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

Produced by Hawk Films Ltd. in 1963 at the Shepperton Studios near London, released Jan. 29, 1964, by Columbia Pictures, budget of $1.8 million, gross of $9 million, black and white 35mm negative, 1.37:1 and 1.66:1 screen ratios, Dolby sound, 93 mins., Laserdisc released 1992, DVD released 2000.





This Cold War black comedy film was derived from the serious novel Two Hours to Doom, written by RAF commander Peter Bryant George and published 1958 in Britan under his pseudonym Peter Bryant . The book was an early product of the nuclear apocalyptic genre of the late 1950s and early 1960s that included On the Beach (1957) by Nevil Shute, Alas, Babylon (1959) by Pat Frank, Seven Days in May (1962) by Fletcher Knebel & Charles W. Bailey III, and Fail Safe (1962) by Eugene Burdick who had written The Ugly American (1958). This genre was influence by Cold War paranoia and fears caused by the proliferation of nuclear weapons to Russia (1949) and Britain (1952) and France (1960) and China (1964); by Edward Teller's H-bomb (1952) and the Soviet H-bomb (1953); by jet bombers and Polaris submarines and ICBM missiles; by the military confrontations in Berlin (1953) and Hungary and Suez (1956); by McCarthyism and spies and HUAC and Duck and Cover.

In George's novel, the B-52 bomber "Alabama Angel" of the 843rd Bomber Wing flies from its SAC base in Sonora, Texas, is refueled by a KC-135 Stratotanker, piloted by Capt. Clint Brown, heading toward the X point of no return. The 32 planes of the 843rd had been on a mission testing the NORAD defenses with the new K model of the B-52 bomber, equipped with a large electronic brain, and with 10 H-bombs of 15 megatons each. The SAC base is commanded by Gen. Quinten with his exec officer Major Paul Howard. The phone call came in to put the base on Warning Red (air attack imminent), and Brown's B-52 opened the Plan R envelope. The bombers could be recalled from X point only by a special code sent to the CRM 114. Major Howard suddenly learns that Quinten is not going to recall the bombers, but attack Russia. " Remember what they did to Hungary back in '56?" he tells Howard. In the Pentagon, the JCS met in the huge rectangular War Room with the President, ordered the 74th Infantry to attack the SAC base. The Russain ambassador Zorubin was brought to the War Room to help the President speak on the telephone with the Marshal, the leader of Russia. As the Army Rangers attacked the SAC base at Sonora, Quinlen ordered a cease-fire and then killed himself. Major Howard saw the words "peace on earth" written on Quinlen's note-pad with the first letters underlined, and told the President he thought the recall code was one of the six possible combinations of P and O and E. The recall was successful for 29 bombers, 2 were shot down. Brown's plane was damaged by Russian missiles, but flew low to attack the ICBM site at the city of Kotlass. The President offered to destroy the American city of Atlantic City if a Russian city was destroyed. Brown's plane crashed and a partial nuclear explosion took place, but the bombs had been damaged and did not fully explode. The Russian city was not hit. The President cancelled his order to destroy Atlantic City. He ordered that Plan R be abolished. When the Minuteman missiles were ready in 6 months, the SAC bombers would be unnecessary. The fear of retaliation would realize the goal of peace on earth.

Kubrick's film kept the basic plot of the book but changed the names and added black humor, sexual references, the crazy SAC base commander who feared fluoridation ("Purity of Essence" as well as "Peace on Earth"), the Doomsday Machine, the triangular war room with Dr. Strangelove in a wheelchair and his "BLAND" studies (like Herman Kahn at the RAND Corp. who wrote "On Thermonuclear War" in 1960). Kubrick bought the rights to George's book in 1962 and wrote a draft of a script in August that did not include Strangelove or much of the humorous dialogue. Screenwriter Terry Southern provided these elements. The film reflects the continuing Cold War paranoia of 1958-1963, the U-2 crisis, the arms race, the Berlin wall. The film was near completetion at the time of JFK's assassination Nov. 22, 1963. Major Kong's reference to Dallas was change to Vegas. The release date was postponed from Dec. 12, 1963, to Jan. 1964. The film was popular, as were others released during this era. Stanley Kramer's On the Beach film was released in Dec. 1959, and John Frankenheimer's Seven Days in May in Feb. 1964, and Sidney Lumet's Fail-Safe in Oct. 1964.


revised 4/20/06 by Steven Schoenherr at the University of San Diego | Filmnotes