BY Alex Gibson
Watching Dr. Strangelove was a big step for me. Never having seen Lolita or 2001, I am way behind on my Kubrick. Not only that, but I must also confess that this was my very first Peter Sellers film! Never had I experienced his Inspector Clouseau, his 007, his slapstick-y outrageous character creations – until now.
Of course, I have heard nothing but great things about Peter Sellers. My film-buff friends recall The Pink Panther as among their favorite movies and Dr. Strangelove as pure genius. Nonetheless, I was worried that his particular brand of comedy would not be ‘my thing,’ and worried even more when the film started out, in my opinion, slowly. However, as the film went on, I began to see exactly what my friends had been raving about.
Although I was only meagerly impressed Sellers’ Capt. Mandrake, his other characters were fantastic. Sellers’ incarnation of President Merkin Muffey as a sheepish Commander-in-Chief, who must ring up Russian premier Kisov to talk out their mutual nuclear threat. Muffey explains that the US may accidentally nuke them, while Russia may accidentally activate a Doomsday Machine, which would wipe out life on Earth. As Muffey talks to him from the War Room (in which there is no fighting!), it is clear that he and the Russian premier are good friends. The prospect, satirical as it is, is humorous and the Sellers’ performance as half of a pseudo-married couple is great. “Why do you think I’m calling you, just to say hello?” Muffey says. “Of course I like to speak to you!”
If President Muffey wasn’t humorous enough, in rolls the film’s namesake, Dr. Strangelove, a nuclear physicist and former Nazi, whose right arm has a mind of it’s own and some residual Nazi loyalties. The concept hilariously irreverent, and it was so well executed that you can see Peter Bull (who plays the sneaky Soviet ambassador) beginning to crack up in the background.
Peter Sellers obviously makes the movie, but I also very much enjoyed George C. Scott’s General Buck Turgidson. I wasn’t aware that Scott was in the film and when I saw his name in the credits, I thought he might donate some Patton-esque severity to the threat of total annihilation. Indeed, I read that Scott had wanted to perform the role more soberly and that the over-the-top scenes in the film were supposed to be practice takes. All I can say is that I’m glad, because he was hilarious as the suspicious, ultra-American general.
Dr. Strangelove is written, acted, and directed wonderfully. It is smart, hilarious, and just relevant today as it was when it was made. It is one of those films, like The Bicycle Thieves or Singin’ in the Rain, that cinephiles should watch if they want to be reminded why they began loving movies in the first place. Now that I have this under my belt and the confidence that I do in fact like Peter Sellers, I look forward to more adventures with Casino Royale, The Pink Panther, and Being There. Stay tuned!
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