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)

Mandrake is marched out of Ripper's office at gunpoint by the gung-ho Guano to the main gate. Sexually-anxious like Ripper was, Guano assesses the situation and blames not the Commies - but "preverts" [his assessment is absolutely correct - Ripper was a prevert!]. He suspects that Mandrake is one of them:

I think there's some kind of deviated prevert. And I think General Ripper found out about your preversion and that you were organizing some kind of mutiny of preverts. Now move!...All I was told to do was get General Ripper on the phone with the President of the United States.

As next in command after Ripper, Mandrake insists on talking to the President by phone in a nearby phone booth. He threatens Guano:

And I can assure you, if you don't put that gun away and stop this stupid nonsense, the court of Enquiry on this'll give you such a pranging, you'll be lucky if you end up wearing the uniform of a bloody toilet attendant.

Guano is persuaded to let Mandrake enter a pay phone booth, but warns, with an oft-repeated comedy line: "If you try any preversions in there, I'll blow your head off." In a scene filled with irony, Mandrake reaches for his change, places coins in the slot, and dials the operator for the President, requesting first a person-to-person call and then a collect call. The collect call is refused, and Mandrake doesn't have the necessary change to pay for the call - he's just 20 cents short. He asks Colonel Guano to shoot the lock off a nearby Coca-Cola machine to obtain change: "Shoot if off. Shoot with a gun. That's what the bullets are for." Guano shows extraordinary reverence for corporate property - the Coca-Cola Company's machine:

That's private property...OK, I'm gonna get your money for you. But if you don't get the President of the United States on that phone, you know what's gonna happen to you?...You're gonna have to answer to the Coca-Cola Company.

The Colonel fires into the machine, causing coins to spill out from the coin return slot. As he bends down to scoop them up, he is showered in the face with a jet stream of Coke from the rebellious machine.

In the War Room, a voice on the PA announces that the recall code, OPE, has been successfully transmitted and acknowledged by the 843 bomber wing (except for four planes that were reported destroyed by enemy action). Jubilant cheers signal rejoicing over the announcement - the bomber paths blink out on the Big Board. In a moment of false religiosity, Turgidson hushes the room, climbs onto a chair, and offers a military-style prayer to God, as the camera focuses on Dr. Strangelove in the dark shadows:

I think we ought to all just bow our heads and give a short prayer of thanks for our deliverance. LORD, we have heard the wings of the Angel of Death fluttering over our heads from the Valley of Fear. You have seen fit to deliver us from the forces of evil...

The prayer is interrupted by a hotline phone call from Premier Kissof who is "hopping mad." Dmitri reports to the President that "one of the planes hasn't turned's headed for the missile complex at Laputa." [Laputa was a country of single-minded scientist researchers, caricatured in Jonathan Swift's 1726 Gulliver's Travels. Also, translated from Spanish and Italian, it means "whore" - adding more meaning to the film's sexual symbolism.] The Russian air defense staff claims only three aircraft have been destroyed and the fourth plane, Kong's damaged plane flying at a low altitude, is still on its way to its target. "The fourth may only be damaged" - because it fails to respond to the recall code.

Turgidson is immediately suspicious: "I'm beginning to smell a big fat Commie rat. I mean, supposin' Kissof is lyin' about that fourth plane, just lookin' for an excuse to clobber us. I mean, if the spaghetti hits the fan, now we're really in trouble." President Muffley returns to the phone, encouraging the Soviet premier to put all their air power into the two target sectors of the B-52 to defend Laputa, the plane's primary target in the Soviet Union:

Dmitri, look, if this report is true and the plane manages to bomb the target, is this going this going to set off the Doomsday Machine? Are you sure? Well, I...I guess you're just gonna have to get that plane, Dmitri. Dmitri, I'm sorry they're jamming your radar and flying so low, but they're trained to do it. You know, it's, it's initiative! Look, Dmitri, you know exactly where they're going and I'm sure your entire air defense can stop a single plane. Listen, I mean, it's not gonna help either one of us if a, if the, if the Doomsday Machine goes off, now is it? Dmi...Dmitri, there's no point in you getting hysterical at a moment like this! Dmitri! Keep your feet on the ground when you're talking, Dmitri...Can I give you just one word of advice, Dmitri? Listen, Dmitri, put everything you've got into those two sectors and you can't miss.

But they will be doomed to miss - the navigator on the B-52 re-evaluates the situation and reports greater fuel loss than anticipated, advising that the aircraft cannot reach either its primary or secondary targets. Kong is exasperated and asks the crew to find another target that they can reach [the phallic-shaped B-52 is racing toward completion of the sex act]: "Well, shoot. We ain't come this far just to dump this thing in the drink. What's the nearest target opportunity?" The navigator and bombadier select a new course and target - the ICBM complex at Kodlosk.

Muffley finishes his conversation with Dmitri and then asks Turgidson about the B-52 plane's ability to carry out its mission. Turgidson can barely contain his excitement that the plane might succeed:

President: Is there really a chance for that plane to get through?
Turgidson: Mr. President, if I may speak freely, the Russkie talks big, but frankly, we think he's short of know-how. I mean, you just can't expect a bunch of ignorant peons to understand a machine like some of our boys. And that's not meant as an insult, Mr. Ambassador, I mean, you, you take your average Russkie, we all know how much guts he's got. Hell, look, look at all them them Nazis killed off and they still wouldn't quit...if the pilot's good, see, I mean, if he's, he can barrel that baby in so low (he spreads his arms like wings and laughs), you oughtta see it sometime, it's a sight. A big plane like a '52. VRROOM! There's jet exhaust, fryin' chickens in the barnyard.
President: Yeah, but has he got a chance?
Turgidson: Has he got a chance? Hell, (He covers his mouth dumbstruck, suddenly and solemnly grasping the implications of his words.)

The film is near its conclusion with the unforgettable scene of the "Leper Colony" bomber plane approaching closer and closer to its target. As the airship approaches its new objective with the bombing plane's theme song: When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again playing on the soundtrack, Major Kong and bombardier Lieut. Lothar Zogg (James Earl Jones) make final bomb run technical checks: bomb fusing circuits, the bomb arming test lights, the primary trigger switch override, the track indicators for maximum deflection, the detonator set at zero altitude, and safety releases. Then Kong finds that one of the bomb bay doors won't open - "the teleflex drive cable must be sheared away." He leaves his cockpit seat to fix to faulty bomb-release mechanism manually, telling his co-pilot Capt. G. A. "Ace" Owens (Shane Rimmer): "Stay on the bomb run, Ace. I'm goin' down below and see what I can do." He proceeds through the hatch to the bomb bay, telling the D.S.O. and crew:

Stay on the bomb run, boys. I'm gonna get them doors open if it hare lips everybody on Bear Creek.

There are two huge nuclear warhead bombs in the foreground, each labeled with sexual salutations: "Hi There!" (a homosexual advance), the other labeled "Dear John!" (the typical opening of a letter that ends a relationship). Kong sees a sparking tangle of wires, and climbs astride the "Hi There!" bomb like a bucking bronco, fanning the flaring sparks with his cowboy's Stetson hat. Sweating profusely, he busily works to fuse two wires together to rewire the door circuitry. Ace asks anxiously: "Roger, 3 miles. Target in sight! Where in hell is Major Kong?" as Kong attaches an alligator clip to a patch panel above his head, causing the bomb doors to open wide.

The film has given us a memorable cultural image. When the bomb doors open, he first grabs onto his Stetson to avoid losing it in the sudden draft of air. The Hi There! bomb is dislodged, with Kong riding on it - the huge bomb [a potent swollen phallic symbol] between his legs. The bombardier asks: "Hey, what about Major Kong?" Kong is flailing the bomb with his hat like a rodeo cowboy atop a bucking bronco, howling wildly toward oblivion: "YAHOO!! YAHOO!!" as it malevolently descends toward its target and detonates in a white, climactic flash on the ground. The Doomsday Machine is triggered and as a result, the world is on a path to destruction.

In the War Room in the final scene, the prophet of doom with a frozen smile - the villainous Dr. Strangelove, makes an abrupt turn - signalling the major turn of events for the world. He swings around in his wheelchair from the Big Board, explaining that all is not lost. After making calculations with a circular slide rule, he proposes an idea for a one hundred year plan for survival - life can continue underground until radioactivity diminishes. But he cannot control a slip-of-the-tongue when he addresses the President as "Mein Fuehrer" while dreaming of an underground bunker world populated by 200,000 elites - "top government and military men" after the impending apocalypse:

Strangelove: I would not rule out the chance to preserve a nucleus of human specimens. It would be quite easy...heh, heh...(He rolls his wheelchair forward into the light) at the bottom of ah...some of our deeper mineshafts. Radioactivity would never penetrate a mine some thousands of feet deep, and in a matter of weeks, sufficient improvements in drilling space could easily be provided.
President: How long would you have to stay down there?
Strangelove: ...I would think that uh, possibly hundred years...It would not be difficult Mein Fuehrer! Nuclear reactors could, heh...I'm sorry, Mr. President. Nuclear reactors could provide power almost indefinitely. Greenhouses could maintain plant life. Animals could be bred and slaughtered. A quick survey would have to be made of all the available mine sites in the country, but I would guess that dwelling space for several hundred thousands of our people could easily be provided.
President: Well, I, I would hate to have to decide...who stays up and...who goes down.
Strangelove: Well, that would not be necessary, Mr. President. It could easily be accomplished with a computer. And a computer could be set and programmed to accept factors from youth, health, sexual fertility, intelligence, and a cross-section of necessary skills. Of course, it would be absolutely vital that our top government and military men be included to foster and impart the required principles of leadership and tradition.

His thoughts of personal survival underground after the end of the world energize Dr. Strangelove - his left fist slams down and his black-gloved mechanical right arm reflexes into an unintentional Nazi salute ('Sieg Heil'). He pulls his right arm back into his lap, fighting off his own, spring-loaded gloved hand with his good arm. [His affliction, known as 'alien hand syndrome,' is an actual but rare physical affliction due to stroke, brain surgery, infection, or other kinds of brain injury.] With an absurd grin on his face, his own sexual pleasure is kindled as he excitedly talks about selective sexual breeding at a ratio of 10 females to one male. Society's male elite would be surrounded by a contingent of beautiful women in underground hideouts - their couplings would eventually repopulate the planet:

Naturally, they would breed prodigiously, eh? There would be much time, and little to do. Ha, ha. But ah, with the proper breeding techniques and a ratio of say, ten females to each male, I would guess that they could then work their way back to the present Gross National Product within say, twenty years.

The President is concerned about the depression of the grief-stricken survivors: "Wouldn't this nucleus of survivors be so grief-stricken and anguished that they'd, well, envy the dead and not want to go on living?" Strangelove isn't worried, but must first beat his wayward, lethally-impulsive right arm with his left before answering: "When they go down into the mine, everyone would still be alive. There would be no shocking memories, and the prevailing emotion will be one of nostalgia for those left behind, combined with a spirit of bold curiosity for the adventure ahead! Ahhh!"

With his recurring muscular tic, Dr. Strangelove's right arm again reflexes into a Nazi salute. He pulls it back into his lap and beats at it. His gloved hand attempts self-strangulation. Of course, Turgidson is intrigued by the sexual implications of Strangelove's hundred year plan:

Turgidson: Doctor, you mentioned the ratio of ten women to each man. Now, wouldn't that necessitate the abandonment of the so-called monogamous sexual relationship, I mean, as far as men were concerned?
Strangelove: Regrettably, yes. But it is, you know, a sacrifice required for the future of the human race. I hasten to add that since each man will be required to do prodigious...service along these lines, the women will have to be selected for their sexual characteristics which will have to be of a highly stimulating nature.
Russian Ambassador: I must confess, you have an astonishingly good idea there, Doctor.

Strangelove's future vision of "strange love" imagines love-less, assembly-line, mechanical sex, in a world in which everyone can "Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb."

As they discuss hypothetical possibilities while time ticks away, the world is on a course toward Doomsday, as viewed in the first scene of the film. Turgidson rants about his paranoia of Russian military supremacy in a hundred years when they would emerge from the deep mine shafts. He predicts that the Russians might built stronger bunkers in their mine shafts than the US, and stresses that America "must not allow a mine shaft gap." He suggests stockpiling nuclear weapons and fighting for more potency to support "mineshaft space" [sexual breeding space]:

Supposing the Russkies stashed away some big bombs, see, and we didn't. When they come out in a hundred years they could take over!

A General agrees with Turgidson: "...In fact, they might even try an immediate sneak attack so they could take over our mineshaft space."

The Russian Ambassador has, meanwhile, quietly drifted away from the crowd around Strangelove over to the banquet table, where he surreptitiously takes photographs of the Big Board with a secret camera concealed in his pocket watch. Turgidson suggests increasing alertness against Soviet conspiracy:

We must be...increasingly on the alert to prevent them from taking over other mineshaft space, in order to breed more prodigiously than we do, thus, knocking us out in superior numbers when we emerge! Mr. President, we must not allow...a mine shaft gap!

Ecstatic over the total annihilation of the Earth, Dr. Strangelove "resurrects" himself, miraculously regaining his ability to walk. His mechanical, robot-like body rises out of his wheelchair, crying exultantly:

Sir! I have a plan. Heh. (He realizes he is standing up.) Mein Fuehrer, I can walk!

A chorus of H-bomb mushroom clouds [unclassified stock newsreel footage from 1963 including the original Trinity test in 1945, other atmospheric explosions, and the Bikini Island blast] spread as multiple explosions detonate around the world [endless orgasms?], annihilating and causing oblivion by radioactive fallout to millions of people. The popular, comforting WW II tune We'll Meet Again Some Sunny Day [originally recorded by singer Vera Lynn] plays in incongruous juxtaposition:

We'll meet again, don't know where, don't know when
But I know we'll meet again, some sunny day
Keep smiling through, just like you always do
Till the blue skies drive the dark clouds far away
So will you please say hello to the folks that I know
Tell them I won't be long
They'll be happy to know, that as you saw me go
I was singing this song..

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