Doctor Strangelove

AFI Rank: #26
Year Released: 1954
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Actors: Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, James Earl Jones

Doctor Strangelove is a black comedy set during the cold war. At the time, B-52 bombers were kept in the air constantly, prepared at any moment to all turn towards Russia and bomb it into the stone age. This satire of a military film wonders what would happen if just one insane general decided this would be a good thing, and send the attack code in a way which could not be undone.

The movie very deliberately goes over the top in everything it does. The War Room has peace-promoting signs all over it, the Russian leader is drunk all the time, the US general tackles the Russian ambassador and accuses him of wild things. The bomber crew parodies several films with its pre-bombing dialogue and has a wildly outrageous scene of one of the characters "riding the bomb" like a wild horse down to its target.

All of this would be pretty extreme in most times - but imagine how this must have been received in a time when the cold war was an actuality, when emotions were still riding high off WWII and a plethora of films were praising war.

Peter Sellers is brilliant in three separate roles int his movie. There are times when he's "talking to himself". In a time when African Americans were rarely seen in strong roles on film, James Earl Jones is a respected member of the bomber crew. That being said, it's a sad commentary on how this was unusual when the captain makes a comment that in essence says "even you could get a medal".

I realize this is a satire, but I found it a shame that the movie was so overwhelmingly male-centric. The only female - and I'm pretty sure this is literally true - to show up on screen the entire time is the bimbo-secretary who hangs out in a bikini. That's it. Women are only mentioned in terms of filling the bomb shelter with lots of super-attractive women in order to repopulate the human race. Surely even in a satire there could have been more roles for women to play. Satire is a reflection of reality, after all. So absolutely this movie fails the Bechdel test.

I enjoyed watching the movie, in my quest to see all movies in the AFI top 100. This one earned the rank of #26. But while I enjoyed it, I'm not sure I'll watch it again. Yes, I adore classic films. And yes, I understand the movie's place in history and how it spoke out strongly in a pro-military, pro-cold-war era. However, I personally like movies with a more subtle feel to them. There are several other anti-war movies I enjoy which get the same message across but in a way I can relate to more. And I think that's fine, that there are different styles of movies for different audiences.

I still give the movie 5/5 stars for being a groundbreaking film for its time, and very well done in its genre.

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AFI Top 100 Film Listing
Male vs Female Actors in the AFI Top 100
The Bechdel Test in the AFI Top 100