Dr. Strangelove

Dr. Strangelove is one of the great American films: not just a savage anti-war satire but a jeremiad against the mechanization (and resulting dehumanization) that spawned the nuclear-war machine and might turn a burst of insanity into the death of all life on the planet. (The film’s subtitle: “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.”) It was an amazingly daring movie for its time: early 1964, the peak of Cold War tensions, barely a year after the Cuban Missile Crisis, on the eve of escalation in Vietnam—and here’s Stanley Kubrick, joined by Terry Southern, author of Candy, The Magic Christian, and other naughty novels, portraying the top brass as mentally off, our political leaders as feckless, and the holy of military holies, the nuclear deterrent, as a Doomsday Machine. And it’s funny as hell!

1016strange.box.jpgKubrick was a celebrated photojournalist before he became a filmmaker, and Strangelove—shot like a stylized documentary, in chiaroscuro black-and-white—finds him drawing on that history. There are few films that are so worthy of frame-by-frame study yet that move along so briskly and unassumingly. More than any of his films, except perhaps Lolita, the cast makes Strangelove work: Peter Sellers in three roles (the president, a British RAF officer, and the title character, a perversely logical, wheelchair-bound, Nazi scientist turned Pentagon R&D chief); George C. Scott as the Pentagon’s bug-eyed top general; Sterling Hayden as Gen. Jack D. Ripper, the SAC base commander who sends his bombers to kill the Commies in Russia; and Slim Pickens as the genial rodeo-hound B-52 pilot who rides the bomb to Ground Zero. Viewers at the time didn’t realize how real this film was: For instance, the “fail-safe” alert system, which made it hard to recall B-52s to their base after they received the Go code, really was the system of the time. (It was being changed as the movie came out.)

The film was shot dark, and the Criterion Collection’s 1080p transfer, struck from a 4K scan of myriad elements (the original negative was destroyed long ago), picks up all the shades and shadows in sharp detail—just a bit more so than Columbia’s Blu-ray (which was struck from a 2K scan) of a few years back, but enough to make you notice, especially with the scenes inside the B-52. The sound and music are clearer still. The special features include almost all the Columbia extras plus several more, including fascinating interviews with scholars who have plumbed the Kubrick archives.

This is essential.

Studio: Criterion Collection, 1964
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
Audio Format: Uncompressed mono, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Length: 95 mins.
MPAA Rating: PG
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Starring: Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden

dommyluc's picture

"Mein Editors! Please launch a nuclear attack against these comment trolls that are polluting my precious bodily fluids!"

mars2k's picture

Until this review I never knew Sterling Hayden's character name was Jack D Ripper, OMG that is priceless! I saw this as a boy when it came out and several times since finding more each time. Further thanks for the connection to Magic Christian also priceless. The best