Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

93 or 102 mins | Black comedy | 29 January 1964

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HISTORY

The film opens with a title card that reads: "It is the stated position of the U.S. Air Force that their safeguards would prevent the occurence [sic] of such events as are depicted in this film. Furthermore, it should be noted that none of the characters portrayed in this film are meant to represent any real persons living or dead."
       According to articles in the 9 Feb 1964 LAT and 21 Apr 1963 NYT, filmmaker Stanley Kubrick heeded a “pre-conceived interest” in the subject of the atomic bomb, and had amassed a large collection of books, magazines, and newspaper clippings over several years. Although he felt the topic would be well suited for a motion picture, Kubrick had no clear ambitions to develop a project until Alastair Buchan, the director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in the U.K., recommended the 1958 novel, Two Hours of Doom, written by former Royal Air Force (RAF) lieutenant Peter George. The book was published under George’s pen name, Peter Bryant, and released a year later in the U.S. under the title Red Alert. After purchasing the rights for $3,000, Kubrick began adapting the novel with George at his Central Park West apartment in New York City. While the source material provided a serious depiction of what would happen if the U.S. accidentally instigated a nuclear war, the director envisioned the scenario as what many contemporary sources referred to as a “nightmare comedy.” By 6 May 1962, NYT claimed that the duo had already spent two years working on the script. A 16 Jan 1966 NYT article reported that near ... More Less

The film opens with a title card that reads: "It is the stated position of the U.S. Air Force that their safeguards would prevent the occurence [sic] of such events as are depicted in this film. Furthermore, it should be noted that none of the characters portrayed in this film are meant to represent any real persons living or dead."
       According to articles in the 9 Feb 1964 LAT and 21 Apr 1963 NYT, filmmaker Stanley Kubrick heeded a “pre-conceived interest” in the subject of the atomic bomb, and had amassed a large collection of books, magazines, and newspaper clippings over several years. Although he felt the topic would be well suited for a motion picture, Kubrick had no clear ambitions to develop a project until Alastair Buchan, the director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in the U.K., recommended the 1958 novel, Two Hours of Doom, written by former Royal Air Force (RAF) lieutenant Peter George. The book was published under George’s pen name, Peter Bryant, and released a year later in the U.S. under the title Red Alert. After purchasing the rights for $3,000, Kubrick began adapting the novel with George at his Central Park West apartment in New York City. While the source material provided a serious depiction of what would happen if the U.S. accidentally instigated a nuclear war, the director envisioned the scenario as what many contemporary sources referred to as a “nightmare comedy.” By 6 May 1962, NYT claimed that the duo had already spent two years working on the script. A 16 Jan 1966 NYT article reported that near the start of production, renowned satirist Terry Southern was assigned to write an Esquire magazine article on the film when Kubrick asked him to make some last-minute additions to the finished screenplay. Southern worked with the director from 16 Nov—28 Dec 1962. Although Southern shares a co-screenwriting credit, Kubrick maintained that the comedic tone had already been well established before Southern’s involvement, and that significant changes were later made by Kubrick, George, and the actors during filming.
       A 7 May 1962 DV item revealed the film’s title as Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. The project was intended as the second collaboration between Kubrick; his producing partner, James B. Harris; and Seven Arts Productions, who worked together on Lolita (1962, see entry). However, neither Harris nor Seven Arts receive further mention in contemporary sources beyond 1962, and the 16 Jan 1966 NYT indicated the relationship between Harris and Kubrick “dissolved” as Harris went on to pursue a directing career. Kubrick told the 6 May 1962 NYT that he hoped to bring in the picture for a “reasonable” budget comparable to that of Lolita, which cost roughly $1.7 million.
       Actor Peter Sellers, who played “Clare Quilty” in Lolita, had agreed to reteam with the director for Dr. Strangelove. According to a 23 Jun 1963 NYT article, Kubrick hoped to take advantage of Sellers’s comedic talents and signed him to play four roles, including the titular scientist, insisting he “wanted all the parts to be played straight, and still be funny.” A 10 Oct 1962 DV brief included Mickey Rooney among the cast, but he does not appear in the final film.
       Despite earlier claims that filming was to take place in New York City, production was moved to England, where Kubrick previously worked on Lolita. According to the 21 Apr 1963 NYT, the change was made to accommodate Sellers, who was prohibited from leaving the country for “domestic reasons,” which a 29 Mar 1964 LAT article identified as the divorce from his first wife, Anne Howe. A 29 Jan 1963 DV item stated shooting began that day at Shepperton Studios. The Pentagon “War Room” set was constructed on Stage A, and comprised of 13,000 feet of black Laconite and a twenty-two-foot table covered in green baize cloth. Scenes featuring the 7090 data processor were shot at International Business Machines (IBM) headquarters in London. The 20 Mar 1964 LAT stated that aerial footage of the B-52 bomber plane was filmed over the Arctic region, including Greenland and Iceland, Northwest Canada, and the Rocky Mountains, using a specially equipped World War II B-17.
       On 22 Mar 1963, DV reported that production had been temporarily shut down when Sellers and co-star George C. Scott both contracted the flu. A month later, the 29 Apr 1963 issue announced that Sellers was forced to relinquish his fourth and final role in the picture—“Major T. J. ‘King’ Kong”—due to a broken ankle, at which point he was replaced by Slim Pickens. A 6 Aug 1963 DV brief indicated that principal photography was nearing completion.
       According to a 2 May 1963 LAT article, Kubrick ordered 3,000 custard pies for the production, which were used in an alternate end sequence depicting a pie fight between the Russians and Americans. In a 1969 interview published in Joseph Gelmis’s The Film Director as Superstar (1970), Kubrick explained that he removed the ending after a preview screening because the sudden farce was inconsistent with the rest of the movie.
       Early in the production, Kubrick learned that Columbia Pictures had agreed to release Fail Safe (1964, see entry), a suspense drama about the inadvertent launching of the atomic bomb. The rival project, directed by Sidney Lumet, was based on Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler’s 1962 novel, Fail-Safe, and contained enough similarities to Red Alert that Peter George, together with Kubrick’s Hawk Films, Ltd., Polaris Productions, and Columbia, filed a plagiarism lawsuit against Burdick, Wheeler, and the Fail Safe producers at Entertainment Corporation of America (ECA). According to the 12 Feb 1963 DV, the comparisons created “unfair competition” and would likely cause “irreparable damages” to the artistic and commercial value of Dr. Strangelove. On 6 Apr 1963, NYT reported that the case was settled, but the legal complications led to the collapse of ECA. Fail Safe continued production under Columbia, and was released in the fall of 1964—eight months after Dr. Strangelove.
       According to a 25 Nov 1963 DV item, Columbia canceled a 22 Nov 1963 preview screening in New York City following the news of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas, TX, earlier that day. Due to the tone and subject of the film, a 29 Nov 1963 NYT news item announced that Columbia chose to cancel the world premiere in London, which was scheduled for the following month. However, the 25 Dec 1963 Var and 30 Jan 1964 DV stated that the U.S. debut would not be deferred, with simultaneous openings in New York City, London, and Toronto, Canada, on 29 Jan 1964, followed by a Los Angeles, CA, engagement at the Beverly Theatre beginning 19 Feb 1964. Various sources reported that the film broke several house records in London and New York City during its first two weeks of release.
       Dr. Strangelove was a monumental critical success, earning four Academy Award nominations for Best Actor (Peter Sellers), Writing (Screenplay—based on material from another medium), Directing, and Best Picture; as well as seven British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Awards, of which it won three. It placed third on AFI’s list of the 100 Funniest American Movies of All Time, and was ranked 39th on the 2007 100 Years...100 Movies--10th Anniversary Edition list of the greatest American films, moving down from the 26th position it held on the 1997 list. Despite some concerns that the cynicism of Kubrick’s satire would damage the image of the U.S. overseas, the picture also garnered great international acclaim. The 4 May 1964 DV published a report from the 30 Apr 1964 NYT declaring that Europeans responded well to the “self-criticism” conveyed by the American filmmakers and the political discussions raised by the story, which attracted large audiences in Scandinavia, Italy, and France.
       Additional songs not included in the onscreen music credits include "Try A Little Tenderness," and, "When Johnny Comes Marching Home." The 23 Oct 1963 Var claimed that Kubrick had hired silent film pianist Arthur Dulay to play an arrangement for the soundtrack, but his participation could not be confirmed. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
7 May 1962
p. 2.
Daily Variety
10 Oct 1962
p. 2.
Daily Variety
29 Jan 1963
p. 6.
Daily Variety
12 Feb 1963
p. 1, 4.
Daily Variety
22 Mar 1963
p. 18.
Daily Variety
29 Apr 1963
p. 2.
Daily Variety
6 Aug 1963
p. 2.
Daily Variety
25 Nov 1963
p. 2.
Daily Variety
15 Jan 1964.
---
Daily Variety
30 Jan 1964
p. 15.
Daily Variety
31 Jan 1964
p. 3.
Daily Variety
10 Feb 1964
p. 3.
Daily Variety
4 May 1964
p. 1, 14.
Filmfacts
26 Mar 1964
pp. 33-35.
Hollywood Reporter
28 Jun 1963.
---
Hollywood Reporter
15 Jan 1964
p. 3.
Los Angeles Times
2 May 1963
p. 27.
Los Angeles Times
9 Feb 1964
Section C, p. 6.
Los Angeles Times
29 Mar 1964
Section D, p. 11.
New York Times
6 May 1962
p. 149.
New York Times
6 Apr 1963
p. 9.
New York Times
21 Apr 1963
Section X, p. 7.
New York Times
23 Jun 1963
p. 187.
New York Times
29 Nov 1963
p. 48.
New York Times
31 Jan 1964
p. 16.
New York Times
16 Jan 1966
p. 8, 15, 40-41, 43. 46, 51.
New Yorker
1 Feb 1964
pp. 75-76.
Newsweek
3 Feb 1964
p. 79.
Time
31 Jan 1964
p. 69.
Variety
23 Oct 1963
p. 51.
Variety
25 Dec 1963
p. 12.
Variety
22 Jan 1964
p. 6.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A Stanley Kubrick Production
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
Cam asst
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
Asst ed
Assembly ed
COSTUMES
MUSIC
SOUND
Sd supv
Recordist
Dubbing mixer
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
Travelling matte
Main titles
Ferro, Mohammed & Schwartz
MAKEUP
Hairdresser
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod mgr
Aviation adv
Unit mgr
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel Red Alert by Peter George (New York, 1958).
AUTHOR
SONGS
"We'll Meet Again," music and lyrics by Ross Parker and Hughie Charles, sung by Vera Lynn.
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
Dr. Strangelove
Release Date:
29 January 1964
Premiere Information:
New York, London, and Toronto openings: 29 January 1964
Los Angeles opening: 19 February 1964
Production Date:
began 29 January 1963
Copyright Claimant:
Hawk Films, Ltd.
Copyright Date:
31 December 1963
Copyright Number:
LP26988
Physical Properties:
Sound
Westrex Recording System
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
93 or 102
Countries:
United Kingdom, United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
20469
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

Crazed by the belief that the Communists are planning to conquer the free world by poisoning the water supply with fluoride, Gen. Jack D. Ripper, commanding officer of the U. S. Air Force base at Burpelson, unleashes a B-52 atomic bomb attack on Russia. Ripper prevents the countermanding of his orders through a secret code and makes himself inaccessible by sealing off the base. When President Muffley learns of the unauthorized mission, he summons his council to the War Room in the Pentagon and invites Russian Ambassador de Sadesky. Despite the hysterical advice of Gen. "Buck" Turgidson, who advocates limited nuclear war, the President orders U. S. land forces, under the command of Army Col. "Bat" Guano, to attack Burpelson. Ripper kills himself rather than face capture, but his R.A.F. aide, Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake, who has been locked in Ripper's office, works out the secret code that is instrumental in recalling the bombers. All appears safe until it is discovered that a plane commanded by a boisterous Texan, Maj. T. J. "King" Kong, did not receive the recall message. At this point, President Muffley learns from de Sadesky that the Russians have developed a "Doomsday Device" which will set off worldwide nuclear explosions if an atomic bomb is dropped anywhere over Russia. Desperate, the President turns to his physicist adviser, the paraplegic ex-Nazi, Dr. Strangelove, who calculates that humanity can survive if a selected few take to underground shelters and remain there for about 100 years. All efforts to halt the lone plane fail, and Kong wildly straddles the bomb as it plummets toward the earth. Consequently, the Doomsday Device is triggered, and atomic explosions are set off ... +


Crazed by the belief that the Communists are planning to conquer the free world by poisoning the water supply with fluoride, Gen. Jack D. Ripper, commanding officer of the U. S. Air Force base at Burpelson, unleashes a B-52 atomic bomb attack on Russia. Ripper prevents the countermanding of his orders through a secret code and makes himself inaccessible by sealing off the base. When President Muffley learns of the unauthorized mission, he summons his council to the War Room in the Pentagon and invites Russian Ambassador de Sadesky. Despite the hysterical advice of Gen. "Buck" Turgidson, who advocates limited nuclear war, the President orders U. S. land forces, under the command of Army Col. "Bat" Guano, to attack Burpelson. Ripper kills himself rather than face capture, but his R.A.F. aide, Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake, who has been locked in Ripper's office, works out the secret code that is instrumental in recalling the bombers. All appears safe until it is discovered that a plane commanded by a boisterous Texan, Maj. T. J. "King" Kong, did not receive the recall message. At this point, President Muffley learns from de Sadesky that the Russians have developed a "Doomsday Device" which will set off worldwide nuclear explosions if an atomic bomb is dropped anywhere over Russia. Desperate, the President turns to his physicist adviser, the paraplegic ex-Nazi, Dr. Strangelove, who calculates that humanity can survive if a selected few take to underground shelters and remain there for about 100 years. All efforts to halt the lone plane fail, and Kong wildly straddles the bomb as it plummets toward the earth. Consequently, the Doomsday Device is triggered, and atomic explosions are set off all over the world. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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