Old School Review: “Dr. Strangelove or How I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb” (1964)

Occasionally in history what was once old can become new again. I’ve been revisiting older films as of late and I’ve found several to be incredibly relevant in their stories when compared to the headlines of today. One such story is “Dr. Strangelove (or how I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb)” by legendary film director Stanley Kubrick in 1964. “Dr. Strangelove” is a black comedy that satirizes the rampant paranoia of the cold war conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union.

On a lone military base United States Air Force Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper issues orders to his subordinate Captain Lionel Mandrake, a British Royal Air Force officer, to put the base on alert. He then issues an order for an unauthorized first strike nuclear attack on the Soviet Union and locks down the base. “Wing Attack Plan R” is received by the airmen in their bombers and they go about their orders utilizing their CRM 114 discriminator, a device that is programmed to only accept communications from general Jack D. Ripper in the form of a secret three letter code, also known only to the general. From there the film follows the President of the United States, his advisers, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff as they try to recall the bombers and prevent a nuclear apocalypse.

I honestly went into this not expecting to find a new favorite, but it became one nonetheless. It’s a brilliant ploy on the insane paranoia that the fear of the cold war instilled in people. In fact, I find it increasingly relevant in today’s world. The inherent insanity of our own headlines reflect what was once fantasy or farce into reality, I mean, we did elect a reality TV show host as the President. But anyhow, I do love the performances here, especially of George C. Scott (famously known for his role as infamous WW2 general George S. Patton) as general Buck Turgidson who tries to explain the practices of the military in such situations to the president. As he fumbles through, making jokes and getting caught up in his own bravado I couldn’t help but be tickled by the absurdity of it all. Nuclear holocaust being a possibility in real life is terrifying enough, but put the lens of satire on it and it becomes a brilliant sort of laugh factory. Peter Sellers also does a lot to play into the humor here as he plays three characters throughout the film; Lionel Mandrake, the RAF officer that tries to talk down the out-of-his-mind general Ripper, President Merkin Muffley, who has my favorite line in the movie “Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here, this is the war room!”, and Dr. Strangelove himself, the wheelchair bound nuclear war expert and ex-nazi scientist who has a case of diagnostic apraxia aka alien hand syndrome in which his lame limb lapses into the Nazi salute. Brilliant.

So if you’re looking to fill out your Stanley Kubrick flicks, or just hankering for a comedy satire that plays with real world issues, give this one a watch, it’s worth your time.

Final Score: 31 seats at the war room table (give or take)

*Check out this video on the history of the making of “Dr. Strangelove” on youtube: