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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

Dr. Strangelove, Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)



Reviews and Comments

There may not be a better political comedy than Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove, which is likely to appeal even to those who aren't normally fans of the director's work. Comedy is best when it's played straight, and here it certainly is. With the exception of the title character (a supporting role, really), you never spot any of the characters going for a laugh. Slim Pickens, so the legend surrounding the movie goes, wasn't even told it was a comedy.

Dr. Strangelove appeared third on the American Film Institute's list of 100 funniest comedies. I'm not sure if I could rank it there, but I would rank it high. This film has many great scenes and so much quotable, even legendary dialogue. But what makes it all work are the stellar performances by Peter Sellers (who plays three roles, the best being the President of the United States) and by George C. Scott, who turns in an outrageously blustering performance delivered with such sincerity and conviction that it's hilarious. Though both actors received greater acclaim for Being There and Patton, respectively, I believe their greatest performances are showcased here.

But the film is not perfect. The scenes in the bomber drag a bit, and the end is abrupt and clumsy. Roger Ebert, in his reviews of the film, suggest that the last war room scene should be moved earlier, and Slim Pickens' notorious last ride should cut directly to the final montage. I agree that would make for a tidier and probably better ending, but it's an obvious enough solution that I have to believe Kubrick thought of it and cut it differently on purpose. With the last war room scene placed where it is, the pressure is on. Doom is inevitable and imminent, and every second counts -- yet the President and the cabinet, generals, ambassadors, and so forth, carefully weigh dubious solutions that would take weeks if not months to implement because, hey, they sound fun. It's not hard to figure out what Kubrick is trying to say about the government of the day, or government in general.