AFI #39: Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

I’m about to piss off some movie fans, so here goes: Dr. Strangelove is terribly overrated! It’s 95 minutes of unintelligible silliness with a handful of comic gems sprinkled in. It’s certainly not the greatest black comedy of all time and it definitely does not belong on the AFI list of best films ever. There. I said it!

I certainly like the theme of the film. If you’ve never seen it, basically it’s about what would happen if a rogue general launched a nuclear sneak attack on the Soviet Union (circa 1964) as the cold war is in full swing. And it’s “dark” because it is both comic and all does not end well for planet earth. It must have caused quite a stir in 1964. But for me it was ultimately disappointing. That being said, here are some things I liked:

  • Peter Sellers is very fun in three roles. As the president of the United States, his discussions with the Russian president over the phone from the war room are very funny. But as Dr. Strangelove himself it’s really just a one gag role in the way he tries to hide his Nazi past. Funny, for a minute or so.
  • George C. Scott’s red-hating general is very funny in a Fox News conservative kind of over-the-top way.
  • Slim Pickens riding the bomb into oblivion like a bucking bronco is the most memorable scene in the film.
  • One great line: “You can’t fight in here…this is the war room!”

Dr. Strangelove suffers from what many of the films on this list suffer from — memory tricks. We remember the film being so great because we remember the highlights but forget about the entire film. Ask anyone about Dr. Strangelove and they’ll surely recall the Slim Pickens bomb scene or Dr. Strangelove trying not to give the Nazi salute. But beyond those “gags” there is very little in the film which provides genuine laughter. I mean it. See it again if you don’t believe me.

A word about director Stanley Kubrick. He is easily the most overrated film director of all time. In my opinion he made four solid films: A Clockwork Orange, The Shining, Spartacus and Full Metal Jacket. The rest are overrated or flat out suck.

Next: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

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