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Blu-ray: Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) by Stanley Kubrick

“Well boys, I reckon this is it. Nuclear combat toe-to-toe with the Rooskies.”

“Shoot, a fella could have pretty good weekend in Vegas with all that stuff.”

“Have you ever seen a commie drink a glass of water?”

“Fluoridation is the most monstrously conceived and dangerous communist plot we have ever had to face.”

“You just start your countdown and old Buckie will be back here before you can say...blast off!”

“Our premier is a man of the people but he is also a man if you follow my meaning.”

“He’ll see everything! He’ll see the big board!”

“No more than 10 to 20 million killed. Tops! Uh, depending on the breaks.”

“Gentlemen you can’t fight in here! This is the war room.”

“You don’t have any fresh fish?”

“Women sense my power and they seek the life essence. I do not avoid women, Mandrake, but I do deny them my essence.”

“At this height they might harpoon us but they dang sure ain’t gonna spot us on no radar screen”

“Mr. President, we must not allow...a mineshaft gap.”

“Mein Führer, I can walk!”

These are just a few quotes from the brilliant black comedy from 1964 “Dr. Strangelove or: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb”, directed by Stanley Kubrick. As you can see this is easily one of the most quotable movie ever made. Just for that it deserves to seen multiple times. In fact, I must have seen it at least 30 times myself.

“Dr. Strangelove” is a film set during the Cold War about a paranoiac American airforce general, Jack D. Ripper (get it?), who has gone mad and has ordered his B-52 bombers to start a nuclear attack against the Soviet Union. His reasoning is that once started “there is only one course of action open: total commitment” and consequently the Pentagon will be forced to partake in the attack and strike with everything they’ve got. On the airplanes the men are under the assumption that the Soviets already have started the Nuclear war: “Old Ripper wouldn’t be giving us plan R unless them Rooskies had already clobbered Washington and a lot of other towns with a sneak attack”. All regular communication with the airplanes has been shut down and only with the correct recall-code the attack can be called off. At Burpelson Airforce Base British exchange officer Group Captain Lionel Mandrake tries to reason with the mad general, hoping that he will obtain the code to recall the bombers. In meantime further complications arise in the War Room at the Pentagon as the American president and his military advisors, joined by the Russian ambassador, learn about a doomsday device and try to handle the problem of a nuclear Holocaust only minutes away. In the process they are advised by ex-nazi scientist Dr. Strangelove who apparently already has given a lot of thought to life in a post-nuclear environment and has a plan how to deal with all this...

The black and white photography is magnificent. Particularly the combat scenes at the airforce base but also, although to a lesser degree, the scenes in the B-52 have been filmed in a more realistic, pseudo documentary style including the use of shaky hand held cameras. The scenes at the Pentagon and in General Ripper’s office on the other hand have been shot with a highly stylized, expressionistic approach reminiscent of ‘40s and ‘50s film noir with lots of low angles shots, close ups, shadows and even tobacco smoke. This accentuates the contrast between the grim reality of war and the ivory towers where the decisions about life on earth as we know it are being made. The visuals have even been further improved by the beautiful set designs of Ken Adam, who worked on seven James Bond movies during the ‘60s and ‘70s. Stanley Kubrick asked him to do the production design after having seen the first Bond movie, Dr. No. Being a Stanley Kubrick movie the direction and the editing are impeccable. No need to discuss that. The acting is marvelous. Peter Sellers plays two straight roles, the American president and English officer Mandrake. Additionally he plays the mad Dr. Strangelove (“Hmm... Strangelove? What kind of a name is that? That ain't no Kraut name is it, Stainesey?” - He changed it when he became a citizen; used to be Merkwürdigliebe”), one of his most memorable and hilarious performances ever. George C. Scott is at his peak playing General Buck Turgidson who tries to convince American president Merkin Muffley that it is maybe not such a bad idea after all to bomb the Soviet Union. Slim Pickins, always a favourite, plays Major Kong, the B-52 commander. Kubrick first considered Peter Sellers for this role as well but luckily Slim Pickins got the part. Now it is unthinkable that somebody else could have pulled of such an unforgettable performance. Last but not least the film features Sterling Hayden, playing the deranged general Ripper, who has ordered his nuclear bombers to attack Russia. An interesting note is that Hayden, who also starred in Kubrick’s “The Killing” (1956), was once a member of the Communist Party and during the MacCarthy era “named names” before the House of Un-American Activities Committee. This is something he deeply regretted in later life as he stated in his auto-biography. Perhaps this role was a way to redeem himself from his behaviour during this era. After all, besides being technically and emotionally a brilliant movie it also has a political or rather humanist message. It shows the madness of politics and the fight for power of that era. But even now it won’t hurt to pop Dr. Strangelove into the old blu-ray player each time there’s talk about war. Helps keeping things into perspective.

The blu-ray itself is a very nice digibook edition showing the film in the aspect ratio of 1.66:1. Film purists might find this a problem since Kubrick originally shot the movie in varying ratios. It did not distract me at all though. The image and sound are very good. There are a lot of extra features which all are very enjoyable. I liked the picture-in-picture/pop-up trivia track discussing how the film relates to history. What is sorely missing though is the original theatrical trailer, which is a piece of art in itself. Just for that I cannot rate this blu-ray 10 out of 10 even though the movie itself deserves a big fat 10 because in my opinion Dr. Strangelove is one of the masterpieces of cinema and the best movie Stanley Kubrick ever made.

Frederick von Schtupp

Rating: 9 out of 10


Movie details:

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Starring: Peter Sellers, Sterling Hayden, George C. Scott, Slim Pickins, Keenan Wynn, Peter Bull, James Earl Jones

Country: USA

Year of release: 1964


Edition details:

Released by: Sony Pictures

Country: USA

Year of release: 2009

Disc: Dual layered blu-ray, MPEG4 AVC, 1080p

Region: A, B, C

Aspect ratio: 1.66:1

Running time: 95 mins

Language: English

Subtitles: English, Arabic, Dutch, French, None

Special features: The Cold War: Picture-in-Picture and Pop-Up Trivia Track; No Fighting in the War Room: Dr. Strangelove and the Nuclear Threat; Inside Dr. Strangelove Or: How I learened to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb; Best Sellers Or: Peter Sellers and Dr. Strangelove; The Art of Stanley Kubrick: From Short Films to Dr. Strangelove; An Interview with Robert McNamara; Split-Screen Interviews with Peter Sellers and George C. Scott

Packaging: Digibook with 32 pages