1964 / Best Actor / Best Director / Best Picture

Film #227: Dr. Strangelove (1964)

Long-time readers of this blog will be a little surprised that certain films have been nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. One of the best examples of this that I can think of is Stanley Kubrick’s surreal cold-war comedy Dr. Strangelove which was nominated but ultimately lost out to My Fair Lady.

For those unfamiliar with the film it basically centres around a nuclear strike on the Soviet Union and the government bosses who attempt to avoid a nuclear apocalypse. The element of the film most will be aware of is that Peter Sellers plays three very distinct roles the first of which is RAF Captain Lionel Mandrake who is bared with the general who makes the initial command in Sterling Hayden’s Ripper. The relationship between Ripper and Mandrake creates a lot of humour as it explores the different reactions to war given by both the English and the Americans. Meanwhile Sellers also plays the US president who is advised by his very gruff colonel Buck Turgidson, played by George C Scott who makes a second appearance in this blog in the same amount of days, a very war-hungry army man. Eventually Turgidson grows tired of the president believing everything the Soviet ambassador is telling him and starts to fight with him which leads to the classic line ‘there’s no fighting in the war room’. Finally Sellers’ former Nazi Dr Strangelove is called in to talk about his Doomsday Machine and despite swearing his allegiance to the Americans there appears to be an ulterior motive to his actions. As the men continue to argue the film hurtles towards a very funny and some would say shocking conclusion.

For most people Dr Strangelove will go down as one of the greatest satires of all time and do feel that it earns that moniker however at the same time it does feel a little old-fashioned. To an extent it is a group of sketches woven together by a interlinking narrative and one actor who plays three lead roles and to be fair Sellers is great throughout the film especially when he gets to ham it up as Strangelove. Kubrick’s script has some brilliant one-liners but also a deep passion to mock those in a position of authority while in addition taking pot shots at the general attitude of the time. As I was watching this film it did get me thinking if a film like this would ever be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar again as a lot of today’s nominees seem positively tame in comparison to this. To be fair though despite the nominations, including one for Sellers, the film failed to match opposition from the much more twee and Academy-friendly My Fair Lady while Rex Harrison’s performance in the film was judged more superior that Sellers’ triple-header. Despite its ultimate failure at the awards I implore everyone to seek out Dr Strangelove as it is both an important and entertaining film which demonstrates what a great director Kubrick was as well as how he could work in a variety of different genres.


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