Paul Lister’s review published on Letterboxd:
"Sir, you can't let him in here. He'll see everything. He'll see the big board!"
'Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb' is one of, if not the great masterpieces of the great Stanley Kubrick's career. Kubrick's main body of work became one of my first real loves in cinema when I was growing up because as we know he seemed to master so many different genres and styles. Through out the years I have struggled to pin down why I love him so much or even what my favourite film from him is, I could so easily find that it could be 'The Shining' one week, 'A Clockwork Orange' the next, or even 'Lolita' on occasion - call me what you like but '2001: A Space Odyssey' has always remained a film I deeply admire, rather than enjoy. It is often Strangelove that I find myself placing atop of the pile though, its political satire is so wonderfully evolved due to the brilliant mix of documentary reality and absurdest comedy. It feels real and plays on the fears of a Nuclear war but underneath this is a wonderful blend of irony and absurdity.
The film is based loosely on Peter George's 'Red Alert' and see's an insane General Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden) of Burpelson Air Force Base who orders a top secret 'Plan R' attack on communist Russia amidst fears that he believes Soviet forces are planning the fluoridation of the American Water Supply. Meanwhile Major 'King' Kong (Slim Pickens) is a pilot of a B-52 bomber who receives the order, one of many bombers that would be on route to Russia. This forces the American government into action, taking residency in 'The War Room', President Merkin Muffley (Peter Sellers) a long with General 'Buck' Turgidson (George C Scott), former Nazi scientist Dr Stangelove (also Sellers) attempt to work a long with Russian Ambassader Alexi de Sadesky (Peter Bull) and the Russian President to stop a potential Doomsday devise from automatically bringing the world into a nuclear holocaust.
The films absurdity builds through out the film. It begins with small little things like Turgidon answering the call regarding Ripper's 'Plan R' in such casual circumstances or the idea of him answering a personal call in 'The War Room'. There are lots of little things that amuse me in the opening stages that may go unnoticed, "World Targets in Megadeaths" or the clearly labelled 'Top Secret' code book on the B-52 Bomber, which I love because no matter what I cannot for one second imagine something as top secret being so clearly labelled as such. Over the course of the film the absurdity does escalate, especially when Ripper makes makes it so clear that his reasoning for all out attack amounts to his fear of his "precious bodily fluids" being stolen from him or the one way conversation of President Dmitri which Sellers performs in such a way as if it sounded like these two men of power were two former lovers having a tiff. Of course the film was also famously due to end with a massive custard pie fight but Kubrick and Sellers were both unhappy with the this scene and it happily was cut from the film.
There is so much that is almost taken for granted with Dr Strangelove, the dialogue in the film is so well known it could be easy to think less of it in a sense although that would be daft to say the least. The film contains many of the best lines you will ever hear, especially the greatest example of irony in cinema, "Gentlemen! You can't fight in here... this is the War Room!" or stunning lines such as "You're gonna have to answer to the Coca-Cola company.", "Mr. President, we must not allow a mineshaft gap!", "I think you're some kind of deviated prevert." or "The string in my legs gone". There are so many lines and exchanges that are simply brilliant.
It is absolutely imperative that I mention the incomparable talent that was Peter Sellers. Sellers was an extraordinary comic actor but he could also do serious just fine. He is able to be deadpan and absurd in equal measure and he straddles that line through three wonderful performances as Dr Strangelove, President Muffley and Group Captain Lionel Mandrake. Sellers was initially scheduled to play Slim Pickens role as well but he struggled with the southern accent before he was involved in an accident on set which stopped him from taking on the role. George C Scott and Sterling Hayden are both absolutely superb as well. I love the childishness of Scott's performance that offsets his aggressiveness. Slim Pickens and Keenan Wynn round out the brilliant cast but it is Sellers who will forever remembered for his three roles, especially Dr Strangelove. The maniacal former Nazi is Sellers opportunity to fully unleash his wild comic sensibilities and gesticulations. The way he furiously tries to suppress his Nazi salutes is just inspired and his idea of going underground due to world destruction is brilliantly delivered to the point his arousal at the idea allows the once disabled man to stand for the first time!
Dr Strangelove is truly one of the great films from one of cinemas masters. Everything from performance to script to music are sensational. A lot of the film is shot in a documentary style which gives the film a sense of realism and a raw energy. The films War Room has also left an indelible mark on the public conscience too as we often think of it's famous round table to be based on reality, which of course it is not. And how can I forget Vera Lynn's 'We'll Meet Again' playing to the backdrop of nuclear devastation? An inspired choice of song. Whether it is Kubrick's best work is up for debate, in fact it is almost an entirely redundant debate because mostly all of his work is of a level that few can ever attain. Dr Strangelove is a masterpiece pure and simple.