Happy 50th To Kubrick's And Peter Sellers' Finest Hour: Dr Strangelove

Peter Sellers as Dr Strangelove.

Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: Colonel… that Coca-Cola machine. I want you to shoot the lock off it. There may be some change in there.

Colonel “Bat” Guano: That’s private property!

Mandrake: Colonel! Can you possibly imagine what is going to happen to you, your frame, outlook, way of life, and everything, when they learn that you have obstructed a telephone call to the President of the United States? Can you imagine? Shoot it off! Shoot! With a gun! That’s what the bullets are for, you twit!

Guano: Okay. I’m gonna get your money for ya. But if you don’t get the President of the United States on that phone, you know what’s gonna happen to you?

Mandrake: What?

Guano: You’re gonna have to answer to the Coca-Cola company.

Dr. Strangelove is 50 today. Stanley Kubrick’s black satire, co-titled “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb!” gave people in the Western world, who thought they were going to die in a nuclear attack at any moment, the chance to laugh out loud again.

For the generations who didn’t grow up in the Cold War era, when even Sting used to sing about it, the terror that the doctrine of mutually assured destruction (MAD) provoked may seem a little quaint.

But in 1962, the Cuban Missile Crisis had the world on tenterhooks for 13 days as everyone braced for the bombs to fly. That traumatic tension lingered for four more decades.

Then on January 29, 1964 – the movie was originally planned to premier on 22 November, 1963, but a Presidential assassin in Dallas intervened that day – Peter Sellers appeared on the big screen in an acting tour de force, playing three characters, including Dr Strangelove, a wheelchair-bound ex-Nazi and nuclear war fan with an errant gloved hand.

He also plays the US President, Merkin Muffley and Lionel Mandrake, a British RAF exchange officer. Studio execs wanted him to play four parts, but following an injury, he gave up the part of Texan bomber pilot TJ “King” Kong, and Slim Pickens is seen riding a bomb to earth like a cowboy.

Dr Strangelove is a satire about what would happen if the wrong person has their finger on the trigger and the battles between the military hawks at the Pentagon over attacking perceived enemies remain relevant today. It has a slightly surreal and eerie quality, the black and white footage adding to its sinister undertones.

George C Scott, who six years later won Oscar as Patton, plays a jingoistic general keen to defeat communism, while modern day concerns about fluoridation perhaps date back to the impotent and psychotic General Jack D Ripper (Sterling Hayden), who gave the order to launch the nukes because fluoride was sapping “precious bodily fluids”.

In another strange twist, it seems Kubrick wanted to make a Dr Strangelove trilogy and had plans for Monty Python director Terry Gilliam (his new movie comes out this year) to film a sequel.

Watch an except from the movie here, and if you’ve never seen it, seek it out.

50 years on, it’s truly a classic. You’ll learn to love it.

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