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"Gentlemen, you can't fight in here! This is the War Room!"
President Merkin Muffley

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb is a 1964 Black Comedy film by Stanley Kubrick. The plot is largely lifted from the 1958 novel Red Alert by Peter George.

One day, General Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden) goes mental. He orders the nuclear bombers under his command to carry out a surprise attack on the Soviet Union. He puts his entire military base in lockdown with all communications cut, ordering all radios confiscated (so that Communist infiltrators can't receive outside commands) and all troops to fire on anyone who tries to enter the base, even if they appear to be fellow Americans (because they will surely be Communists in disguise). Ripper's aide, British Group Captain Lionel Mandrake (Peter Sellers), discovers one last unconfiscated radio - playing dance music. Realizing that civilian stations wouldn't be playing dance music while the country was under attack, Mandrake confronts General Ripper. Ripper explains that after he felt "a profound feeling of emptiness" following "the physical act of love" one night, he realized that the Communists were trying to contaminate America's "precious bodily fluids" by means of fluoridation and that a preemptive strike on the Soviet Union was necessary to force America to end the Communist threat once and for all.

In Washington, U.S. President Merkin Muffley (Peter Sellers again) holds a meeting in the War Room. The President's wheelchair-bound, ex-Nazi science adviser, Dr. Strangelove (also Peter Sellers), and the Soviet ambassador both confirm that an attack on the USSR will trigger The Doomsday Machine: a computer programmed to detonate a cobalt bomb that will kill nearly all life on Earth's surface with its radiation over the course of months, if the Soviet Union is attacked or if any attempt is made to disable the Doomsday Machine). The president gets on the hotline and desperately attempts to convince the drunken Soviet premier that the American attack is just a silly mistake as they attempt to call off the attack.

The film was supposed to be released in November of 1963 (see Too Soon below), but was eventually released in January of 1964.

This film includes examples of:


 Gen. Turgidson: "Gee, I wish we had one of them doomsday machines!"

Strangelove: "We briefly investigated making a similar machine ourselves. Based on the findings of the report, my conclusion was that this idea was not a practical deterrent ... for reasons which at this moment must be all too obvious."

  • Double Vision
  • Downer Ending: Probably one of the funniest.
  • Dressing as the Enemy. Ripper informs the personnel of the Air Force Base that "commie enemies" may pull this, and the defenders discuss it later when the forces sent by the US President are attacking them.
  • Dueling Movies: Fail Safe, a dead serious take on this Failsafe Failure premise, was also released in 1964. The straight film is good (though it performed poorly at the box-office), but Kubrick's film has become iconic.
  • Dying Moment of Awesome: Riding a nuke all the way to the target, whooping and hollaring like a cowboy all the way down is about as awesome as a death gets! It's one of the most memorable (and parodied) scenes in the film.
  • Either or Title
  • The End of the World as We Know It
  • Enforced Method Acting:
    • Slim Pickens was unaware that the film was a comedy. This is possibly because previous actors, including John Wayne, had turned the part down because they saw the film as "pinko." That said, Pickens didn't have any problem with the film, especially since he became so famous for it.
    • Also, George C. Scott was unwilling to go over the top in his portrayal of General Turgidson, so Kubrick tricked him by telling him to do a few over the top takes as "practice" and that they would never be put into the real movie. Kubrick lied, creating one of the best Large Hams ever but also causing Scott to swear he'd never work with Kubrick again.
      • But even so, Scott did end up admiring Kubrick's genius behind all that deception.
  • Evil Hand: Dr. Strangelove has one, which seems to act on Strangelove's violent and Nazi subconscious. The portrayal was so influential that the real life condition "alien hand syndrome" is also known as "Dr. Strangelove Syndrome".
  • Exact Time to Failure: Averted in a daring bit of Shown Their Work.
  • Executive Meddling: The geniuses at Columbia Pictures were for some reason under the impression that the only reason Lolita was a success was the gimmick of Peter Sellers playing multiple roles. They would only greenlight Dr. Strangelove on the condition that Kubrick agree to cast Sellers in at least four roles.
  • Failsafe Failure: The Doomsday Machine is deliberately Fail Deadly. Otherwise it wouldn't be much of a Doomsday Machine, as Strangelove points out. Unfortunately it didn't occur to the Soviets to tell anyone about the device well after it became operational, rendering it a complete liability as Strangelove once again points out.
  • Fan Service: Precisely one female character appears in this movie. She is a secretary, heard in one scene and seen in a bikini in another. She is also a Playboy centrefold.
    • Specifically, the actress (and character?) who appears as General Turgidson's mistress also posed for the centerfold seen on board the B-52.
  • The Fantastic Trope of Wonderous Titles
  • A Father to His Men: When the base falls Ripper feels let down and remarks that the soldiers were like his children. It rings as true as anything else he says.
  • The Film of the Book: This was based on a novel by Peter George called Red Alert and was originally conceived as a straightforward drama. During the development of the script, Kubrick and company realized the potential for satire in the story and completely overhauled it. George subsequently wrote a Novelization of the finished film.
  • Fog of War: The Soviets are unable to detect the last B-52, The Leper Colony. The Americans urge them to concentrate the search around the assigned targets but the crew switches them for targets of opportunity and fly at low altitude to escape detection.
  • Forever War: Implied; the jingoist generals and advisors are planning After the End schemes to maintain the status-quo of the Cold War, prevent Soviet expansionism and a "mine-shaft gap". Reinforced by the We Will Meet Again final Apocalyptic Montage.
  • Freud Was Right: Invoked by the film itself. A central theme of the movie is the portrayal of sexual symbolism as more than symbolism; Kubrick paraphrases Clausewitz "war is the continuation of sex by other means" without much room for interpretation. The opening refueling scene of two bombers "coupling", Mandrake attempting "preversion" with a vending machine coin return slot, the not-even-veiled sexual references that drive the madness of General Ripper and the very meaningful names of the two warmongerings (him and Turgidson) who push against the peaceful one (Merkin Muffley). Near the end there is yet another Mood Dissonance when the characters are happily planning a postnuclear scenario where the male to female ratio would land them with their own harems to repopulate the world.
  • Gallows Humor: Given that it was made against the real-life backdrop of the Cuban Missile Crisis, in which nuclear war was a genuine possibility, much of the film's humor would have qualified at the time.
  • General Ripper: Trope Namer, obviously.
    • General Turgidson has some elements too, since they are both based on the hardliner General Curtis Lemay. Turgidson is loyal but trigger-happy and contemptuos and loathes Muffley's mild approach. Ripper is calmly collected and Turgidson is over-the-top. Out of context and without some dialogue, Ripper would seem the sane one. Overall, Ripper's an insane conspiracy theorist bent on World War III, and Turgidson's letting his inner five-year old playing with army men out.
  • Genius Cripple: Doctor Strangelove.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: Honed to an art form. Almost everything is a sexual reference of some kind if you look hard enough-- Kong's target (Laputa), Buck Turgidson's name, Jack D. Ripper (the murderer Jack the Ripper mutilated women's sexual organs), Merkin Muffley (speaking of "country" matters), etc. etc. See Visual Innuendo below, also.
  • Good People Have Good Sex: A semi-straight example- General Ripper won't allow himself to ejaculate during sex (the fear of losing his 'essence' is the motivating factor for his insane behavior); on the other hand, General Turgidson has a normal relationship with his Sexy Secretary and is not much better.
  • Government Drug Enforcement: What General Ripper fears fluoridation has become.
  • Herr Doctor: Strangelove, of course. With elements of Morally-Ambiguous Doctorate.
  • Hiroshima as a Unit of Measure: "Each B-52 can deliver a nuclear bomb load of 50 megatons, equal to 16 times the total explosive force of all the bombs and shells used by all the armies in World War II"
  • Hitler Cam: Gen. Ripper.
  • Hypocritical Humor:
    • No fighting allowed in the War Room.
    • Also how General Turgidson deeply respects his lover as a person and wants to make her "Mrs. Buck Turgidson." before he reminds her to say her prayers.
    • SAC's motto "Peace Is Our Profession" is offhandedly highlighted by the camera angle several times; when Ripper explains how he's "preventing" World War III with his first-strike and later when the soldiers are fighting for the base
  • Insane Troll Logic: What led Ripper to first suspect the Communists of trying to "sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids" through fluoridation. "A profound sense of fatigue, a feeling of emptiness followed" sex = loss of 'essence'! Fluoridation starts in 1946 = part of postwar commie conspiracy! It all makes sense!
  • Irrevocable Order: The entire plot, as the general puts the base on lockdown.
  • It Got Worse: Anything that could go wrong in the prevention of the end of the world, does.
  • Kubrick Stare: General Ripper.
  • Lampshaded Double Entendre: "Premier Kissov is a man of the people but he is also a man, if you know what I mean."
  • Lampshade Hanging: Subverted: It was impossible to launch a wing of B-52s on an irrevocable mission, and the movie acknowledges this, not to show their work but to calm potential hysterical moviegoers down.
  • Large Ham: George C. Scott originally gave a subtle portrayal of Colonel Turgidson. At the end of each scene Kubrick would tell him to do one take over the top to help entertain the crew. Almost the entire performance that made it into the film was made of these takes. It works. It works so hard. Notably, Scott was very upset at which takes were used, as he had been assured that his 'serious' takes would be ones used.
  • Lawful Stupid: "You're gonna have to answer to the Coca-Cola Company."
  • Leitmotif: 'When Johnny Comes Marching Home' plays whenever Major Kong's B-52 appears. It could, knowing Kubrick, also be a musical Double Entendre on the much, much darker 'Johnny I hardly knew ya'
    • Note that it's the same tune for "The Ants Go Marching One By One". For whatever you'll make of that.
  • Loads and Loads of Roles: Peter Sellers plays three roles. He was originally slated to play Major Kong, but broke his ankle during filming and the part was recast. Sellers also had trouble with the accent.
  • Long Title
  • Madness Mantra: "Purity Of Essence", for General Ripper.
  • Mad Scientist: The titular doctor is a Shout-Out to Rotwang from Metropolis and classical StockCharacters
  • Malaproper : Bat Guano keeps on saying "preversion"
  • Meaningful Name: Just about every name in the film has some sort of suggestive connotation regarding sexuality, playing on the film's theme that war is fueled by masculine sexual urges.
    • General Turgidson is a horn-dog whose name refers to a "turgid" erection.
    • Group Captain Mandrake is a voice of reason, and his name refers to a fertility herb.
    • General Ripper is motivated by sexual frustration (he's afraid of losing his "essence" through ejaculation) to spread destruction and is named for the misogynistic killer.
    • And President Merkin Muffley is a pussy.
    • Colonel "Bat" Guano is "batshit" insane. His Meaningful Name is lampshaded by Mandrake, who asks him if his name is real.
    • The target for the bomber is Laputa. La puta is Spanish for "the whore". Doubles as a Shout-Out to Gulliver's Travels
    • The Russian ambassador's name DeSadesky refers to the outrageous Marquis de Sade, trope namer of the sexual tendency.
    • Premier Kissov, piss off.
  • Military Alphabet: Most famously "Wing Attack Plan R for Romeo." Also used by the bomber crew. Major Kong's accent could be a shining example of why a phonetic alphabet is useful.
    • General Ripper uses "R for Robert" when speaking to Mandrake on the phone. The Royal Air Force commonly used a different phonetic alphabet (including R for Robert) until adopting the NATO standard in the late 1950s — shortly before the events of the film. Since Grp Cpt Mandrake is a former RAF fighter pilot, Ripper may use it for Mandrake's convenience. Or maybe it's only an oversight filmed before someone could Do The Research.
  • A Million Is a Statistic: General Turdgidson enthusiastically reports an unofficial analysis for the contigency summarizing that the United States would suffer reduced megadeaths (20M vs 150M) if they capitalize on the situation and commit to a full attack.
  • Mood Dissonance: It's hard not to root for the crew of The Leper Colony, even with the knowledge that when they succeed, they've doomed the world.
  • Mr. Exposition: General Turgidson and Doctor Strangelove are advisors and explain most of the strategical and technical details to the President, and to the audience by extension.
  • Mutually Assured Destruction: Turgidson thinks it can be averted with a pre-emptive strike since the United States has a five-to-one missile superiority. Enforced once the Doomsday Machine comes into play as an involuntary Suicidal Cosmic Temper Tantrum.
  • A Nazi by Any Other Name: Non fantasy example, when Turgidson learns Strangelove changed his name (Merkwurdichliebe) he comments "a Kraut by any other name"
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed:
    • President Muffley has some similarities to Adlai Stevenson. Gens. Ripper and Turgidson could both be seen as caricaturing different aspects of real-life USAF General Curtis LeMay. And Strangelove himself has aspects of several real-life nuclear scientists, but his Nazi past specifically evokes Werner von Braun.
    • Other scientists upon whom the Strangelove character was based were Herman Kahn, Edward Teller and John von Neumann. Contrary to popular belief, Strangelove was not based on Henry Kissinger, who at the time was not well known outside of academic circles.
    • Arthur C. Clarke, who knew both Stanley Kubrick and Werner von Braun, reported that Kubrick once asked him to "tell Werner I wasn't getting at him". Clarke adds, "I never did because, firstly, I didn't believe him, and secondly, even if Stanley wasn't, Peter Sellers certainly was."
  • Noodle Implements: The survival kit - which was based entirely on real survival kits of the second world war.
  • Not So Different: The Americans and Soviets: it's not at all clear which side is meant to be the good guys, they both indulge in highly morally questionable behaviour (The Soviets build a Doomsday Device which is bad enough, only to compound things by not telling the Americans about it, while the American Plan R is simply a manual Doomsday Device that's also designed to fail deadly, and they're using an obvious Nazi as a science advisor). Each side is just as scheming or conniving or manipulative as the other, constantly harping on about various "gaps" (missile, doomsday, mineshaft, etc), and even after causing The End of the World as We Know It they just can't take a step back, look at themselves and wonder how much of this is their own fault.
  • No, You Hang Up First: The first conversation between the American and Russian presidents is modeled this way. It overlaps with Casual Danger Dialogue and projects a ridicule image of Muffley.
  • A Nuclear Error
  • Oh Crap:
    • Explain, Explain, Oh Crap : Under normal circustances, a commander would be proud of his own units getting to its target against all odds. However a succesful bomb by the unrecalled lone plane would trigger the Doomsday Device, dooming planet Earth. Gen. Turgidson misses this point for a while, gushing on about the toughness and skill of the surviving B-52 bomber and its crew. Finally, Pres. Muffley cuts in and asks directly: (on reaching the target and dropping a bomb, even through the entire Soviet air defense grid) "Has he got a chance?" Turgidson: "Has he got a chance? HELL YE...ohhh..." Turgidson's realization face is priceless.
    • Also when Mandrake realizes what's happened.

 Mandrake: "Well, I'm afraid I'm still not with you, sir, because, I mean, if a Russian attack was not in progress, then your use of Plan R - in fact, your order to the entire wing... [[[Beat]]] Oh. I would say, sir, that there were something dreadfully wrong somewhere."

  • The One Thing I Don't Hate About You:
    • Mandrake laments his treatment in a Japanese POW camp, but admits that the Japanese do make bloody good cameras.
    • Downplayed by Turgidson, he despises the Russians but tries to balance the scolding with a fair compliment.

 Turgidson: The Russki talks big, but frankly, we think he's short of know-how. You can't expect ignorant peons to understand a machine like our boys. And that's not meant as an insult. We all know how much guts the average Russki's got. Look at all of them the Nazis killed off, they still wouldn't quit!

  • Only Sane Man: Mandrake, at the base; Muffley, in the War Room; and most ironically the bomber crew (save, perhaps, for Kong).
    • Arguably Strangelove himself. Despite the Dead Hand Syndrome, there's a brief scene with the president demanding to know who would create a doomsday device; the camera lingers on Strangelove, calmly smoking in the shadow, the president off-screen. A few minutes from later, Strangelove casually suggests the mine shaft survival plan, a new system of government, including who lives and who dies. For all intents and purposes, he takes over the US government right then and there, in front of its actual leaders, who are oblivious. Nobody said the Only Sane Man has to be a good person.
    • Actually, while he looks and speaks like a Looney Tunes character, everything he says is coldly rational. See his Doomsday Device analysis quoted above.
  • Operation Blank: Turgidson tells the President that the bombers in Ripper's wing were airborne "as part of a special exercise we were holding called Operation Drop-Kick".
  • Orchestral Bombing: And what a bombing.
  • Parody Names: The BLAND Corporation. A parody of the Real Life RAND Corporation.
  • The Password Is Always Swordfish: Mandrake is able to guess the Override Command because Ripper's madness had it spelled all over the place.
  • Peter Sellers: In three roles. He was originally going to play Major "King" Kong as well, however a broken leg prevented him from getting into and out of the B-52 set, so Slim Pickens was added to the cast.
  • Pointless Doomsday Device: The Soviets activated the Doomsday Machine before they told anyone about it, eliminating the whole point of its role as a deterrent from nuclear war. Dr. Strangelove points this out, and the Soviet ambassador counters that they were saving its announcement for a special occasion (See As You Know above).
  • Poor Communication Kills: Mandrake has problems reaching the president to recall the bombers, he finds a Pay Phone but has not enough pocket change and a brief issue with british vs american terms. Finally one of the bombers cannot be recalled via the Override Command because its communication system has been destroyed. Armaggedon ensues. And of course the Soviets didn't tell the world about their Doomsday Device because their premier "loves surprises".
  • Punny Name
  • Realistic Diction Is Unrealistic: Averted with a vengeance. It's especially noticeable in President Merkin's phone call to the Soviet premier.
  • Red Right Hand
  • Refuge in Audacity: Remember, this movie was made at the near-height of the Cold War, when the fear of nuclear apocalypse was cruelly plausible — and it's Played for Laughs.
  • Riding the Bomb: The Ur Example of this.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have a Nuke: The point of the Doomsday Machine. Not that it does the Soviets any good in the long run.
  • Secondary Character Title: The good doctor is a memorable character, to be sure, but, definitely not the main one.
  • Sensor Suspense: When the missiles are approaching the nuclear bomber.
  • Sexy Secretary: Turgidson's bikini-clad playmate, Miss Scott.
  • Short Title Long Elaborate Subtitle
  • Shown Their Work: The movie is filled with references to military life and then quite obscure research. Also subverted, what the cockpit of a B-52 looked like was classified so Kubrick and crew just made what a B-29 would look if the plane was shaped like a B-52. They were so close to correct that they were briefly investigated to make sure there was no spying going on! Also all the procedures inside the aircraft (e.g. going through the checklists) are absolutely believable.
  • Slave to PR: Turgidson suggests to capitalize on the mistake and do a full scale attack. Muffley shuts his down with an aversion of Would Be Rude to Say Genocide, Turgidson slaps back.

 Muffley : You are talking about mass murder not war [...] I'm not going down in history as the greatest mass murderer since Adolf Hitler.

Turgidson : Perhaps it might be better, Mr. President, if you were more concerned with the American People than with your image in the history books.

Muffley : General Turgidson, I've heard quite sufficient from you. Thank you very much

  • Soundtrack Dissonance: The ending montage, of course. In-universe, the playing of pleasant civilian music over the radio during a supposed nuclear attack is what clues Mandrake into Ripper's lie.
  • Soviet Superscience: Subverted, Stangelove points out the Doomsday Machine is within the means of even the smallest nuclear power.
  • Stealth Pun: Dr. Strangelove is strangled by his glove.
  • Stiff Upper Lip: Mandrake for a while, until Bat Guano's obstructionism makes him lose it.
  • Straight Man: Peter Sellers plays two of these, oddly enough. His third role more than makes up for it.
  • Strawman Political: President Muffley is a well-meaning but ineffectual liberal (look-up the meaning of merkin, or, for that matter, muff) and General Ripper is an insane "John Bircher" conservative.
  • Superweapon Surprise: The Doomsday Machine, "as you know the Premier loves surprises" . It was meant to be announced on Monday
  • Stupidest Thing I've Ever Heard: Pronounced by Major Kong during his initial incredulous reaction when the crew recieves the go ahead codes for "Plan R"
  • This Is a Work of Fiction: The US version has this kind of disclaimer [1]. Actually a subversion or a false reassurance since it conveys the stated position of the Air Force about the subject but not the acknowledgement of the film makers.
  • This Is Not a Drill: Uttered by Ripper (exercise). Mandrake and the crew of the B-52 -except Kong- initially assume that "Plan-R" is a drill or a loyalty test.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: Dr. Strangelove is portrayed as a comically bizarre weirdo who is revealed to be completely insane at the very end of the film.
  • Throwing Off the Disability: "Meihn Führer, I Can Walk!"
  • Throw It In: Much of Peter Sellers' dialogue was improvised (Kubrick had three cameras on Sellers at all times to take full advantage of this), including the hotline telephone conversation; similarly, Strangelove's Evil Hand's rampage at the end was largely improvisation (it was also Sellers' idea that it should be gloved). Plus, Buck tumbling over while arguing that the Russians are bluffing about the Doomsday Machine was an accident that Kubrick kept in because George C. Scott handled it so beautifully.
  • Too Soon: The release date was slightly delayed after JFK's assassination due to the story involving a fictional president.
    • Also, in the scene where Major Kong reads the description of a survival kit's contents out loud, he originally says "Shoot, a fella could have a pretty good weekend in Dallas with all that stuff!" Dallas was redubbed to Vegas because of the connotations carried by Dallas in a post JFK-assassination America. It actually worked out well, as Vegas makes more sense in this context.
    • Most importantly, the original ending was to have everyone in the war room end up in a pie fight (don't ask). The President would be knocked down from the impact of the pie hitting him, with Gen. Turgidson saying "Gentlemen! Our gallant young president has been struck down in his prime!" Despite it being filmed before the Just wow. (That wasn't why the scene was deleted, though- they just couldn't film it with the necessary "gravity.")
  • Understatement:
    • "Mr. President, I'm not saying we wouldn't get our hair mussed..."
    • President Muffley, on the phone with the Soviet Premiere — "One of our generals went a little... "funny"... and went and did a silly thing..."
  • Unwitting Pawn: The crew of The Leper Colony. Poor guys are just following orders. They don't know that the guy who gave them has lost it.
  • Visual Innuendo: There are a number of phallic and sexual images throughout the film to highlight its theme of sexuality. The famous opening credits sequence of planes refueling in a way which looks like sexual congress. General Ripper is particularly fond of compensating for his impotency with enormous cigars. Major Kong straddles the strikingly tubular bomb just before it explodes.
  • Vodka Drunkenski:
    • Even though we hear only President Muffley's side of the conversation, it's quite obvious that Premier Kisov is sloshed out of his gourd. It's more than hinted earlier when DeSadesky warns Muffley beforehand of a probably intoxicated Kissov.
    • General Ripper asks Mandrake if he has ever seen a Russian driking water and then "concludes" that they only drink vodka.
  • The War Room: A very influential Ur-example. A huge, elaborate set designed by Ken Adam.
  • Water Source Tampering: General Ripper has a paranoid belief that there is a Communist conspiracy involving water fluoridation which will lead to contamination of everyone's "precious bodily fluids".
  • We Will Meet Again: The memorable final montage plays the song of the same name over images of atomic explosions, implying the two superpowers are destined to trade blows ever after.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: A pastry table seen in one scene refers to the original ending, a colossal pie fight, which was deleted from the film's final cut for being too farcical. The fact that a joke was made about the President being "struck down in his prime" by one of the pies didn't help its case (see Too Soon above).
  • World Gone Mad: Oh yes.
    • Every single group of people are various sorts of insane, incompetent, and/or incapable of focusing on the important subject at hand. Except for the bomber crew, who are all well-trained and manage to adapt to the various obstacles in their path. Too bad they're the one group that desperately needs to fail.
      • Mandrake isn't too bad either. He actually manages to guess the password and get the wing recalled except for one.
  1. It is the stated position of the U.S. Air Force that their safeguards would prevent the occurence of such events as are depicted in this film. Furthermore, it should be noted that none of the characters portrayed in this film are meant to represent any real persons living or dead.