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Jul 28, 2008

Film Ignorance: Dr. Strangelove

[Note: This review will be featured as a guest post in Movies et al's Film Ignorance series. Movies et al author Graham has taken on a 5+ year project, seeking to watch the best films of all time that he has yet to see (320 of them), as determined by a number of organizations (AFI, AMPAS). It's a massive undertaking to say the least - check it out.]

Film: Dr. Strangelove
Rating: A Good Movie
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Stars: Peter Sellers, George C. Scott
Year: 1964

Bring on the hate mail.

Were my expectations too high? It's hard to say. Probably yes, as Dr. Strangelove is considered one of the best comedies (and films) of all time - nominated for four Oscars, firmly entrenched in the IMDb Top 25, #3 in the LAMB's rankings of the Top 10 Comedies.

And I should have loved it - Kubrick, Sellers, a great topic, black comedy - all up my alley. But...it just didn't connect for me.

Now, as you can see in the rating given above, I definitely think it's a good movie. There's brilliance aplenty, from the Presidential phone calls to the Russian Premier to Slim Pickens' wild ride to Sellers' multiple (varied) roles. The opening credits were a marvel of simplicity, and it was eye-opening to see George C. Scott in such a wild-eyed, loose role (just as it was almost as jarring to see the young James Earl Jones at all).

I just didn't laugh much - instead, I spent much of the time trying to put myself in the shoes of someone watching the film in 1964, with the Cold War a very real threat, wondering if the film was seen as taboo or "too soon" at the time of its release. It's easy to watch the film today and laugh at the things children were taught ("Hide under your desk!") in fear of a nuclear attack, but I'm left somewhat in awe that the film was received well in 1964 at all, thinking perhaps that the audacity of the film's mocking of the situation was a key ingredient to its success.

I'm sitting here trying to think of ways to delicately put this, but it's really of no use, so I'll just come out and say it: I prefer Strangelove's spiritual child to the original. That's right - if I were given the choice of watching only one of two films about mutual assured destruction between the United States and the former Soviet Republic...I'm choosing Spies Like Us every time.


Fletch's Film Rating:

"Darn tootin!"

11 people have chosen wisely: on "Film Ignorance: Dr. Strangelove"

Cinexcellence said...

Dr. Strangelove was an acquired taste for me.

The warroom more than makes it worth watching for me, thouogh. :)

Daniel G. said...

More than an acquired taste, I think it just requires multiple viewings, in addition to a particular sense of humor and the ability to continually watch it in context (as you mention). Besides that, it's not really laugh out loud funny.

I don't know, I wasn't rolling on the floor the first time I saw it either, but I accept that there's more to appreciate each time you see it.

Pat said...

"Dr. Strangelove" is one of my favorite films of all time, although I don't know that I've every found it laugh-out-loud funny. It's true close to the truth and too uncomfortable. (Rewatching it about three years ago, I was stunned to find how much of George C. Scott's "humorous" dialogue was eerily like the things Donald Rumsfeld was saying about Iraq at the time -and with a straight face.)

Was it taboo in its time? I don't know how well it did at the box office, but it got Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Director and Actor (Sellers). I'm just slightly too young to remember the political climate at that time, but I started kindergarten in 1965, and at no time during my grade school years did we ever practice hiding under our desks or hear anything about nuclear bombs. I may be wrong, but I think most of the Cold War paranoia took place in the 1950s through the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1961.

As for "Spies Like Us" being the spiritual child of "Strangelove" - that's a new one on me. The film it's most often compared to is "Fail Safe" - basically the same story, but presented with absolute dead seriousness,also released in 1964.

Getting off my "grandma" soap box now....

Fox said...

Fletch, you must let go of your Chevy Chase bias!!!! :)

Fletch said...

@ Cinexcellence and Daniel - I'm more than willing to acquire the taste. Should I catch it on TV in the future, I'll check it out again for sure.

@ Pat - I think you put my feelings down better than I. "It's true close to the truth and too uncomfortable" - it surely has it's intentionally funny bits, but much of it felt quite real and too dramatic for me to consider it anywhere near a comedy (black or not).

That alternating tone put me off guard, I think, and left me with my query, wondering sometimes what was supposed to be funny and what ws supposed to be scary as hell.

elgringo said...

The first time I watched Dr. Strangelove, I didn't love it.
It took a few times. Meh.

Rachel said...

I started watching it one day on t.v. About 20 minutes into it, I was easily distracted by something else...probably a bunny.

Maybe one of these days I'll actually put forth an effort to watch it past the 20 minute mark. Maybe not.

Paul Arrand Rodgers said...

The end of Dr. Strangelove is one of the most surreal, brilliant things ever.

Mien Fuher! I can walk!

Oh, and Kubrick's deceiving George C. Scott to do all that crazy stuff as "test takes" was awesome, too.

Ross Williams said...

Wow... after admitting over on my blog that he hadn't seen Clockwork Orange, I come over here to find out you've just seen Dr. Strangelove. Do you have some sort of Kubrick bias?

Seriously though, great idea for a review series. There are a lot of classics, for instance The Maltese Falcon, that I feel I should see at least once in my life, but would rather watch The Goonies for the 59th time.

Fletch said...

Haha - nope. I think your second paragraph sums it up pretty well, actually. I'd just never gotten around to seeing Strangelove. I've seen probably half of Clockwork, and I don't remember why I didn't watch it all, but it wasn't the quality of the film that pulled me away (I must have had to go somewhere or something).

I've seen 2001, Full Metal Jacket, The Shining and even Eyes Wide Shut (too many times - not a fan of that one and its incessant droning single piano note - but the nudity's nice ;) ), but these two slipped by forever. As I said, once I finish the book, I'll be watching Orange immediately.

Anil Usumezbas said...

I still think 'Best Comedy' and 'Funnies Comedy' are two different things. Strangelove would've failed in the latter category but rules supreme in the former.