Lone Wolf Sullivan is a writer, songwriter, and studio musician.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) * * *

(first title card)
Title Card: It is the stated position of the U.S. Air Force that their safeguards would prevent the occurrence of such events as are depicted in this film. Furthermore, it should be noted that none of the characters portrayed in this film are meant to represent any real persons living or dead.

(first lines)
Narrator: For more than a year, ominous rumors had been privately circulating among high-level Western leaders that the Soviet Union had been at work on what was darkly hinted to be the ultimate weapon: a doomsday device. Intelligence sources traced the site of the top secret Russian project to the perpetually fog-shrouded wasteland below the Arctic peaks of the Zhokhov Islands. What they were building or why it should be located in such a remote and desolate place no one could say.

Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden) is a mentally unstable commander of a United States Air Force base who plans to attack the Soviet Union with nuclear weapons, hoping to thwart a Communist conspiracy to "sap and impurify" the "precious bodily fluids" of the American people with fluoridated water. This theory came to him during sexual intercourse, and he believes it to be the cause of his post-coital fatigue.

Ripper: Mandrake, do you realize that in addition to fluoridating water, why, there are studies underway to fluoridate salt, flour, fruit juices, soup, sugar, milk... ice cream. Ice cream, Mandrake, children's ice cream.
Mandrake: Lord, Jack.
Ripper: You know when fluoridation first began?
Mandrake: I... no, no. I don't, Jack.
Ripper: Nineteen hundred and forty-six. Nineteen forty-six, Mandrake. How does that coincide with your post-war Commie conspiracy, huh? It's incredibly obvious, isn't it? A foreign substance is introduced into our precious bodily fluids without the knowledge of the individual. Certainly without any choice. That's the way your hard-core Commie works.
Mandrake: Uh, Jack, Jack, listen, tell me, tell me, Jack. When did you first... become... well, develop this theory?
Ripper: Well, I, uh... I... I... first became aware of it, Mandrake, during the physical act of love.
Mandrake: Hmm.
Ripper: Yes, a uh, a profound sense of fatigue... a feeling of emptiness followed. Luckily I... I was able to interpret these feelings correctly. Loss of essence.
Mandrake: Hmm.
Ripper: I can assure you it has not recurred, Mandrake. Women uh... women sense my power and they seek the life essence. I, uh... I do not avoid women, Mandrake.
Mandrake: No.
Ripper: But I... I do deny them my essence.

Ripper orders the nuclear armed B-52s of the 843rd Bomb Wing past their failsafe points--where they normally wait for possible orders to proceed--and into Soviet airspace. He also tells the personnel of Burpelson Air Force Base that the US and the USSR have entered into a "shooting war". Although a nuclear attack should require Presidential authority to be initiated, Ripper uses "Plan R", an emergency war plan enabling a senior officer to launch a retaliation strike against the Soviets if everyone in the normal chain of command, including the President, has been killed during a sneak attack. According to the movie's plot, Plan R was intended to discourage the Soviets from launching a decapitation strike against the President in Washington to disrupt U.S. command and control and stop an American nuclear counterattack.

Group Captain Lionel Mandrake (Peter Sellers), an RAF exchange officer serving as General Ripper's executive officer, realizes that there has been no attack on the U.S. when he turns on a radio and hears pop music instead of Civil Defense alerts. When Mandrake reveals this to Ripper, and Ripper refuses to recall the wing, Mandrake announces that he will issue the recall on his own authority, but Ripper refuses to disclose the three-letter code necessary for recalling the bombers and locks the two of them in his office.

Ripper: The base is being put on Condition Red. I want this flashed to all sections immediately.
Mandrake: Condition Red, sir, yes, jolly good idea. That keeps the men on their toes.
Ripper: Group Captain, I'm afraid this is not an exercise.
Mandrake: Not an exercise, sir?
Ripper: I shouldn't tell you this, Mandrake, but you're a good officer and you've a right to know. It looks like we're in a shooting war.
Mandrake: Oh, hell. Are the Russians involved, sir?
Ripper: Mandrake, have you ever seen a Commie drink a glass of water?
Mandrake: Well, no, I can't say I have. Do I look all rancid and clotted? You look at me, Jack. Eh? Look, eh? And I drink a lot of water, you know. I'm what you might call a water man, Jack--that's what I am. And I can swear to you, my boy, swear to you, that there's nothing wrong with my bodily fluids. Not a thing, Jackie. If you don't put that gun away and stop this stupid nonsense, the court of Enquiry on this'll give you such a pranging, you'll be lucky if you end up wearing the uniform of a bloody toilet attendant.

In the War Room at The Pentagon, Air Force General "Buck" Turgidson (George C. Scott) briefs President Merkin Muffley (Peter Sellers). Turgidson tries to convince Muffley to take advantage of the situation to eliminate the Soviets as a threat by launching a full-scale attack. Turgidson believes that the United States is in a superior strategic position, and a first strike against the Soviet Union would destroy 90% of their missiles before they could retaliate, resulting in a victory for the U.S. with "acceptable" American casualties of "no more than 10 to 20 million killed, tops... depending on the breaks". President Muffley instead invites Soviet Ambassador Alexi de Sadesky (Peter Bull) to the War Room, contacts Soviet Premier Dmitri Kissoff on the hotline, and insists on giving the Soviets all the information necessary to shoot down the American planes before they can carry out their strikes.

President Muffley: But this is absolute madness, Ambassador! Why should you build such a thing?
Ambassador de Sadesky: There were those of us who fought against it, but in the end we could not keep up with the expense involved in the arms race, the space race, and the peace race. At the same time our people grumbled for more nylons and washing machines. Our doomsday scheme cost us just a small fraction of what we had been spending on defense in a single year. The deciding factor was when we learned that your country was working along similar lines, and we were afraid of a doomsday gap.
President Muffley: This is preposterous. I've never approved of anything like that.
Ambassador de Sadesky: Our source was the New York Times.

Over the phone, a drunken Premier Kissoff reveals to the Soviet Ambassador that their country has installed an active Doomsday device which will automatically destroy all life on Earth if a nuclear attack ever hits the Soviet Union. The Doomsday Device is operated by a network of computers and has been conceived as the ultimate deterrent: as a safeguard, it cannot be deactivated, or it will set itself off, because its hardware and programs have been configured in such a way that an attempt at its deactivation would be recognized as sabotage. This weapon is described as based on "cobalt-thorium-G"--this was inspired by the real idea of a cobalt bomb, conceived by nuclear pioneer Leo Szilard, founder of Council for a Livable World.

President Muffley: Why haven't you radioed the plans countermanding the go-code?
Turgidson: Well... I'm afraid we're unable to communicate with any of the aircraft.
President Muffley: Why?
Turgidson: As you may recall, sir, one of the provisions of Plan R provides that once the go-code is received, the normal SSB Radios on the aircraft are switched into a specially coded device which I believe is designated as CRM-114. Now, in order to prevent the enemy from issuing fake or confusing orders, CRM-114 is designed not to receive at all. Unless the message is the correct three-letter recall code prefix.
President Muffley: You mean to tell me, General Turgidson, that you will be unable to recall the aircraft?
Turgidson: That's about the size of it. However, at this moment our men are plowing through and transmitting every possible three-letter combination of the recall code. But since there are over 17,000 permutations... it's going to take us about two-and-a-half days to transmit them all.
President Muffley: How soon did you say our planes will be entering Russian radar cover?
Turgidson: About 18 minutes from now, sir.

The President next calls Dr. Strangelove (Peter Sellers), a former Nazi and strategy expert. Dr. Strangelove is also known as Dr. Merkwürdigliebe, the German translation of Strangelove. The wheelchair-bound Dr. Strangelove is a mad scientist whose eccentricities include a severe case of alien hand syndrome. His right hand, clad in a black leather glove, occasionally attempts to strangle Strangelove or make a Nazi salute. Dr. Strangelove occasionally addresses the President, as either "Mein President" or even "Mein Führer".

Strangelove explains the principles behind the Doomsday Device, which he says is "simple to understand... credible and convincing". He also points out that a Doomsday Device kept secret has no value as a deterrent. The Soviet Ambassador admits that his government had installed it a few days before they were going to announce it publicly to the world, because Kissoff "loves surprises".

U.S. Army paratroopers sent by the President arrive at Burpelson to arrest General Ripper. Because Ripper has warned his men that the enemy might attack disguised as American soldiers, the base's security forces, and Ripper himself with a machine gun kept in his golf bag, open fire on them. The Army forces win the battle and gain access to the base, and Ripper, fearing torture to extract the recall code, commits suicide. Colonel "Bat" Guano (Keenan Wynn) shoots his way into Ripper's office, but suspects that Mandrake, whose uniform he does not recognize, is leading a mutiny of "deviated preverts" and proceeds to arrest him. Mandrake convinces Guano that he has to call the President to tell him the recall code, which he has deduced from Ripper's desk blotter doodles to be based on the initials for the phrases peace on earth and purity of essence. Since office phone connections had been knocked out by the fighting at the base, Mandrake is forced to use a pay phone to try to contact the President. Not having the correct change to place a long-distance call to the Pentagon, Mandrake persuades Guano to shoot a Coca-Cola vending machine to get the change out of it, and eventually is able to forward the likely code combinations to Strategic Air Command.

The correct code "OPE" is given to the planes, and those that have not been shot down return to base--except for one. Its radio and fuel tanks were damaged by a Soviet anti-aircraft missile, with the result that the plane is neither able to receive the recall code nor to reach its primary or secondary target--where, at the urging of the U.S. President, the Soviets have concentrated all available defenses. On the crew's own initiative, the plane proceeds instead to a target of opportunity that is undefended.

As they start their bomb run the damaged B-52's bomb bay doors will not open. Aircraft commander Major T. J. "King" Kong (Slim Pickens) goes down to the bomb bay to open them himself, straddling a nuclear bomb as he tries to fix sparking wires overhead. As the B-52 reaches its target the doors open, triggering the bomb to fall without further warning. Kong rides the bomb to the ground like a rodeo cowboy, whooping, hollering and waving his cowboy hat.

The bomb explodes, triggering the Doomsday Machine. According to the Soviet ambassador, life on Earth's surface will be extinct in ten months. Dr. Strangelove recommends to President Muffley that a group of several hundred thousand people be relocated into deep mine shafts, where the nuclear fallout cannot reach them, so that the U.S. can be repopulated afterwards. Because of space limitations, Strangelove suggests a gender ratio of "ten females to each male", with the women selected for their sexual characteristics, and the men selected on the basis of their physical strength, intellectual capabilities, and importance in business and government--which would include all those present in the room. General Turgidson rants that the Soviets will likely create an even better bunker than the U.S., and argues that America "must not allow a mine shaft gap". Meanwhile, the Soviet Ambassador retreats to a corner of the War Room and starts taking pictures with a spy camera disguised as a pocket watch.

President Muffley: You mean people could actually stay down there for a hundred years?
Dr. Strangelove: It would not be difficult, Mein Führer. Nuclear reactors could--heh, I'm sorry, Mr. President--nuclear reactors could provide power almost indefinitely.

At the conclusion, a visibly excited Dr. Strangelove stands up out of his wheelchair, shouting "Mein Führer, I can walk!". Abruptly, the film ends with a barrage of nuclear explosions, accompanied by Vera Lynn's famous World War II song "We'll Meet Again".

(last lines)
Dr. Strangelove: Sir! I have a plan! (standing up from his wheelchair) Mein Führer! I can walk!

DR. STRANGELOVE, OR: HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB, commonly known as DR. STRANGELOVE, is an American/British comedy film loosely based on Peter George's Cold War thriller novel "Red Alert" (aka "Two Hours to Doom"). Arguably the greatest black comedy ever made, Stanley Kubrick's cold-war classic is the ultimate satire of the nuclear age. It's a perfect spoof of political and military insanity. Beautifully filmed in black and white, it features some impressive sets and effective, documentary-style combat footage. DR. STRANGELOVE is one of dirctor Stanley Kubrick's finest films, uncompromising as it condemns proud macho posturing on all sides. It does it with a weapon more effective in the long run than A-bombs and H-bombs: comedy.

The cast also includes: James Earl Jones (Lt. Lothar Zogg), Tracy Reed (Miss Scott), Jack Creley (Mr. Staines), Frank Berry (Lt. H.R. Dietrich), Robert O'Neil (Adm. Randolph), Glenn Beck (Lt. W.D. Kivel), Roy Stephens (Frank), Shane Rimmer (Capt. G.A. "Ace" Owens), Hal Galili (Burpelson AFB Defense Team member), Paul Tamarin (Lt. B. Goldberg), Laurence Herder (Burpelson AFB Defense Team member), Gordon Tanner (Gen. Faceman), and John McCarthy (Burpelson AFB Defense Team member). Laurie Johnson composed the original music. Stanley Kubrick, Terry Southern, and Peter George wrote the screenplay based on Peter George's novel. Produced and directed by Stanley Kubrick.

Columbia Pictures agreed to provide financing for the film only on the condition that Peter Sellers would play at least four roles, because much of the success of LOLITA (1962), Kubrick's previous film, was based on Sellers' performance. Peter Sellers plays three of the four roles initially written for him. At the start of production he was to play the role of Air Force Major T. J. "King" Kong, the B-52 Stratofortress aircraft commander, but Sellers sprained an ankle and could not play the role, as technical constraints would have confined him to the cramped space of the cockpit set. Sellers improvised much of his dialogue during filming, and Kubrick incorporated the ad-libs into the screenplay, so that the improvised lines became part of the screenplay, a technique known as retroscripting.

The title character, Dr. Strangelove, is not in the original book. He serves as President Muffley's scientific advisor in the War Room, presumably making use of prior expertise as a Nazi physicist. When General Turgidson expresses to Mr. Staines (Jack Creley) that "Strangelove" is a very bizarre name, Staines responds that Strangelove's original German surname was "Merkwürdigliebe", without mentioning that "Merkwürdigliebe" translates as "Strangelove" in English. Twice in the film, Strangelove addresses the President as "Mein Führer". With dialogue such as "You can't fight here! This is the war room!" and images of Slim Pickens's riding a bomb to oblivion, this movie has become a part of our cultural vocabulary.

Kubrick stated: "My idea of doing it as a nightmare comedy came in the early weeks of working on the screenplay. I found that in trying to put meat on the bones and to imagine the scenes fully, one had to keep leaving out of it things which were either absurd or paradoxical, in order to keep it from being funny; and these things seemed to be close to the heart of the scenes in question."

After deciding to turn the film into a black comedy, Kubrick brought in Terry Southern as a co-writer. Peter Sellers is also sometimes considered an uncredited co-writer, as he changed many lines with improvisation. DR. STRANGELOVE was filmed at Shepperton Studios in London, because Peter Sellers was in the middle of a divorce at the time and unable to leave England. The sets occupied three main sound stages: the Pentagon War Room, the B-52 Stratofortress bomber and the last one containing both the motel room and General Ripper's office and outside corridor. The studio's buildings were also used as the Air Force base exterior. The original musical score for the film was composed by Laurie Johnson and the special effects were by Wally Veevers.

Many characters' names involve sexual wordplay. Group Captain Lionel Mandrake's last name refers to the Mandrake plant, which has mythical fertility properties. The Soviet Ambassador Alexei de Sadesky is named for the Marquis de Sade, and Premier Dmitri Kisov's last name is pronounced "Kissoff", a pun on "kiss off". Major "King" Kong rides a phallic-looking H-bomb, which explodes as he approaches the "target of opportunity", when they are unable to reach the primary target. Laputa in Spanish means "the whore". President Merkin Muffley's first and last name crudely imply that he is a "pussy" by nature, since a merkin is a female pubic wig used by prostitutes in the 18th century, and muff, slang for pubic hair, refers to the area where the wig is applied. The name of General Buck Turgid(s)on is derived from turgid, a biological term meaning full of fluid to the point of hardness, as in an erection. And "buck" is an explicit symbol of virility, in other words a military "hard-on". Colonel "Bat" Guano's name is a scatological play on words meaning bat feces, which could echo the slang term bat-shit, meaning insanity.

DR. STRANGELOVE has been released on DVD quite a few times over the years. The 2 Disc Special Edition DVD has about 15 to 20 percent of the screen image removed. If you look, you will see that this edition of Dr. Strangelove is presented in anamorphic widescreen, with a 1.66:1 aspect ratio. This is the first time DR. STRANGELOVE has ever been presented this way because it was not shot that way. It was filmed with a varying aspect ratio, mostly 1.33:1. They did the same with GONE WITH THE WIND (1939) with a pseudo-widescreen version in the late 1960s, and such bastardized versions of movies should be avoided. It diminishes the video quality, ruins the composition, and hides things you are supposed to see. As with the last DVD release, the 45th Anniversary Blu-ray disc gives us a matted 1.66:1 ratio. The crispness of the shades of black and white coupled with solid contrast shows a remarkable level of detail for a film of this age, and the blacks never become muddy or gray. For audio, the original mono track has been included and it sounds excellent. It clearly gives us everything from the front without the sound getting mushy or muddled. Also included is a new Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix that makes the audio sound even better. The Blu-ray comes with a variety of bonus materials, but most have been released previously on DVD.

"The Cold War: Picture-in-Picture and Pop-Up Trivia Track" is the only new feature to the Blu-ray bonus materials, and it's very informative. Using pop-up boxes and videos, the track discusses the Cold War, real military parallels, the movie, how they all interacted, and how the movie influenced real life. "No Fighting in the War Room or: Dr. Strangelove and the Nuclear Threat" (30:04 minutes) has more discussion about the Cold War. "Inside: Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb" (46:04 minutes) is the making-of feature, quite thorough and several notches above the standard fare. It covers the entire movie, leaving you well informed. "Best Sellers or: Peter Sellers and Dr. Strangelove" (18:27 minutes) features actors, comedians, and famous people gushing over how great Peter Sellers was in this movie and how great he was in everything he ever did. "The Art of Stanley Kubrick: From Short Films to Dr. Strangelove" (13:50 minutes) is a discussion of the life and times of Kubrick up to DR. STRANGELOVE. "An Interview with Robert McNamara" (24:26 minutes) is an interview with the former US Secretary of Defense (1961-68) in which he talks about the Cold War and not about the movie. "Split Screen Interviews with Peter Sellers and George C. Scott" (7:17 minutes) is the oddest bonus item, part of an interview with each, but it is not very informative or interesting. Lastly is a Digibook release and the content inside is a nice mixture of photos and essay.

Kubrick's film regularly appears on film critics' lists of the all-time best. Roger Ebert has DR. STRANGELOVE in his list of Great Movies, saying it is "arguably the best political satire of the century." It is also rated as the fifth greatest film and the highest rated comedy in Sight & Sound’s directors’ poll. In 2000 readers of Total Film magazine voted it the 24th greatest comedy film of all time. It is ranked 15th top movie of all time on TopTenReviews Movies. In addition, the movie is ranked # 6 in the All-Time High Scores chart of Metacritic's Video/DVD section with an average score of 96. It is also currently ranked the 27th greatest movie of all time on the intenet's IMDb. Additionally, it was listed as # 3 on the American Film Institute's "100 Years... 100 Laughs", the top 100 funniest American films of all time. In 1989, the United States Library of Congress deemed the film "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry.

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