Dr. Strangelove: A Nuclear War Comedy

Peter Sellers as Dr. Strangelove. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)
Peter Sellers as Dr. Strangelove. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Today is the 52nd anniversary of the release of Stanley Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love The Bomb.”

Here are a few things you may not have known about the film.

It was loosely based on the novel “Red Alert” by Peter George. The film is about an insane U.S. Air Force general named Jack D. Ripper who orders a nuclear strike against the Soviet Union, which he believes is using fluoridated water to poison what he calls the “precious bodily fluids” of Americans.

The code to recall the bombers is known only to Ripper, played by Sterling Hayden. Ripper’s executive officer, Group Captain Lionel Mandrake of the Royal Air Force, discovers that the Pentagon has not ordered the strike and tries to stop Ripper. Mandrake, played by Peter Sellers, is eventually locked in Ripper’s office.

Among the planes en route to the Soviet Union is a B-52 under the command of Major T.J. “King” Kong, played by Slim Pickens.

Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., the president, also played by Sellers, has called together his top military advisers. One of them, General Buck Turgidson, played by George C. Scott, attempts to convince the president into allowing the attack to happen, catching the Soviets off-guard. The president wants no part of a nuclear attack and calls the Soviet ambassador to the war room. Once there, the ambassador contacts the Soviet premier, who tells them about a doomsday device that the Soviets have activated, but hadn’t told the Americans about yet. The president’s scientific adviser, a wheelchair-bound former Nazi named Dr. Strangelove, once again played by Sellers, calls attention to the fact that having such a device is pointless if it is kept secret.

The U.S. Army arrives at the air base, eventually taking over the base, leading Ripper to kill himself rather than be tortured for the secret recall code. Mandrake identifies the code and relays the message to the Pentagon. All but one of the planes are recalled. Kong’s B-52 was damaged by a surface-to-air missile, which destroyed its radio. The president tells the Soviets the plane’s target, so they can shoot it down. However because of the damage, Kong has decided to bomb a closer target. As the plane approaches its target, the bomb bay doors fail to open. Kong, straddling the bomb, crimps two damaged wires together, opens the doors, rides the bomb to oblivion, and triggers the doomsday device.

Strangelove recommends gathering thousands of people in mineshafts to avoid the radiation, suggesting a 10:1 female-to-male ratio for a breeding program. Turgidson warns that the Soviets will do the same. The film ends when Strangelove stands from his wheelchair and says, “Mein Fuhrer, I can walk!” followed by a montage of nuclear explosions accompanied by the song “We’ll Meet Again” by Vera Lynn.

Originally Peter Sellers was supposed to play the role of Major Kong, in addition to Mandrake, President Muffley and Dr. Strangelove. He sprained an ankle, some say on purpose, to avoid playing Kong on the cramped airplane set.

The character of Dr. Strangelove was based on several real people, including rocket scientist Wernher von Braun, who had worked for the Nazis before being recruited to the United States after the war. Contrary to some claims, the character was not based on Henry Kissinger.

The original script called for the film to end with a pie fight in the war room. Kubrick later said that the farcical nature of the pie fight didn’t fit with the satirical tone he had intended.

The film earned more than $4 million in its initial release. It was nominated for four Academy Awards, and won four of Britain’s BAFTA Awards. It was selected for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry.

Our question: What actor, now well-known for his voice, played the bombardier on Kong’s B-52?

Today is National Puzzle Day, Seeing Eye Dog Day and National Corn Chip Day. It’s the birthday of U.S. President William McKinley, actor Tom Selleck and media mogul Oprah Winfrey.

35 years ago in 1981, the top song on the U.S. Adult Contemporary chart was “I Love a Rainy Night” by Eddie Rabbit; the No. 1 movie was “9 to 5,” while “The Covenant” by James Michener topped the New York Times Bestsellers list.


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