... perhaps it’s not much of a surprise that I’ve kept coming back to Dr. Strangelove over the last few months.
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.