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With: Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden, Slim Pickens, Keenan Wynn, Tracy Reed
Written by: Stanley Kubrick, Peter George, Terry Southern, based on the book by Peter George
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
MPAA Rating: PG for thematic elements, some violent content, sexual humor and mild language
Running Time: 90
Date: 28/01/1964

Dr. Strangelove (1964)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Precious Bodily Fluids

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Has Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb aged badly? I mean, the cold war is over. Communism is dead, and the Russians are no longer our enemies. What I had loved about Dr. Strangelove when I saw it as a teenager in the 80's was that it had seemed timeless. It made valid points that were pertinent to my generation. But what about now, in the 90's? How does Dr. Strangelove hold up?

The answer is that it holds up very well. The screenplay by Terry Southern with help from Kubrick and Peter George (whose novel the movie is based on), has a great "underground" spirit to it. It questions everything and accepts only anarchy. What Kubrick has done is give it a classic film feel. Any other director, Dennis Hopper, say, would have made it look sloppy and anti-establishment, like Easy Rider. Kubrick sets up solid, square, deep-focus shots that take in the whole set, ceilings and floors as well, of the War Room, the airplane cockpit, and General Jack D. Ripper's office. The gorgeous black-and-white photography helps. It makes any film feel timeless and less dated.

The movie takes place completely in those three locations -- with the exception of some exterior battle scenes and flying scenes. Ripper (Sterling Hayden, who was great in The Killing) believes that the Russians are out to steal our "precious bodily fluids" by chlorinating our water. Not unlike a certain Senator, he's mad as a hatter. He orders our planes to bomb Russia. Colonel Mandrake (Peter Sellers in the first of three roles) tries to reason with the mad general but gets nowhere.

In the War Room at the Pentagon, another general, General Turgidson (George C. Scott) gives the president (Sellers) the lowdown. The Russian Ambassador, Premier Kissoff, is called in. It turns out that the Russians have a "doomsday" machine that will automatically trigger and destroy the world. The film also follows a lone American plane, piloted by Slim Pickens and with James Earl Jones among its crew. This plane gets shot and their communications are knocked out. They don't receive the last-minute recall code and continue on their mission to bomb Russia.

Dr. Strangelove is still an extremely funny movie today. On top of the potent black and white photography, Kubrick gives the movie a perfect deadpan tone which increases the comedy. Also the performances by the four leads (Hayden, Sellers, Scott, and Pickens) are beautifully nuanced with perfect little comic ticks: Scott's facial expressions and wild gesturing; Hayden's dry delivery from behind a damp cigar; Sellers' chameleon transformation into three completely separate characters; and Pickens' cowboy vernacular.

I was wrong to think that the end of the Cold War would diminish the flavor of this movie. Kubrick's movies are so carefully planned and controlled that it's nice to see his sense of humor coming through in at least this one -- with his control acting as an asset. And besides, Dr. Strangelove is one of his best films simply because it's such a joy to see again and again.

DVD Details: I wrote the above review some time ago, and found it necessary to edit it quite a bit, cutting out large, unnecessary paragraphs, even if I tried to leave the remaining text as is. The film is being re-released for its 40th anniversary, first in a new theatrical print, then on a new DVD from Columbia Tri/Star. The previous DVD, available in the 9-disc "Stanley Kubrick Collection," was pretty great, boasting a top-notch making-of documentary, "interviews" with Scott and Sellers (made for promotional reasons), a documentary about Kubrick ranging from his short films to Strangelove, talent files, advertising gallery, production notes, plus four different language tracks and optional subtitles in eight languages(!). The film transfer was a bit spotty, and film flaws were evident throughout.

I haven't personally seen the new two-disc set, but it promises: "No Fighting in the War Room or: Dr. Strangelove and the Nuclear Threat": new documentary including interviews with Bob Woodward, Robert McNamara, Roger Ebert and Spike Lee; "Best Sellers: Peter Sellers Remembered," Interview with Robert S. McNamara, Secretary of Defense under President Johnson, Collectible scrapbook with original production photos and an essay written by Roger Ebert. Also available on Blu-Ray.

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