The first time I saw this movie, I didn’t get it. I was a teenager, I didn’t grow up in the US, and I didn’t get the humor. And honestly, I still think that the comedy in this film is quite subtle and understated. The first sign of it is the opening titles. No serious film has opening titles like that. But the first 15 minutes are still quite deadpan and played straight. Only the accent of the pilot struck me as a bit over the top. Now I am watching this movie again as a young adult, and I imagine myself to be in the US in the 40s with the threat of nuclear war, and it finally clicks.
We then meet the two of the greatest characters of the film: General Jack D. Ripper (sure) played by Sterling Hayden, and General Turgidson, played by the magnificent George C. Scott. I’m a great fan of this man. And then it struck me that this film was like a Coen Brothers film. The absurdity is in the actors and in the general situation, like in The Big Lebowski. Sterling Hayden has a magnificent smirk that is magnified by an immense cigar. Kubrick even enlarges that cigar further by making the camera look up to him. And George C. Scott uses every facial expression in his repertoire and growls and snarls his way through the dialogue. What a great actor he was.
And, Peter Sellers. I didn’t even know he played multiple roles here. But it is funny how the camera switches between the President and Dr. Strangelove without them being visible in the same frame. His performance as the British Captain Mandrake is perhaps the best. Dr. Strangelove himself is just a bit odd. I get it though, a German scientist working for the US after the second world war.
What can I say about this movie that hasn’t been said in the past 50 years? All the themes are well-known. Paranoia about communist plots is the very cause of the end of the world. It’s still funny though to see George Scott grimacing, tramping about in the War Room. And to see General Ripper fighting out a battle against fellow American soldiers from his own office. Is there a symbolic significance to the British captain Mandrake being held hostage in Gen. Ripper’s office, and feeding the general ammunition since they are stuck in the same place?
It started clicking for me, but I’m not there yet. I want it to be more. Faster, deeper, more complex.
I’m afraid I’ll never see this as the masterpiece that many people regard it as. Sure, I like the dark humor and the acting is wonderful at times, but… it just doesn’t do much for me. At times, the comedy is too flat or too loud, like the billboard that says that the air force is a force for peace while the soldiers are fighting each other around it. Yeah yeah I get it. And the cringe-inducing telephone conversations between the American and Russian presidents weren’t funny.
It’s like, I get the joke, but then they keep on going with it. And a lot of the scenes in the airplane seemed more like filler in an already-short film. Just endless technical talk and shots of people throwing switches. There’s no real content in these moments. Maybe this film has dated quite a bit. Maybe my attention span is different. I’m sure that many jokes in here will stand the test of time and are not too hard to understand with a basic knowledge of history, but it is the execution that made it drag for me.
I must say that I also prefer Kubrick’s later films. Dr. Strangelove seems like a more straightforward effort.