Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
Reviewed on 2008 October 17
Since Halloween is coming up, I thought I’d start this review with… the Dr. StrangleGlove story.
I was seven or so and couldn’t believe my eyes when the TV guide showed that a local network was going to be airing something that I misinterpreted as Dr. StrangleGlove. I had no clue what a StrangleGlove was, but I had to see if it was anything like what my overly fertile imagination was producing for me. Since it was a weekend night I asked my parents if I could stay up and watch this thing and I was so delighted when they said yes that I didn’t even notice the little knowing look they gave each other. To this day I don’t think there are words for the disappointment I felt when it appeared to be a bunch of men, sitting around and talking. It’s now one of my favorite movies, thanks to Peter Sellers’s goofiness and Stanley Kubrick’s bone-dry script.
Brig Gen. Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden) is an insane general whose fear of Commies is only eclipsed by his loathing of fluoridation. He snaps and launches an invasion of Russia that Major “King” Kong (Slim Pickens) and his crew (James Earl Jones and Glenn Beck) are determined to carry out. Wanting to keep the Cold War from turning nuclear, President Merkin Muffley (Peter Sellers) summons his top men. General “Buck” Turgidson (George C. Scott, playing the anti-Patton) assures him that there’s no way the fighters can be recalled. Muffley decides to work with Premier Dmitri Kissof and Russian Ambassador Alexi de Sadesky (Peter Bull). Sadesky warns the president that they better turn their men back, or the Soviets will be forced to retaliate with something so horrible Sadesky hates even naming it.
Ripper’s fluoridation woes aside, this doesn’t sound funny on paper, but it is. This is pretty much Fail Safe done as a black comedy. The screwball stuff mixes with the dry wit like a wicked martini, but because it is dark and sardonic it’s not exactly Friday night escapist stuff. Sellers juggled three hats as Muffley, the put-upon Group Captain Lionel Mandrake, and Dr. Strangelove, but I really loved George C. Scott in this. His facial expressions were priceless.
Four chocolate morsels. And for the record, yes, I was just as disillusioned when I slipped out of bed one night a few weeks later, excited by another listing I saw, and quietly turned on Monthy Python’s Flying Circus for the first time.