Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb


DIRECTED by Stanley Kubrick
PRODUCED by Stanley Kubrick, Victor Lyndon & Leon Minoff
SCREENPLAY by Terry Southern, Stanley Kubrick & Peter George
BASED ON THE NOVEL Red Alert by Peter George
ORIGINAL MUSIC by Laurie Johnson
CINEMATOGRAPHY by Gilbert Taylor

Stanley Kubrick is the only great director who, in my opinion, never made a bad film. All the other greats, Hitchcock, Ford, Scorsese, Preston Sturges, Capra, Fellini, even Kurosawa, made a stinker or two. Of course, he only made 13 films. Fear and Desire (1953) is only available on bootleg DVD. Of the other 12, I’ve seen Killer’s Kiss (1955) twice, and it’s pretty good, and all the others multiple times.

Eyes Wide Shut and The Killing and The Shining have flaws, but are still wonderful films. Spartacus is the best wide-screen epic of its day. Lolita and Full Metal Jacket just miss greatness. And Paths of Glory, Dr. Strangelove, 2001, A Clockwork Orange and Barry Lyndon are full-blown masterpieces.

I already broke my one-film-per-director rule twice here, with Kubrick and Lester, and I was severely tempted to include three or even four films by Stanley. Barry Lyndon missed out by this () much. And how can I exclude Paths of Glory, which absolutely shattered me the first time I saw it?

In the end I had to include 2001, and for the second one I picked the one that made me happy. What an odd thing to say about a movie dealing with nuclear war … but of course everything about Dr. Strangelove is weird from the git-go. Just look at the character names, for chrissake: Generals “Buck” Turgidson and Jack D. Ripper, Premier Alexei Kissov, Colonel “Bat” Guano, President Merkin Muffley (a merkin is, believe it or not, a pubic wig, and also the redneck pronunciation of American: ‘Murkin). Burpelson Air Force Base.

There are dozens of things I could talk about in this film, but I will limit myself to one: what may be the single best bit of casting in the history of cinema … Slim Pickens as Major T.J. “King” Kong. And it so happens, as often is the case in the movie biz, that it almost didn’t come to pass. Peter Sellers was going to play it as his fourth part in the movie, but he had trouble getting the accent right and then he broke his leg. Kubrick decided to go with an authentic cowboy. He never showed the script to Slim, and didn’t tell him it was going to be a black comedy, “Just play it straight.” And thus was born one of the best comic performances I’ve ever seen, and one of the iconic images of the 20th century: Major Kong riding the H-bomb down to the end of the world as we know it.

P.S. Oh, yeah, and you want realism? The Air Force wouldn’t let Kubrick see the inside of a B-52, so they made it up … and it was so accurate the AF was sure they’d stolen classified information.

P.P.S. Though Sellers didn’t know it at the time, there really is a condition called Alien Hand Syndrome (now called Dr. Strangelove Syndrome) whose symptoms are exactly like what Strangelove suffered in the film