Review: Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb (1964)

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Satire has never been better!

Screenplay By: Peter George, Stanley Kubrick & Terry Southern
Directed By: Stanley Kubrick

Satire doesn’t always have to be smart, it can be incredibly dumb and yet still get the job done in poking fun at its subject matter and making the audience laugh. But, satire can be incredibly smart, so smart that it comes across like genius, taking on multiple world issues, featuring deep characterizations and most importantly being hilarious, even when it doesn’t seem like it should be. Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb is perhaps the greatest satire ever filmed, it is smart, witty, tackles big issues and carries a dark comic tone throughout.

It’s hard to decide where to begin with Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb, it is that varied of a film. I could go into it dark comedic moments, or its scathing satire, the great acting or even the real life issues it tackles through its comedy. It is a testament to the skills of Stanley Kubrick that he took what was initially supposed to be a straightly played drama and turned it into a satire and comedy of the highest order. It isn’t a farce, that is an important distinction to make. While you can say that it never takes itself seriously, that would be a bit of a misnomer. Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb wants to be serious and that is what makes it so funny. This is a movie that wants the audience to laugh at the audacity of its seriousness, it’s smart enough to not go the farce route. Not that there’s anything wrong with farce films, but that tone wouldn’t have worked in Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb.

I suppose I will start off by discussing the humor on display in Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb. As I said above, most of the humor is supplied by the serious tone of the film. The actors play their roles as straight as an arrow, striving for subtle humor and not broad comedy. The type of humor that will populate Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb is seen right off the bat with posters at a military center that don’t exactly ring true in their platitudes about peace. There are many things in the background throughout the film that are funny by themselves. The pinnacle of the humor in Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb has to be the legendary phone conversation between the President and the Soviet Premier. It’s funny from start to finish, tying into everyday phone calls, the big problems of the world, and featuring impeccable comedic timing from Peter Sellers. The humor in Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb is always present, it’s not always laugh out loud humor, but there wasn’t a single moment in the film where I wasn’t amused by something being presented to me.

There isn’t a single actor in Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb who I can safely single out as being the best of the bunch. Peter Sellers was terrific in all three of his roles, but so was George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden, Keenan Wynn, Slim Pickens and the rest. Whether it was Scott’s quiet conversations with himself and musings to others in the background, Hayden’s delusions, Wynn’s refusal to damage a coke machine, Picken’s speeches about medals or Sellers aforementioned conversation on the phone, each and every actor present delivered in spades. This is a rare movie where I can look at the cast and not only declare that there wasn’t a weak link present, but that every performance was superb.

What elevates Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb to an even higher level is that amidst the humor there are real issues being tackled. The Cold War is being mocked, but there is truth in the mocking. The character of Dr. Strangelove is weird and funny, but he also calls into question how easily the Allied Powers were willing to accept ex-Nazi’s into their company as long as they provided some sort of needed expertise. What is the use of a deterrent to a nuclear attack if all it does in deterring said nuclear attack is bring about the end of the world?

There’s so much to be found in Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb that I can’t possibly cover it all in this lone review. I haven’t even scratched the surface of the topics I have broached, and there are still things such as the deep meaning sex has in the film that I can’t get to while still keeping this review to a manageable level. There’s a reason people have been dissecting Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb in great length for years following its release. There are satires and then there is Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb, I don’t believe I can lavish this film with much more praise. Another masterpiece from Stanley Kubrick, and just remember, there’s no fighting in the war room.

Rating:

****

Cheers,
Bill

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2 responses to “Review: Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb (1964)

  1. ‘…a movie that wants the audience to laugh at the audacity of its seriousness,…’

    That’s a pretty good way of putting it. It might be may favourite Kubrick film. The film captured what must have been the political and paranoia feelings at the time, or at least what I imagine what they were, and makes a witty and delicious comedy with it. It’s such a bizarre film, but then again, in hindsight those were bizarre and potentially dangerous times. Farce and genuine danger were playing tango back then during the Cold War. Ridiculous, senseless paranoia based on ideologies (which continues to this day in other forms) and the actual threats associated with nuclear armements.

    As you said, the performances are just great. Ah, there’s no more I can add. Kubrick was the man and for good reason.

  2. This remains near the top of my Kubrick list. It hits on all cylinders, and no matter what it manages to be smart and funny at the same time.

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