Thursday, January 29, 2015

JANUARY 29 "Dr. Strangelove" Premieres

"...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."   - Roger Ebert

"There's not a false note in this 1964 black comedy about the ultimate madness of nuclear conflict and the bloody folly of war is a masterpiece, and the best Cold War movie ever made."   - Laurie Boeder

"Almost fifty years after it’s original 1964 release, Stanley Kubrick’s black comedy masterpiece is still as terrifying, insightful and hilarious as ever.... one of Stanley Kubrick’s many masterpieces, one of the greatest films about the Cold War and one of the greatest comedies ever made."   - Thomas Caldwell

"Waaaiill I've been to a world's fair, a picnic and a rodeo, and that's got to be the "STUPIDEST thing I ever heard over a set of earphones!"  - "Major Kong"

The movie "Dr. Strangelove (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb)" made it's premiere showing at Cinemas in New York City on today's date in 1964.  This film has been called "the ultimate dark comedy" and, since it deals with the end of the world in a nuclear holocaust by showing the absurd behavior of nearly everyone involved, it is difficult to disagree.   But the key to the films outrageous comedy is the fact that virtually every one of these characters is taking themselves deadly seriously.The quotations above are all from more recent reviews of the film.  The last quote above is from the screenplay by Stanley Kubrick (with Terry Southern and Peter George), who also produced and directed the film. Another very interesting feature of this movie is that it's star, Peter Sellers also has triple credits as he plays three of the film's main characters.

The Plot 

The story tells what happens when a British officer, "Group Captain Lionel Mandrake" (right top - Sellers #1) discovers that his commander, "Gen. Jack Ripper" has gone crazy and sent his planes to attack the Soviet Union.  The news of this unauthorized attack order reaches the Pentagon where "Gen. Buck Turgidson" explains to the President of the United States, one "Merkin Muffley" (right center - Sellers #2) what has happened and how. The president tries calling the Russian leader, "Premiere Kissoff" to arrange a way to stop attack, but discovers that the attack will unleash an automatic device called the "Doomsday Machine" which will blanket the earth with a nuclear shroud that will destroy all life on earth.  The president calls upon "Dr. Strangelove" an obvious German expatriate (above bottom - Sellers #3) to explain this weird machine.  Mandrake is able to get word to the president on how to stop the attack, but one of the planes is able to get through thus triggering the doomsday machine and bringing about the end of the world.

Countless GREAT Performances

It would simply be impossible to list all of the GREAT performances that this film contains without going on for ages, so let me point out just a few. Sterling Hayden is truly creepy as the crazy General who sets all of this in motion because of "the international communist conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids." George C. Scott is outrageous as General "Buck" Turgidson
(left) urging the president to go ahead and let the dirty commies have it. Scott once said that this character (whom he based on a man his father once worked for) was his favorite roll of his career.  The role of Major Kong (quoted at the top), commanding the plane that gets through is played with true Western panache by the actor Slim Pickens.  Sellers is brilliant in all his roles.  He was originally supposed to play the part of Major Kong as well, but was afraid that he would be unable to get the character's dialect convincingly. So when Sellers hurt his ankle making difficult to work in that role's small physical space, Pickens as brought on board. Nevertheless Sellers is superb in all of the roles which he does play, especially the prim Captain Mandrake and as the truly strange Dr. Strangelove of the film's title. Sellers wound up ad-libbing most of the Dr.'s strange physical ticks to hilarious effect, as you will see by
clicking on the excerpt provided with the name "Dr. Strangelove" above.

"Dr. Strangelove" Was and Is a Huge Success

The film was originally slated for a release date of December, 1963.  But owing to the assassination of JFK in late November of that year it was put off until late January, 1964.  Audiences which had only recently undergone the Cuban Missile crisis were receptive to the film's frank depiction of nuclear crisis at the highest level.  But having also suffered the loss of President Kennedy, they were also prepared for some comic relief. and it showed in the film's earnings which came in at nearly $4.5 million in it's first week of theatrical release.  Critical reaction was also highly favorable. Bradley Crowther of the New York Times found it to be frightening, but very clever:

"For this brazenly jesting speculation of what might happen within the Pentagon and within the most responsible council of the President of the United States if some maniac Air Force general should suddenly order a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union is at the same time one of the cleverest and most incisive satiric thrusts at the awkwardness and folly of the military that has ever been on the screen."

The movie also garnered four Academy Award nominations, and has continued ever since to be named among the greatest films ever made, ranking number 21 in the All-Time High Scores chart of Metacritic's Video/DVD section with an average score of 96.  And it has been listed as number 26 on Empire's 500 Greatest Movies of All Time. And, needless to say, it is one of this writer's Top 10 Films of All Time!!


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