BP’s Top 100 Movie Challenge #5: Dr. Strangelove, by Sarah Brinks
I decided to undertake a movie challenge in 2017. This seemed like a good way to see some classic movies that I have unfortunately never seen. The Battleship Pretension Top 100 list provided such a challenge.
I had never seen Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, but I had always been curious. It is also a very interesting time to see this movie for the first time. I apologize if this article gets a little political; I try not to bring politics into my reviews, but I think given the current political climate and the subject matter of the film, it might be impossible for them not to connect in this review.
I am old enough to remember the tension in the late eighties with Russia when I was a kid, but I never knew the real fear that came with it. I have seen many movies and TV shows about the “Red Scare” and Dr. Strangelove is a great entrant in the genre. I have also seen so many other films that borrowed, payed homage, or parodied Dr. Strangelove, so it was fascinating to see the source material.
As I stated earlier this is an interesting political climate to see Dr. Strangelove in for the first time. Russia has been in the news daily, as is our relationship to Russia. While the leader of Russia in the film, Demetri, is only depicted through a one-sided (hilarious) phone call with the President of the United States, today we know that Putin is a dangerous enemy of America with terrifying influence. We live in a modern age with a lot more understanding about the realities of a nuclear war, but we also live with unpredictable nuclear threats and unpredictable leadership. The idea that something this scary could ever happen is not that far out of our reality and that gave the film even more depth. The fact that they made it such a successful comedy is a real credit to everyone involved. I have almost never liked a Stanley Kubrick film, so that is high praise from this opinionated film viewer.
There are some wonderful performances in the film. Of course, Slim Pickens is great as the colorful Major Kong. And George C. Scott is very funny as General Buck. But the absolute standout in the film is Peter Sellers as Mandrake, the President, and Dr. Strangelove himself. I grew up seeing Sellers in The Pink Panther and Murder by Death so he played a big part in my comedy barometer growing up, but his parts in Dr. Strangelove are absolutely hilarious. He is almost unrecognizable as both the President and Dr. Strangelove. His performance as Group Captain Lionel Mandrake is his most reserved role, but he is hysterical as he tries to talk down General Ripper. His accent and stereotypically British demeanor are delightful and very funny given the situation he is in. Then when it is all over and he has to try and call the President of the United States and doesn’t have enough change had me laughing out loud. Speaking of laughing out loud, Sellers’s work as President Muffley, especially his phone call with Demetri had me in stitches. He so perfectly captured a one-sided call, it was a real master-class in comedic acting. And of course, his most over the top part is as Dr. Strangelove. Sellers brings a fun, manic energy to the titular role but the best part about it for me is the voice. His inability to control is body is a little over the top, but it fits tonally with the role.
I am so glad I finally got a chance to see Dr. Strangelove. I think this is a film I will need to see again especially for the Sellars performances. But I really hope the opening scroll is correct and nothing like this can ever actually happen.
I’ve decided to rate each film using an arbitrary scale based on the board game Battleship (lowest: Destroyer, Submarine, Cruiser, Battleship, highest: Carrier)
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb ranking: Carrier