Dr. Strangelove or:
How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb is such an iconic
motion picture that most readers of Cinema
Retro, I would bet, already own a copy of this brilliant keepsake of the
1960s on DVD or Blu-ray. The film has been released several times before, but
now it gets the Criterion treatment. Believe me—fans of the movie and of
director Stanley Kubrick will still want to get this edition. It is definitely
an upgrade in quality and the disk also comes with a plethora of fascinating supplements and some terrific goodies in
you’ve haven’t been paying attention to the lists of Great Movies You Should
See Before You Die, you know that Dr.
Strangelove is the story of how an air force general (Sterling Hayden) goes
“a little funny in the head... you know, just a little... funny...” and orders
one of his bombers to attack Russia in order to preserve our “purity of
essence.” To save the day it’s up to an RAF exchange officer (Peter Sellers),
the President of the United States (also Sellers), a Hawk-ish general in the
Pentagon (George C. Scott), the good-ol’-boy pilot of the bomber itself (Slim
Pickens), and a bizarre German nuclear physicist in a wheelchair (Sellers again). Maybe they rescue our planet,
maybe they don’t.
Strangelove was Kubrick’s first
time out as sole producer, along with serving as director and co-writer. Prior
to making the film, he had been partners with James B. Harris, who produced The Killing (1956), Paths of Glory (1957), and Lolita
(1962). Kubrick had also done a work-for-hire job for executive producer Kirk
Douglas on Spartacus (1960), which he
vowed never to do again, but that project afforded him the clout to carve out a
subsequent career of total creative freedom. Now as the producer of his own
pictures, Kubrick got what he sought. He secured his home base in England, set
up a unique and highly personal routine of making films, and proceeded to give
us some examples of extraordinary cinema. Strangelove
was the first masterpiece out of the gate, and, fortunately, was a critical
and box office hit.
was controversial, too, as are all of Kubrick’s films made since he began
producing them himself. At the time, some attacked Strangelove as being a “sick joke.” Nevertheless, it captured the
mood of early 1964 and, as Martin Scorsese has said about it, “the word on the
street was that it’s terrific.” It was the hip movie to see. It pushed the
envelope. It got people talking. It established Kubrick as the hot filmmaker of his day.
the early 1960s, the director had become obsessed with the arms race, experiencing
himself some of the Cold War paranoia that was prevalent in those years,
especially after the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. The British novel Red Alert by Peter George came to
Kubrick’s attention and he thought it would make a fine basis for a political
thriller. He brought in George to co-write, and at first the pair worked with James
Harris on the script. At some point during the process, they all started to
find funny things about the story. From then on, the screenplay morphed into a
comedy—a very black one. In fact, Dr.
Strangelove is arguably the definitive black comedy.
eventually left the partnership and went off on his own, leaving Kubrick to
produce by himself. That’s about the time Kubrick brought in satirist Terry
Southern to polish the work and add some needed dialogue tweaking. The result is
one of the most ingenious and original adaptations of a novel in movie history.
acting and the direction are as perfect as one can get. Production Designer Ken
Adam’s ultra-modern sets, especially that of the spectacular War Room, firmly situates the movie in its time
and place. Gilbert Taylor’s stark black and white cinematography in the
interior settings gives the picture its nightmarequalities, while the hand-held camerawork in the exteriors is
effective in creating a documentary/newsreel effect. The editing (by future
director Anthony Harvey, but certainly with Kubrick overseeing the work) is
razor tight. The director apparently deleted a lot of footage to achieve the
comic tension, including a now infamous pie fight in the War Room at the film’s
climax because it apparently didn’t fit with the tone of the rest of the movie.
all comes across with class and panache in Criterion’s new Blu-ray edition. The
restored 4K digital transfer is the best I’ve seen. There’s an uncompressed
monaural soundtrack, but also an alternate 5.1 Surround Soundtrack presented in
DTS-HD Master Audio. The movie has never sounded better.
then there are the supplements. Criterion provides several new pieces, and some
of the best features from previous releases have been ported over as well.
new supplements include: new interviews with Kubrick scholars Mick Broderick
and Rodney Hill, archivist Richard Daniels, camera innovator Joe Dunton and
camera operator Kelvin Pike, and Peter George’s son, David George. These all
come with film footage and wonderful unseen stills. Previous extras include an
excerpt from the tried and true 1966 audio interview with Kubrick by Jeremy
Bernstein; four different documentaries about Kubrick, the making of the film,
the sociopolitical climate of the period, and actor Sellers (two of which are
co-produced by Cinema Retro Editor-in-Chief
Lee Pfeiffer). There are also 1963 interviews with Sellers and Scott, and an
excerpt from a 1980 Gene Shalit interview with Sellers.
trailers are included as supplements—the quirky theatrical trailer, which we’ve
all seen, and the “exhibitor’s trailer,” which we haven’t. The latter is a
little over fifteen minutes long; demonstration reels of this kind were
commonplace in those days in order to persuade theaters to book the picture.
It’s pretty much a short capsulation of the movie’s story using unedited
footage, but what makes it totally cool is that Kubrick himself narrates it. He
even makes excuses for a couple of monologue sequences that do not yet include
cut-aways to other characters. Fascinating stuff.
terrific bonus is the collection of “props” you get inside the packaging—everything
comes in a “Plan R” folder like the one used in the film. Inside is a “Top
Secret” Memorandum containing an essay by scholar David Bromwich, and a Playboy-style booklet called Strangelove. Tracy Reed, step-daughter
of director Sir Carol Reed and the only female in the cast, is on the cover of
the booklet and graces a centerfold. The latter is also seen in the movie in a
fictional issue of Playboy itself. The
booklet’s text is Terry Southern’s 1994 article on the film. Last but not
least, you even get a “miniature combination Bible and Russian Phrase Book.”
fella could have a good time in Vegas” with this superb release from the