This film has been acclaimed to be 26th out of 50 most memorable films ever made, according to the excerpts at the end of the DVD I just watched. It was made in London, in the usual British satirical style of dark humor. The actors were wonderful, with Peter Sellers playing three major parts, George C. Scott in one of his first comedic roles and Sterling Hayden, Slim Pickens and James Earl Jones rounding out the cast.
It starts out when a “fanatical U.S. General launches an air strike against the Soviets, they raise the stakes by threatening to unleash a “Doomsday device”, setting the stage for Armageddon in this classic black comedy that brilliantly skewers the nuclear age.” (Netflix, 2009)
Several military leaders from different countries all meet in the “War Room” with the President of the United States to try to figure out what to do about a situation that has spun out of control. The main characters depict cultural stereotypical behavior from the Soviet Union, London, Germany and the U.S., among others. All of the actors were instructed to give an “over-the-top” portrayal of their stereotyped roles. For example, the stereotypes in the U.S. alone consisted of the fanatical U.S. General that started the air attack after losing his mind when he started worrying about the Soviets getting us before we get them. This leads to hilarious accounts with the British R.A.F. officer that is the General’s executive assistant, played by Sellers. It was obvious that the R.A.F. officer was aware that the General had lost his mind when he launched the attack and there was no way to stop it because of the code only the General knew. After the General committed suicide, Sellers cracked the code by going over the fanatic ranting of the General, encountering yet another U.S. Soldier, loyal to his country but dumb as a stump. Another hilarious meeting of the minds.
Meanwhile, in the “War Room”, the President, also played by Sellers, is the logical, actually believable one in the group trying to fix things for everyone involved. He is having to deal with another U.S. General, who hasn’t lost his mind, but is just one of those gung-ho types, a tough Marine leader that would rather fight than try to fix things, seeing millions of casualties just as “mussing up your hair”. My dad was one of those for 31 years, volunteering for combat every chance he got. So, we have gone from the fanatical general to the loyal, but dense soldier to the gung-ho general and the mediator (the President), all stereotypes of the U.S. culture.
In the War Room, we are introduced to other cultural stereotypes like the Soviet Assistant to the Premier “Kissoff”, (a little humor there) the Soviet President. The Soviets are represented by their usual Vodka drinking, loud, boisterous, but not so bright characters with the U.S. still trying to figure out how in the world they could figure out how to build this nuclear bomb out in their desolate, freezing, drunken environment. Naturally, there is a difference of opinion between these cultural “shocks” that leads to other humorous accounts in the War Room. Among them, the funny phone conversations between the U.S. and Soviet Presidents, at least agreeing that the outcome would not do either one of them well.
Dr. Strangelove is called on by the President for answers, also played by Peter Sellers. His portrayal of the German Nazi advisor, who reminded me of Adolph Hitler, was one of a borderline genius but criminally insane and handicapped scientist with “over-the-top” behavior and actions. I almost wanted to ask, “Will the REAL Peter Sellers please stand up?” I thought he was brilliant in all three parts, British, American and German, sounding astoundingly correct with all three accents, (I thought the German one was the one he hammed up a bit), but, nevertheless, brilliant. It was obvious which one was from which country.
Meanwhile, one of the American attack jets slipped out of view to continue with the attack, even though it was recalled when the British “Sellers” cracked the code. There, on the plane are three more stereotypical behaviors: a cowboy just off the horse in Dallas, an American Jew and an Afro-American. Slim Pickens played a memorable role when he rode the rocket as if he would a bucking bronco all the way to what would become the end of the world, with brilliant and amazing special effects, especially for that time. I really had fun when he announced the contents of the “Survival Kit”, which included lipstick, hosiery and prophylactics, along with uppers, downers, cigarettes and alcohol.
In conclusion, I would like to say that I thoroughly enjoyed this film and consider it a classic, in all senses of the word. It was a good approach to the scary subject of “Cold War” and the effects thereof. The first of it is kind involving nuclear destruction but introducing it in a humorous way, with metaphors and satire instead of the cold, hard facts of the “Doomsday Device”.
The Art of Watching Films, textbook from Kaplan University, Chapter 5, (2008) retrieved from textbook June 12, 2009.
Netflix DVD Rental of Dr. Strangelove (1964), retrieved 6-12-2009.