Slim Pickens as Major T. J. “King” Kong in Dr. Strangelove

On this Day:

In 1964, “Dr Strangelove”, directed by Stanley Kubrick and starring Peter Sellers and George C. Scott, premiered.

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, more commonly known simply as Dr. Strangelove, is a 1964 black comedy film that satirizes the Cold War fears of a nuclear conflict between the Soviet Union and the United States. The film was directed, produced, and co-written by Stanley Kubrick and stars Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden, and Slim Pickens. The film was made in the United Kingdom. The film is loosely based on Peter George’s thriller novel Red Alert (1958).

The story concerns an unhinged United States Air Force general who orders a first strike nuclear attack on the Soviet Union. It separately follows the President of the United States, his advisors, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a Royal Air Force (RAF) exchange officer as they attempt to prevent the crew of a B-52 plane (who were following orders from the general) from bombing the Soviets and starting a nuclear war.

The film is often considered one of the best comedies ever made, as well as one of the greatest films of all time. In 1998, the American Film Institute ranked it twenty-sixth in its list of the best American movies (in the 2007 edition, the film ranked thirty-ninth), and in 2000, it was listed as number three on its list of the funniest American films. In 1989, the United States Library of Congress included Dr. Strangelove as one of the first twenty-five films selected for preservation in the National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

United States Air Force Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper is commander of Burpelson Air Force Base, which houses the 843rd Bomb Wing, flying B-52 bombers armed with hydrogen bombs. The planes are on airborne alert two hours from their targets inside the USSR.

General Ripper orders his executive officer, Group Captain Lionel Mandrake of the Royal Air Force (RAF), to put the base on alert and issue “Wing Attack Plan R” to the patrolling bombers, one of which is commanded by Major T. J. “King” Kong. All the aircraft commence attack flights on the USSR and set their radios to allow communications only through their CRM 114 discriminators, which are designed to accept only communications preceded by a secret three-letter code known only to General Ripper. Mandrake discovers that no attack order has been issued by the Pentagon and tries to stop Ripper, who locks them both in his office. Ripper tells Mandrake that he believes the Soviets have been fluoridating American water supplies to pollute the “precious bodily fluids” of Americans. Mandrake realizes Ripper has become insane.

In the War Room at the Pentagon, General Buck Turgidson briefs President Merkin Muffley and other officers about how “Plan R” enables a senior officer to launch a retaliatory nuclear attack on the Soviets if all superiors have been killed in a first strike on the United States. It would take two days to try every CRM code combination to issue a recall order, so Muffley orders the U.S. Army to storm the base and arrest General Ripper. Turgidson then proposes that Muffley let the attack continue, but Muffley refuses. Instead, he brings Soviet ambassador Alexei de Sadeski into the War Room to telephone Soviet Premier Dimitri Kissov on the “hotline”. Muffley warns the Premier of the impending attack and offers to reveal the positions of the bombers and their targets so that the Soviets can protect themselves.

After a heated discussion with the Premier, the ambassador informs President Muffley that the Soviet Union created a doomsday machine as a nuclear deterrent; it consists of many buried bombs jacketed with “cobalt-thorium G”, which are set to detonate automatically should any nuclear attack strike the country. The resulting nuclear fallout would then engulf the planet for 93 years, rendering the Earth’s surface uninhabitable. The device cannot be deactivated, as it is programmed to explode if any such attempt is made. The President’s wheelchair-using scientific advisor, former German Nazi Dr. Strangelove, points out that such a doomsday machine would only be an effective deterrent if everyone knew about it; Alexei replies that the Soviet Premier had planned to reveal its existence to the world the following week at the Party Congress.

U.S. Army troops arrive at Burpelson and battles with the garrison. After General Ripper commits suicide, Mandrake identifies Ripper’s CRM code from his desk blotter and relays it to the Pentagon. Using the code, Strategic Air Command successfully recalls all of the bombers except Major Kong’s, whose radio equipment has been damaged in a missile attack. The Soviets attempt to find it, but Kong has the bomber attack a closer target due to dwindling fuel. As the plane approaches the new target, a Soviet ICBM site, the crew is unable to open the damaged bomb bay doors. Kong enters the bay and repairs the electrical wiring while straddling an H-bomb, whereupon the doors open and the bomb is dropped. Kong joyfully hoots as he rides the falling bomb until it detonates over the target.

Back in the War Room, Dr. Strangelove recommends that the President gather several hundred thousand people to live in deep underground mines where the radiation will not penetrate. He suggests a 10:1 female-to-male ratio for a breeding program to repopulate the Earth once the radiation has subsided; a plan which gathers enthusiastic support from the all-male command staff. Worried that the Soviets will do the same, Turgidson warns about a “mineshaft gap” while Alexei secretly photographs the War Room. Dr. Strangelove declares he has a plan, then suddenly rises from his wheelchair and exclaims, “Mein Führer, I can walk!” as the Doomsday Machine activates. The film ends with a montage of numerous nuclear explosions, accompanied by Vera Lynn’s rendition of the song “We’ll Meet Again”.

Dr. Strangelove is Kubrick’s highest-rated film on Rotten Tomatoes, holding a 98% approval rating based on 91 reviews, with an average rating of 9.13/10. The site’s critical consensus reads, “Stanley Kubrick’s brilliant Cold War satire remains as funny and razor-sharp today as it was in 1964.” The film also holds a score of 97 out of 100 on Metacritic, based on 32 reviews, indicating “universal acclaim.” The film is ranked number 7 in the All-Time High Scores chart of Metacritic’s Video/DVD section. It was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.

Dr. Strangelove is on Roger Ebert’s list of The Great Movies, and he described it as “arguably the best political satire of the century.” One of the most celebrated of all film comedies, in 1998, Time Out conducted a reader’s poll and Dr. Strangelove was voted the 47th greatest film of all time. Entertainment Weekly voted it at No. 14 on their list of 100 Greatest Movies of All Time. It is the only comedy to make the top 10 in any of the Sight & Sound polls of best films. John Patterson of The Guardian wrote, “There had been nothing in comedy like Dr Strangelove ever before. All the gods before whom the America of the stolid, paranoid 50s had genuflected—the Bomb, the Pentagon, the National Security State, the President himself, Texan masculinity and the alleged Commie menace of water-fluoridation—went into the wood-chipper and never got the same respect ever again.” It is also listed as number 26 on Empire’s 500 Greatest Movies of All Time, and in 2010 it was listed by Time magazine as one of the 100 best films since the publication’s inception in 1923. The Writers Guild of America ranked its screenplay the 12th best ever written.

In 2000, readers of Total Film magazine voted it the 24th greatest comedic film of all time. The film ranked 42nd in BBC’s 2015 list of the 100 greatest American films. The film was selected as the 2nd best comedy of all time in a poll of 253 film critics from 52 countries conducted by the BBC in 2017 (per Wikipedia).

First, a Story:

I can’t stand watching movie scenes where someone is trying to defuse a bomb.

It always seems to come down to the wire…

Second, a Song:

OkehWolf has put together the Best Scenes from Dr. Strangelove in 8:33, courtesy of I hope you enjoy this!


Thought for the Day:

“The best conversation with Stanley Kubrick is a silent one: you sit in a theatre and watch his films and you learn so much.” – Peter Weir

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Have a great day!

Dave & Colleen

© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky

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