95.3 / 88.5 FM Grand Rapids and 95.3 FM Muskegon
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Dr. Strangelove

Ways To Subscribe

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love The Bomb is one of the greatest American cold war movies. David Hast talks with Scott Vander Werf talk about the Stanley Kubrick classic

David Hast: Scott, have you seen Doctor Strange Love?

Scott Vander Werf: I have seen Doctor Strange Love or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb probably about 20 times if you include.

DH: Wow.

SVW: Yeah, well, you know, you think about it back in the in the late 60s, early 70s, mid 70s. It was on TV a lot. It was the one Stanley Kubrick film that that you could see on, you know, late night television or on the weekend on a UHF channel. And then the first time I saw it on the big screen was when I was at my freshman year of college at Western Michigan University. And it played at the film series not at Western but right next door at Kalamazoo College. So I had an opportunity to see it on the big screen. And then of course, later on, I transferred to film school and, and saw it at least once in a class, if not more than once.

DH: Well, you've seen it more times than I have, but it's a terrific film, isn't it? Hilarious.

SVW: It's great. It's, I mean, it's a hilarious film. As a kid, I actually took it seriously, probably the first time I saw it when I was like 10 or 11 or 12.

DH: Well, yeah, it's Stanley Kubrick's movie about nuclear war, about the Cold War and the threat of nuclear annihilation that everyone lived with in the 50s and 60s. This movie was shot in 1963. And when he first started to make it and started to write the script, he thought it was gonna be a serious thing. And then he realized, that's just gonna be depressing and not that interesting, and there's other movies about nuclear war that are serious, so I'm gonna make it a dark comedy and a satire. And that's what makes it a masterpiece.

SVW: Yeah, and the plot is that Air Force General Jack D. Ripper, who's played by Sterling Hayden in one of his great roles. He kind of goes nuts uses a loophole in the US nuclear weapons plans to bypass the president and order an attack on the Soviet Union Sending dozens of nuclear armed B-52 bombers that can only be recalled with a code that ripper has But he barricades himself inside his office and orders the men on his base to fight off the US Army troops that George C Scott's character general Buck Turginson has sent there and with him is Peter Sellers as a exchange officer from Britain, group captain Lionel Mandrake, and that's one of three roles that Peter Sellers plays in the movie.

DH: Yes, and that's one of the things that's most remembered about this movie. Peter Sellers plays the British captain, he plays the president of the United States, and most famously he plays the ex-Nazi rocket scientist, Dr. Strangelove.

SVW: Dr. Strangelove, who's in a wheelchair.

DH: Yeah, and he's in a wheelchair, but his right arm is still a Nazi. Like, he can't hide that, right? This is a satire based on the after World War II in real life. Where did all these German physicists, rocket scientists and such go, nuclear scientists? Well, half of them went to the Soviet Union and half of them came to the United States. And he's sort of poking fun at the fact that, okay, he's working for us now, but deep down he's still a Nazi. And his right arm and his right hand literally try to kill him. They try to choke him. And they go into an involuntary Nazi salute and stuff like that.

SVW: And he keeps stumbling when he's talking to the president and calling him my Fuhrer.

DH: Right, he does that a couple times. He calls the president my Fuhrer.

SVW: Well, the interesting thing about this movie is really there's like three set pieces that are strung together throughout the whole film. You have what's going on with Dr. or General Jack D. Ripper and the Mandrake character. They're sort of holed up talking to each other and that's how we find out how crazy Ripper is. He's worried about the Soviet Union fluoridating fluoridation in the waters.

DH: And sapping our precious bodily fluids. This is the reason this guy using a loophole calls out an all-out nuclear attack on the Soviet Union because they're sapping our precious bodily fluids.

SVW: And then you have the war room, which is where the president and his general.

DH: Which is in a masterful set, right? It's this huge set. It was like 130 feet deep. It's this giant kind of, it's all very black and white, not much contrast, this big circle of light around the circular table, amazing set.

SVW: And then you have the major King Kong in the B-52.

DH: Right, and then there's also a, yeah, so the B-52 scene is very good, the plane that gets through, that's going to, they manage to recall most of the planes, but one gets through and its communications are cut off, and so this thing is heading to drop its payload of nuclear weapons. So that's a really good scene. They managed to put that together very realistically, even though they didn't have access to the military, what a B-52 really looked like inside. The military actually wasn't very happy about it because they thought they did too good a job.

SVW: And these three, the film bounces back and forth between these three settings primarily. And that's where, and it's interesting that there's, it's so funny, but it's also very suspenseful as well.

DH: Yeah, that's what makes it in so many ways a masterpiece. First of all, I've read people evaluate it and call it a. perfect script. It's a short movie, it's only 95 minutes long, and it's just so, there's not a bit of fat on it. It just moves seamlessly through all this stuff. And it's amazing how it manages to so perfectly be funny and scary at the same time. Like you said, you took it seriously as a kid. Even when these wacky characters with their funny names are almost hamming it up. I mean, George C. Scott does some pretty broad comedy. You're laughing, and at the same time, you realize this could really happen. This could really be happening.

SVW: Yeah, and the fact that talking about there wouldn't be that many casualties, there are only a few million.

DH: Yeah, 10 to 20 million tops is what the George C. Scott character says. So it is a wonderful satire, everyone should see it. But we should also maybe talk a little bit about Stanley Kubrick, since this is made by Stanley Kubrick, who many people, especially many filmmakers, regard as one of the absolute greatest filmmakers of all time.

SVW: Certainly. And then you look at where this film is in his body of work. And prior to this, he had done Lolita, which also had Peter Sellers as one of the characters, playing one of the characters in that film as well. And of course, Spartacus was his big sort of blockbuster prior. And his first truly great film is Paths of Glory, 1957. But this begins a run of films that are that is just perfection from 1964. He does Dr. Strangelove, followed by 2001, A Space Odyssey in 68.

DH: Widely regarded by many people as the greatest science fiction film ever made. I saw an interview with Christopher Nolan. He still thinks it is. I think it is.

SVW: A Clockwork Orange in 71, Barry Lyndon in 75, The Shining in 80, and then an 87 full metal jacket. And I would contend that all of those films are masterpieces.

DH: Yeah, I mean, he only made 13 feature films in 47 years. He would take four or five years between films. He would study so deeply, become an expert. He was a brilliant person. I mean, I would definitely nominate him for the smartest filmmaker ever. And... the first two were kind of like early crude movies, Fear and Desire and Killer's Kiss. So really effectively, he made 11 mature films and they're all great. And depending on your taste, several of them, many people will say are masterpieces.

SVW: So what is your opinion of the 1956 film, The Killing that was prior to Paths of Glory?

Dh: It's great. It's a film noir. It's an excellent film noir starring Sterling Hayden's in that one too. He used Sterling Hayden a couple of times. And that's the interesting thing too is he worked in multiple genres. I guess the one he repeated a few times was war. He had a few war movies and a couple sci-fi, but each one of those is so different from each other. It's almost like each movie is a different genre because you can't really compare Paths of Glory to Full Metal Jacket. They're just completely different kinds of movies.

SVW: Although I would say Paths of Glory is one of the greatest World War I movies. And certainly Full Metal Jacket is right up there in the top two or three greatest Vietnam War films.

DH: And you can go down the list. The Shining is one of the greatest horror films. Barry Lyndon is one of the greatest period pieces. 2001, A Space Odyssey, we already mentioned. You know, Dr. Strangelove, certainly the greatest movie, funniest movie about the Cold War.

SVW: Now, the one film that I was underwhelmed with was his final film from 1999, Eyes Wide Shut.

DH: I gotta see that again. I only saw it when it came out and I hated it. And I was like, I can't believe I hated this. I love all of Stanley Kubrick. This seems pretentious. It seems like a dirty old man made it because it's about sexuality and stuff. Stars Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise when they were married, playing a married couple.

SVW: And the thing for me is that it just doesn't ring true.

DH: But you know, I've read a lot about it since and a lot of people say, oh, you should reevaluate this movie. A lot of critics have and say, you know, it'd be interesting to go back and watch it now, what, almost 25 years later and see if we thought differently about it.

SVW: Certainly, if you're gonna approach the work, the body of work by Stanley Kubrick, Doctor Strange Love is almost the perfect place to begin.

DH: I would say so, I would agree with that. And it's maybe not quite as experimental as some of the others. I mean, 2001 and Full Metal Jacket are really different movies. But yeah, that would be a good one to start with.

SVW: All right, well, thanks for joining us.

DH: Thank you, Scott.

David Hast is a retired high school English teacher. He has an MFA in Radio/TV/Film from Northwestern University and worked 15 years in the film and video industry. Some years ago he taught video production part-time at GVSU, and as a high school teacher he regularly taught a course in Film and Media Analysis.
Related Content