39 – Dr. Strangelove (1964)

General Jack D. Ripper: Fluoridation is the most monstrously conceived and dangerous communist plot we have ever had to face.

Seen before?

R: Half a dozen times.

F: Yes but only a couple of times.

Thoughts?

R: This is about as close to a perfectly conceived and executed film as I’ve ever seen. It nails what it sets out to do pretty much faultlessly, making its point a lot more effectively than many more earnest war films. It also includes a true comedy masterclass from Peter Sellers in three different roles. Can you tell me anything you don’t like about it?

F: To me this film is a perfect example of political satire but I feel I admire it more than love it. There is certainly nothing to dislike here but I’m not sure I like it as much as you do. Maybe that’s because I’m not a Kubrick fan so for me he has to work hard for me to like one of his films. This is certainly the best on the list so far though!

R: What for me makes the movie so effective is that it is so well researched, and so much of it is played straight. Of the three characters played by Peter Sellers, only Dr. Strangelove is particularly outlandish. That helps the scenes with Group Captain Lionel Mandrake and President Merkin Muffley take on a surreal and quite grim plausibility.

F: It certainly helps put the film in the black comedy genre. Actually I think the most straight role is Slim Pickens as Major T. J. “King” Kong – a role which Kubrick told him to play straight and was originally offered to Sellers. And the most comedic is George C. Scott as General Turgidson. The best character in the film for me.

R: Really? Of the outwardly comedic roles I’d have to say General Ripper is my favourite, but they’re all pretty strong. Moving on to Kubrick himself: is it just me or is there a deliberate attempt in the way the film is shot to give it a documentary vibe? I feel like this is most noticeable in the action scenes, which are shot very square on, like you might see on the news.

F: I didn’t pick up on that whilst watching it but there are a lot of scenes especially at the beginning where we get a lot of technical info from the plane. There’s the famous scene as well on the bomb – parodied a million times!

R: Yeah it’s full of iconic scenes – the line “gentlemen, you can’t fight in here, this is the war room!” is probably my favourite among the classics. Perhaps the thing we don’t get so much of a sense of now though, that the film certainly would have had at release, is that shocking disrespect for authority. The US and Western Europe have probably never been as cynical toward politicians and the establishment as we are now, but in ’64 the utter contempt for American institutions – particularly the military – would have still felt pretty radical. While political satire has of course been around about as long as theatre, I’m struggling to think of anything before this that hit such sacred targets so hard.

F: This doesn’t seem to be targeting one individual in particular, rather these institutions as a whole which helps to keep it timeless.

Is it worthy of the top 100?

R: Duh. It’s the best film we’ve seen so far.

F: Yes it’s the best Kubrick film in my opinion.

Up next:
38 – The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
Previously:
40 – The Sound of Music (1965)

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