Ep 24 // Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
Directed by Stanley Kubrick, 1964's 'Dr. Strangelove,' with its satirical depiction of the absurdity of the Cold War's threat of nuclear armageddon, is often cited as one of the best comedy films of all time – as well as simply one of the best films generally.
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It’s Stephen’s 4th pick: Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, the 1964 film directed by Stanley Kubrick.
Often cited as one of the best comedy films of all time – as well as simply one of the best films generally – this was Kubrick’s follow-up to Lolita, released two years before in 1962.Its making began with the director’s desire to produce a movie about a nuclear accident during the Cold War. As he was doing research for the project, someone suggested he read Peter George’s book, Red Alert, and he eventually bought the rights for it and began working with the author on an adaptation.
As they began to write, Kubrick at some point came to the conclusion that there was no real way to depict the scenario he was interested in without it seeming absurd, so they decided to lean into that absurdity and make it a satire, which is a departure from the more serious depiction of the novel. Satirical author Terry Southern (perhaps best known by movie fans as a co-writer of Easy Rider a few years later) was brought in to help with the tone.
The casting of Peter Sellers was instrumental in getting the film made, with Columbia Pictures making it a condition that the actor play 4 roles – one more than he had in 1959’s The Mouse that Roared. Originally, he was set to also play Major Kong, the bomber pilot, though perhaps against his better wishes since he wasn’t comfortable with the character’s Texas accent. But an injury forced him out of the role and it was recast with Slim Pickens, though not before it was offered to John Wayne. Another change of note is that the film legendarily originally ended with a giant pie fight between all the personnel in the War Room.
The film was originally set to open in late 1963, but was delayed due to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Instead it was released in January 1964 to good box office and it was eventually nominated for 4 Academy Awards – Best Picture, Director, Actor (Peter Sellers), and Adapted Screenplay – though it won none. It did however win 4 BAFTA awards, including Best British Film and Best Film From Any Source. And it was nominated for or won other Guild and Critics awards.
As for our purposes, it only appeared in the top 10 of one of Sight & Sound’s polls once, when it was ranked the 5th greatest film by directors in 2002. In the 2012 polling, it was ranked #117 by critics and #107 by directors. Among the directors who included it in their top 10s were Lawrence Kasdan, Michael Mann, and Amos Poe.