“Now then, Dmitri, you know how we’ve always talked about the possibility of something going wrong with the Bomb…”
Mention Peter Sellers as the star of your favourite film and you’d pretty much give the game away. In 1964 the iconic British comedy actor teamed up with Stanley Kubrick for a second time (following 1962’s Lolita) to play three central characters – including a hapless president and the mad doctor of the film’s title – in a movie that encapsulates the word ‘timeless’.
Honestly, I can watch Dr Strangelove now and see lessons in it which some world leaders are still slowly learning today. Nor is it only pertinent in a political sense, though. Recently there have been notable attacks on artistic freedom of expression – if one views this film in light of those events, they might just find something rather ironic; a film that, in its time, was more outrageous (and hilarious) than any light-hearted North Korean joke.
Kubrick’s satire subtly attacked the US government in a patriotic war-time environment. When certain prominent military generals were using propaganda to convince the average American citizen that the Soviets were to blame for everything, Kubrick was busy making fun of the whole thing. Dr Strangelove itself was labelled ‘Soviet propaganda’ at the time; a way of discrediting its claims regarding the American government, though in the years following it would emerge that the film was worryingly accurate, not least in its assertion that an Army general could theoretically launch a nuclear strike without the President’s authority.
In a tragic twist of fate, though one on which a certain amount of irony is not lost, the film’s first test screening was scheduled for November 22, 1963 – the day of President Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas. Subsequently, general release was delayed until January 1964, and thankfully Dr Strangelove survived to see a unique legacy formed. Hindsight has been kind to it, as seems the case with many artistic controversies.