Stream On, at the end of the world as we know it: ‘Dr. Strangelove’

By on September 22, 2023

Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 cold-war satire Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb was bad news for Sidney Lumet’s melodrama Fail Safe, which dealt with the same issue, nuclear Armageddon. We may still be watching it at the end of time…


/Amazon /Streaming /🍅98%🍟94% /Trailer /1964 /

Director Stanley Kubrick (2001: A Space Odyssey) asked Alistair Buchan, head of the Institute for Strategic Studies, to recommend some worthwhile fiction on the subject of nuclear deterrence. (The Cuban Missile Crisis, which brought the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R. close to nuclear war in 1962, was still on peoples’ minds.) Buchan recommended a novel titled Red Alert by an RAF navigator named Peter George. Kubrick asked George to collaborate on a screenplay with himself and satirist Terry Southern, and learned that director Sidney Lumet (The Taking of Pelham One Two Three) was working on a similar movie based on Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler’s best-seller Fail-Safe.

So Kubrick launched a preëmptive strike, suing Lumet on the grounds that Fail-Safe plagiarized Red Alert (to which Kubrick owned the rights). Peter George also sued Burdick and Wheeler, and both suits were settled out of court.

And, what Kubrick, George and Southern produced prevailed. They had turned Dr. Strangelove into a hilarious satire leveraging the inherent absurdity of the idea of “mutually assured destruction” (MAD). Kubrick wrote, “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.”

Dr. Strangelove is special from the jump: the whimsically hand-lettered credits roll over vaguely erotic video of the mid-air refueling of a B-52 bomber with “Try a Little Tenderness” playing on the soundtrack. U.S. Air Force Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper (an insanely great Sterling Hayden, The Long Goodbye) orders his executive officer, RAF Group Captain Lionel Mandrake (Peter Sellers), to put the base on alert, confiscate all privately owned radios from base personnel and issue “Wing Attack Plan R” to the patrolling bombers. All the aircraft commence attack flights on the USSR. Happening upon a radio and hearing regular civilian broadcasting, Mandrake realizes that no attack order has been issued by the Pentagon and tries to stop Ripper, who locks them both in his office. Ripper tells Mandrake that the Soviets have been fluoridating American water supplies to pollute the “precious bodily fluids” of Americans. Mandrake realizes Ripper has gone mad.

Onboard one of the B-52 bombers, Major T. J. “King” Kong (Slim Pickens) receives the Wing Attack Plan and distributes the crew’s individual orders and survival kits, which include chewing gum, prophylactics, lipstick and stockings. “Shoot, a fella could have a pretty good weekend in Vegas with all that stuff!” James Earl Jones made his cinematic debut as bombardier Lieutenant Lothar Zogg; he had been acting in The Merchant of Venice with George C. Scott in Central Park when discovered.

General “Buck” Turgidson (George C. Scott, The New Centurions, in one of his first comedy roles) is contacted at a motel where he’s “catching up on some paperwork” with his secretary, and called in to the War Room where President Merkin T. Muffley (also Peter Sellers) is struggling with the information that Gen. Ripper has indeed gone rogue and launched an attack on the Soviet union to save and preserve our precious bodily fluids.

The President’s ace in the hole is his science advisor, Dr. Strangelove (Peter Sellers’ third role), like Werner von Braun an ex-Nazi scientist who found a home in America after World War II. The Soviet Ambassador is brought in to help President Muffley break the news to Soviet Premier Kissov over the telephone in the hope of cancelling or repelling the attack. When Ambassador de Sadeski is physically attacked by General Turgidson, President Muffley berates them in one of the most famous quotes in all of cinema, “Gentlemen! You can’t fight in here: this is the War Room!”

Kubrick also wanted Sellers to play Major Kong, but Sellers said three parts was enough, and besides, he didn’t think he could do the Texas accent, and when Sellers broke his leg falling out of the cramped “B-52 cockpit” set he was relieved by Slim Pickens. (Sellers’ injury also relegated Dr. Strangelove to the wheelchair, which became critical to the finale, due to a Sellers ad-lib.) Pickens’ depiction of B-52 pilot “King” Kong was another bright spot in this gathering of geniuses.

Sellers also improvised many of his lines, and Kubrick retroscripted them into the official screenplay. “Inside the Making of Dr. Strangelove,” from the 40th Anniversary DVD release, is almost as entertaining as the film itself.

A scene that sums up the film is of General Ripper’s base being attacked by an army unit there to arrest him—Americans against Americans—and framed in the shot is a large sign at the entrance to the base, “Peace is our Profession.”

In 1964 Bosley Crowther called Dr. Strangelove “a shattering sick joke,” but Brendan Gill, writing in the February 1, 1964, edition of the New Yorker, called it “the best American movie I’ve seen in years,” a sentiment echoed that same week by Stanley Kauffmann in the New Republic, who called it “the best American picture that I can remember.”

(Pete Hummers is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to earn fees by linking Amazon.com and affiliate sites. This adds nothing to Amazon’s prices.)

Click here for more Stream On: What to watch on TV columns by Pete Hummers. Columns are archived and updated when necessary on Substack.



Barnhill Building Group has been selected as the Construction Manager @ Risk by the College of the Albemarle and is seeking to pre-qualify construction trade contractors to submit bids for the furnishing labor, materials, equipment, and tools for the new College of The Albemarle – Allied Health Sciences Simulation Lab (COA Health Sciences) located in Elizabeth City, NC. Please note: Only subcontractors who have been prequalified by Barnhill will be able to submit a Bid.

The project consists of the new construction of a 38,000-sf, 2-story expansion to the existing Owens Health Sciences Center and will house classrooms, labs, and a simulation lab. The site is just over just over 4.5 acres and is located on an active campus. This new construction will be a steel structure with a brick and metal panel veneer, curtainwall, and storefront glazing with a PVC roof membrane.

Principal trade and specialty contractors are solicited for the following Bid Packages:

BP0100: General Trades

BP0105: Final Cleaning

BP0390: Turnkey Concrete

BP0400: Turnkey Masonry

BP0500: Structural Steel & Misc. Steel

BP0740: Roofing

BP0750: Metal Panels

BP0790: Caulking / Caulking

BP0800: Turnkey Doors/Frames/Hardware

BP0840: Glass & Glazing

BP0925: Drywall

BP0960: Resilient Flooring

BP0980: Acoustical Ceilings

BP0990: Painting & Wallcovering

BP1005: Toilet Specialties / Accessories / Division 10

BP1010: Signage

BP1098: Demountable Partitions

BP1230: Finish Carpentry and Casework

BP1250: Window Treatment

BP1400: Elevators

BP2100: Fire Protection

BP2200: Plumbing

BP2300: HVAC

BP2600: Turnkey Electrical

BP3100: Turnkey Sitework

BP3290: Landscaping

Packages may be added and/or deleted at the discretion of the Construction Manager. Historically underutilized business firms are encouraged to complete participation submittals.

HUB/MWBE OUTREACH MEETING: Barnhill Building Group will be conducting a HUB/MWBE Informational Session. You are encouraged to attend the following session to learn more about project participation opportunities available to you. These seminars will help to: Learn about project and scope; Inform and train Minority/HUB contractors in preparation for bidding this project; Assist in registration on the State of North Carolina Vendor link; Stimulate opportunities for Networking with other firms. Location and time TBD. Please visit our planroom at https://app.buildingconnected.com/public/54da832ce3edb5050017438b for more information.

Interested contractors should submit their completed prequalification submittals, by July 22, 2024, to Meredith Terrell at mterrell@barnhillcontracting.com or hardcopies can be mailed to Barnhill Contracting Company PO Box 31765 Raleigh, NC 27622 (4325 Pleasant Valley Road, NC 27612).


Sussex Development is soliciting bids to turnkey supply and install FF&E for the new Tulls Creek Elementary School, 125 Campus Drive, Moyock, NC27929. This project is a new ground-up 2-story, Pre-K thru 5th grade school, approximately 118,000 square feet. Bid documents may be obtained through Christopher West Interiors LLC. Request bid documents via email to interiors@cwiusa.com. Pre-Bid RFIs will be accepted via email until Wednesday, July 31, 2024 at 5:00PM EST. Pricing proposals are due Wednesday, August 14, 2024 by 5:00PM EST. All bids and inquires to be sent to interiors@cwiusa.com. Certified NC Hub, MBE, WBE, DBE, SBE are highly encouraged to participate. Sussex Development is an EOE and maintains a drug-free workplace.


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