Prologue by my father, David Watkins:
General “Buck” Turgidson: Sir, you can’t let him in here. He’ll see everything. He’ll see the big board!
Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb is one of my favorite movies. Why? As a kid growing up in Birmingham in the 50’s and 60’s, the threat of an apocalyptic nuclear exchange during the Cold War with Russia was a distinct possibility. The United States had adopted a policy known as MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) that stated the US would retaliate against the Russians with nuclear annihilation if they ever launched a first strike. This nuclear checkmate still is the policy of this country. Stanley Kubrick, an avowed anti-war director, filmed a black comedy/satire that asserted the possibility that a rogue US Air Force Strategic Air Command (SAC) Major General could circumvent the civilian chain of command and launch a preemptive first strike against the Russians. The U.S Military Command had never contemplated this possibility.
Kubrick’s casting of Peter Sellers in three separate roles (U.S. President, the British attaché to the rogue SAC Commander, and Dr. Strangelove), along with an unforgettable performance by George C. Scott (U.S Air Force General at the Pentagon), takes a serious topic and turns it on its head. The role of Peter Sellers as wheelchair bound Dr. Strangelove, a former Nazi scientist resettled in the US after WWII ended, is one for the ages. Strangelove periodically defaults back to his Nazi past by restraining himself from thrusting a Heil Hitler salute to the U.S. President (again, also played by Peter Sellers).
My daughter Laura, a noted cinephile, has savant knowledge of movies of all genres. I bought her the Dr. Strangelove DVD years ago, yet it stayed in the DVD case until recently. Unplayed! Why, you may ask?
Was it conscientious objection against MAD? Was it a xenophobic disdain for a Brit playing a U.S President? Or better yet, was it a protest against the stereotype of former Nazi scientists as sleeper agents poised to participate in ethnic cleansing by corralling a nuclear arsenal? We may never know. I believe Laura’s self-imposed boycott of viewing this movie is a crime against cinema and should be dealt with by forcing her to watch a filmographic tribute to John Travolta.
President Merkin Muffley: Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room.
Dad, that is harsh. But also, fair. You were always good at coming up with punishments that fit the crime (thanks for not threatening to ground me, I am 30 after all).
Of the all of the movies I’ve been late to view, this is the one that makes me feel most ashamed. My dad loves it so much that he bought it for me several years ago, and it’s just been sitting, still wrapped, in our media center ever since. I have no great excuse; I am just a terrible procrastinator. I’m the worst.
My dad’s preference aside, Peter Sellers is the other reason I should’ve watched this a long time ago. I’ve been called pretentious (*EYEROLL*) for saying this, but I don’t care– Being There is one of my favorite movies of all time, and 90% of my love for it is thanks to Peter Sellers (the other 10% is Shirley MacLaine). It seems that if I adored one of Peter Sellers’s Oscar winning performances so much, I probably ought to watch the one(s) that earned him another nomination (I *have* seen Lolita, so I get some credit for that).
Having heard my parents talked about having to do bomb drills in the 50s and 60s (and also just, you know, from reading about history n’ stuff), I knew of the paranoia surrounding this time period. I’m sure there were a lot of people who watched this movie at the time and felt very “#TOOSOON” about it. That’s why I love Stanley Kubrick. He’s not afraid of that. He was able to take something that scared the hell out of a lot of people, for a long period of time, and make it hilarious.
General Ripper: Do you realize that fluoridation is the most monstrously conceived and dangerous Communist plot we have ever had to face?
I enjoyed so many things about this movie: Dr. Strangelove accidentally calling the President “Mein Führer.” George C. Scott’s facial expressions. Baby James Earl Jones. The President’s awkward phone conversations with “Dmitri” (the Soviet Premier). Major King Kong’s run down of the survival kit contents. Yet I feel like with only one viewing, I missed a lot. Every bit of it was so good, but I think it requires me to watch it at least twenty more times. That’s not a complaint, by the way. It is so fun that I *want* to watch it at least twenty more times. 50+ years later, it feels relevant and entertaining. It’s just not a one-and-done type of film, and that’s what makes it so great.
Face palm moment: I’m sure Kevin will tell you that it was the five different times I said, “is that George C. Scott?” NO MAN. I HAVEN’T SEEN PATTON. Good grief.
Oh, or it might be when I said, “Oh, I didn’t realize Slim Pickens was a real person.” As I have established, I’ve not watched many westerns.
(legit going to call every one a “pre-vert” as long as I live)
The “I missed that in pop culture trivia” moment: See above. That clip was used in a promo for KJHK, my college radio station, and I had no idea what it was from.
Regrettable tardiness scale (out of 10): 10 out of 10. It’s a classic, definitely one of my favorite comedies, and will finally make it in as a regular rotation.
Sorry about tossing your gift aside, Dad. I know you were doing me a favor, and I truly understand and appreciate it now. I hope this review for Father’s Day makes up for it!