Monday, 23 September 2013

Review - Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964 - Dir. Stanley Kubrick)

The title gives a big clue to the tone of this film. I'm not that big a Kubrick fan and this hasn't done much to change my opinion. Full Metal Jacket is a classic and The Shining is enjoyable enough. Apart from that, I'm not too bothered. I can see how good his films are technically, the compositions, the transitions and all that business, but I don't find them that enjoyable or fun.

Dr. Strangelove (can I stick with an abbreviated title, please?) tries to be fun. And succeeds at times. Some of the lines had me chuckling away like a baboon that's just seen a You've Been Framed clip of a gibbon falling into a liquidiser. My favourite quote, by the President of America, has something to do with a war room and fighting. Other attempts at humour fall suspiciously flat. The titular Dr. Strangelove in particular was really tiresome with his barely restrained nazi leanings.

As you may know, or have guessed from the title, Dr. Strangelove is about nuclear war. Brig. Gen. Jack Ripper (looking at the photo above, does he remind you of anyone else?) decides it's about time to teach those naughty commies a lesson and so, without Presidential authorisation, makes a pre-emptive nuclear strike on Russia. The planes make a bee line for their targets and prepare themselves for mass slaughter. One pilot even dons a cowboy hat. The President is miffed about the state of affairs and takes advice from his advisors and military (in the form of George C. Scott) who react in a typical militaristic fashion.

Having the eighties as the playground for my teenage years meant that the threat of nuclear war was all too real for me. Threads and When the Wind Blows didn't help matters and neither did the video for Frankie Goes to Hollywood's 'Two Tribes' that was initially shown in all it's glory on late night Channel 4 (preceded by the brilliantly seedy- but sadly not available on YouTube - 'Relax' video). All of these jolly songs and films led me to think that a crispy death was imminent. But strangely, I'd much rather watch any of these again rather than Dr. Strangelove despite their depressing nature.

It's partly down to Peter Sellers. Like Kubrick, I've never seen the fascination with Sellers. Here he plays three characters. And he's basically showing off (in true Doccortex fashion, any display of real talent is classed as "showing off"). Admittedly there's only Dr Strangelove who's irritating but I spent a fair portion of the film thinking about Sellers' acting skills and wondering whether he'd pop up as another character. Grudgingly, I would say that's he's pretty handy as an actor and maybe a comedy is the best place to play multiple roles. It still brought me out of the film though.

Whether you enjoy Dr Strangelove - or love it, as many people do - comes down to whether you like the humour or not. For me, it was a bit hit and miss, but I'll leave you with a quote: a character is talking about how he was tortured by the Japanese in WWII and thinks that they did it just for laughs, but he finishes with, "Strange thing is they make such bloody good cameras."

If you like this you could also try:
Kind Hearts and Coronets, Threads, When the Wind Blows, The Mouse that Roared.


  1. in true Doccortex fashion, any display of real talent is classed as "showing off".

    Not just talent, but also having that little sneaky smug self-satisfied smile on their faces when they think you're not looking. See Natalie Portman's face for proof, or Dynamo the magician.

    1. I'd agree with Dynamo. As for Portman, you'd need to show me some photographic evidence of her smug grin when she doesn't think anyone's looking.

  2. EvilKeith...I think you missed the boat on this one. I am of an older generation, and I remember seeing this in the late 60's on TV...but I really do think Sellers is a genius, and that this is the best film he ever starred in. Perhaps the film (and Sellers) is an acquired taste, but without him, there would be no Monty Pytony, Dudley Moore/Peter Cook, or even Benny Hill.

    You might try searching out another Sellers film, "The Magic Christian" which was co writtem by Graham Chapman and John Cleese of Monty Python. Also, if you can find it, a wonderful black comedy called "Hoffmann". Don't judge Sellers by this role and Inspector Clouseau....

    1. Thanks Karl for giving an opposing opinion. It's always good to get another view.

      I thought I might get some comeback on this one. When I'm writing a review I try to do it in a vacuum and not be swayed by other opinions. After I'd written this I had a look on Letterboxd and saw that it had got pretty much top ratings from everyone. But it didn't do anything for me. It went between being funny and irritating, and the irritating side wore me down.

      I appreciate how influential Peter Sellers has been and how talented he was, but again I'm not that keen. (I think exactly the same about The Beatles, an opinion that sometimes gets quite a harsh reaction.)

      I've already got The Mouse that Roared on my to watch list and I'll add the other two films you mentioned, so thanks for the recommendations. I'll give him another go, although I can't promise anything...