Filmsite Movie Review 100 Greatest Films

Dr. Strangelove, Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb (1964)

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Plot Synopsis (continued)

Back in Ripper's office with gunfire sounding in the background, General Ripper puts a comforting - and menacing - arm around a worried Mandrake's shoulder, revealing his completely paranoidal, psycho-sexual, psychotic lunacy. As Mandrake realizes he is speaking face-to-face with the real enemy and is literally being gripped by him, he nervously fingers and folds a piece of chewing gum in his fingers in front of him. According to the nutty, obsessed General who has found a scapegoat for his own sexual inadequacies in the Russkies, Commies are unaffected by the plot to pollute the water of the world because they drink vodka:

Ripper: Mandrake?
Mandrake: Yes, Jack?
Ripper: Have you ever seen a Commie drink a glass of water?
Mandrake: Well, I can't say I have, Jack.
Ripper: Vodka, that's what they drink, isn't it? Never water?
Mandrake: Well, I-I believe that's what they drink, Jack, yes.
Ripper: On no account will a Commie ever drink water, and not without good reason.
Mandrake: Oh, eh, yes. I, uhm, can't quite see what you're getting at, Jack.
Ripper: Water, that's what I'm getting at, water. Mandrake, water is the source of all life. Seven-tenths of this Earth's surface is water. Why, do you realize that 70 percent of you is water?
Mandrake: Good Lord!
Ripper: And as human beings, you and I need fresh, pure water to replenish our precious bodily fluids.
Mandrake: Yes. (he begins to chuckle nervously)
Ripper: Are you beginning to understand?
Mandrake: Yes. (more laughter)
Ripper: Mandrake. Mandrake, have you never wondered why I drink only distilled water, or rainwater, and only pure-grain alcohol?
Mandrake: Well, it did occur to me, Jack, yes.
Ripper: Have you ever heard of a thing called fluoridation. Fluoridation of water?
Mandrake: Uh? Yes, I-I have heard of that, Jack, yes. Yes.
Ripper: Well, do you know what it is?
Mandrake: No, no I don't know what it is, no.
Ripper: Do you realize that fluoridation is the most monstrously conceived and dangerous Communist plot we have ever had to face?

Machine-fun fire rips through Ripper's office, shattering his window, and knocking down his overhead fluorescent light unit. Ripper strides to the window and shouts: "Two can play at that game, soldier!...That's nice shooting soldier!" Then, he takes his own Browning machine gun from a golf bag in his closet, sweeps his desk clear with the gun barrel, and mounts the gun on his desk, asking Mandrake to help feed the ammunition belt of cartridges (taken from the golf bag ball compartment) into the machine.

Ripper, believing that Commie soldiers, disguised in US uniforms, are fighting their way into the base, wishes to "play in this game." He orders Mandrake to help him fend off the invading army: "In the name of Her Majesty and the Continental Congress, come here and feed me this belt, boy...The Red Coats are coming." On the couch, Mandrake begs off by gasping that he has a "gammy leg" from an old war injury and that he can't get up.

In the echoing chamber of the War Room, the Russian ambassador describes the effects of the lethal, automatic Doomsday Machine or Device (a network of computers) if triggered by a nuclear bomb attack inside Russia. Although both Turgidson and Muffley are in disbelief, the Ambassador confirms that it was constructed and is now activated - and can not be deactivated as a built-in safeguard. Also, it could go off automatically if any attempts are made to disengage it. It would destroy all human and animal life on Earth (within 10 months) and enshroud the planet in a 93-year radioactive cloud:

When it is detonated, it will produce enough lethal radioactive fallout so that within ten months, the surface of the Earth will be as dead as the moon!...When they are exploded, they will produce a Doomsday shroud. A lethal cloud of radioactivity which will encircle the earth for ninety-three years!...It is not anything a sane man would do. The Doomsday Machine is designed to trigger itself automatically...It is designed to explode if any attempt is ever made to untrigger it...

Although Turgidson calls the machine "a load of Commie bull" and "an obvious Commie trick" (He walks backwards toward the Big Board, falls over backwards, somersaults, and lands back on his feet!) and the President labels it "absolute madness," the Ambassador also explains the economic considerations for its construction:

There were those of us who fought against us. But in the end, we could not keep up with the expense involved in the arms race, the space race, and the peace race. And at the same time, our people grumbled for more nylons and washing machines. Our Doomsday scheme cost us just a small fraction of what we'd been spending on defense in a single year. But the deciding factor was when we learned that your country was working along similar lines, and we were afraid of a Doomsday gap...Our source was the New York Times.

Muffley then consults with a wheelchair-bound German nuclear scientist (an ex-Nazi "kraut" who changed his name from Merkwuerdigich-liebe, literally meaning "strange-love" to Strangelove when he became a citizen) and U.S. weapons strategist, Dr. Strangelove (Peter Sellers in his third role). Strangelove whines with a German accent: "A moment please, Mr. President."

[Inspirations and/or resemblances for the doomsday character of Dr. Strangelove were:

  • former Nazi rocket scientist Wernher von Braun, who developed the V1 and V2 rockets, was given amnesty by the US after the war, and aided the U.S. with early space rocket programs
  • evil inventor/scientist Rotwang with a mechanical, black-gloved hand in Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1927)
  • Hungarian physicist and father of the H-bomb at Los Alamos, Edward Teller
  • Henry Kissinger, a former Harvard professor (who wrote about nuclear strategy), who served as Secretary of State for Presidents Nixon and Ford
  • nuclear war theorist Prof. Herman Kahn, author of On Thermonuclear War (1960), an early employee at the Rand Corporation think tank - set up by Gen. "Hap" Arnold to study nuclear war; Kahn recommended the creation of expensive civil defense fall-out shelters
  • and computer pioneer and patriotic jingoist John Von Neumann, a brilliant game theorist, who also developed the explosive lenses (and supporting mathematics) for the first atomic devices; wheelchair-bound Von Neumann frequently visited the Eisenhower White House in the 1950s]

Dark-shaped, he wheels his chair into view. He confirms the validity of the Doomsday Machine and explains a US study that considered the Doomsday Machine for America. Based on findings of a report conducted by the Bland Corporation [a take-off on the RAND Corporation] and commissioned by Strangelove, the US abandoned its own plans for a Doomsday mechanism:

My conclusion was that this idea was not a practical deterrent, for reasons which, at this moment, must be all too obvious.

With thick dark sunglasses, Strangelove, director of weapons research and development, also has a black-gloved mechanical, robotic right hand which shakily holds his cigarette: "The technology required is easily within the means of even the smallest nuclear power. It requires only the will to do so." The essence of the Doomsday Machine is that it is "triggered automatically" and also "impossible to untrigger." With fervent, Nazi-like ardor, he theorizes:

It is not only possible - it is essential. That is the whole idea of this machine, you know. Deterrence is the art of producing in the mind of the enemy the fear to attack. And so, because of the automated and irrevocable decision-making process which rules out human meddling, the Doomsday Machine is terrifying. It's simple to understand. And completely credible and convincing.

Turgidson says dreamily: "Gee, I wish we had one of them Doomsday Machines, Stainsey." According to Strangelove, the Doomsday Machine is automatically triggered by "a specific and clearly defined set of circumstances" programmed into a "deep memory bank" of a "gigantic complex of computers" - it automatically triggers world destruction if an H-bomb falls on Russia. Strangelove demands to know why the Russians kept the machine a secret, because "the whole point of the Doomsday lost...if you keep it a secret. Why didn't you tell the world, eh?" In a dignified voice, the Russian envoy divulges its announcement:

It was to be announced at the Party Congress on Monday. As you know, the Premier loves surprises.

Back at Burpelson Air Force Base, General Ripper is exchanging gunfire with the attacking troops - his office is in shambles with glass flying in all directions. He continues his discussion about his concerns with fluoridation while Mandrake is feeding the machine gun:

Mandrake, do you realize that in addition to fluoridating water, why, there are studies underway to fluoridate salt, flour, fruit juices, soup, sugar, milk, ice cream? Ice cream, Mandrake? Children's ice cream!...You know when fluoridation first began?...1946. 1946, Mandrake. How does that coincide with your post-war Commie conspiracy, huh? It's incredibly obvious, isn't it? A foreign substance is introduced into our precious bodily fluids without the knowledge of the individual. Certainly without any choice. That's the way a hard-core Commie works.

He first developed his theory and became aware of the international Communist plot during a strenuous bout of physical love-making in which he felt sexual anxiety. He blames his male impotency and sexual inadequacy on the Russian conspiracy. From then on, he hoards his bodily fluids (his "life essence") and keeps them for himself [Ripper will not or cannot ejaculate during sex]:

I-I first became aware of it, Mandrake, during the physical act of love...Yes, a profound sense of fatigue, a feeling of emptiness followed. Luckily I-I was able to interpret these feelings correctly. Loss of essence. I can assure you it has not recurred, Mandrake. Women, er, women sense my power, and they seek the life essence. I do not avoid women, Mandrake. But I do deny them my essence.

General Ripper's defending troops surrender Burpelson. Mandrake still thinks there's time to "recall the wing." But Ripper strides through the debris in his office, using his machine gun as a crutch, to a chair where he sits and moans: "Those boys were like my children, Mandrake. Now they let me down." Symbolically, his cigar has gone out, hanging limply in his mouth. Man to man, Mandrake consoles Jack with talk of his own water-drinking habits and resultant virility.

Do I look all rancid and clotted? You look at me, Jack. Eh? Look, eh? And I drink a lot of water, you know. I'm what you might call a water man, Jack - that's what I am. And I can swear to you, my boy, swear to you, that there's nothing wrong with my bodily fluids. Not a thing, Jackie.

General Ripper asks Mandrake about his experience as a POW facing torture. Worried about the passing time, Mandrake quickly recalls his torture by the Japanese [reminiscent of the plot of The Bridge On the River Kwai (1957)]: "They got me on the old Rangoon-Inchinana railway. I was laying train lines for the bloody Japanese puff-puffs, eh...The strange thing is they make such bloody good cameras."

In a confessional scene, Ripper mumbles about his fear that he'll be tortured to divulge the recall code: "You know those clowns outside are gonna give me a pretty good going over in a few minutes - for the code...I don't know how well I could stand up under torture." Mandrake, realizing his opportunity, cajoles and advises that Ripper could confide in him and divulge the code:

Well of course, the answer to that is, boy, no one ever does. And my advice to you, Jack, is to give me the code now. And if those devils come back and try any rough stuff, we'll fight 'em together, boy, like we did just now, on the floor, eh? You with the old gun, and me with the belt and the ammo, feeding you Jack! Feed me, you said, and I was feeding you, Jack.

Ready to commit suicide, the despondent General expounds his belief in the afterlife: "I happen to believe in a life after this one. I know I'll have to answer for what I've done." As Mandrake follows him to the washroom, playing a guessing game of "guess what the code is...," Ripper calmly blows his brains out inside the bathroom with his loaded pistol and falls against the closed door. Mandrake is unable to push open the door from the outside.

On board the airborne B-52 bomber, Lieut. H. R. Dietrich, D.S.O. (Frank Berry) reports to Captain Kong about an "unidentified radar blip" - a Soviet anti-aircraft missile at MACH 3 speed is tracking them, first at a distance of sixty miles. [The information provided to the Russians by the President has evidently been utilized.] The D.S.O recommends commencing evasive action to the right as the missile's range approaches closer and closer, tracked in a realistic sequence on a radar screen. Major Kong initiates evasive actions, but the missile continues to close in "true and steady." The missile detonates at a range of one mile from the plane, sending a shockwave through it and nearly knocking the plane out of the sky. Smoke from fires and debris from the explosion fills the plane, but it is only damaged - fires are extinguished and the aircraft is quickly brought under control to continue on course.

In Ripper's office at Burpelson Air Force Base, Mandrake studies doodles on a notepad left on Ripper's desk - the jumble of words that filled Ripper's mind in his last few hours make the code's discovery difficult - P e a c e O n E a r t h and P u r i t y O f E s s e n c e form interlocking, crossword-like patterns. Arbitrarily, Mandrake whispers the letters: "O P E." They are twisted permutations of the recall code.

Shots destroy the lock on the office door. Colonel "Bat" Guano (Keenan Wynn), the gun-happy leader of the attack forces, enters brandishing an M-1 rifle. Guano orders Mandrake to put his hands over his head and then inspects his uniform that he doesn't recognize: "What kind of suit you call that, fella?" Offended by the insult, Mandrake indignantly replies: "This happens to be an RAF uniform, sir. And I am Group Captain Lionel Mandrake. I am General Ripper's Executive Officer."

Although Guano wants to question him about Ripper, arrest him and take him prisoner, Mandrake is anxious to call SAC and urgently pleads with him to phone the President and try a recall code based on the POE patterns in Ripper's doodles:

I've got a very good idea what the recall code is and I have to get in touch with SAC headquarters immediately...May I tell you that I have a very, very good idea, I think, I hope, I pray, what the recall code is. It's some sort of recurrent theme he kept repeating. It's a variation on Peace on Earth or Purity of Essence. EOP. OPE. It's one of those...Don't you know that General Ripper went as mad as a bloody March Hare and sent the whole Wing to attack the Soviets? Don't you know that?

Both of Ripper's phones are inoperable (one was blasted away during the fighting, the other lacks a phone cord).

Back in the B-52 as the plane settles back on course, Goldberg reports on missile damage to the CRM-114 mechanism, demolished by its own self-destruct system: "All the radio gear is out, including the CRM-114. I think the auto-destruct mechanism got hit and blew itself up." The communications system aboard the plane is also inoperable. The navigator reports their fuel loss: "I've worked out our rate of fuel loss at approximately one six two per minute. This gives us a radius of action sufficient to take out primary and secondary targets. But we will not, repeat, not be able to make it back to any base or neutral country." Satisfied for having outfoxed the missile, Kong reassures his crew with his twangy Texan accent - that they will continue flying at a low level under the radar:

Now, boys, we got three engines out; we got more holes in us than a horse trader's mule; the radio's gone and we're leakin' fuel, and if we's flying any lower, why, we'd need sleigh bells on this thing. But we got one little budge on them Rooskies, at this height, why, they might harpoon us but they dang sure ain't gonna spot us on no radar screen.

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