Top 100 Movie Review: #26 – Dr. Strangelove (1964)

Not necessarily LOL Funny.

But still very entertaining and edifying. 

Peter Sellers character number one: Dr. Strangelove.

American Film Institute Ranking: #26/100
Academy Awards: Four nominations winning none.
My Rating: cropped-smooth-starcropped-smooth-starcropped-smooth-starcropped-smooth-star

During a time consumed with Cold War concerns, Stanley Kubrick decided to nail it by showing the ridiculousness of missile gaps, mutually assured destruction, and doomsday devices. I’m not quite sure how he got away with it. He makes fun of the two major world powers and everyone in both governments. It strikes the necessary balance needed for a dark comedy — it makes you chuckle, but it also makes you think.

Peter Sellers character number two: Captain Mandrake.


An errant military officer, Jack Ripper, puts in the code to attack the USSR with nuclear weapons. Captain Mandrake (played by Peter Sellers) is second in command and realizes that the order was done in error because his superior is insane; Ripper wants to put an end to the Russian fluoridation of American water.

This gets the chain of command in an uproar in D.C. All head officials assemble in the war room to see what they can do. General Buck Turgidson (George C. Scott) and President Merkin (Peter Sellers, again) discuss the options. The only way to call off the attack is to send out the code to disengage, but the only person who knows it is the one who started the attack in the first place. They decide to storm the base where Jack Ripper is to get the code back.

In the interim, President Merkin tries to work with Russia to avoid the dreaded mutually assured destruction. Unfortunately, Russia has created a doomsday device: if any of their cities are attacked, it will automatically unleash nuclear weapons on the entire world. Merkin calls on Dr. Strangelove (Peter sellers, again again) to validitate this claim. As an old Nazi scientist, Dr. Strangelove says that not only is the doomsday device real, there is no way to unarm it.

The rest of the film centers on our inept government officials and the race to disengage the nuclear attack team. The film ends with the explosion of the doomsday device and this appropriate song by Vera Lynn.

[analysis.] Kubrik’s favorite tools to use to show the ridiculousness of the Cold War are puns and irony. A fight breaks out between General Turgidson and a Russian ambassador and the president admonishes them with Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room.” The airplanes carrying nuclear war heads are said to be on “high alert,” but a shot within the cabin shows the disinterested crew passing time, as they have forgotten they have the power to annihilate civilization on board.

This last point might be the biggest point of the movie.  The subtitle of the film is “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.” Near the film’s conclusion, this is exactly what the top officials do. They look forward to the prospects of living in underground mind shafts having to repopulate the entire world; Turgidson asks for Dr. Strangelove to repeat the ratio of men to woman participants to make sure it’s in his favor. The power of the nuclear bomb gets lost within egos, personality, and agendas.

I have the power of time on my side so I know the resolution of the Cold War, but it makes me ponder exactly what people were considering back then. Kubrick’s statement is that we have given the power of human race destruction to a select few, and those few are unreliable. What’s worse, is that we have normalized this idea to such an extent that we don’t treat it with the right amount of respect.

Peter Sellers character number three (on the right): President Merkin.

[conclusion.] I think this line of thinking has reached to our present time. No one wakes up thinking that civilization can end in nuclear destruction even though we have leaders in control of these weapons who are as unreliable as ever. Maybe we need a current day “Dr. Strangelove” to remind us of what it means to have this power, and what the responsibility should be.

Other People’s Takes:

  • High Tea Dreams: “But, as entertainment, Dr Strangelove falls down badly (and movies should be entertaining even when thought-provoking).”
  • For the Love of Meg: “I recently watched it for the first time and was completely blown away (see what I did there?) by the absolute brilliance of it.”

One comment

  1. Like your take. Your sub titles nail it. Lots to like in the film. I really dig George C Scotts and Sterling Hayden’s work in this one. They kind of put a “these people aren’t rocket scientists” on it. Sort like how it really is.


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