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


Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
   Columbia Pictures, 93 minutes, January 1964 Producer: Stanley Kubrick; Director: Kubrick; Screenplay: Peter George; Cinematographer: Gilbert Taylor; Assistant Director: Eric Rattray; Art Director: Peter Murton; Wardrobe: Bridget Sellers; Makeup: Stuart Freeborn; Sound: John Cox; Special Effects: Wally Veevers; Special Photographic Adviser:Vic Margutti; Editor: Anthony Harvey; Cast: Peter Sellers (Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake/President Merkin Muffley/Dr. Strangelove), George C. Scott (Gen. Buck Turgidson), Sterling Hayden (Brig. Gen. Jack D. Ripper, Commanding Officer, Burpelson Air Force Base), Keenan Wynn (Col. Bat Guano), Slim Pickens (Major T. J. “King” Kong, pilot), Peter Bull (Russian ambassador Alexi de Sadesky), James Earl Jones (Lt. Lothar Zogg, bombardier), Tracy Reed (Miss Scott, General Turgidson’s secretary), Jack Creley (Mr. Staines), Frank Berry (Lt. H. R. Dietrich), Robert O’Neil (Admiral Randolph), Glen Beck (Lt. W. D. Kivel), Roy Stephens (Frank), Shane Rimmer (Capt. G. A. “Ace” Owens, copilot), Hal Galili (Burpelson defense team member), Paul Tamarin (Lt. B. Goldberg, communications officer), Laurence Herder (Burpelson defense team member), Gordon Tanner (General Faceman), and John McCarthy (Burpelson defense team member).
   STANLEY KUBRICK’s seventh feature film, Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, was released in January 1964, became a smash hit, enjoyed 17 weeks as one of the 15 top films in the United States, and went on to become a pop culture landmark. Writing in 1994, New York Times film critic Janet Maslin referred to Dr. Strangelove as perhaps “the most warmly remembered of cold war artifacts,” thanks to “its pitch-black humor. ” Earlier that same year, Eric Lefcowitz suggested that the film “has entered the pop vernacular, a metaphor for the deadly consequences of science-and government—gone awry. ” Michael Foot’s book about the 21st-century threat of nuclear war from such countries as India and North Korea was entitled Dr. Strangelove, I Presume, giving credence to Lefcowitz’s claim. The film has been cited on The Simpsons and included as one of the essentials on Turner Classic Movies, and directors STEVEN SPIELBERG and Oliver Stone have acknowledged its influence on their own work.
   Though a popular favorite for nearly 40 years, Dr. Strangelove is also very much a product of cold war anxieties about nuclear devastation. As U. S. -Soviet tensions heated up throughout the 1950s and early Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb n 87 88 n Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb 1960s, Kubrick became increasingly concerned about the prospect of all-out nuclear war. In 1963, Kubrick reported that
   Dr. Strangelove came from my great desire to do something about the nuclear nightmare. I was very interested in what was going to happen, and started reading a lot of books about four years ago. I have a library of about 70 or 80 books written by various people on the subject and I began to subscribe to the military magazines, the Air Force magazine, and to follow U. S. Naval [Institute] proceedings. [. . . ] I was struck by the paradoxes of every variation of the problem from one extreme to the other-from the paradoxes of unilateral disarmament to the first strike. And it seemed to me that . . . it was very important to deal with this problem dramatically because it’s the only social problem where there’s absolutely no chance for people to learn anything from experience.
   The director began discussing his interest in nuclear war with Alastair Buchan, the head of the Institute of Strategic Studies in London, who recommended a novel called Two Hours to Doom to him. Written in 1958 by former Royal Air Force flight lieutenant PETER GEORGE under the pseudonym Peter Bryant, Two Hours to Doom was published in the United States as RED ALERT. The novel, which concerned the possibility of a mentally unstable general unleashing atomic bombs on the Soviet Union, interested Kubrick, so coproducer JAMES B. HARRIS purchased the rights for $3,500. The project was announced in May 1962, and shooting was to begin Stanley Kubrick on the set of Dr. Strangelove (1964) (Kubrick estate) in October of that year at the Shepperton Studios in London.
   Seven Arts agreed to back the film, and Kubrick and Peter George began work on the screenplay for Two Hours to Doom, which was to be a serious adaptation of a serious book about serious issues. Early on, the film was to be a kind of documentary from the point of view of an alien culture that discovers evidence of Earth’s destruction, a conceit that Peter George would borrow for his 1963 novelization of the finished screenplay. GEORGE C. SCOTT, STERLING HAYDEN, and JAMES EARL JONES were cast as the noncomic versions of the characters they were to play in the finished film. Kubrick tried to sign John Wayne to play the leader of the B-52 crew, but he declined the role. When the Harris-Kubrick partnership dissolved late in 1962, Seven Arts withdrew its commitment, forcing Kubrick (who formed Hawk Films to produce the picture) to look elsewhere for a distributor. Columbia Pictures agreed to distribute the film, but only if PETER SELLERS, who had starred in the successful LOLITA, would star in this film, too. Sellers would again play several characters, as he had done in Lolita.
   Even as Kubrick had to determine how to handle a nuclear war thriller with a comic actor as its star, Peter George was embroiled in a lawsuit with Harvey Wheeler and Eugene Burdick, authors of the best-seller Fail Safe, which had been acquired by United Artists’ Max Youngstein prior to its publication. George had brought suit against the two writers for plagiarism, and he ended up winning an out-of-court settlement, but the film version still had the green light and there was some fear that it might be finished before Two Hours to Doom. JOHN BAXTER, in his biography of Kubrick, suggests that this development, which necessitated product differentiation, coupled with the casting of Sellers in the film, led Kubrick to “a radical reassessment of the whole project. ”
   In an interview with Films and Filming in 1963, Kubrick suggested that the transformation of Two Hours to Doom into Dr. Strangelove was more of an organic process: “I found that in trying to put meat on the bones and to imagine scenes fully one had to keep leaving things out of it which were either absurd or paradoxical, in order to keep it from being funny, and these things seemed to be very real. ” In 1964, he told Eugene Archer of the New York Times that “the more I worked on it, the more I was intrigued by the comic aspects—the façade of conventional reality being pierced. ” In Newsweek, Kubrick posed the question, “How the hell could the President ever tell the Russian Premier to shoot down American planes? . . . Good Lord, it sounds ridiculous. ” It was this interest in the absurdities of an all-too-real scenario, Kubrick claimed, that led him to develop George’s novel into a “nightmare comedy. ”
   In December 1962, Kubrick contacted writer TERRY SOUTHERN, coauthor of the critically acclaimed best-seller Candy and author of The Magic Christian, the latter of which Kubrick had read after Peter Sellers gave him one of the 100 copies he had ordered for all his friends. According to Southern, Kubrick felt The Magic Christian included “certain indications” that Southern would be the right person for the job of transforming the script into a black comedy. Southern is generally given credit for much of the film’s humor, including the creation of sexually suggestive names for some of the characters (Pres. Merkin Muffley, Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake, Gen. Buck Turgidson, and Dr. Merkwurdichliebe himself ), the comic renaming of others (Col. Bat Guano, Maj. T. J. “King” Kong, Russian Premier Dmitri Kissoff ), and many of the wilder lines of dialogue in the film.
   Kubrick would later deny Southern’s extensive involvement in the production, going so far as to threaten a lawsuit against Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) and Filmways, Inc. when an advertisement for Tony Richardson’s 1965 film The Loved One, appeared to suggest that Southern was the sole writer of Dr. Strangelove. Kubrick claimed that, at the time Southern was brought to England to help out with the picture,“[t]he concept of nightmare comedy was now about eight months old, the actors were happy with their parts. ” According to Kubrick, Southern was involved in the film only peripherally and for a brief period of time prior to shooting, at which time “many substantial changes were made in the script by myself and/or Peter George, and sometimes together Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb n 89 with the cast during improvisations. Mr. Southern took no part in these activities, nor did he receive any further employment, nor did he serve in any consulting role. He visited the studio from time to time but never in any professional capacity. The most accurate way for me to sum up Mr. Southern’s contribution to the film is to say that I am glad he worked on the script and that his screenplay credit in third place is completely fitting and proportionate to his contribution. ” According to John Baxter, Kubrick’s claims are rather inaccurate, as Southern was a fixture on the set of the film and at Kubrick’s home in London during the shoot. Southern has claimed that the script by Kubrick and Peter George was not funny and that Kubrick had a poor memory. Many critics of the film recognized Southern’s satirical style in the finished film’s dialogue, as well. Southern remembers doing rewrites with Kubrick in the car on the way to Shepperton on the mornings those scenes were to be filmed.
   Whatever the extent of Southern’s contribution to the film, Dr. Strangelove did go into production as a comedy in early 1963, a fact that rankled Columbia’s executive producer Mo Rothman, who told Southern “Just tell Stanley . . . that New York does not see anything funny about the end of the world!”The U. S. military also saw very little to laugh about. The air force kept its B-52 bombers off limits to the filmmakers, refusing even to give out photographs for assistance in the building of the set for the plane-called The Leper Colony after a plane in the 1949 film Twelve O’Clock High—that would drop the nuclear warheads in the film. Once Dr. Strangelove was completed, the armed forces succeeded in persuading Columbia to add a disclaimer at the beginning of the film declaring that “t is the stated position of the United States Air Force that their safeguards would prevent the occurrence of such events as are depicted in this film. ”
   Production designer KEN ADAM, who had done the sets for [i]Dr. No, the first of the Sean Connery James Bond films, ended up using photographs from British military magazines to construct the cockpit of the plane. According to Newsweek, the cockpit set cost $100,000, while “each shot of the B-52 in flight, made with a 10-foot model and a moving matte, cost more than $6,000. ” Adam’s War Room set, which everyone who worked on the film found quite impressive,was based on the Dr. No set. As Ken Adam told John Baxter, the set began,“as a sort of two-level control room, with a mezzanine, loosely based on NORAD and places which I’d researched. [Kubrick] seemed to be very thrilled by that, so I started working drawings. But after three weeks, he said,‘Ken, this second level is going to be a nuisance. Who’s going to be up there? I’m going to have to fill it with extras and so on. I think you’d better come up with a different concept. ’ . . . So I started scribbling away again, and Stanley, as he often did,was standing behind me. And he said, ‘Oh, I quite like this triangular shape. Isn’t the triangle one of the strongest geometrical forms?’ I agreed. Then he said,‘How would you treat the walls?’ And I suggested reinforced concrete. ‘Like a gigantic bomb shelter. ’ And that convinced him. ” The set was enormous, but, as Adam has pointed out, Kubrick decided not to include any establishing shots of the War Room “with the lights on” because “he didn’t want it to be like a Bond movie, where you have a chance to admire the set. He didn’t want any sense of geographical boundaries to this claustrophobic bomb shelter. ”
   The third major location of the film, Burpelson Air Force Base, where Sterling Hayden’s General Ripper holds out against the U. S. troops and tells Mandrake about the fiendish communist plot to sap Americans’ “vital bodily fluids” through the fluoridation of drinking water, was far less spectacular; but, in scenes where the army attacks Ripper, Kubrick did shoot some of the exteriors with a hand-held camera, giving those sequences an added sense of realism.
   After shooting had begun, Peter Sellers, who had signed on to play Group Captain Mandrake, President Muffley, Dr. Strangelove, and Major Kong, began expressing his discomfort with this last role. He sent Kubrick a telegram reading, Dear Stanley:
   I am so very sorry to tell you that I am having serious difficulty with the various roles. Now hear this: there is no way, repeat, no way, I can play the Texas pilot, ‘Major King Kong. ’ I have a complete block against that accent. Letter from Okin [Sellers’ agent] follows. Please forgive.
   Peter S.
   Kubrick tried to convince Sellers to perform the part, and Terry Southern, himself a Texan, recorded the dialogue for Sellers to listen to and practice. Southern claims that Sellers mastered the accent and some scenes were shot with the actor playing Kong. However, Sellers suffered a hairline fracture in a fall outside a restaurant, leaving him physically incapable of performing the scene where Kong rides out of the B-52 on top of the bomb, which involved a fall of three meters (about 10 feet) on the set. Kubrick was forced to recast the part. He tried Dan Blocker, the actor who played Hoss on television’s Bonanza, but the actor’s agent called the script “too pinko for Dan—or anyone else we know for that matter. ” Kubrick finally chose SLIM PICKENS, a rodeo cowboy who had acted previously only in ONE-EYED JACKS. The cast was now set, with Sellers starring in three of the film’s major roles, George C. Scott as Gen. Buck Turgidson, Hayden as Gen. Ripper, Keenan Wynn as Col. Bat Guano, Peter Bull as Ambassador de Sadesky, James Earl Jones as Lt. Lothar Zogg, and Tracy Reed, daughter of director Carol Reed, as Miss Scott (Miss Foreign Affairs).
   Principal photography ended on April 23, 1963, and editor ANTHONY HARVEY set to work. The finished Dr. Strangelove, which cost $2 million and ran a crisp 94 minutes, was ready for release in the winter of 1963, and the film was previewed in New York at that time. However, the assassination of President Kennedy in November forced Columbia to delay its general release until January 1964. Furthermore, Pickens’s line in reference to the condoms and money found in the crew’s survival packs, “A guy could have a great weekend in Dallas with this,” was changed to “a great weekend in Vegas” in postproduction, in order not to conjure unpleasant memories of the president’s murder.
   Other scenes that were cut from the film are worth mentioning, as well. A scene was shot in which Sellers’ President Muffley talked to a sentient computer, which John Baxter argues “metamorphose[ d] into HAL 9000 in 2001. ” Another key scene that was cut was the original ending to the film, which actor Peter Bull remembers as “a mad custard-pie melee. ” Bull remembers the scene taking “a fortnight” to shoot and that “at least 2,000” shaving cream pies were used in the battle. Southern remembers the pie fight as a “truly fantastic” longtake sequence. According to Southern, it was meant to lampoon the armed forces’ rivalry over government appropriations, which “precludes any chance of Sterling Hayden, Peter Sellers, and Stanley Kubrick on the set of Dr. Strangelove (1964) (Kubrick estate) Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb n 93 reducing our absurdly high defense budget. ”Kubrick ended up cutting the scene because, in his words, “it was too farcical and not consistent with the rest of the film. ”
   According to Terry Southern, Kubrick was sorely disappointed with the way Columbia was handling the marketing of the film. Apparently, Mo Rothman had told Kubrick that “[t]he publicity department is having a hard time getting a handle on how to promote a comedy about the destruction of the planet. ” Southern claims that, after Dr. Strangelove’s release, “the studio continued to distance itself from the film. Even when Strangelove received the infrequent good review, it dismissed the critic as a pinko nutcase and on at least one occasion the Columbia Pictures publicity department defended the company against the film by saying it was definitely not ‘anti–U. S. military,’ but ‘just a zany novelty flick which did not reflect the views of the corporation in any way. ’” Despite Southern’s complaints, though, the studio did come up with an interesting publicity campaign for the film. Most of the advertisements contained in the studio pressbook refer to the film as “the hot-line suspense comedy” or “the wild hot-line suspense comedy,” while a few dub the film a “red-hot suspense story that’s rocking and shocking the world!” Several of the ads seek to draw audiences in by showing pictures of various characters on the phone next to captions containing intriguing questions like, “Why did General Jack D. Ripper unleash his HBombers to attack Russia?” or “Why did Dr.
   Strangelove want ten women for each man?” Many of the ads are accompanied by glowing reviews, including CBS’s reference to the film as the “first Stanley Kubrick preparing the deleted pie-throwing scene for Dr. Strangelove (1964) (Kubrick estate) important American movie of 1964,” and Time’s assessment that “Dr. Strangelove is the most original American comedy in years and at the same time a super-sonic thriller that should have audiences chomping their fingernails right down to the funny bone!”
   Theater owners were encouraged to display the full title of the film on their marquees, using “worthwhile marquee underhangs that add up to a built-in word-of-mouth gimmick for a distinctly word-ofmouth boxoffice attraction. ” Some unusual promotions were attempted, as well. Sterling Hayden’s autobiography Wanderer, was recommended as potential promotional material. Colpix Records put out a disc featuring a song called “Love That Bomb” by Dr. Strangelove and the Fall-Outs for distribution to theaters to play in their lobbies. Newspapers and schools were targeted as potential sites for advertising through debate about the issues raised in the film. Probably the strangest promotion of all involved the suggestion that theaters order tiny “Nuclear Bomb Effects Computers” (like the one Kubrick himself kept on his desk) for a dollar apiece (or 75 cents if ordered in bulk) from the U. S. government. The computers estimated the “biological and medical effects of nuclear bomb bursts at various heights and of various yields,” as well as information on the “effects of exposure to radiation and to degrees of heat,” and were to be given to “VIP’s—editors, critics, radio and TV personalities. ”
   Most critics probably did not need Nuclear Bomb Effects Computers to give the film the praise it deserved. Indeed, the film was generally well received. Tom Milne in Sight and Sound wrote that “[a] film which maintains the courage of its convictions is rare enough; even rarer is one which pursues its course with such relentless logic. ” Jackson Burgess of Film Quarterly wrote, “Whatever your most cherished value, in Dr. Strangelove you’ll find a scene, a line, a character, to assimilate you to the madness it portrays. ” Dwight MacDonald named it “The funniest and most serious American movie in a long time” and called Kubrick the “boldest” of directors. Arthur Schlesinger Jr. found the film “fresh and funny and fascinating and terrible” and called it “a triumph of artistic virtuosity,” despite his reservations that the film was “overcrowded with ideas, effects, points, insights, some good, some less good, all slightly hurried and flattened by the tight artistic control. ” Even the film’s detractors usually acknowledged its intelligence and wit. Bosley Crowther, who called the film “a bit too contemptuous of our defense establishment,” still pointed out that it was “cleverly written and skillfully directed and played,” calling it “a devastating satire. ” Stephen Taylor, writing in Film Comment, found the film “a disappointment,” but called Sellers’ Dr. Strangelove “marvelous” and suggested that, if nothing else, the film was a conversation starter. Pauline Kael wrote that “Dr. Strangelove was clearly intended as a cautionary movie; it meant to jolt us awake to the dangers of the bomb by showing us the insanity of the course we were pursuing. But artists’ warnings about war and the dangers of total annihilation never tell us how we are supposed to regain control, and Dr. Strangelove, chortling over madness, did not indicate any possibilities for sanity,” suggesting that she, like Crowther and Susan Sontag, as well, recognized the film’s cleverness but had some difficulty, to paraphrase a line from the studio pressbook, learning to stop worrying and love the movie.
   References
   ■ Archer, Eugene,“How to Learn to Love World Destruction,” New York Times, January 26, 1964, p. X-13;
   ■ Baxter, John, Stanley Kubrick: A Biography (London: HarperCollins, 1997);
   ■ Bull, Peter, “The Ending You Never Saw in ‘Strangelove,’” New York Times, January 9, 1966;
   ■ Burgess, Jackson, review of Dr. Strangelove, Film Quarterly, 17, no. 3 (spring 1964): 41–42;
   ■ Crowther, Bosley,“Is Nothing Sacred? Two New Films Make Mockeries of Some Very Serious Things,” New York Times, February 2, 1964;
   ■ Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb press book, ca. 1964;
   ■ George, Peter, Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (London: Prion Books Ltd. , 2000);
   ■ Hoberman, J. “When Dr. No Met Dr. Strangelove,” Sight and Sound 3, no. 12 (new series, December 1993): 16–21;
   ■ Leyda, Jay, Film Makers Speak: Voices of Film Experience (New York: Da Capo Press, 1977);
   ■ Lefcowitz, Eric,“‘Dr. Strangelove’Turns 30. Can It Still Be Trusted?” New York Times, January 30, 1994, sec. 2, p. 13;
   ■ MacDonald, Dwight, review of Dr. Strangelove, Esquire, February 1964, pp. 26–28;
   ■ Macklin, Anthony F. , “Sex and Dr. Strangelove,” Film Comment 3, no. 3 (summer 1965): 55–57;
   ■ Maslin, Janet,“Still Scary,Now in Mint Condition,” 94 n Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb New York Times, November 4, 1994, p. C-14;
   ■ Mishkin, Leo, “Kubrick Threatens Suit On ‘Strangelove’ Writer,” New York Morning Telegraph, August 12, 1964;
   ■ Milne, Tom, review of Dr. Strangelove, Sight and Sound 33, no. 1 (January 1964): 37–38;
   ■ “Movies,” Newsweek, February 3, 1964, pp. 79–80;
   ■ Phillips, Gene D. , Stanley Kubrick: A Film Odyssey (New York: Popular Library, 1975);
   ■ Schlesinger, Arthur, Jr. , “Enough is Enough,” Show, February 1964;
   ■ Southern, Terry, “Strangelove Outtake: Notes from the War Room,” Grand Street 13, no. 1 (summer 1994): 64–80;
   ■ Taylor, Stephen, review of Dr. Strangelove, Film Comment 2, no. 1 (winter 1964): 40–43.
   B. B. V.

The Encyclopedia of Stanley Kubrick. . 2002.

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