Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Dr Strangelove or how I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb


How it all goes down:

Made in the height of the Cold War and just two years after the Cuban Missile Crisis, Dr Strangelove or how I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, focuses on the tensions felt by both the Americans and Russians in the aftermath of the arms race and the threat of mutually assured destruction.  The film follows the insane American General Ripper (Sterling Hayden) who after suspecting that the Soviet Union is planning on poisoning the water supply of the American people. General Ripper under the false pretence of a war order from the Pentagon, sends a wing of American fighters to drop nuclear bombs on Russia.  Only General Ripper has the power to recall these ships by using a secret code.  His executive officer, Captain Mandrake (Peter Sellers) desperately tries to stop him.  This narrative is paralleled with a separate storyline that sees President Merkin Muffley, also played by Peter Sellers, also desperately looking into how the nuclear missiles can be stopped with the help of the overly zealous General Buck Turgidson and the Soviet ambassador Alexei de Sadeski..  The stakes are raised higher when it is revealed that the Soviet Union have installed a "Doomsday Device:" many buried bombs jacketed with CoIbalt-Thorium G that will explode in the event of a nuclear strike, thus wiping out life on Earth.  President Muffley calls upon his scientific advisor, ex-Nazi Dr Strangelove, Peter Sellers in his third role, to help provide a solution.

What worked:

This film is good.  It's not outstanding, but it's good.  I think one reason it worked is because it is really weird.  It's classified as a political satire black comedy film and I could definitely see the comedy in this film.  For a film that deals with topics as dark as mutually assured destruction and nuclear holocausts, it has to have some comedy to stop it from becoming too morbid.  The comedy in this film works exactly to this effect.  In what should be some of the film's most dramatic and tensest moments, the audience is greeted to some some seemingly out-of-place moments of comedy.  For example, during the scenes in the war-room, a scuffle breaks out between General Turgison and the Soviet Ambassador after the latter is found with a listening device.  The fact that this scuffle breaks out in the War Room amongst grown men who are diplomats and military advisors serves to break up the tension of this scene.  It is so abrupt and sudden that you can't help but laugh at it. 


Another example of the comedy is when Captain Mandrake who is desperately trying to place a call to the President to tell him of the deactivation code lacks the necessary change to make the call.  He, thus, orders an American colonel to shoot the lock of a vending machine so that Mandrake can use the change from there.  The American colonel responds that if  he gets into trouble for this then Mandrake will have to answer to the Coca-Cola company.  Again, this humour is bizarre, abrupt and seemingly out-of-place, yet it still works.  Whilst, it is weird, it again relaxes the tension of the scene. The suddenness of the incident completely subverts the viewer's expectations and keeps them interested in what's happening.  


Peter Sellers is undoubtedly the best part of this film.  He plays three separate roles, but he plays them so differently and so well, that all they seamlessly merge into one.  Each character is so different from one another, that it is difficult to believe that it just one actor who is playing them all.  From the stiff and proper Captain Mandrake to the more reserved President Muffley, whose telephone conversation with the Soviet Union Premier Dmitri Kissoff is absolutely hilarious, to the Dr. Strangelove who looks like an evil genius, Peter Sellers is great in every role.


What didn't work:

I think that the film took a little while to get going.  The beginning wasn't as nearly as interesting or as engaging as the middle or ending of the film.  Whilst I definitely felt the tension as it progressively built through the film, I think the beginning was a little boring.  Also, whilst in some parts, the zany humour was effective, due to how it portrayed the farcical nature of the situation, in others it was just so weird that it detracted from the film.  For example, despite receiving the deactivation code, the Americans are able to recall all but one plane.  After the bomb doors of the plane gets stuck, the plane's pilot straddles the bomb to manually force them open.  When the bomb is eventually released, the pilot hollers and cheers as it falls to Earth. Whilst this was funny, I'm not sure how realistic it is.  


Also the ending was just plain weird.  It was too abrupt and sudden to feel like an ending.  The film ends with the hitherto wheelchair bound Dr. Strangelove suddenly being able to walk and screaming "Mein Fuhrer, I can walk," before the film cuts to a montage of nuclear detonations accompanied by Vera Lynn's "We'll meet Again." This was just plain weird and really didn't fit in with the rest of the film.  Whilst many moments of the film are anomalous, but still work, this was not one of them.  It was just too sudden and bizarre.

What was ugly:

I was watching this with my housemate Anna and when, near the beginning of the film, there is a brief interaction between General Turgidson and his mistress Miss Scott, who is also the only woman in the film.  Anna complained that whilst male members were greeted to the bikini-clad Miss Scott, female members had to endure the hairy-chested, beer-bellied General Turgidson.  

Rating: Weird

Wow.  This film is so zany that it has warranted its own rating.  Don't get me wrong, I did like this film.  It was tense and funny, but it was just completely bizarre at times.  It was weird.  I'm not sure how else to describe it really.  Regardless, of its weirdness this film really was a complete spectacle to watch.

Click here to read my review of Spectre

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