Dr. Strangelove

For other uses of "Strangelove", see Strangelove (disambiguation).
Dr. Strangelove

Theatrical release poster by Tomi Ungerer
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Produced by Stanley Kubrick
Screenplay by
Based on Red Alert
by Peter George
Music by Laurie Johnson
Cinematography Gilbert Taylor
Edited by Anthony Harvey
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release dates
  • January 29, 1964 (1964-01-29)
Running time
94 minutes[1]
  • United Kingdom[2]
  • United States[2]
Language English
Budget $1.8 million[3]
Box office $9.4 million (North America)[3]
Dr. Strangelove, trailer

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, more commonly known as Dr. Strangelove, is a 1964 political satire black comedy film that satirizes the Cold War fears of a nuclear conflict between the USSR and the USA. The film was directed, produced, and co-written by Stanley Kubrick, stars Peter Sellers and George C. Scott, and features Sterling Hayden, Keenan Wynn, and Slim Pickens. Production took place in the United Kingdom. The film is loosely based on Peter George's thriller novel Red Alert.

The story concerns an unhinged United States Air Force general who orders a first strike nuclear attack on the Soviet Union. It follows the President of the United States, his advisers, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and a Royal Air Force (RAF) officer as they try to recall the bombers to prevent a nuclear apocalypse. It separately follows the crew of one B-52 bomber as they try to deliver their payload.

In 1989 the United States Library of Congress included it in the first group of films selected for preservation in the National Film Registry. It was listed as number three on AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs list.


United States Air Force Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden) is commander of Burpelson Air Force Base, which houses the Strategic Air Command 843rd Bomb Wing, equipped with B-52 bombers and nuclear bombs. The 843rd is currently in-flight on airborne alert, two hours from their targets inside Russia.

General Ripper explains to Group Captain Mandrake how he first discovered the Communist plot to pollute Americans' "precious bodily fluids."

General Ripper orders his executive officer, Group Captain Lionel Mandrake (Peter Sellers) of the UK Royal Air Force, to put the base on alert. Ripper also issues "Wing Attack Plan R" to the patrolling aircraft, one of which is commanded by Major T. J. "King" Kong (Slim Pickens). All of the aircraft commence an attack flight on Russia and set their radios to allow communications only through the CRM 114 discriminator, which is programmed to accept only communications preceded by a secret three-letter code known only to General Ripper.

Mandrake discovers that no war order has been issued by the Pentagon and tries to stop Ripper, who locks them both in his office. Ripper tells Mandrake that he believes the Soviets have been using fluoridation of United States water supplies to pollute the "precious bodily fluids" of Americans; Mandrake now realizes that Ripper is insane.

At the Pentagon, General Buck Turgidson (George C. Scott) briefs President Merkin Muffley (also Peter Sellers) and other officers and aides about the attack in the "War Room". President Muffley is shocked to learn that such orders could be given without his authorization, but Turgidson reminds him that Plan R, enabling a senior officer to launch a strike against the Soviets if all superiors have been killed in a first strike on Washington, DC, allows such an action.

Turgidson reports that his men are trying every possible three-letter CRM code to issue the stand-down order, but that could take over two days and the planes are due to reach their targets in about an hour. Muffley orders the Army chief to storm the base and arrest General Ripper.

Turgidson attempts to convince Muffley to let the attack continue and use the element of surprise to annihilate the Soviet military altogether before they can strike back; Muffley, however, refuses to be party to a nuclear first strike. Instead, he brings Soviet ambassador Alexei de Sadeski (Peter Bull) into the War Room, to telephone Soviet premier Dimitri Kissov on the "hot line". Muffley warns the Premier of the impending attack and offers to reveal the planes' positions and targets so the Russians can protect themselves.

After a heated discussion in Russian with the Premier, the ambassador informs President Muffley that the Soviet Union has created a doomsday device, which consists of many buried bombs jacketed with "Cobalt-Thorium G" connected to a computer network set to detonate them automatically should any nuclear attack strike the country. Within two months after detonation, the Cobalt-Thorium G would encircle the earth in a radioactive cloud, wiping out all human and animal life, rendering the surface of the earth uninhabitable for 93 years. The device cannot be dismantled or "untriggered", as it is programmed to explode if any such attempt is made.

When the President's wheelchair-bound scientific advisor, former Nazi Dr. Strangelove (again, Peter Sellers), points out that such a doomsday device would only be an effective deterrent if everyone knew about it, de Sadeski replies that the Russian Premier had planned to reveal its existence to the world the following week (on the leader's birthday).

Meanwhile, United States Army forces arrive at Burpelson, which is still sealed by General Ripper's order. A bloody battle ensues, and the Army forces eventually take over the base. Ripper kills himself, fearing he will be tortured into revealing the recall code. A soldier named Colonel "Bat" Guano (Keenan Wynn) forces his way into Ripper's office, where Mandrake identifies Ripper's CRM code from his desk blotter ("OPE," a variant of both Peace on Earth and Purity of Essence).[4]

Mandrake relays this code to the Pentagon with difficulty via payphone, the only working method of communication. Using the recall code, SAC successfully recalls most of the aircraft; however, Muffley learns that a surface-to-air missile has ruptured the fuel tank of Major Kong's plane and destroyed its communications device, making it impossible to recall this particular plane even with the correct recall code.

Aircraft commander Major T. J. Kong riding the bomb down.

Muffley tells the Soviets the plane's target to help them find it but does not realize that because of the shortened range of the crippled aircraft, Major Kong has selected a closer target. As the plane approaches the new target, the crew is unable to open the damaged bomb bay doors. Major Kong crimps broken electric wiring, whereupon the doors open. With Kong straddling it like a rodeo bull, the bomb falls and detonates.

Dr. Strangelove recommends that the President gather several hundred thousand people to live in deep mineshafts where the radiation will not penetrate. He suggests a 10:1 female-to-male ratio for a breeding program to repopulate the Earth when the radiation has subsided. Turgidson, worried that the Soviets will do the same, warns about a "mineshaft gap" when the wheelchair-bound Strangelove suddenly stands and walks a few steps. Astonished by his new ability, he shouts: "Mein Führer, I can walk!" The doomsday device kicks into operation and the film ends with a montage of nuclear detonations, accompanied by Vera Lynn's WW-II era recording of "We'll Meet Again".

Cast and characters

Peter Sellers's multiple roles

Columbia Pictures agreed to finance the film if Peter Sellers played at least four major roles. The condition stemmed from the studio's opinion that much of the success of Kubrick's previous film Lolita (1962) was based on Sellers's performance in which his single character assumes a number of identities. Sellers had also played three roles in The Mouse That Roared (1959). Kubrick accepted the demand, later explaining that "such crass and grotesque stipulations are the sine qua non of the motion-picture business".[8][9]

Peter Sellers's roles
Group Captain Mandrake sitting at an IBM 7090 console[10]
President Merkin Muffley
Dr. Strangelove

Sellers ended up playing three of the four roles written for him. He had been expected to play Air Force Major T. J. "King" Kong, the B-52 Stratofortress aircraft commander, but from the beginning, Sellers was reluctant. He felt his workload was too heavy and he worried he would not properly portray the character's Texas accent. Kubrick pleaded with him and asked screenwriter Terry Southern (who had been raised in Texas) to record a tape with Kong's lines spoken in the correct accent. Using Southern's tape, Sellers managed to get the accent right and started shooting the scenes in the aircraft but then Sellers sprained an ankle and could not work in the cramped cockpit set.[8][9][11]

Sellers is said to have improvised much of his dialogue, with Kubrick incorporating the ad-libs into the written screenplay so the improvised lines became part of the canonical screenplay, a practice known as retroscripting.[12]

Group Captain Lionel Mandrake According to film critic Alexander Walker, the author of biographies of both Sellers and Kubrick, the role of Group Captain Lionel Mandrake was the easiest of the three for Sellers to play, as he was aided by his experience of mimicking his superiors while serving in the RAF during World War II.[12] There is also a heavy resemblance to Sellers's friend and occasional co-star Terry-Thomas and prosthetic-limbed RAF ace Douglas Bader.

President Merkin Muffley For his performance as President Merkin Muffley, Sellers flattened his natural English accent to resemble an American Midwesterner. Sellers drew inspiration for the role from Adlai Stevenson,[12] a former Illinois governor who was the Democratic candidate for the 1952 and 1956 presidential elections and the U.N. ambassador during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

In early takes, Sellers faked cold symptoms to emphasize the character's apparent weakness. That caused frequent laughter among the film crew, ruining several takes. Kubrick ultimately found this comic portrayal inappropriate, feeling that Muffley should be a serious character.[12] In later takes Sellers played the role straight, though the President's cold is still evident in several scenes.

In keeping with Kubrick's satirical character names, a "merkin" is a pubic hair wig. The president is bald, and his last name is "Muffley"; both are additional homages to a merkin.

Dr. Strangelove Dr. Strangelove is an ex-Nazi scientist, suggesting Operation Paperclip, the US effort to recruit top German technical talent at the end of World War II.[13][14] He serves as President Muffley's scientific adviser in the War Room. When General Turgidson wonders aloud what kind of name "Strangelove" is, saying to Mr. Staines (Jack Creley) that it is not a "Kraut name", Staines responds that Strangelove's original German surname was Merkwürdige Liebe (Strange love in German) and that "he changed it when he became a citizen." Twice in the film, Strangelove accidentally addresses the president as Mein Führer. Dr. Strangelove did not appear in the book Red Alert.[15]

The character is an amalgamation of RAND Corporation strategist Herman Kahn, mathematician and Manhattan Project principal John von Neumann, rocket scientist Wernher von Braun (a central figure in Nazi Germany's rocket development program recruited to the US after the war), and Edward Teller, the "father of the hydrogen bomb".[16] There is a common misconception that the character was based on Henry Kissinger, but Kubrick and Sellers denied this;[17] Sellers said, "Strangelove was never modeled after Kissinger—that's a popular misconception. It was always Wernher Von Braun."[18]

The wheelchair-using Strangelove furthers a Kubrick trope of the menacing, seated antagonist, first depicted in Lolita through the character "Dr. Zaempf".[19] Strangelove's accent was influenced by that of Austrian-American photographer Weegee, who worked for Kubrick as a special photographic effects consultant.[12] Strangelove's appearance echoes the mad scientist archetype as seen in the character Rotwang in Fritz Lang's film Metropolis (1927). Sellers's Strangelove takes from Rotwang the single black gloved hand (which, in Rotwang's case is mechanical, because of a lab accident), the wild hair and, most importantly, his ability to avoid being controlled by political power.[20] According to film critic Alexander Walker, Sellers improvised Dr. Strangelove's lapse into the Nazi salute, borrowing one of Kubrick's black leather gloves for the uncontrollable hand that makes the gesture. Dr. Strangelove apparently suffers from diagnostic apraxia (alien hand syndrome). Kubrick wore the gloves on the set to avoid being burned when handling hot lights, and Sellers, recognizing the potential connection to Lang's work, found them to be menacing.[12]

Slim Pickens as Major T. J. "King" Kong

Capt. "Ace" Owens, Lt. W. D. Kivel, and Major T. J. "King" Kong about to open Wing Attack Plan R.

Slim Pickens, an established character actor and veteran of many Western films, was eventually chosen to replace Sellers as Major Kong after Sellers's injury. Terry Southern's biographer, Lee Hill, said the part was originally written with John Wayne in mind, and that Wayne was offered the role after Sellers was injured but he immediately turned it down.[21] Dan Blocker of the Bonanza western television series was approached to play the part, but according to Southern, Blocker's agent rejected the script as being "too pinko".[22] Kubrick then recruited Pickens, whom he knew from his brief involvement in a Marlon Brando western film project that was eventually filmed as One-Eyed Jacks.[21]

Fellow actor James Earl Jones recalls, "He was Major Kong on and off the set—he didn't change a thing—his temperament, his language, his behavior." Pickens was not told that the movie was a comedy and was only given the script for scenes he was in, to get him to play it "straight".[23]

Kubrick biographer John Baxter explains, in the documentary Inside the Making of Dr. Strangelove:

As it turns out, Slim Pickens had never left the United States. He had to hurry and get his first passport. He arrived on the set, and somebody said, "Gosh, he's arrived in costume!", not realizing that that's how he always dressed ... with the cowboy hat and the fringed jacket and the cowboy boots—and that he wasn't putting on the character—that's the way he talked.

Pickens, who had previously played only minor supporting and character roles, said his appearance as Maj. Kong greatly improved his career. He later commented, "After Dr. Strangelove the roles, the dressing rooms and the checks all started getting bigger."[24]

George C. Scott as General Buck Turgidson

General Buck Turgidson imitating a low-flying B-52 "frying chickens in a barnyard"

Kubrick tricked Scott into playing the role of Gen. Turgidson far more ridiculously than Scott was comfortable doing. Kubrick talked Scott into doing over the top "practice" takes, which Kubrick told Scott would never be used, as a way to warm up for the "real" takes. Kubrick used these takes in the final film, causing Scott to swear never to work with Kubrick again.[25]

During the filming, Kubrick and Scott had different opinions regarding certain scenes, but Kubrick got Scott to conform largely by repeatedly beating him at chess, which they played frequently on the set.[26] Scott, a skilled player himself, later said that while he and Kubrick may not have always seen eye to eye, he respected Kubrick immensely for his skill at chess.


Novel and screenplay

Stanley Kubrick started with nothing but a vague idea to make a thriller about a nuclear accident that built on the widespread Cold War fear for survival.[27] While doing research, Kubrick gradually became aware of the subtle and paradoxical "balance of terror" between nuclear powers. At Kubrick's request, Alastair Buchan (the head of the Institute for Strategic Studies) recommended the thriller novel Red Alert by Peter George.[28] Kubrick was impressed with the book, which had also been praised by game theorist and future Nobel Prize in Economics winner Thomas Schelling in an article written for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and reprinted in The Observer,[29] and immediately bought the film rights.[30] In 2006, Schelling wrote that conversations between Kubrick, Schelling, and George in late 1960 about a treatment of Red Alert updated with intercontinental missiles eventually led to the making of the film.[31]

In collaboration with George, Kubrick started writing a screenplay based on the book. While writing the screenplay, they benefited from some brief consultations with Schelling and, later, Herman Kahn.[32] In following the tone of the book, Kubrick originally intended to film the story as a serious drama. However, as he later explained during interviews, he began to see comedy inherent in the idea of mutual assured destruction as he wrote the first draft. Kubrick said:

My idea of doing it as a nightmare comedy came in the early weeks of working on the screenplay. I found that in trying to put meat on the bones and to imagine the scenes fully, one had to keep leaving out of it things which were either absurd or paradoxical, in order to keep it from being funny; and these things seemed to be close to the heart of the scenes in question.[33]

Among the titles that Kubrick considered for the film were Dr. Doomsday or: How to Start World War III Without Even Trying, Dr. Strangelove's Secret Uses of Uranus, and Wonderful Bomb.[34] After deciding to make the film a black comedy, Kubrick brought in Terry Southern as a co-writer in late 1962. The choice was influenced by reading Southern's comic novel The Magic Christian, which Kubrick had received as a gift from Peter Sellers,[8] and which itself became a Sellers film in 1969. Southern made important contributions to the film, but his role led to a rift between Kubrick and Peter George; after Life magazine published a photo-essay on Southern in August 1964 which implied that Southern had been the script's principal author—a misperception neither Kubrick nor Southern did much to dispel—Peter George wrote an indignant letter to the magazine, published in its September 1964 issue, in which he pointed out that he had both written the film's source novel and collaborated on various incarnations of the script over a period of ten months, whereas "Southern was briefly employed ... to do some additional rewriting for Kubrick and myself and fittingly received a screenplay credit in third place behind Mr. Kubrick and myself".[35]

Sets and filming

Dr. Strangelove was filmed at Shepperton Studios, near London, as Sellers was in the middle of a divorce at the time and unable to leave England.[36] The sets occupied three main sound stages: the Pentagon War Room, the B-52 Stratofortress bomber and the last one containing both the motel room and General Ripper's office and outside corridor.[8] The studio's buildings were also used as the Air Force base exterior. The film's set design was done by Ken Adam, the production designer of several James Bond films (at the time he had already worked on Dr. No). The black and white cinematography was by Gilbert Taylor, and the film was edited by Anthony Harvey and Stanley Kubrick (uncredited). The original musical score for the film was composed by Laurie Johnson and the special effects were by Wally Veevers. The theme of the chorus from the bomb run scene is a modification of When Johnny Comes Marching Home. Sellers and Kubrick got on famously during the film's production and shared a love of photography.[37]

Model of the War Room constructed for the film.
The War Room with the Big Board.

For the War Room, Ken Adam first designed a two-level set which Kubrick initially liked, only to decide later that it was not what he wanted. Adam next began work on the design that was used in the film, an expressionist set that was compared with The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Fritz Lang's Metropolis. It was an enormous concrete room (130 feet (40 m) long and 100 feet (30 m) wide, with a 35-foot (11 m)-high ceiling[30]) suggesting a bomb shelter, with a triangular shape (based on Kubrick's idea that this particular shape would prove the most resistant against an explosion). One side of the room was covered with gigantic strategic maps reflecting in a shiny black floor inspired by the dance scenes in old Fred Astaire films. In the middle of the room there was a large circular table lit from above by a circle of lamps, suggesting a poker table. Kubrick insisted that the table would be covered with green baize (although this could not be seen in the black and white film) to reinforce the actors' impression that they are playing 'a game of poker for the fate of the world.'[38] Kubrick asked Adam to build the set ceiling in concrete to force the director of photography to use only the on-set lights from the circle of lamps. Moreover, each lamp in the circle of lights was carefully placed and tested until Kubrick was happy with the result.[39]

Lacking cooperation from the Pentagon in the making of the film, the set designers reconstructed the aircraft cockpit to the best of their ability by comparing the cockpit of a B-29 Superfortress and a single photograph of the cockpit of a B-52 and relating this to the geometry of the B-52's fuselage. The B-52 was state-of-the-art in the 1960s, and its cockpit was off-limits to the film crew. When some United States Air Force personnel were invited to view the reconstructed B-52 cockpit, they said that "it was absolutely correct, even to the little black box which was the CRM."[12] It was so accurate that Kubrick was concerned whether Ken Adam's production design team had done all of their research legally, fearing a possible investigation by the FBI.[12]

In several shots of the B-52 flying over the polar ice en route to Russia, the shadow of the actual camera plane, a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, is visible on the snow below. The B-52 was a scale model composited into the Arctic footage, which was sped up to create a sense of jet speed.[40] Home movie footage included in Inside the Making of Dr. Strangelove on the 2001 Special Edition DVD release of the film shows clips of the B-17 with a cursive "Dr. Strangelove" painted over the rear entry hatch on the right side of the fuselage.

Fail Safe

Red Alert author Peter George collaborated on the screenplay with Kubrick and satirist Terry Southern. Red Alert was more solemn than its film version and did not include the character Dr. Strangelove though the main plot and technical elements were quite similar. A novelization of the actual film, rather than a reprint of the original novel, was published by George, based on an early draft in which the narrative is bookended by the account of aliens, who, having arrived at a desolated Earth, try to piece together what has happened. It was reissued in October 2015 by Candy Jar Books, featuring never-before-published material on Strangelove's early career.[41][42]

During the filming of Dr. Strangelove, Stanley Kubrick learned that Fail Safe, a film with a similar theme, was being produced. Although Fail Safe was to be an ultrarealistic thriller, Kubrick feared that its plot resemblance would damage his film's box office potential, especially if it were released first. Indeed, the novel Fail-Safe (on which the film is based) is so similar to Red Alert that Peter George sued on charges of plagiarism and settled out of court.[43] What worried Kubrick most was that Fail Safe boasted acclaimed director Sidney Lumet and first-rate dramatic actors Henry Fonda as the American President and Walter Matthau as the advisor to the Pentagon, Professor Groeteschele. Kubrick decided to throw a legal wrench into Fail Safe's production gears. Lumet recalled in the documentary Inside the Making of Dr. Strangelove: "We started casting. Fonda was already set ... which of course meant a big commitment in terms of money. I was set, Walter [Bernstein, the screenwriter] was set ... And suddenly, this lawsuit arrived, filed by Stanley Kubrick and Columbia Pictures."

Kubrick argued that Fail Safe's own 1960 source novel Fail-Safe had been plagiarized from Peter George's Red Alert, to which Kubrick owned creative rights and pointed out unmistakable similarities in intentions between the characters Groeteschele and Strangelove. The plan worked, and Fail Safe opened eight months behind Dr. Strangelove, to critical acclaim but mediocre ticket sales.


The end of the film shows Dr. Strangelove exclaiming, "Mein Führer, I can walk!" before cutting to footage of nuclear explosions, with Vera Lynn singing "We'll Meet Again." This footage comes from nuclear tests such as shot BAKER of Operation Crossroads at Bikini Atoll, the Trinity test, a test from Operation Sandstone and the hydrogen bomb tests from Operation Redwing and Operation Ivy. In some shots, old warships (such as the German heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen), which were used as targets, are plainly visible. In others, the smoke trails of rockets used to create a calibration backdrop can be seen.

Former Goon Show writer, and friend of Sellers, Spike Milligan, was credited with suggesting the Vera Lynn music for the ending. (Additionally, Sellers' ad-libbed dialogue as the President on the phone with the Russian premier is drawn from a skit between him and Milligan in the Goon Show episode "The Lost Emperor".)

Original ending: the pie fight

The cream pie fight was removed from the final cut.

It was originally planned for the film to end with a scene that was filmed, with everyone in the war room involved in a pie fight.

Accounts vary as to why the pie fight was cut. In a 1969 interview, Kubrick said, "I decided it was farce and not consistent with the satiric tone of the rest of the film."[36] Critic Alexander Walker observed that "the cream pies were flying around so thickly that people lost definition, and you couldn't really say whom you were looking at."[12] Nile Southern, son of screenwriter Terry Southern, suggested the fight was intended to be less jovial: "Since they were laughing, it was unusable, because instead of having that totally black, which would have been amazing, like, this blizzard, which in a sense is metaphorical for all of the missiles that are coming, as well, you just have these guys having a good old time. So, as Kubrick later said, 'it was a disaster of Homeric proportions.'"[12]

Effects of the Kennedy assassination on the film

A first test screening of the film was scheduled for November 22, 1963, the day of the John F. Kennedy assassination. The film was just weeks from its scheduled premiere, but because of the assassination, the release was delayed until late January 1964, as it was felt that the public was in no mood for such a film any sooner.[44]

One line by Slim Pickens, "a fella could have a pretty good weekend in Dallas with all that stuff", was dubbed to change "Dallas" to "Vegas" since Dallas was where Kennedy was killed.[45] The original reference to Dallas survives in the English audio of the French-subtitled version of the film.

The assassination also serves as another possible reason that the pie-fight scene was cut. In the scene, after Muffley takes a pie in the face, General Turgidson exclaims: "Gentlemen! Our gallant young president has been struck down in his prime!" Editor Anthony Harvey stated that the scene "would have stayed, except that Columbia Pictures were horrified, and thought it would offend the president's family."[46] Kubrick and others have said that the scene had been cut before preview night because it was inconsistent with the rest of the film.[45]

1994 re-release

In 1994 the film was re-released. While the 1964 release used the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the new print was in the slightly squarer 1.66:1 (5:3) ratio that Kubrick had originally intended.[47]


Satirizing the Cold War

Dr. Strangelove takes passing shots at numerous contemporary Cold War attitudes, such as the "missile gap", but it primarily focuses its satire on the theory of mutual assured destruction (MAD),[48] in which each side is supposed to be deterred from a nuclear war by the prospect of a universal cataclysmic disaster regardless who "won". Military strategist and former physicist Herman Kahn, in his 1960 book, On Thermonuclear War, used the theoretical example of a doomsday machine to illustrate the limitations of MAD, which was developed by John von Neumann. The concept of such a machine is consistent with MAD doctrine, when it is logically pursued to its conclusion. It thus worried Kahn that the military might like the idea of a doomsday machine and build one.[49] Kahn, a leading critic of MAD and the then president Eisenhower administration's doctrine of massive retaliation upon the slightest provokation by the USSR, considered MAD foolish bravado, and instead urged America to plan for proportionality and thus, even a limited nuclear war. With this logical reasoning, Kahn became one of the architects of the flexible response doctrine, that while superficially resembling MAD, allowed for responding to a limited nuclear strike, with a proportional or calibrated, return of fire(see On Escalation).

Kahn would educate Kubrick on the concept of the semi-realistic "Cobalt-Thorium G" doomsday machine and Kubrick then used the concept for the film. Kahn in his writings and talks would often came over as cold and calculating, for example, with his use of the term megadeaths and in his willingness to estimate how many human lives the United States could lose and still rebuild economically, but it was unfair, as he was not really advocating nuclear warfare. (He simply meant that if it came to nuclear war, there might, in fact, be a limited one, and options should be kept open.)[50] Kahn's cold analytical attitude towards millions of deaths is reflected in Turgidson's remark to the president about the outcome of a preemptive nuclear war: "Mr. President, I'm not saying we wouldn't get our hair mussed. But I do say no more than ten to twenty million killed, tops, uh, depending on the breaks." Turgidson has a binder that is labelled "World Targets in Megadeaths", a term coined in 1953 by Kahn and popularized in his 1960 book On Thermonuclear War.

The post-hoc planning in the film, by Dr. Strangelove, done after the MAD policy has clearly broken down, to keep the human race alive and to regenerate from populations sheltered in mineshafts, is a parody of those strict adherents of the MAD doctrine who are opposed to the prior creation of fallout shelters on ideological grounds. To such adherents, talk of survival takes the "Assured Destruction" out of "Mutual Assured Destruction", hence no preparations should be conducted for fear of "destabilizing" the MAD doctrine. Moreover, it is also somewhat of a parody of Nelson Rockefeller, Edward Teller, Herman Kahn, and Chet Holifield's November 1961 popularization of a similar plan to spend billions of dollars on a nationwide network of highly protective concrete-lined underground fallout shelters, capable of holding millions of people and to be built before any such nuclear exchange began.[51] These extensive and therefore wildly expensive preparations were the fullest conceivable implementation of President Kennedy's, month prior, September 1961 advocacy in favor of the comparatively more modest, individual and community fallout shelters, as it appeared in Life magazine.[52] Which was in the context of shelters being on the publics mind at the time due to the Berlin Crisis. The Kennedy administration would later go on to expand the nascent United States civil defense efforts, including the assessment of millions of homes and to create a network of thousands of well known, black and yellow plaqued, community Fallout Shelters. This was done, not with a massive construction effort but by the relatively cheap re-purposing of existing buildings and stocking them with CD V-700 geiger counters etc. In 1962 the Kennedy administration would found the American Civil Defense Association to organize this, comparatively far more cost-effective, shelter effort.

The fallout-shelter-network proposal, mentioned in the film, with its inherently high radiation protection characteristics, has similarities and contrasts to that of the very real and robust Swiss civil defense network. Switzerland has an overcapacity of nuclear fallout shelters for the country's population size, and by law, new homes must still be built with a fallout shelter.[53][54] If the US did that, it would violate the spirit of MAD and according to MAD adherents, allegedly destabilize the situation because the US could launch a first strike and its population would largely survive a retaliatory second strike. See MAD--Theory section.

To refute early 1960s novels and Hollywood films like Fail-Safe and Dr. Strangelove, which raised questions about US control over nuclear weapons, the Air Force produced a documentary film, SAC Command Post, to demonstrate its responsiveness to presidential command and its tight control over nuclear weapons.[55]

Sexual themes

In the months following the film's release director Stanley Kubrick received a fan letter from Legrace G. Benson of the Department of History of Art at Cornell University interpreting the film as being sexually-layered. The director wrote back to Benson and confirmed the interpretation, "Seriously, you are the first one who seems to have noticed the sexual framework from intromission (the planes going in) to the last spasm (Kong's ride down and detonation at target)."[56]

Sexual metaphors often popped up when the nuclear analysts that Kubrick consulted were discussing strategy, such as when Bernard Brodie compared his not attacking cities/withhold plan following belligerent escalation to coitus interruptus in an internally circulated memorandum at the RAND Corporation (spoofed in the film as the 'BLAND Corporation'), while he described the SAC plan of massive retaliation as "going all the way". That led RAND scholar Herman Kahn, whom Kubrick consulted, to quip to an assembled group of "massive retaliation" SAC officers, "Gentlemen, you do not have a war plan. You have a Wargasm!".[57]


Box office

The film was a popular success, earning US$4,420,000 in rentals in North America during its initial theatrical release.[58]

Critical response

This film is Kubrick's highest rated on Rotten Tomatoes.[59] It holds a 99% approval rating based on 69 reviews, with an average rating of 9/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Stanley Kubrick's brilliant Cold War satire remains as funny and razor-sharp today as it was in 1964."[60]The film holds a score of 96 out of 100 on Metacritic, based on 11 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim." The film is ranked number 7 in the All-Time High Scores chart of Metacritic's Video/DVD section.[61] It was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry. In 2000, readers of Total Film magazine voted it the 24th greatest comedic film of all time. It is also listed as number 26 on Empire's 500 Greatest Movies of All Time.

Dr. Strangelove is on Roger Ebert's list of The Great Movies,[62] described as "arguably the best political satire of the century". It was also rated as the fifth greatest film in the 2002 Sight & Sound's directors' poll, the only comedy in the top ten.[63]

Awards and honors

The film was nominated for four Academy Awards and also seven BAFTA Awards, of which it won four.

Academy Awards nominations[64]
BAFTA Awards

In addition, the film won the best written American comedy award from the Writers Guild of America, a Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, and the Grand Prix of the Belgian Film Critics Association.

Kubrick won two awards for best director, from the New York Film Critics Circle and the Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists, and was nominated for one by the Directors Guild of America.

The film ranked #32 on TV Guide's list of the 50 Greatest Movies on TV (and Video).[65]

American Film Institute included the film as #26 in AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies,[66] #3 in AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs,[67] #64 in AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes ("Gentlemen, you can't fight in here! This is the War Room!")[68] and #39 in AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition).[69]

Potential sequel

In 1995 Kubrick enlisted Terry Southern to script a sequel titled Son of Strangelove. Kubrick had Terry Gilliam in mind to direct. The script was never completed, but index cards laying out the story's basic structure were found among Southern's papers after his October 1995 death; it was set largely in underground bunkers, where Dr. Strangelove had taken refuge with a group of women.

In 2013 Gilliam commented, "I was told after Kubrick died—by someone who had been dealing with him—that he had been interested in trying to do another Strangelove with me directing. I never knew about that until after he died but I would have loved to."[70]

See also


  1. "Dr. Strangelove". British Board of Film Classification. Retrieved July 6, 2013.
  2. 1 2 "Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1963)". British Film Institute. Retrieved November 13, 2014.
  3. 1 2 "Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved November 13, 2014.
  4. Kramer, Peter (2014). Dr. Strangelove or: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 1844577791. Retrieved February 27, 2015.
  5. "Who Was Dr. Strangelove?". Slate.com. March 9, 1999. Retrieved February 13, 2016.
  6. The distinctive bikinied torso on the cover dates this as the real June 1962 issue, which features the pictorial "A Toast to Bikinis" (being a play on the testing-site atoll for nukes), shown as the pinups on the inside of the B-52's safe door. Grant B. Stillman, "Last Secrets of Strangelove Revealed", 2008.
  7. For the pose, Reed lay flat on her chest and had the January 1963 (Vol. 41, No. 2) issue of Foreign Affairs covering her buttocks. Despite this modest pose, her mother was furious. In the novel and advertising posters, the Playboy model is identified as "Miss Foreign Affairs". Brian Siano, "A Commentary on Dr. Strangelove", 1995 and "Inside the Making of Dr. Strangelove," a documentary included with the 40th Anniversary Special Edition DVD of the film.
  8. 1 2 3 4 Terry Southern, "Notes from The War Room", Grand Street, issue #49
  9. 1 2 Lee Hill, "Interview with a Grand Guy": interview with Terry Southern
  10. Tulsa TV Memories. U.N.C.L.E., SAGE, SABRE, Strangelove & Tulsa: Connections
  11. In the fictionalized biopic The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, it is suggested that Sellers faked the injury as a way to force Kubrick to release him from the contractual obligation to play this fourth role.
  12. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 "Inside the Making of Dr. Strangelove," a documentary included with the 40th Anniversary Special Edition DVD of the film
  13. Dan Geddes, "Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)"; The Satirist, December 2011.
  14. Beverly Merrill Kelley, Reelpolitik II: Political Ideologies in '50s and '60s Films; Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield, 2004; p. 263.
  15. Jeffrey Townsend, et al., 'Red Alert' in John Tibbetts & James Welsh (eds), The Encyclopedia of Novels into Films, New York, 1999, pp. 183–186
  16. Paul Boyer, "Dr. Strangelove" in Mark C. Carnes (ed.), Past Imperfect: History According to the Movies, New York, 1996.
  17. "Dr Strangelove". moviediva.com.
  18. Starr, Michael Seth (1991). Peter Sellers: A Film History. McFarland & Company. p. 100. ISBN 0-89950-512-0.
  19. "Lolita". The Criterion Collection.
  20. Frayling, Christopher. Mad, Bad, and Dangerous?: The Scientist and the Cinema. London: Reaktion, 2006. p.26
  21. 1 2 Lee Hill, A Grand Guy: The Life and Art of Terry Southern (Bloomsbury, 2001), pp.118–119
  22. Biography for Dan Blocker at Internet Movie Database
  23. "Movie Night!". Phenry.org. February 22, 1999. Retrieved March 6, 2010.
  24. Slim Pickens biography
  25. James Earl Jones (November 16, 2004). "A Bombardier's Reflection". Opinionjournal.com. Retrieved March 6, 2010.
  26. "Kubrick on The Shining" from Michel Ciment, 'Kubrick', Holt, Rinehart, and Winston; 1st American ed edition (1983), ISBN 0-03-061687-5
  27. Brian Siano, "A Commentary on Dr. Strangelove", 1995
  28. Alexander Walker, "Stanley Kubrick Directs," Harcourt Brace Co, 1972, ISBN 0-15-684892-9, cited in Brian Siano, "A Commentary on Dr. Strangelove", 1995
  29. Phone interview with Thomas Schelling by Sharon Ghamari-Tabrizi, published in her book The Worlds of Herman Kahn; The Intuitive Science of Thermonuclear War (Harvard University Press, 2005) "Dr. Strangelove"
  30. 1 2 Terry Southern,"Check-up with Dr. Strangelove", article written in 1963 for Esquire but unpublished at the time
  31. Schelling, Thomas C. (2006). Strategies of Commitment and Other Essays. Harvard University Press. p. 212. ISBN 0-674-02567-9.
  32. Sharon Ghamari-Tabrizi, "The Worlds of Herman Kahn; The Intuitive Science of Thermonuclear War", Harvard University Press, 2005.
  33. Macmillan International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers, vol. 1, p. 126
  34. Usher, Shaun (April 3, 2012). "Dr. Strangelove". Lists of Note. Retrieved April 16, 2012.
  35. George Case (2014), Calling Dr Strangelove: The Anatomy and Influence of the Kubrick Masterpiece (McFarland & Co, Jefferson, Nth Carolina) p.118, ISBN 978-0-7864-9449-1
  36. 1 2 "An Interview with Stanley Kubrick (1969)", published in Joseph Gelmis, The Film Director as Superstar, 1970, Doubleday and Company: Garden City, New York.
  37. Duncan, Paul, Stanley Kubrick: The Complete Films, Taschen GmbH, p. 95, ISBN 978-3-8365-2775-0
  38. "A Kubrick Masterclass," interview with Sir Ken Adam by Sir Christopher Frayling, 2005; excerpts from the interview were published online at Berlinale talent capus and the Script Factory website
  39. Interview with Ken Adam by Michel Ciment, published in Michel Ciment, "Kubrick," Holt, Rinehart, and Winston; 1st American ed edition (1983), ISBN 0-03-061687-5
  40. The camera ship, a former USAAF B-17G-100-VE, serial 44-85643, registered F-BEEA, had been one of four Flying Fortresses purchased from salvage at Altus, Oklahoma in December 1947 by the French Institut géographique national and converted for survey and photomapping duty. It was the last active B-17 of a total of fourteen once operated by the IGN, but it was destroyed in a takeoff accident at RAF Binbrook in 1989 during filming of the film Memphis Belle. "1944 USAAF Serial Numbers (44-83886 to 44-92098)". USAAS-USAAC-USAAF-USAF Aircraft Serial Numbers—1908 to Present. Joseph F. Baugher. Retrieved May 4, 2007.
  41. "Candy Jar Publishes Classic". Retrieved October 14, 2014.
  42. "DR STRANGELOVE - THE LOST STORY". candyjarlimited.blogspot.co.uk. Retrieved March 24, 2016.
  43. "Red Alert—Peter Bryant—Microsoft Reader eBook". eBookMall, Inc. Retrieved November 27, 2006.
  44. Sheward, David (2008). Rage and Glory: The Volatile Life and Career of George C. Scott. Hal Leonard Publishing. pp. 105–06. ISBN 9781557836700. Retrieved October 19, 2015.
  45. 1 2 Eric D. Snider, "What's the big deal?: Dr. Strangelove (1964)"; Seattle Pi, October 25, 2010.
  46. "No Fighting in the War Room Or: Dr. Strangelove and the Nuclear Threat", a documentary included with the 40th Anniversary Special Edition DVD of the film
  47. LoBrutto, Vincent. "Stanley Kubrick: A Biography". Da Capo Press, 1995, p. 250
  48. King, Mike (2009). The American cinema of excess: extremes of the national mind on film. McFarland. p. 46. ISBN 978-0-7864-3988-1.
  49. See On Thermonuclear War pp. 144–155
  50. Encyclopedia of American Foreign Policy, Volume 1. Simon and Schuster. 2001. p. 471. ISBN 978-0-684-80657-0.
  51. Fortune magazine November 1961 pages 112–115 et al.
  52. DOE.gov
  53. Ball, Deborah (June 25, 2011). "Swiss Renew Push for Bomb Shelters". The Wall Street Journal.
  54. Foulkes, Imogen (February 10, 2007). "Swiss still braced for nuclear war". BBC News.
  55. SAC Command Post
  56. Castle, Alison (2008). The Stanley Kubrick Archives. Taschen. p. 359. ISBN 3836508885.
  57. Kaplan, Fred The Wizards of Armageddon. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1991, 222-223
  58. "Big Rental Pictures of 1964", Variety, January 6, 1965 p 39. Note this figure is rentals accruing to distributors, not total gross.
  59. "STANLEY KUBRICK". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved November 30, 2016.
  60. "Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved August 22, 2010.
  61. "DVD/Video: All-Time High Scores". Metacritic. Retrieved August 22, 2010.
  62. Roger Ebert, "Dr. Strangelove (1964)", July 11, 1999
  63. Sight & Sound's directors' poll (no longer available as of February 1, 2015)
  64. "The 37th Academy Awards (1965) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved August 24, 2011.
  65. "The 50 Greatest Movies on TV (and Video)". TV Guide. TV Guide Magazine. 1998.
  66. "AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies" (PDF). American Film Institute. 1998. Retrieved August 23, 2016.
  67. "AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs" (PDF). American Film Institute. 2002. Retrieved August 23, 2016.
  68. "AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes" (PDF). American Film Institute. 2005. Retrieved August 23, 2016.
  69. "AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition)" (PDF). American Film Institute. 2007. Retrieved August 23, 2016.
  70. Brown, Todd (October 12, 2013). "Stanley Kubrick Wanted Terry Gilliam To Direct SON OF STRANGELOVE". Twitch Film. Retrieved October 13, 2013.

Further reading

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