American military leaders gather around the war room in Dr. Strangelove.
Comedy doesn't get much darker than Dr. Strangelove, which is Kubrick's grand "F--- you" to the chaos that was the Cold War arms race. Loaded with timeless characters, jokes, and images, the film is equal parts hilarious and frightening. Classic performances abound, the film is perhaps best remembered for Peter Sellers' totally gonzo work as three different characters. But there's a ton more to love. The dialogue is all-time great stuff, the pacing is brilliant, and the camerawork is amazing.
When the deranged (and bodily fluid-obsessed) General Jack Ripper (Sterling Hayden) orders his 30 or so pilots to attack the Soviet Union with nuclear weapons, all hell breaks loose. The General blockades himself in his office with a British Captain Mandrake (Sellers) and orders the men on his base to kill anyone that tries to get past them. So President Merkin Muffley (Sellers, again), General Buck Turgidson (George C. Scott), and the film's titular brilliant-but-mad scientist (Sellers), as well as a few other dozen military and political minds, gather in the war room to discuss how to proceed. On their to-do list: Order a full-on invasion of Ripper's base to extract the abort codes from him, weigh the pros and cons of actually letting the men drop their bombs, and inform the Soviet Premier that the apocalypse is approaching rapidly from 30 different directions. While on the horn with Premier Kisov, the President gets some startling news. The Soviets have just activated their doomsday machine. In order to deter a nuclear attack, this machine will trigger a global nuclear disaster should a device detonate over Soviet soil. So the problem becomes exponentially larger at the same moment when the men trying to solve it begin losing their minds.
Sidney Lumet tackled a similar subject matter in Fail-Safe, but he did so as a deadly serious drama. Only someone as audacious as Kubrick would find humor in the potential end of the world, and he does so through a host of characters who are simply bananas. Scott's Turgidson is maniacal. To him, everyone is a potential commie spy, and everything that's said is a potential weapon for said spies to use against America. The President is a bit of a weasel (and apparently was inspired by Governor Adlai Stevenson. Ripper is pure Sterling Hayden—super-intimidating, but completely out of his mind.
Then, there's Strangelove, who's in another stratosphere of crazy. He's a former Nazi, who loves the idea of a nuclear holocaust. He's supposedly brilliant, but he's also got Dr. No hands and no real control over his bodily function. I have no idea where the idea for this guy came from, but there's a reason he's so memorable: He's a one-of-a-kind individual.
It's hard to discuss much else about the film without getting into spoilers, but suffice it to say, I absolutely adore Dr. Strangelove. The situations in which these characters find themselves are just spectacular. The war room is crazy, Slim Pickins riding the warhead is awesome, and Peter Sellers, Peter Sellers, Peter Sellers. Yeah, this is a great one.