(Check out the list so far)
The Movie: Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
One Sentence Plot Summary: A series of checks and balances are upended by a few individuals, leading to total annihilation courtesy of an accidental nuclear war.
Why It’s on the List: This is one of the all-time great satires ever put to film. Peter Sellers plays three roles, and something we’ve gotten used to is major comedic performers playing multiple characters in a film. We’ve seen it especially in a lot of Eddie Murphy movies. This is a very different usage. Sellers plays three distinctive characters, two of which are almost the straight men. George C. Scott and Sterling Heyden go over the top in their performances. Sellers as a general and the president of the United States bounces off of them as voices of reasons. It’s only the titular Dr. Strangelove that crosses over into parody with his actions and behavior.
This is a terrifying movie. Maybe the idea of a nuclear war happening on accident isn’t as much of a threat. What is something that remains relevant 60 years later is checks and balances being upended by a few players who go out of bounds. The fact that they are psychotic people in the military comes as no shock. Peter Sellers, especially as the president, comes off like a modern neoliberal democrat. While he comes across as reasonable, he also doesn’t really have moral sensibilities (which may in fact be the most realistic part of the movie at times). The scenes on the military base and in the war room are spectacularly written and executed. I’m less sold on the events on the plane, but the visual of the general riding the bomb with the cowboy hat is an iconic moment of this film.
I mentioned George C. Scott earlier, and I absolutely love his supporting role. He’s so over the top throughout the entire movie and plays the worst kind of general. He may be best known for his turn as Patton, but I’ve always felt this was his best turn. Comedies don’t always get a lot of awards consideration, and this is a very dense satire of America. In many ways, the aesthetic problems have changes, but the systemic ones represented by this film remain. Who’s to say an absolute lunatic couldn’t just change the rules to suit his own situation while other people in power point to the rulebook or civility…hypothetically.
*The one female character is in a bikini the whole time and only serves at the seeming pleasure of General Turgidson.
MVP and Best Performance: Peter Sellers. I have to mention Stanley Kubrick as director because he’s iconic and one of the most celebrated filmmakers ever. This and The Shining are the films of his I consider to be true classics. The visuals here, despite being in black and a white at a time when this was becoming rare, are spectacular. The rendering of the War Room is something that has been parodied in numerous other movies and television shows. Despite this, Peter Sellers is able to create three distinctive characters that feel totally different and are even visually very different. I wish he was as well remembered as some of the other comedic performers of his time because he was excellent in so many other movies besides this one.
Best Quote: “Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room.”- President Merkin Muffley
Is there a sequel? Kind of hard to have a sequel when you blow up the world at the end and there’s no time travel.