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Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

George C. Scott as General Buck Turgidson

Stanley Kubrick’s nightmare comedy of nuclear annihilation, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964), is in a class by itself.

The film is a brilliant tour de force for all concerned; director Stanley Kubrick; Peter Sellers in three roles as Dr. Strangelove, Group Captain Lionel Mandrake, and the rather clueless President of the United States, Merkin Muffley; Sterling Hayden as the “mad as a hatter” United States Air Force Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper; and an atypically manic George C. Scott as General Buck Turgidson.

Aided by a brilliantly brutal script by Kubrick, Terry Southern and an uncredited Peter Sellers and James B. Harris, from Peter George’s novel Red AlertDr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb is a film that probably couldn’t be made today; test audiences would no doubt reject it out of hand. Sellers’ work is an obvious standout, but it’s time to give George C. Scott his due for his perhaps underappreciated work on the film.

As Roger Ebert noted, “every time you see a great film, you find new things in it. Viewing Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove for perhaps the 10th time, I discovered what George C. Scott does with his face. His performance is the funniest thing in the movie–better even than the inspired triple performance by Peter Sellers or the nutjob general played by Sterling Hayden–but this time I found myself paying special attention to the tics and twitches, the grimaces and eyebrow archings, the sardonic smiles and gum-chewing, and I enjoyed the way Scott approached the role as a duet for voice and facial expression [. . .]

Dr. Strangelove is filled with great comic performances, and just as well, because there’s so little else in the movie apart from faces, bodies and words. Kubrick shot it on four principal locations (an office, the perimeter of an Air Force base, The War Room, and the interior of a B-52 bomber) [. . . ] The War Room, one of the most memorable of movie interiors, was created by Ken Adam out of a circular desk, a ring of lights, some back-projected maps, and darkness. The headquarters of Gen. Jack D. Ripper, the haywire Air Force general, is just a room with some office furniture in it.

Yet out of these rudimentary physical props and a brilliant screenplay [. . .] Kubrick made what is arguably the best political satire of the century, a film that pulled the rug out from under the Cold War by arguing that if a nuclear deterrent destroys all life on Earth, it is hard to say exactly what it has deterred.”

If you haven’t seen the film, do so now; click here to see the trailer.

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About the Author

Wheeler Winston Dixon

Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of numerous books and more than 70 articles on film and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. To contact Prof. Dixon for an interview, reach him at 402.472.6064 or wdixon1@unl.edu.

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