satire does take an edge off though and with moments such as a file labelled as ‘World Targets in Megadeath’, an idea to repopulate the world, a rodeo riding Texan on a bomb and the iconic line – “Gentlemen you can’t fight in here, this is the War Room”,  it manages to make light of a period that was menacing and worrying. The film feels slow in pace giving more time to listen to the conversations and hushed frets of oncoming doom. Kubrick manages this with gentle movements and static shots, there’s no real urgency in style. The only times of speed and frantic energy arrives with the Russians shooting their way into the Air Force base.

It does take a while to get into it with the first parts feeling too slow and the opening shots of the plane setting up it’s controls after receiving Plan R are a little dull but once the ‘War Room’ comes into play and the satirical send up of what is happening unravels further it becomes a clever look at the fear of nuclear war.

A stylised comedic film with a triple whammy knock out from Sellers who comes in the guises of three important men and acts incredibly well as all of them. A classic great lies in this film even if it’s only due to its satire and war themes.




2 thoughts on “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

  1. I’ve yet to see this. But many feel like this is the film where Kubrick started to make a name for himself. I saw Lolita for the second time a few weeks ago, and while still a good film it is on the lower end of his work.

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