Peter Sellers, as Dr. Strangelove, struggles to control his alien hand.Slim Pickens, as the B-52 Bomber pilot, riding the bomb to global destruction.

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Dr. Strangelove

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb is a 1964 film by Stanley Kubrick loosely based on the novel Red Alert by Peter George. A black comedy starring Peter Sellers (in three different roles), the film is a satire of the Cold War. more...

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The plot begins with an insane American general's order to launch a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union and proceeds towards doomsday.

Cast and crew

The film stars British actor Peter Sellers, who improvised much of his dialogue during filming. Sellers plays multiple parts, each with an appropriate accent:

  • Group Captain Lionel Mandrake, a sane, well-meaning British liaison officer, with an upper-class English accent. Sellers' experience mimicking superiors as an RAF Airman during World War II must have helped.
  • Adlai Stevenson-esque U.S. President Merkin Muffley, decent, flustered and weak. The President's first and last name each imply the term pussy, in the sense of being weak or unmanly. Sellers flattens his natural English accent and sounds like an American midwesterner.
  • Dr. Strangelove, from Merkwürdigliebe, his German name, includes aspects of each of Herman Kahn, Wernher von Braun, Edward Teller, and apparently, Robert McNamara (and perhaps Henry Kissinger, though the latter is unlikely, as Kissinger was not a prominent figure at the time the movie was made). The accent used by Sellers is supposedly based on that of Weegee. His speeches are interrupted by struggles to gain control over his affliction of alien hand syndrome (his hand at one point attempts to strangle him, at another it thrusts itself out in a Nazi salute). Kahn is said to have remarked that "Strangelove wouldn't have lasted a week in the Pentagon. He was too creative."

Sellers was also to have played the part of Major T. J. "King" Kong, the B-52 Stratofortress bomber captain, but a fractured foot during filming prevented him from doing so (he would have had to work in the confined space of the B-52 cockpit set). Instead, it was played by Slim Pickens, who gives it the performance of a lifetime. Pickens was unaware the film was to be a comedy and played the role straight, thereby adding to the humor (compare to David Prowse). Also appearing in the film are George C. Scott in his breakout part as General "Buck" Turgidson, a strategic bombing enthusiast (Turgidson was a thinly-disguised avatar of General Curtis LeMay); the debut of James Earl Jones as the bombardier, Lt. Lothar Zogg; Sterling Hayden, who came out of retirement for his role as General Jack D. Ripper; and Keenan Wynn, as Col. "Bat" Guano.

Photography: Gilbert Taylor

Written by: Stanley Kubrick, Terry Southern, Peter George (from the novel by Peter George)

Editor: Anthony Harvey

Production design: Ken Adam

Special effects: Wally Veevers


US Air Force General Jack D. Ripper plans to start a nuclear war with the Soviet Union to stop what he believes to be a fearful Communist conspiracy to put fluoride in the water supply, by his reasoning, thereby threatening the "precious bodily fluids" of the American people. He orders — without Presidential authorization — the planes under his command to attack the Soviet Union, under radio silence which cannot be broken save by a recall code that Ripper alone knows. He then seals himself inside his base and hopes that the President will order a full-scale attack to prevent an otherwise inevitable retaliation from the Soviet Union. Ripper is apparently psychotic; his conspiracy theory seems to result largely from a "petit mort" he experienced after sexual intercourse.

From the script:

Ripper: A foreign substance is introduced into our precious bodily fluids without the knowledge of the individual, and certainly without any choice. That's the way your hard core commie works.
Mandrake: Jack... Jack, listen, tell me, ah... when did you first become, well, develop this theory.
Ripper: Well, I ah, I-I first became aware of it, Mandrake, during the physical act of love.

General Ripper is unaware that the Soviets have constructed a so-called "doomsday device" which automatically detects any nuclear attack on the Soviet Union, whereupon it destroys all life on Earth via massive nuclear fallout. Dr. Strangelove explains to the staff assembled in the American war room how the device is a natural extension to the Cold War strategem of mutually assured destruction as a deterrent to an actual nuclear exchange. Moreover, the machine cannot be turned off as this would mitigate its value as a deterrent.


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