Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, more commonly known simply as Dr. Strangelove, is a 1964 black comedy film that satirises the Cold War fears of a nuclear conflict between the Soviet Union and the United States.
The story concerns an unhinged United States Air Force general who orders a first strike nuclear attack on the Soviet Union. It separately follows the President of the United States, his advisors, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a Royal Air Force (RAF) exchange officer as they attempt to prevent the crew of a B-52 plane (who were following orders from the general) from bombing the Soviets and starting a nuclear war.
United States Air Force Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper is commander of Burpelson Air Force Base, which houses the 843rd Bomb Wing, flying B-52 bombers armed with hydrogen bombs. The planes are on airborne alert two hours from their targets inside the USSR.
General Ripper orders his executive officer, Group Captain Lionel Mandrake of the Royal Air Force (RAF), to put the base on alert and issue “Wing Attack Plan R” to the patrolling bombers, one of which is commanded by Major T.J. “King” Kong. All the aircraft commence attack flights on the USSR and set their radios to allow communications only through their CRM 114 discriminators, which are designed to accept only communications preceded by a secret three-letter code known only to General Ripper. Mandrake discovers that no attack order has been issued by the Pentagon and tries to stop Ripper, who locks them both in his office. Ripper tells Mandrake that he believes the Soviets have been fluoridating American water supplies to pollute the “precious bodily fluids” of Americans. Mandrake realises Ripper has become insane.
In the War Room at the Pentagon, General Buck Turgidson briefs President Merkin Muffley and other officers about how “Plan R” enables a senior officer to launch a retaliatory nuclear attack on the Soviets if all superiors have been killed in a first strike on the United States. It would take two days to try every CRM code combination to issue a recall order, so Muffley orders the US Army to storm the base and arrest General Ripper. Turgidson then proposes that Muffley let the attack continue, but Muffley refuses. Instead, he brings Soviet ambassador Alexei de Sadeski into the War Room to telephone Soviet Premier Dimitri Kissov on the “hotline”. Muffley warns the Premier of the impending attack and offers to reveal the positions of the bombers and their targets so that the Soviets can protect themselves.
After a heated discussion with the Premier, the ambassador informs President Muffley that the Soviet Union created a doomsday machine as a nuclear deterrent; it consists of many buried bombs jacketed with “cobalt-thorium G”, which are set to detonate automatically should any nuclear attack strike the country. The resulting nuclear fallout would then engulf the planet for 93 years, rendering the Earth’s surface uninhabitable. The device cannot be deactivated, as it is programmed to explode if any such attempt is made. The President’s wheelchair-using scientific advisor, former German Nazi Dr. Strangelove, points out that such a doomsday machine would only be an effective deterrent if everyone knew about it; Alexei replies that the Soviet Premier had planned to reveal its existence to the world the following week at the Party Congress.
US Army troops arrive at Burpelson and battle with the garrison. After General Ripper commits suicide, Mandrake identifies Ripper’s CRM code from his desk blotter and relays it to the Pentagon. Using the code, Strategic Air Command successfully recalls all of the bombers except Major Kong’s, whose radio equipment has been damaged in a missile attack. The Soviets attempt to find it, but Kong has the bomber attack a closer target due to dwindling fuel. As the plane approaches the new target, a Soviet ICBM site, the crew is unable to open the damaged bomb bay doors. Kong enters the bay and repairs the electrical wiring while straddling an H-bomb, whereupon the doors open and the bomb is dropped. Kong joyfully hoots as he rides the falling bomb until it detonates over the target.
Back in the War Room, Dr. Strangelove recommends that the President gather several hundred thousand people to live in deep underground mines where the radiation will not penetrate. He suggests a 10:1 female-to-male ratio for a breeding programme to repopulate the Earth once the radiation has subsided; a plan which gathers enthusiastic support from the all-male command staff. Worried that the Soviets will do the same, Turgidson warns about a “mineshaft gap” while Alexei secretly photographs the War Room. Dr. Strangelove declares he has a plan, then suddenly rises from his wheelchair and exclaims, “Mein Führer, I can walk!” The film immediately cuts to a montage of nuclear explosions, accompanied by Vera Lynn’s rendition of the song “We’ll Meet Again”.
- Peter Sellers as:
- Group captain Lionel Mandrake, a British RAF exchange officer.
- Merkin Muffley, the President of the United States.
- Dr. Strangelove, the nuclear war expert and former Nazi who uses a wheelchair.
- George C. Scott as General Buck Turgidson, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
- Sterling Hayden as Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper, a paranoid commander of Burpelson Air Force Base, which is part of the Strategic Air Command.
- Keenan Wynn as Colonel Bat Guano, the Army officer who finds Mandrake and Ripper.
- Jack Creley as Mr. Staines, National Security Advisor.
- Slim Pickens as Major T. J. “King” Kong, the B-52 Stratofortress bomber’s commander and pilot.
- Peter Bull as Soviet Ambassador Alexei de Sadeski.
- James Earl Jones as Lieutenant Lothar Zogg, the B-52’s bombardier.
- Tracy Reed as Miss Scott, General Turgidson’s secretary and mistress, the film’s only female character.
- She also appears as “Miss Foreign Affairs”, the Playboy Playmate in Playboy’s June 1962 issue, which Major Kong is shown perusing at one point.
- Shane Rimmer as Captain Ace Owens, the co-pilot of the B-52.
Peter Sellers’s Multiple Roles
Columbia Pictures agreed to finance the film if Peter Sellers played at least four major roles. The condition stemmed from the studio’s opinion that much of the success of Kubrick’s previous film Lolita (1962) was based on Sellers’s performance in which his single character assumes a number of identities. Sellers had also played three roles in The Mouse That Roared (1959). Kubrick accepted the demand, later explaining that “such crass and grotesque stipulations are the sine qua non of the motion-picture business”.
Sellers ended up playing three of the four roles written for him. He had been expected to play Air Force Major T.J. “King” Kong, the B-52 aircraft commander, but from the beginning Sellers was reluctant. He felt his workload was too heavy and he worried he would not properly portray the character’s Texan English accent. Kubrick pleaded with him and he asked the screenwriter Terry Southern (who had been raised in Texas) to record a tape with Kong’s lines spoken in the correct accent. Using Southern’s tape, Sellers managed to get the accent right and he started acting in the scenes in the aircraft but then sprained his ankle and he could not work in the cramped cockpit set.
Sellers is said to have improvised much of his dialogue, with Kubrick incorporating the ad-libs into the written screenplay so the improvised lines became part of the canonical screenplay, a practice known as retroscripting.
Group Captain Lionel Mandrake
According to film critic Alexander Walker, the author of biographies of both Sellers and Kubrick, the role of Group Captain Lionel Mandrake was the easiest of the three for Sellers to play, since he was aided by his experience of mimicking his superiors while serving in the RAF during World War II. There is also a heavy resemblance to Sellers’ friend and occasional co-star Terry-Thomas and the prosthetic-limbed RAF flying ace Sir Douglas Bader.
President Merkin Muffley
For his performance as President Merkin Muffley, Sellers assumed a Midwestern American English accent. Sellers drew inspiration for the role from Adlai Stevenson, a former Illinois governor who was the Democratic candidate for the 1952 and 1956 presidential elections and the UN ambassador during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
In early takes, Sellers faked cold symptoms to emphasize the character’s apparent weakness. That caused frequent laughter among the film crew, ruining several takes. Kubrick ultimately found this comic portrayal inappropriate, feeling that Muffley should be a serious character. In later takes Sellers played the role straight, though the President’s cold is still evident in several scenes.
In keeping with Kubrick’s satirical character names, a “merkin” is a pubic hair wig. The president is bald, and his last name is “Muffley”; both are additional homages to a merkin.
Dr. Strangelove is an ex-Nazi scientist, suggesting Operation Paperclip, the US effort to recruit top German technical talent at the end of World War II. He serves as President Muffley’s scientific adviser in the War Room. When General Turgidson wonders aloud what kind of name “Strangelove” is, saying to Mr. Staines (Jack Creley) that it is not a “Kraut name”, Staines responds that Strangelove’s original German surname was Merkwürdigliebe (“Strange love” in German) and that “he changed it when he became a citizen”. Twice in the film, Strangelove accidentally addresses the president as Mein Führer. Dr. Strangelove did not appear in the book Red Alert.
The character is an amalgamation of RAND Corporation strategist Herman Kahn, mathematician and Manhattan Project principal John von Neumann, rocket scientist Wernher von Braun (a central figure in Nazi Germany’s rocket development programme recruited to the US after the war), and Edward Teller, the “father of the hydrogen bomb”. It has been claimed that the character was based on Henry Kissinger, but Kubrick and Sellers denied this; Sellers said, “Strangelove was never modeled after Kissinger—that’s a popular misconception. It was always Wernher von Braun.” Furthermore, Henry Kissinger points out in his memoirs that at the time of the writing of Dr. Strangelove, he was a little-known academic.
The wheelchair-using Strangelove furthers a Kubrick trope of the menacing, seated antagonist, first depicted in Lolita through the character “Dr. Zaempf”. Strangelove’s accent was influenced by that of Austrian-American photographer Weegee, who worked for Kubrick as a special photographic effects consultant. Strangelove’s appearance echoes the mad scientist archetype as seen in the character Rotwang in Fritz Lang’s film Metropolis (1927). Sellers’s Strangelove takes from Rotwang the single black gloved hand (which, in Rotwang’s case is mechanical, because of a lab accident), the wild hair and, most important, his ability to avoid being controlled by political power. According to Alexander Walker, Sellers improvised Dr. Strangelove’s lapse into the Nazi salute, borrowing one of Kubrick’s black leather gloves for the uncontrollable hand that makes the gesture. Dr. Strangelove apparently has alien hand syndrome. Kubrick wore the gloves on the set to avoid being burned when handling hot lights, and Sellers, recognising the potential connection to Lang’s work, found them to be menacing.
Slim Pickens as Major T.J. “King” Kong
Slim Pickens, an established character actor and veteran of many Western films, was eventually chosen to replace Sellers as Major Kong after Sellers’ injury. Terry Southern’s biographer, Lee Hill, said the part was originally written with John Wayne in mind, and that Wayne was offered the role after Sellers was injured, but he immediately turned it down. Dan Blocker of the Bonanza western television series was approached to play the part, but according to Southern, Blocker’s agent rejected the script as being “too pinko”. Kubrick then recruited Pickens, whom he knew from his brief involvement in a Marlon Brando western film project that was eventually filmed as One-Eyed Jacks.
His fellow actor James Earl Jones recalls, “He was Major Kong on and off the set—he didn’t change a thing—his temperament, his language, his behavior.” Pickens was not told that the movie was a black comedy, and he was only given the script for scenes he was in, to get him to play it “straight”.
Kubrick’s biographer John Baxter explained, in the documentary Inside the Making of Dr. Strangelove:
As it turns out, Slim Pickens had never left the United States. He had to hurry and get his first passport. He arrived on the set, and somebody said, “Gosh, he’s arrived in costume!”, not realizing that that’s how he always dressed … with the cowboy hat and the fringed jacket and the cowboy boots—and that he wasn’t putting on the character—that’s the way he talked.
Pickens, who had previously played only supporting and character roles, said that his appearance as Major Kong greatly improved his career. He later commented, “After Dr. Strangelove the roles, the dressing rooms, and the checks all started getting bigger.”
George C. Scott as General Buck Turgidson
George C. Scott played the role of General Buck Turgidson, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In this capacity General Turgidson was the nation’s highest-ranking military officer and the principal military advisor to the President and the National Security Council. He is seen during most of the movie advising President Muffley on the best steps to take in order to stop the fleet of B-52 Stratofortresses that was deployed by Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper to drop nuclear bombs on Soviet soil.
According to James Earl Jones, Kubrick tricked Scott into playing the role of Gen. Turgidson far more ridiculously than Scott was comfortable doing. Kubrick talked Scott into doing over-the-top “practice” takes, which Kubrick told Scott would never be used, as a way to warm up for the “real” takes. Kubrick used these takes in the final film, causing Scott to swear never to work with Kubrick again.
During the filming, Kubrick and Scott had different opinions regarding certain scenes, but Kubrick got Scott to conform largely by repeatedly beating him at chess, which they played frequently on the set. Scott, a skilled player himself, later said that while he and Kubrick may not have always seen eye to eye, he respected Kubrick immensely for his skill at chess.
Novel and Screenplay
Stanley Kubrick started with nothing but a vague idea to make a thriller about a nuclear accident that built on the widespread Cold War fear for survival. While doing research, Kubrick gradually became aware of the subtle and paradoxical “balance of terror” between nuclear powers. At Kubrick’s request, Alastair Buchan (the head of the Institute for Strategic Studies) recommended the thriller novel Red Alert by Peter George. Kubrick was impressed with the book, which had also been praised by game theorist and future Nobel Prize in Economics winner Thomas Schelling in an article written for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and reprinted in The Observer, and immediately bought the film rights. In 2006, Schelling wrote that conversations between Kubrick, Schelling, and George in late 1960 about a treatment of Red Alert updated with intercontinental missiles eventually led to the making of the film.
In collaboration with George, Kubrick started writing a screenplay based on the book. While writing the screenplay, they benefited from some brief consultations with Schelling and later, Herman Kahn. In following the tone of the book, Kubrick originally intended to film the story as a serious drama. However, as he later explained during interviews, he began to see comedy inherent in the idea of mutual assured destruction as he wrote the first draft. Kubrick said:
My idea of doing it as a nightmare comedy came in the early weeks of working on the screenplay. I found that in trying to put meat on the bones and to imagine the scenes fully, one had to keep leaving out of it things which were either absurd or paradoxical, in order to keep it from being funny; and these things seemed to be close to the heart of the scenes in question.
Among the titles that Kubrick considered for the film were Dr. Doomsday or: How to Start World War III Without Even Trying, Dr. Strangelove’s Secret Uses of Uranus, and Wonderful Bomb. After deciding to make the film a black comedy, Kubrick brought in Terry Southern as a co-writer in late 1962. The choice was influenced by reading Southern’s comic novel The Magic Christian, which Kubrick had received as a gift from Peter Sellers, and which itself became a Sellers film in 1969. Southern made important contributions to the film, but his role led to a rift between Kubrick and Peter George; after Life magazine published a photo-essay on Southern in August 1964 which implied that Southern had been the script’s principal author – a misperception neither Kubrick nor Southern did much to dispel – Peter George wrote an indignant letter to the magazine, published in its September 1964 issue, in which he pointed out that he had both written the film’s source novel and collaborated on various incarnations of the script over a period of ten months, whereas “Southern was briefly employed … to do some additional rewriting for Kubrick and myself and fittingly received a screenplay credit in third place behind Mr. Kubrick and myself”.
Sets and Filming
Dr. Strangelove was filmed at Shepperton Studios, near London, as Sellers was in the middle of a divorce at the time and unable to leave England. The sets occupied three main sound stages: the Pentagon War Room, the B-52 Stratofortress bomber and the last one containing both the motel room and General Ripper’s office and outside corridor. The studio’s buildings were also used as the Air Force base exterior. The film’s set design was done by Ken Adam, the production designer of several James Bond films (at the time he had already worked on Dr. No). The black and white cinematography was by Gilbert Taylor, and the film was edited by Anthony Harvey and an uncredited Kubrick. The original musical score for the film was composed by Laurie Johnson and the special effects were by Wally Veevers. The opening theme is an instrumental version of “Try a Little Tenderness”. The theme of the chorus from the bomb run scene is a modification of “When Johnny Comes Marching Home”. Sellers and Kubrick got along well during the film’s production and shared a love of photography.
For the War Room, Ken Adam first designed a two-level set which Kubrick initially liked, only to decide later that it was not what he wanted. Adam next began work on the design that was used in the film, an expressionist set that was compared with The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. It was an enormous concrete room (130 feet (40 m) long and 100 feet (30 m) wide, with a 35-foot (11 m)-high ceiling) suggesting a bomb shelter, with a triangular shape (based on Kubrick’s idea that this particular shape would prove the most resistant against an explosion). One side of the room was covered with gigantic strategic maps reflecting in a shiny black floor inspired by dance scenes in Fred Astaire films. In the middle of the room there was a large circular table lit from above by a circle of lamps, suggesting a poker table. Kubrick insisted that the table would be covered with green baize (although this could not be seen in the black and white film) to reinforce the actors’ impression that they are playing ‘a game of poker for the fate of the world.’ Kubrick asked Adam to build the set ceiling in concrete to force the director of photography to use only the on-set lights from the circle of lamps. Moreover, each lamp in the circle of lights was carefully placed and tested until Kubrick was happy with the result.
Lacking cooperation from the Pentagon in the making of the film, the set designers reconstructed the aircraft cockpit to the best of their ability by comparing the cockpit of a B-29 Superfortress and a single photograph of the cockpit of a B-52 and relating this to the geometry of the B-52’s fuselage. The B-52 was state-of-the-art in the 1960s, and its cockpit was off-limits to the film crew. When some United States Air Force personnel were invited to view the reconstructed B-52 cockpit, they said that “it was absolutely correct, even to the little black box which was the CRM.” It was so accurate that Kubrick was concerned about whether Adam’s team had carried out all its research legally.
In several shots of the B-52 flying over the polar ice en route to Russia, the shadow of the actual camera plane, a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, is visible on the icecap below. The B-52 was a scale model composited into the Arctic footage, which was sped up to create a sense of jet speed. Home movie footage included in Inside the Making of Dr. Strangelove on the 2001 Special Edition DVD release of the film shows clips of the B-17 with a cursive “Dr. Strangelove” painted over the rear entry hatch on the right side of the fuselage.
In 1967, some of the flying footage from Dr. Strangelove was re-used in The Beatles’ television film Magical Mystery Tour. As told by editor Roy Benson in the BBC Radio Documentary Celluloid Beatles, the production team of Magical Mystery Tour lacked footage to cover the sequence for the song “Flying”. Benson had access to the aerial footage filmed for the B-52 sequences of Dr. Strangelove, which was stored at Shepperton Studios. The use of the footage prompted Kubrick to call Benson to complain.
Red Alert author Peter George collaborated on the screenplay with Kubrick and satirist Terry Southern. Red Alert was more solemn than its film version, and it did not include the character Dr. Strangelove, though the main plot and technical elements were quite similar. A novelisation of the actual film, rather than a reprint of the original novel, was published by Peter George, based on an early draft in which the narrative is bookended by the account of aliens, who, having arrived at a desolated Earth, try to piece together what has happened. It was reissued in October 2015 by Candy Jar Books, featuring never-before-published material on Strangelove’s early career.
During the filming of Dr. Strangelove, Stanley Kubrick learned that Fail Safe, a film with a similar theme, was being produced. Although Fail Safe was to be an ultrarealistic thriller, Kubrick feared that its plot resemblance would damage his film’s box office potential, especially if it were released first. Indeed, the novel Fail-Safe (on which the film is based) is so similar to Red Alert that Peter George sued on charges of plagiarism and settled out of court. What worried Kubrick the most was that Fail Safe boasted the acclaimed director Sidney Lumet and the first-rate dramatic actors Henry Fonda as the American president and Walter Matthau as the advisor to the Pentagon, Professor Groeteschele. Kubrick decided to throw a legal wrench into Fail Safe’s production gears. Lumet recalled in the documentary Inside the Making of Dr. Strangelove: “We started casting. Fonda was already set … which of course meant a big commitment in terms of money. I was set, Walter [Bernstein, the screenwriter] was set … And suddenly, this lawsuit arrived, filed by Stanley Kubrick and Columbia Pictures.”
Kubrick argued that Fail Safe’s own source novel Fail-Safe (1960) had been plagiarised from Peter George’s Red Alert, to which Kubrick owned creative rights. He pointed out unmistakable similarities in intentions between the characters Groeteschele and Strangelove. The plan worked, and the suit was settled out of court, with the agreement that Columbia Pictures, which had financed and was distributing Strangelove, also buy Fail Safe, which had been an independently financed production. Kubrick insisted that the studio release his movie first, and Fail Safe opened eight months after Dr. Strangelove, to critical acclaim but mediocre ticket sales.
The end of the film shows Dr. Strangelove exclaiming, “Mein Führer, I can walk!” before cutting to footage of nuclear explosions, with Vera Lynn and her audience singing “We’ll Meet Again”. This footage comes from nuclear tests such as shot BAKER of Operation Crossroads at Bikini Atoll, the Trinity test, a test from Operation Sandstone and the hydrogen bomb tests from Operation Redwing and Operation Ivy. In some shots, old warships (such as the German heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen), which were used as targets, are plainly visible. In others, the smoke trails of rockets used to create a calibration backdrop can be seen. Former Goon Show writer and friend of Sellers Spike Milligan was credited with suggesting Vera Lynn’s song for the ending.
It was originally planned for the film to end with a scene that depicted everyone in the War Room involved in a pie fight. Accounts vary as to why the pie fight was cut. In a 1969 interview, Kubrick said, “I decided it was farce and not consistent with the satiric tone of the rest of the film.” Critic Alexander Walker observed that “the cream pies were flying around so thickly that people lost definition, and you couldn’t really say whom you were looking at.” Nile Southern, son of screenwriter Terry Southern, suggested the fight was intended to be less jovial: “Since they were laughing, it was unusable, because instead of having that totally black, which would have been amazing, like, this blizzard, which in a sense is metaphorical for all of the missiles that are coming, as well, you just have these guys having a good old time. So, as Kubrick later said, ‘it was a disaster of Homeric proportions.'”
Effects of the Kennedy Assassination on the Film
A first test screening of the film was scheduled for 22 November 1963, the day of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The film was just weeks from its scheduled premiere, but because of the assassination, the release was delayed until late January 1964, as it was felt that the public was in no mood for such a film any sooner.
During post-production, one line by Slim Pickens, “a fella could have a pretty good weekend in Dallas with all that stuff”, was dubbed to change “Dallas” to “Vegas”, since Dallas was where Kennedy was killed. The original reference to Dallas survives in the English audio of the French-subtitled version of the film.
The assassination also serves as another possible reason that the pie-fight scene was cut. In the scene, after Muffley takes a pie in the face, General Turgidson exclaims: “Gentlemen! Our gallant young president has been struck down in his prime!” Editor Anthony Harvey stated that the scene “would have stayed, except that Columbia Pictures were horrified, and thought it would offend the president’s family”. Kubrick and others have said that the scene had already been cut before preview night because it was inconsistent with the rest of the film.
Rerelease in 1994
In 1994, the film was re-released. While the 1964 release used a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the new print was in the slightly squarer 1.66:1 (5:3) ratio that Kubrick had originally intended.
The film was a popular success, earning US$4,420,000 in rentals in North America during its initial theatrical release.
Columbia Studio’s early reaction to Dr. Strangelove was anything but enthusiastic. In “Notes From The War Room”, in the summer 1994 issue of Grand Street magazine, co-screenwriter Terry Southern recalled that, as production neared the end, “It was about this time that word began to reach us, reflecting concern as to the nature of the film in production. Was it anti-American? Or just anti-military? And the jackpot question: Was it, in fact, anti-American to whatever extent it was anti-military?”
Southern recalled how Kubrick grew concerned about seeming apathy and distancing by studio heads Abe Schneider and Mo Rothman, and by Columbia’s characterisation of the film as “just a zany, novelty flick which did not reflect the views of the corporation in any way.” Southern noted, however, that Rothman was in “prominent attendance” at a ceremony in 1989 when the Library of Congress announced it as one of the first 25 films on the National Film Registry.
In 1995, Kubrick enlisted Terry Southern to script a sequel titled Son of Strangelove. Kubrick had Terry Gilliam in mind to direct. The script was never completed, but index cards laying out the story’s basic structure were found among Southern’s papers after he died in October 1995. It was set largely in underground bunkers, where Dr. Strangelove had taken refuge with a group of women.
In 2013, Gilliam commented, “I was told after Kubrick died—by someone who had been dealing with him—that he had been interested in trying to do another Strangelove with me directing. I never knew about that until after he died but I would have loved to.”
- The film is loosely based on Peter George’s thriller novel Red Alert (1958).
- The film is often considered one of the best comedies ever made, as well as one of the greatest films of all time.
- In 1998, the American Film Institute ranked it twenty-sixth in its list of the best American movies (in the 2007 edition, the film ranked thirty-ninth), and in 2000, it was listed as number three on its list of the funniest American films.
- In 1989, the United States Library of Congress included Dr. Strangelove as one of the first twenty-five films selected for preservation in the National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
- Peter Sellers was paid $1 million, 55% of the film’s budget.
- Stanley Kubrick famously quipped “I got three for the price of six”.
- While shooting aerial footage over Greenland, the second unit camera crew accidentally filmed a secret US military base.
- Their plane was forced down, and the crew was suspected of being Soviet spies.
- The film led to actual changes in policy to ensure that the events depicted could never really occur in real life.
- The scene where General Turgidson trips and falls in the War Room, and then gets back up and resumes talking as if nothing happened, really was an accident.
- Stanley Kubrick mistakenly thought that it was George C. Scott really in character, so he left it in the film.
- Peter Sellers improvised most of his lines.
- And one of the most significant is in the final scene, when Sellers as Dr. Strangelove, exclaims “Mein Führer! I can walk!”
- According to Kubrick, “Peter said he couldn’t promise to do the same thing twice. And he couldn’t do anything more than two, three times. So the day we did the sequence…I had six cameras lined up and he came in and… no one knew what he was going to do, himself included.”
- In the early 1960s the B-52 was cutting-edge technology.
- Access to it was a matter of national security.
- The Pentagon refused to lend any support to the film after they read the script.
- Set designers reconstructed the B-52 bomber’s cockpit from a single photograph that appeared in a British flying magazine.
- When some American Air Force personnel were invited to view the movie’s B-52 cockpit, they said it was a perfect copy.
- Stanley Kubrick feared that Ken Adam’s production design team had used illegal methods and could be investigated by the FBI.
- The War Room contains a large table of food because Stanley Kubrick intended to end the film with a custard pie fight between the Russians and the Americans.
- He decided not to use the footage because he found it too farcical to fit with the satirical nature of the rest of the film.
- The only known public showing of the pie fight scene was at the 1999 screening of the film at London’s National Film Theatre, following Kubrick’s death.
Production & Filming Details
- Stanley Kubrick.
- Stanley Kubrick … producer.
- Victor Lyndon … associate producer.
- Lee Minoff … executive producer (uncredited).
- Stanley Kubrick … (screenplay).
- Terry Southern … (screenplay).
- Peter George … (screenplay).
- Peter George … (based on the book: “Red Alert” by).
- Laurie Johnson.
- Gilbert Taylor … director of photography.
- Anthony Harvey.
- Stanley Kubrick Productions (as Hawk Films).
- Columbia Pictures Corporation (1964) (UK) (theatrical).
- Columbia Pictures Proprietary (1964) (Australia) (theatrical).
- Columbia Pictures (1964) (USA) (theatrical).
- Columbia Films (1964) (France) (theatrical).
- Columbia Films (1964) (Belgium) (theatrical).
- Columbia Film (1964) (Sweden) (theatrical).
- Kamera (1964) (Norway) (theatrical).
- Columbia Films (1964) (Finland) (theatrical).
- Columbia C.E.I.A.D. (1964) (Italy) (theatrical).
- Columbia (1964) (Argentina) (theatrical).
- Columbia Pictures (1964) (Japan) (theatrical).
- Producciones Cinematográficas Españolas Falcó & Cía. (PROCINES) (1966) (Spain) (theatrical).
- Vesna Film (1967) (Slovenia) (theatrical).
- Vesna Film (1967) (Yugoslavia) (theatrical).
- Columbia-Warner Distributors (1974) (Portugal) (theatrical).
- Columbia-Bavaria Filmgesellschaft m.b.H. (1964) (West Germany) (theatrical).
- Columbia-Warner Filmes de Portugal (1974) (Portugal) (theatrical).
- Fathom Events (2016) (USA) (theatrical) (re-release).
- Neue Visionen Filmverleih (2006) (Germany) (theatrical) (re-release).
- Park Circus (2014) (France) (theatrical) (re-release).
- Park Circus (2019) (France) (theatrical) (re-release).
- Park Circus (2021) (UK) (theatrical) (re-release).
- Seven Films (2017) (Greece) (theatrical) (re-release).
- Sony Pictures Repertory (1994) (USA) (theatrical).
- Svenska Filminstitutet (SFI) (2001) (Sweden) (theatrical) (re-release).
- Warner-Columbia Films (1981) (Finland) (theatrical).
- Warner-Columbia Filmverleih (1987) (West Germany) (theatrical) (re-release).
- Cinema Club (2000) (UK) (VHS).
- Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment (2002) (Australia) (DVD).
- Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment (2005) (Australia) (DVD).
- Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment (2001) (UK) (DVD).
- Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment (2003) (UK) (DVD).
- Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment (2001) (Netherlands) (DVD).
- Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment (2001) (USA) (DVD).
- Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment (2001) (USA) (VHS).
- Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment (2002) (UK) (DVD).
- Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment (2004) (USA) (DVD).
- Columbia TriStar Home Video (1999) (UK) (DVD).
- Columbia TriStar Home Video (2000) (UK) (DVD).
- Columbia TriStar Home Video (Italy) (VHS).
- Columbia TriStar Home Video (1994) (USA) (video) (laserdisc).
- Columbia TriStar Home Video (1997) (USA) (VHS).
- Columbia TriStar Home Video (1999) (USA) (DVD).
- Columbia TriStar Home Video (1999) (USA) (VHS).
- Columbia TriStar Home Video (2000) (USA) (DVD).
- Egmont Entertainment (1999) (Finland) (DVD).
- Emerald (2013) (Argentina) (DVD).
- Epoca (Argentina) (VHS).
- Gaumont/Columbia TriStar Home Video (2001) (France) (DVD).
- HBO Max (2020) (USA) (video) (VOD).
- Madman Entertainment (2016) (Australia) (Blu-ray) (DVD).
- Mainostelevisio (MTV3) (1990) (Finland) (TV).
- Nordisk Film (1999) (Sweden) (DVD).
- Nordisk Film (2001) (Sweden) (DVD).
- RCA (II) (1983) (USA) (video) (CED VideoDisc).
- RCA / Columbia Pictures Video (1987) (UK) (VHS).
- RCA/Columbia Pictures Home Video (1982) (USA) (VHS) (Betamax).
- RCA/Columbia Pictures Home Video (1983) (USA) (VHS) (Betamax).
- RCA/Columbia Pictures Home Video (1984) (USA) (VHS).
- RCA/Columbia Pictures Home Video (1985) (USA) (VHS) (pan and scan).
- RCA/Columbia Pictures Home Video (1987) (USA) (VHS) (pan and scan).
- RCA/Columbia Pictures Home Video (USA) (video) (laserdisc).
- RCA/Columbia-Hoyts Home Video (Australia) (VHS).
- Sony Pictures Home Entertainment (2005) (Australia) (DVD).
- Sony Pictures Home Entertainment (2009) (Germany) (Blu-ray).
- Sony Pictures Home Entertainment (2021) (Germany) (all media) (Ultra HD Blu-ray).
- Sony Pictures Home Entertainment (2005) (Finland) (DVD).
- Sony Pictures Home Entertainment (2009) (Netherlands) (Blu-ray).
- Sony Pictures Home Entertainment (2020) (Netherlands) (all media) (Ultra HD Blu-ray) (Columbia Classics Collection).
- Sony Pictures Home Entertainment (2009) (Sweden) (Blu-ray).
- Sony Pictures Home Entertainment (2007) (USA) (DVD).
- Sony Pictures Home Entertainment (2008) (USA) (DVD).
- Sony Pictures Home Entertainment (2009) (USA) (Blu-ray).
- Sony Pictures Home Entertainment (2012) (USA) (Blu-ray) (DVD).
- Sony Pictures Home Entertainment (2014) (USA) (Blu-ray) (DVD).
- Sony Pictures Home Entertainment (2020) (USA) (all media) (Ultra HD Blu-ray) (Columbia Classics collection).
- Sony Pictures Television International (2005) (USA) (TV) (syndication).
- Sony Pictures Television (2002) (USA) (TV) (syndication).
- The Criterion Channel (2020) (USA) (TV) (digital).
- The Criterion Collection (1992) (USA) (video) (laserdisc).
- The Criterion Collection (2016) (USA) (Blu-ray).
- The Criterion Collection (2016) (USA) (DVD).
- Universal Pictures (2005) (Sweden) (DVD).
- Video Collection International (2000) (UK) (VHS) (through).
- Warner Home Video (1999) (USA) (DVD).
- Warner Home Video (USA) (VHS).
- Warner Home Video (2000) (USA) (DVD).
- Warner Home Video (2001) (USA) (DVD).
- Yleisradio (YLE) (2009) (Finland) (TV).
- Release Date: 29 January 1964.
- Running time: 95 minutes.
- Rating: A.
- Country: UK and US.
- Language: English.