Dr. Strangelove

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a subtle satire, and I still haven’t after witnessing this movie. The heavy-handedness is probably the movie’s biggest flaw. Here are some elements of the film…

Smart: Absurdist humor. This movie doesn’t predate Lenny Bruce or Catch-22, but as far as movies go it has to be one of the early examples of absurdity. Gotta love the “Peace is our Profession” shots Kubrick uses at every possible opportunity before and during the firefights.

Smart: Hitler analogy. Jack (the villain of sorts) is obsessed with “purity of bodily fluids” which is a not very subtle analogy for Hitler’s desire for racial purity. This is one of the two main theses of the film… that Americans in their Anti-Communist zeal actually become Genocidal (replacing Jews with Communists). Jack undergoes a policy of Annihilation of the Communist race in order for them not to “pervert” him.

Smart: The other main thesis is that Ultimate Defense (and the cultural underpinnings that support it) is maybe not such a good thing after all. Ultimate Defense is symbolized by the Doomsday Device, which ends all life on earth in the event of a SINGLE attack. Talk about overreacting ;). Christian culture before and since this movie has been all about NOT attacking, and to defend with great zeal (such as the philosophy provided by most Eastern martial arts for example). The Doomsday Device is representative of Armageddon. Deterrance was said to be the highlight of this plan… Terrifying and encouraging the Fear of Attacking. Encouraging a lack of attack… World War I was the “war to end all wars”… see a trend?

Good: Artistic visuals. Kubrick is a master of this and it shows. The shot looking up at Jack as he gives his first Hitler speech is classic, along with the roundtable set, the lighting and showpiece of Dr. Strangelove, and the rodeo rampage of the final descent.

Issue: Kubrick is not a particularly good comic director. While good performances were found across the board, some scenes were a bit over the top for questionable value, and the interior airplane scenes seemed to be more interested in realism than anything else, for no apparent reason (the interior airplane scenes are my least favorite). This was far from a perfect movie.

Yet it is a very smart, creative, and inspired comedy.

My head hurts.

That’s what you get for reading the whole thing.

Just thank your lucky stars that you aren’t bleeding from the eyes. Yet.

Actually, the flouridation of water was a particular concern of the John Birchers in the 1950s-1960s. This isn’t necessarily an analogy, but a reference to a real belief of the ultra-conservative wing of the anti-Communist movement.


You’ve never seen a subtle satire?

I’m going to take issue with this one, too.

The plane scenes are an obvious satire of the patriotic war movies common in the years around Strangelove. A young crew led by a gung-ho captain are set on their mission to begin the end the of the world, commenting all the while on the commendations and rewards they’ll get for a job well done. He even gives a pep-talk set to the Battle Hymn of the Republic, for crying out loud. They are partially disabled on the way to the target, but like any plucky crew they’ll get through it.

Only, we (the audience) don’t want them to get through it. Neither do their superiors. Standard dramatic irony, but it works.

Though the plane set was certainly realistic, the realism was no more than one would see in a movie like Sands of Iwo Jima. Maybe the satire was too subtle for you. ;)

It stands as one of my all-time favorite comedies, and I think Kubrick does a great job. No, it isn’t subtle, but neither are The Producers or The Great Dictator. You are right on that it is inspired and creative. As the memory of MAD fades, I wonder if it will hold up well in future years.


satire is rarely subtle to begin with. Strangelove is one of the best, it’s not meant to be overanalyzed. If you do that, you’re going to have to answer to the Coca-Cola company!!

‘I’m Too Smart to see Anything as ‘Subtle’, I’m a Genius and the World’s greatest Detective’

Where’s Major Kong?

he’s busy getting screwed by Jack D Ripper

If satire was subtle it wouldn’t be a satire.

Purity of Essence, man! Purity of Essence!

Major T. J. “King” Kong: Well, I’ve been to one world fair, a picnic, and a rodeo, and that’s the stupidest thing I ever heard come over a set of earphones. You sure you got today’s codes?

Major T. J. “King” Kong: Well, boys, I reckon this is it – nuclear combat toe to toe with the Roosskies. Now look, boys, I ain’t much of a hand at makin’ speeches, but I got a pretty fair idea that something doggone important is goin’ on back there. And I got a fair idea the kinda personal emotions that some of you fellas may be thinkin’. Heck, I reckon you wouldn’t even be human bein’s if you didn’t have some pretty strong personal feelin’s about nuclear combat. I want you to remember one thing, the folks back home is a-countin’ on you and by golly, we ain’t about to let ‘em down. I tell you something else, if this thing turns out to be half as important as I figure it just might be, I’d say that you’re all in line for some important promotions and personal citations when this thing’s over with. That goes for ever’ last one of you regardless of your race, color or your creed. Now let’s get this thing on the hump – we got some flyin’ to do

Miss Scott: It’s 3 o’clock in the morning!

General “Buck” Turgidson: Weh-heh-heh-ll, the Air Force never sleeps.

Miss Scott: Buck, honey, I’m not sleepy either…

General “Buck” Turgidson: I know how it is, baby. Tell you what you do: you just start your countdown, and old Bucky’ll be back here before you can say “Blast off!”

General Jack D. Ripper: Your Commie has no regard for human life. Not even his own.

Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: Erm, what about the planes, sir? Surely we must issue the recall code immediately.

General Jack D. Ripper: Group Captain, the planes are not gonna be recalled. My attack orders have been issued, and the orders stand.

Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: Well, if you’ll excuse me saying so, sir, that would be, to my way of thinking, rather-- well, rather an odd way of looking at it. You see, if a Russian attack was in progress, we would certainly not be hearing civilian broadcast.

General Jack D. Ripper: Are you certain of that, Mandrake?

Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: Oh, I’m absolutely positive about it.

General Jack D. Ripper: And what if it is true?

Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: Well, I’m afraid I’m still not with you, sir, because, I mean, if a Russian attack was not in progress, then your use of Plan R – in fact, your order to the entire Wing… Oh. I would say, sir, that there were something dreadfully wrong somewhere.

General Jack D. Ripper: Now why don’t you just take it easy, Group Captain, and please make me a drink of grain alcohol and rainwater, and help yourself to whatever you’d like. [Mandrake snaps to attention and salutes]

Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: General Ripper, Sir, as an officer in Her Majesty’s Air Force, it is my clear duty, under the present circumstances, to issue the recall code, upon my own authority, and bring back the Wing. If you’ll excuse me, sir. [He finds the doors locked.] I’m afraid, sir, I must ask you for the key, and the recall code. Have you got them handy, sir?

General Jack D. Ripper: Mandrake, do you recall what Clemenceau once said about war?

Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: No, I don’t think I do, sir, no.

General Jack D. Ripper: He said war was too important to be left to the generals. When he said that, 50 years ago, he might have been right. But today, war is too important to be left to politicians. They have neither the time, the training, nor the inclination for strategic thought. I can no longer sit back and allow Communist infiltration, Communist indoctrination, Communist subversion and the international Communist conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids.

General “Buck” Turgidson: General Jack Ripper, the commanding general of, uh, Burpelson Air Force Base, issued an order to the 34 B-52’s of his Wing, which were airborne at the time as part of a special exercise we were holding called Operation Drop-Kick. Now, it appears that the order called for the planes to, uh, attack their targets inside Russia. The, uh, planes are fully armed with nuclear weapons with an average load of, um, 40 megatons each. Now, the central display of Russia will indicate the position of the planes. The triangles are their primary targets; the squares are their secondary targets. The aircraft will begin penetrating Russian radar cover within, uh, 25 minutes.

President Merkin Muffley: General Turgidson, I find this very difficult to understand. I was under the impression that I was the only one in authority to order the use of nuclear weapons.

General “Buck” Turgidson: That’s right, sir, you are the only person authorized to do so. And although I, uh, hate to judge before all the facts are in, it’s beginning to look like, uh, General Ripper exceeded his authority.

General “Buck” Turgidson: I don’t think it’s quite fair to condemn a whole program because of a single slip-up.

[Turgidson advocates a further nuclear attack to prevent a Soviet response to Ripper’s attack.] General “Buck” Turgidson: Mr. President, we are rapidly approaching a moment of truth both for ourselves as human beings and for the life of our nation. Now, truth is not always a pleasant thing. But it is necessary now to make a choice, to choose between two admittedly regrettable, but nevertheless distinguishable, postwar environments: one where you got twenty million people killed, and the other where you got a hundred and fifty million people killed.

President Merkin Muffley: You’re talking about mass murder, General, not war!

General “Buck” Turgidson: 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.

Major T. J. “King” Kong: Survival kit contents check. In them you’ll find: one forty-five caliber automatic; two boxes of ammunition; four days’ concentrated emergency rations; one drug issue containing antibiotics, morphine, vitamin pills, pep pills, sleeping pills, tranquilizer pills; one miniature combination Russian phrase book and Bible; one hundred dollars in rubles; one hundred dollars in gold; nine packs of chewing gum; one issue of prophylactics; three lipsticks; three pair of nylon stockings. Shoot, a fella’ could have a pretty good weekend in Vegas with all that stuff.

President Merkin Muffley: You can’t fight in here, this is the War Room!

[After learning of the Doomsday Machine] President Merkin Muffley: But this is absolute madness, Ambassador! Why should you build such a thing?

Ambassador de Sadesky: There were those of us who fought against it, but in the end we could not keep up with the expense involved in the arms race, the space race, and the peace race. At the same time our people grumbled for more nylons and washing machines. Our doomsday scheme cost us just a small fraction of what we had been spending on defense in a single year. The deciding factor was when we learned that your country was working along similar lines, and we were afraid of a doomsday gap.

President Merkin Muffley: This is preposterous. I’ve never approved of anything like that.

Ambassador de Sadesky: Our source was the New York Times.

[Strangelove admits that he investigated making such a machine.] Dr. Strangelove: Based on the findings of the report, my conclusion was that this idea was not a practical deterrent for reasons which at this moment must be all too obvious.

General “Buck” Turgidson: Gee, I wish we had one of them doomsday machines.

General Jack D. Ripper: Mandrake, do you realize that in addition to fluoridating water, why, there are studies underway to fluoridate salt, flour, fruit juices, soup, sugar, milk… ice cream. Ice cream, Mandrake, children’s ice cream.

Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: Lord, Jack.

General Jack D. Ripper: You know when fluoridation first began?

Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: I-- no, no. I don’t, Jack.

General Jack D. Ripper: Nineteen hundred and forty-six. Nineteen forty-six, Mandrake. How does that coincide with your post-war Commie conspiracy, huh? It’s incredibly obvious, isn’t it? A foreign substance is introduced into our precious bodily fluids without the knowledge of the individual. Certainly without any choice. That’s the way your hard-core Commie works.

Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: Uh, Jack, Jack, listen, tell me, tell me, Jack. When did you first… become… well, develop this theory?
General Jack D. Ripper: Well, I, uh… I… I… first became aware of it, Mandrake, during the physical act of love.

Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: Hmm.

General Jack D. Ripper: Yes, a uh, a profound sense of fatigue… a feeling of emptiness followed. Luckily I… I was able to interpret these feelings correctly. Loss of essence.

Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: Hmm.

General Jack D. Ripper: I can assure you it has not recurred, Mandrake. Women uh… women sense my power and they seek the life essence. I, uh… I do not avoid women, Mandrake.

Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: No.

General Jack D. Ripper: But I… I do deny them my essence.

Major T. J. “King” Kong: Well boys, we got three engines out, we got more holes in us than a horse trader’s mule, the radio is gone and we’re leaking fuel and if we was flying any lower why we’d need sleigh bells on this thing… but we got one little budge on those Roosskies. At this height why thy might harpoon us but they dang sure ain’t gonna spot us on no radar screen!

Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: Colonel! Colonel, I must know what you think has been going on here!

Colonel “Bat” Guano: You wanna know what I think?

Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: Yes!

Colonel “Bat” Guano: I think you’re some kind of deviated prevert. I think General Ripper found out about your preversion, and that you were organizing some kind of mutiny of preverts. Now MOVE!!

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.

Group Capt. Lionel 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!!

Colonel “Bat” 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?

Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: What?!

Colonel “Bat” Guano: You’re gonna have to answer to the Coca-Cola company.

General “Buck” Turgidson: If the pilot’s good, I mean if he’s reeeally sharp, he can barrel that thing in so low, oh it’s a sight to see. You wouldn’t expect it with a big ol’ plane like a '52, but varrrooom! The jet exhaust… frying chickens in the barnyard!

Dr. Strangelove: Mein Führer, I can walk!

Gen. Jack D. Ripper: On no account will a Commie ever drink water, and not without good reason.

What I like about Dr. Strangelove is that everyone is a crazy imbecile, but consistent unto themselves. Throw in the antics of Sellers… it’ll still be funny years from now.

What will be lost is how devastating this movie was to some people. There were at least a few reviewers who thought this movie had an evil soul… the atomic blasts at the end, I suppose.

That gets at one of the problems I see in the picture.

Patriotism isn’t one of the things that should be satired.

This movie wouldn’t have been made about conventional war. The problem denoted by the film isn’t Patriotism, but rather the extreme and overly destructive means of applying it (Multi-Megaton Hydrogen Bombs).

Kubrick’s idea is that Patriotism is part of the root problem of the situation. But if the cultural theme wasn’t American Democracy versus Soviet Communism then it would be something else… Patriotism isn’t very relevant to the problematic elements of the film.

Kubrick’s solution such as it is is an ode to a kind of collective Humanism… Kubrick’s hero in the film (The US President) you get the feeling doesn’t even dislike Communism… either that or he is a hell of a liar in his phone conversations with the Soviet Premier.

I feel Kubrick’s error here renders the interior airplane scenes false. The rest of the movie works on other themes and thus isn’t harmed.

Here are the conditions in which this type of irony works…

You have to be used to movies such as you described (patriotic bombers).

You have to be used to cheering for these bombers strictly (or at least largely) because they are American (per Patriotism).

Now the effect comes into play since SHOCK… you are seeing a movie which #1 satirizes the patriotic bombers movie and #2 subverts your emotions into being against Americans.

And the artistic idea here is again a kind of collective Humanism… Americans are shown to be WRONG in this film. And if Americans are wrong then EVEN IF Soviets are also wrong then it seems to open up a can of worms in the American Democracy versus Soviet Communism debate.

But the whole thing is nullified anyway since the problem is Nuclear Weapons and NOT the Patriotism angle.

As a note on the movie’s Humanism… Peter Sellers is a key Humanist figure as are all people who have a large variety of imitations at their disposal.

The satire was misplaced.

Brilliant elements of films hold up as long as people watch them.

When I mention “over the top” Turgidson is probably the biggest culprit. But Jack for example was played almost picture perfectly. And I love how the movie treated him straight-up… no demonizing. This made the film powerful, to say that this guy could have been ANYONE (at least among extremist Anti-Communist Americans).

Dr. Strangelove was another mistake of a kind in the film. He had a VERY small role yet took center stage at the end. This kind of grandstanding is wrong for a character with so little prior treatment.


For Christ’s sake, I realize Brian Koontz is one of the best people on this board to make fun of, but why do some of you, who know better, still go out of your way to type out paragraphs and pages in response to him?

By this time, you could have put all that energy into coding your own random bullshit generator like Erik did for Brian.

Or just stop being so serious about the movie. When you scrutinize and overanalyze a joke for too long it loses its humor. The movie is about absurdity. The absurdity of the situation, the time of the cold war, the characters we play, our steadfast or blind patriotism, whatever. Maybe it’s about all of the safeguards we create for protection can be undone by mistake or misdeed no matter how careful we are, so stop worring, and enjoy it before its over in a flash.

See, I don’t think he’s satiring patriotism. I think he’s satiring a military culture that discourages the questioning of orders and relies on the inducements of rewards and promise of heroism to get the work done. As far as the pilot is concerned, he’s killing Russkies and that’s good enough for him.

You see this point made more subtly with only Seller’s Captain Mandrake questioning the insane general’s orders. You even have a gunfight at the base entrance, but no one besides the foreigner even wonders if everything is kosher. You could argue about whether he’s right to make following orders an issue or not, but I think this is the point he’s trying to make.

Is it always a logically coherent point? Hell no. But I can’t think of a single great satire that can’t be faulted for going to the well too many times. Risk of the format. Juvenal and Swift were over the top, too. Dr. Strangelove does a much better job with the absurdity of the situation than Failsafe precisely because is it is funny and over the top at times. The acting is no great shakes, but it does the job. It’s hard to be convincing in a clearly satirical picture (see Citizen Ruth). I will say that George C. Scott’s performance is my favorite.

And I don’t think you need to have seen bomber pictures to get the plane satire - any over-the-top American war film starring John Wayne or William Holden would do.

And I think it’s important to take good movies seriously. Sure there’s a point where it just gets silly (like the guy who attacks “The Patriot” for showing lead soldiers that weren’t made for another fifty years), but good movies hold up under analysis. Bad ones don’t.


I agree on your analysis (other than the first sentence), but I’ve always been under the impression that satire should be of something obviously worthy of it…

The whole point behind the “don’t question orders” policy in the military is not to lead to a nuclear holocaust, but rather to allow for FAST, orderly, and decisive action in military affairs. If every action leads to two hours of debate, then a single action, then two hours of debate, etc. its not called the Military, its called Congress.

I’m not saying this is a policy that leads to good results 100% of the time, even good policies have exceptions and Dr. Strangelove shows realistic depictions of some of those exceptions.

Obviously the “don’t question orders” policy puts a great deal of responsibility on the people that aren’t being questioned… the military leaders. Which means that the right people have to be in the right positions, otherwise (as seen in Dr. Strangelove) Bad Things Happen.

I hardly think that Dr. Strangelove proves that “don’t question orders” in a military environment is a bad policy. A collection of exceptions is not much of an attack upon the rule.

I agree, and IF the assumption is that Kubrick is trying to manipulate public opinion AND that public opinion (pre Dr. Strangelove) consists of mindless Patriotism and Pro-Military Zealotry, then everything makes sense.

Yipes… that performance was very close at times to Ham acting. Some parts of scenes I thought he excelled in however.

Jack I still say stole the show, helped considerably by Kubrick’s directing. I love it how he is very friendly with Mandrake during the fight scene. Its a great classic performance, he is blinded to Mandrake’s withdrawal from him by the fact that Mandrake is his “ally”… his black and white views don’t allow him to see the person two feet away from him! Also, Jack’s views turn entirely inward as the enormity of what he is doing sets in. He is completely engrossed by his Fluoride statements because that understanding is so critical to his power.

To bolster my Patriotism position I present Kubrick’s camerawork looking up at Jack while he gives his speech (I can’t remember the content of the speech exactly). The whole scene was parodying those patriotic scenes in American War movies and in culture at the time where the war hero says why America must prevail and what the fighting is for. And Jack presents his own highly perverted version, but he does so with a complete absence of the kind of over the top acting of Scott and thus the scene becomes powerful.

Dr. Strangelove is more subversive than we have yet mentioned. Jack is, after all, a demented version of a believer in America. He is an extreme American you could say. And Dr. Strangelove presents THAT person as the worst human being on the planet. Not exactly America-friendly. To add irony the movie was filmed in England.

Dr. Strangelove killed the American Dream…


I’m not sure about that, but good movies make analysis deep and pleasurable and bad ones don’t. Bad movies aren’t worth analyzing.