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Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb VHS
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Arguably the greatest black comedy ever made, Stanley Kubrick's cold war classic is the ultimate satire of the nuclear age. Dr. Strangelove is a perfect spoof of political and military insanity, beginning when General Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden), a maniacal warrior obsessed with "the purity of precious bodily fluids," mounts his singular campaign against Communism by ordering a squadron of B-52 bombers to attack the Soviet Union. The Soviets counter the threat with a so-called "Doomsday Device," and the world hangs in the balance while the U.S. president (Peter Sellers) engages in hilarious hot-line negotiations with his Soviet counterpart. Sellers also plays a British military attaché and the mad bomb-maker Dr. Strangelove; George C. Scott is outrageously frantic as General Buck Turgidson, whose presidential advice consists mainly of panic and statistics about "acceptable losses." With dialogue ("You can't fight here! This is the war room!") and images (Slim Pickens's character riding the bomb to oblivion) that have become a part of our cultural vocabulary, Kubrick's film regularly appears on critics' lists of the all-time best. --Jeff Shannon
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Even if you've never seen this movie, you've probably seen scenes from it. Slim Pickens as Maj. King Kong riding the missile like a bucking bronc is used everywhere. Scenes with Dr. Strangelove (Peter Sellers) in a wheelchair are also commonplace. You might also recognize the closing scenes of bombs exploding to the song "We'll Meet Again."
My favorite scene is between Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake (Peter Sellers) and Col. Bat Guano (Keenan Wynn) and the Coke machine. "You're gonna have to answer to the Coca-Cola company."
The one-sided phone conversations between President Merkin Muffley (Peter Sellers) and Soviet Premier Kissoff reminds me of Bob Newhart's hilarious telephone bits.Unless you want to do a spit take, I suggest not drinking or eating during these scenes. For that matter, I would avoid eating during the whole movie.
This brilliant satire should be required viewing by all.
But it’s not just the film’s newfound currency that makes me return. It’s a welcome opportunity to rediscover Stanley Kubrick as he came into his own. While I took pleasure in Spartacus and Lolita, those were Hollywood productions that (very sensibly) employed the budding director. By contrast, Dr. Strangelove was distinctly a Kubrick film with his thought and vision wholly intact.
It is fascinating to watch him deal with humor. (This would be his only comedy.) He’s careful in parceling it out. I especially love the exquisite restraint in the scenes between Sterling Hayden’s soberly off-the-deep-end General Jack Ripper and Sellers’ oh-so-upright Lionel Mandrake. I don’t know how the actors kept straight faces — would that there were outtakes here — but they did and their scenes are splendidly insane for the effort. Less is indeed more.
And that’s the rule for most of the distance: fly just under our radar. There are outright laughs, to be sure. Keenan Wynn whips out one of the film’s few overt punchlines and it’s hard not to smile at the clearly comic antics of George C. Scott’s riled-up, sputtering General Buck Turgidson.
But Sellers’ president, Slim Pickens’ bomber pilot and the ethos are conceived within this same essentially stoic spirit — effectively setting us up for Sellers’ (yes, again!) climactic appearance as Dr. Strangelove.
Arguably, the doctor is overdone. Arguably, he’s not even that funny. But I suspect that’s missing the point. He’s strategically overdone — a metaphorical bomb to roil the script’s placid surface at the critical moment. And at least at this level, it’s successful. The film detonates just ahead of the bomb and we’re on our way home.
Dr. Strangelove begins with an image of a remote island poking above the clouds, with the narration, "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 the ultimage 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 Zerkoff Islands . . . "
SEXY FUELING SCENE. Then, at the 75-second time point, begins footage showing the fueling by a tanker jet to a bomber. Some of the footage shows a side view of the two jets, which are connected to each other by the fueling tube. Some of the footage was shot where the camera was pointing out the rear fueling door of the tanker jet, and in this shot, the viewer is shown how the fueling pipe thrusts in and out and in and out of the receiving device of the bomber. The music is romantic Montovani music. After a couple of minutes of this amusing sexual innuendo, the plot starts.
We see an airforce base with radar antenna rotating, and a bomber taking off. Then we see a general conversing with Peter Sellars. "The base is being put on condition red . . . I'm afraid this is not an exercise . . . I'm afraid this is a shooting war," says the general. The general is General Jack Ripper.
At the 6-minute time point comes visually appealing footage of bombers flying over snowy mountain peaks. At 6 min, 30 sec, we see Slim Pickens in the pilot's seat in the cockpit of a bomber reading Playboy Magazine. At 8 min, his crew consults a codebook, and Slim Pickens and his crew discuss "Plan R." Slim Pickens converses with another crewman, saying: "Did you say using Attack Plan R? . . . how many times have I told you that I don't want no horsing around on the airplane . . . well I've been to one world's fair, one picnic, and a rodeo, and that's the stupidest thing I've ever heard coming over a set of earphones . . . you sure you got today's code? . . . there's just gotta be something wrong." Slim Pickens looks at the control panel which reads: FGD135. Then, he looks in the codebook, and notices that FGD135 matches up with Attack Plan R. At 9 min, 45 sec, we see fellow crewman James Earl Jones (as we know, he later played the voice of Darth Vader). At 10 min begins a steady drumbeat and trumpet playing, "When Johnny Comes Marching Home." (This is on the soundtrack whenever we are shown the inside of Slim Pickens' jet bomber.) Slim Pickens says, "Well boys, I guess this is it. Nuclear combat, toe-to-toe with the Ruskies . . . look boys, I ain't much a hand at giving speeches . . . I have a fair idea of the personal emotions you might be thinking." (At this point, Slim Pickens has put on his cowboy hat, and he speaks into a microphone.)
BIKINI SCENE. Then, at 12 min, we are in General Turgeson's suite (played by George C. Scott) and the viewer is treated to many views of his secretary in a bikini. The two of them talk about Plan R. For three entire minutes, the viewer is treated to images of the slender secretary in a bikini. At 16 min, the scene returns to Peter Sellars in the computer room at an air force base, that is, at the same air force base where General Jack Ripper works.
BODILY FLUIDS. This movie has a few references to "precious bodily fluids." The first of these references occurs at 24 minutes in a talk in General Ripper's office by the general to Peter Sellars. At 46 min, General Ripper says this to Peter Sellars, "fresh pure water to replenish our precious bodily fluids." This takes place in a discussion about fluoridation being a Communist plot. At 56 minutes, the dialogue goes, "foreign substances introduced into our precious bodily fluids . . . that's the way a Commie works." At 60 min, Peter Sellars remarks that there was never anything wrong with his "bodily fluids."
SURVIVAL KIT. At 35 min, the scene changes from the tense situation in the war room, to the comedic situation in the bomber piloted by Slim Pickens. Comedy comes from the perusual of the items in the survival kit. The items include, vitamin pills, morphine pills, sleeping pills, Russian phrase book, Russian rubles, prophylactics, nylon stockings, etc. The sound track features a harmonica and snare drum. Slim Pickens remarks, "Shoot! A fella could have a pretty good weekend in Vegas with that stuff!!!"
At 51 minutes, the character of Dr. Strangelove make his entrance, and the discussion is about the Doomesday Machine. Here, Dr. Strangelove (played by Sellers) speaks to the President of the United States (played by Sellers). At 61 minutes, General Ripper kills himself in the bathroom, thus bringing to a halt his chit-chat session with Peter Sellers. The scene then changes, and we are with Slim Pickens in his bomber. The problem is that a Russian missile approaches, and it damages the bomber. At this point, Peter Sellers needs to call the President of the United States, but he does not have change for the pay telephone, and the viewer is treated to the Coca Cola scene (described above). At 68 minutes, Slim Pickens continues to fly his damaged bomber and he says: "If we was flying any lower we'd need sleigh bells on this thing."
At 82 minutes, James Earl Jones notices a problem with the bomb bay doors. They won't open. So Slim Pickens decides to go down to the bomb bay to open them manually. Slim Pickens orders James Earl Jones to "fire the explosive bolts" but this does not work. And so, as the snare drums continue, and as the horns play "Johnny Comes Marching Home," Slim Pickens plays his very, very, famous "Yee-hawwww" scene by riding one of the nuclear bombs out of the bomb bay door, where it eventually explodes. Then, we hear the sone, "We'll Meet Again." The real reason I bought this movie was to see if it was the recording by The Byrds or the recording by Vera Lynn. I was disappointed to learn that it was Vera Lynn's recording, not the recording by The Byrds. Oh well.
I implore all to watch it!!!
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