140 Character Movie Review – #140RVW
Blackest of black comedies is 50 years old & still so very good. Brilliant writing, gorgeous photography, good character actor performances.
Spoiler-free Movie Review of Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb:
It can be a challenge to review absolutely masterful films like this one, so I often do a bit of research on the interwebs, looking for some colorful background. I remembered that Dr. Strangelove was sort of loosely based on a novel, so I started there, and its an interesting story.
Red Alert (released in England as Two Minutes to Doom) was written in 1958 by British author Peter George. The novel was optioned by Stanley Kubrick, who worked with George and Terry Southern to turn it into a satirical black comedy. The only hitch was that there was another film scheduled for release in 1964 that was also about an accidental nuclear war; Fail-Safe, based on a bestseller by Eugene Burdick & Harvey Wheeler. In order to make sure that Strangelove was the first to theaters, Kubrick & George accused the writers of Fail-Safe of plagiarism, bringing a lawsuit that tied up production on the rival film. The case was settled out of court, and Fail-Safe would go on to be a great movie – but not as successful.
Of course, while the source material may have invited comparison, the similarities ended there, as Dr. Strangelove is unquestionably played for laughs. Interestingly, although I howl every time I see it, I’ve found upon screening it for newcomers to the film that not everyone appreciates the black comedy, finding it dark and depressing. I guess there is a gallows humor aspect that I am drawn to, but I can understand why some people find the film uncomfortable. The sad truth is that while the film is very funny, the reality of Mutually Assured Destruction and the ease with which we all could go up in smoke is very unsettling. The film works not because it’s so far-fetched, but because it isn’t. At all.
The movie is an absolute masterpiece. Maestro Director of Photography Gilbert Taylor made two pictures in 1964 – the other was A Hard Day’s Night – pretty good year. Production Designer Ken Adam, who created the amazing sets for Bond films like Dr. No & Goldfinger, had one of his finest hours with the War Room design. The pacing of the film and the changes in scene locations really sustain the tension, unusual for a comedy. The actors are given room to breathe and time to establish their characters. I’ve avoided saying much about the acting – it’s very good, with George C. Scott & Sterling Hayden particularly fine. I’m a bit conflicted about Peter Sellers. It’s an amazing performance, certainly, but I reflexively hate actors taking on multiple roles in a film. It’s gimmicky and unnecessary, no matter the actor. And while Captain Mandrake & President Muffley are played very effectively straight, the Strangelove performance is just a bit too over the top for me. The affectations are fun, but the reliance on physical gags is wearisome and threatens to devolve the film into farce, just as the original “pie-fight” ending surely would have.
Probably the greatest black comedy ever made, and one of the funniest films of all time, Dr. Strangelove is still meaningful long after the end of the Cold War, because while the circumstances change, it skewers an organizational way of thinking that sadly may always be with us.
The Representation Test Score: D (1 pts)
|Main Cast||Peter Sellers Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake/President Merkin Muffley/Dr. Strangelove, George C. Scott Gen. ‘Buck’ Turgidson, Sterling Hayden Brig. Gen. Jack Ripper, Keenan Wynn Col. ‘Bat’ Guano|
|Release Date||Wed 29 Jan 1964 UTC|
|Plot||An insane general triggers a path to nuclear holocaust that a war room full of politicians and generals frantically try to stop.|
|Tagline||the hot-line suspense comedy|
|Writers||Stanley Kubrick (screenplay) &, Terry Southern (screenplay) …|