Thursday, June 4, 2015

Dr. Strangelove - A Review

 This blog has been like a neglected child.  Abandoned to Facebook.  Here is a movie review that I wrote for film class. 

A Review of Dr. Strangelove (1964)
May Contain Spoilers

            This is the way the world ends Not with a bang but a chuckle.  That is certainly what Stanley Kubrick, Director of  Dr. Strangelove, would have us believe.  And there is plenty to chuckle about, even with the dark cloud of  imminent thermonuclear war hovering over the proceedings.  This British production of a screenplay Kubrick co-wrote, based on the novel, "Red Alert," never disappoints or becomes tedious.  On the contrary, Kubrick bombards us with   so much sexual and political innuendo, zany characters, and absurd situations that we can't take our eyes off the screen, not even to text.  It is a dark comedy.  To make that extremely clear, Kubrick films in black and white at a time when color was all the rage.  But monochrome photography was not enough, he extensively uses darkness, effectively keeping the situation gloomy and the characters dimly lit.  Even the weak attempt at special effects with an obvious model of a B-52 is droll.  Kubrick seems to be winking at the audience throughout the film.         
            It is a relatively simple and, sadly, somewhat plausible premise that insane and paranoid General Jack Ripper (Sterling Haden)  launches 34 nuclear laden B-52s at the Soviet Union.  And that is where the hilarity begins.  He can't do that?  Oh, yes he can because there is an emergency war pan, called "Plan R," which gives the lower level of command presidential authority to do so in time of emergency."  Ripper is so bat-guano (also a character) crazy that he claims the Red Menace is poisoning our water with Fluoride (a real mania at that time) and even blames his own post-coital tristesse on a "communist conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids."    Ripper has also isolated his planes and the base he commands, Burpelson AFB, from contact with anyone, even President Merkin Muffley (Peter Sellers).  Doesn't sound funny yet?  There is more.  The Russians have a "Doomsday Device" that will eradicate all life on earth should the Soviet Union be attacked.  But, the truth is that Dr. Strangelove is uproariously funny.
            Much of the  humor is that the cast is deadly serious while delivering to us inane lines:  "Gentlemen, you can't fight in here! This is the War Room!" and the difficulty of President Muffley to communicate via telephone with assumed intoxicated, Soviet Premier Kissoff is Bob Newhartish buttoned-down comic genius.  .          
            Peter Sellers masterful performance as three separate and diverse characters led to a well-earned 1965 Academy Award Nomination for Best Actor.  One of four nominations, including Best Picture.  But alas, that year brought us Rex Harrison and My Fair Lady, winner of eight Oscars, including both of those mentioned.  In addition to the title role, Sellers also played President of the United States, Merkin Muffley, and British RAF Group Captain Lionel Mandrake (the only rational character in the movie).  Well, it is a British production.   
            Seller's performance somewhat overshadows an amazing turn by George C. Scott as the hawkish General  Buck' Turgidson: "Mr. President, I'm not saying we wouldn't get our hair mussed. But I do say no more than ten to twenty million killed, tops. Uh, depending on the breaks."   For me, his  facial expressions are the funniest elements of the film.
            Space does not permit me to relate all of the reasons you should see this movie, but it is impossible to give a reason not to.  Dr, Strangelove is timeless, 50 years and the same problems are still with us.  It appears near the top of any list of great films, not simply great comedies.  I give it 5 stars without reservation.