Dr. Strangelove, Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, directed by Stanley Kubrick (1928–1999), is widely regarded as a masterpiece of "black comedy" (a work that derives humor from a subject not usually considered humorous). For most people, nuclear war would probably top the list of unfunny subjects, but Kubrick demonstrated otherwise, earning the film three Oscar nominations in the process.
The 1964 film was based on a novel by Peter George (1924–1996) called Red Alert (1958). It is interesting to note that George's novel in turn inspired the 1962 novel Fail-Safe by Eugene Burdick (1918–1965) and Harvey Wheeler (1914–). Fail-Safe was a grimly realistic story about a computer failure that nearly causes a nuclear war. The film version of Fail-Safe was released in 1964, the same year as Dr. Strangelove.
In Dr. Strangelove, psychotic Air Force general Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden, 1916–1986) orders the thirty-four nuclear bombers under his command to attack the Soviet Union. The air crews, thinking war has broken out, obey their orders without question. One of the bombers is commanded by Major T. J. "King" Kong (Slim Pickens, 1919–1983), who talks like an Oklahoma cowboy.
At the Pentagon's War Room, President Merkin Muffley (Peter Sellers, 1925–1980) is briefed on the emergency by the head of the Strategic Air Command, General Buck Turgidson (George C. Scott, 1927–1999). The Soviet ambassador is also present, and he warns the Americans that the Soviet Union has built a secret "Doomsday Machine." If the U.S.S.R. comes under nuclear attack, the machine will automatically trigger a set of explosions that will destroy the whole planet.
President Muffley frantically tries to recall the bombers, although he is advised against it by his nuclear strategy expert, Dr. Strangelove (also played by Peter Sellers). A wheel-chair-bound ex-Nazi, Strangelove cold-bloodedly suggests that nuclear war might not be so bad, after all, with proper management.
The president is unable either to recall the bombers or to persuade the Soviets to stop their "Doomsday Machine." The American planes bomb their targets (one of the last scenes shows Major "King" Kong astride one of the bombs, riding it like a bronco all the way to eternity). The world thus ends, not with a whimper, but with a very big and darkly humorous bang.
For More Information
Dirks, Tim. "Dr. Strangelove, Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb." Greatest Films.http://www.filmsite.org/drst.html (accessed March 14, 2002).
Larkin, Patrick J. "Dr. Strangelove, Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb." Kubrick Multimedia Film Guide.http://www.indelibleinc.com/kubrick/films/strangelove/ (accessed March 14, 2002).
Seed, David. American Science Fiction and the Cold War: Literature andFilm. Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn, 1999.