“Gentleman! You can't fight in here, this is the War Room!”
At the height of Cold War paranoia, Stanley Kubrick co-wrote, directed and produced the most scathing indictment of The Red Scare in the funniest satire in film history. Dr. Strangelove, or How I Stopped Worrying And Learned To Love The Bomb is hilarious -- outrageously so. Unlike most satires, Strangelove never forsakes the comedy for the message, sustaining huge laughs in favor of soapbox rhetoric. No sacred cows are spared in skewering politicians, generals, soldiers, religion, paranoia, Germans, Russians, the British and, especially, Americans.
General Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden) can no “longer sit back and allow communist infiltration, communist indoctrination, communist perversion and the international communist conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids.” And so, he surreptitiously uses Rule R to bypass presidential authority and launch a nuclear strike on the Soviet Union with a fleet of B-52s. Major T. J. "King" Kong (Slim Pickens) pilots one of the bombers into Russian airspace, proudly determined to kick off “nuclear combat toe to toe with the Russkies.”
Unbeknownst to them, the Russians have developed a "Doomsday Machine" that will destroy the world in retaliation for any nuclear strike. President Mervin Muffley (Peter Sellers), General "Buck" Turgidson (George C. Scott) and Dr. Strangelove (Peter Sellers), the German paraplegic who designed the American Doomsday Machine race against the clock to find the code that will re-establish contact with the squadron in time for them to change course. In the meantime, RAF Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake (Peter Sellers), unwittingly involved in the plot until General Ripper commits suicide, attempts to decipher the code from Ripper’s cryptic and inane ramblings on fluoridation.
Sellers is of course brilliant in his three roles, each uniquely different and delightfully distasteful. George C. Scott, in a rare comic turn, proves he has the chops. He is very funny as General Turgidson, more concerned with concealing military secrets than saving humanity: “I'm not saying we wouldn't get our hair mussed. But I do say no more than ten to twenty million killed, tops. Uh, depending on the breaks.”
Kubrick injected satirical flourishes into almost everything he directed, but, while Dr. Strangelove was his only foray into full-on comedy, it ranks among the absolute best. Dr. Strangelove was nominated for four Academy Awards and inducted into the AFI’s Greatest 100 Movies.