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Posts Tagged ‘Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb’

Dark Humor in Films of the 1960s – Part 1

Monday, August 20th, 2012

I have a new essay in the journal Film International, entitled Dark Humor in Films of the 1960s.

It’s a long piece, so the journal is running it in four parts, one each Monday starting today, Monday August 20, 2012. You can watch this space for further installments in the series; for the moment, here’s the beginning of the essay for your delectation;

“There’s a story about an adolescent boy who was taken to a psychiatrist. The doctor drew a rectangle on a sheet of paper and showed it to the boy. ‘What does it make you think of?’ he asked. The boy looked at it and said, ‘Sex.’ The doctor got the same response when he drew a circle on the paper. When he had drawn a triangle and an octagon and an ellipse with the same results, he said, ‘Son, you need help.’ The boy was amazed. ‘But, doc,’ he protested, ‘you’re the one that’s drawing the dirty pictures!’” (Zern 1958: n.p.)

In the 1960s, themes which had previously been dealt with only in the most serious fashion were suddenly subject to burlesque, or parody, as filmmakers and audiences sought to move beyond the strained seriousness that characterized many of the most respected problem films of the 1960s. In such films as Roger Corman’s The Little Shop of Horrors (1960) and A Bucket of Blood (1959), Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964), Theodore J. Flicker’s The President’s Analyst (1967), Stanley Kramer’s It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), William Castle’s The Old Dark House (1963), George Axelrod’s Lord Love A Duck (1966), Mel BrooksThe Producers (1968), Tony Richardson’s The Loved One (1965), Roy Boulting’s I’m All Right, Jack (1959), Stanley Donen’s Bedazzled (1967), Michael Winner’s I’ll Never Forget What’s ’is Name (1967), Karel Reisz’s Morgan! A Suitable Case for Treatment (1966), Robert Downey Sr.’s Putney Swope (1969), to say nothing of Richard Lester’s The Knack… and How to Get It (1965), as well as Kevin Billington’s acidic political comedy The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer (1970), viewers embraced a new vision of the world unfettered by the constraints of prior censorship, and wedded to a sense of the absurdity of life, in which all previous values were suddenly called into question, and found either morally or socially bankrupt. These films, which treated such subjects as war, sex, death, the workplace, national politics and the family with studied irreverence, found both a willing audience, and a place in the emerging national consciousness of the post JFK assassination era.”

You can read the rest of part one by clicking here; see you next week for Part Two, and so on.

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

Friday, October 7th, 2011

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.

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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