Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, more commonly known simply as Dr. Strangelove, is a 1964 British-American black comedy film that satirizes the nuclear scare. It was directed, produced, and co-written by Stanley Kubrick, stars Peter Sellers and George C. Scott, and features Sterling Hayden, Keenan Wynn, and Slim Pickens. The film is loosely based on Peter George’s Cold War thriller novel Red Alert (also known as Two Hours to Doom).
The story concerns an unhinged United States Air Force general who orders a first strike nuclear attack on the Soviet Union. It follows the President of the United States, his advisers, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and a Royal Air Force (RAF) officer as they try to recall the bombers to prevent a nuclear apocalypse. It separately follows the crew of one B-52 bomber as they try to deliver their payload.
In 1989, the United States Library of Congress included it in the first group of films selected for preservation in the National Film Registry. It was listed as number three on AFI’s 100 Years…100 Laughs list.
United States Air Force Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden) is commander of Burpelson Air Force Base, which houses the SAC 843rd Bomb Wing equipped with B-52 bombers. The 843rd is currently on airborne alert, in flight just hours from the Soviet border.
General Ripper explains to Group Captain Mandrake how he first discovered the Communist plot to pollute Americans’ “precious bodily fluids.”
General Ripper orders his executive officer, Group Captain Lionel Mandrake of the UK Royal Air Force, to put the base on alert. Ripper also issues ‘Wing Attack Plan R’ to the patrolling aircraft, one of which is commanded by Major T. J. “King” Kong (Slim Pickens). All of the aircraft commence an attack flight on Russia, and set their radios to allow communications only through the CRM 114 discriminator, which is programmed to transmit only communications preceded by a secret three-letter code known only to General Ripper.
Mandrake discovers that no order for war has been issued by the Pentagon, and tries to stop Ripper, who locks them both in his office. Ripper tells Mandrake that he believes the Soviets have been using fluoridation of United States’ water supplies to pollute the “precious bodily fluids” of Americans. Mandrake realizes that General Ripper has gone mad.
At the Pentagon, General Buck Turgidson briefs President Merkin Muffley and other officers and aides about the attack in the “War Room”. President Muffley is shocked to learn that such orders could be given without his authorization, but Turgidson reminds him that Plan R – enabling a senior officer to launch a strike against the Soviets if all superiors have been killed in a first strike on Washington D.C. – allows such an action. Turgidson reports that his men are trying every possible three-letter CRM code to issue the stand-down order; but that this could take over two days, and the planes are due to reach their targets in about an hour. Muffley orders the Army chief to storm the base and arrest General Ripper.
Turgidson attempts to convince Muffley to let the attack continue, and to use the element of surprise to annihilate the Soviet military altogether before they can strike back; but Muffley refuses to be party to a nuclear first strike. Instead, he brings Soviet ambassador Alexei de Sadeski (Peter Bull) into the War Room, to telephone Soviet premier Dimitri Kissov on the “Hot Line”. Muffley warns the Premier of the impending attack, and offers to reveal the planes’ positions and targets so that the Russians can protect themselves.
After a heated discussion in Russian with the Premier, the ambassador informs President Muffley that the Soviet Union has created a doomsday device, which consists of many buried bombs jacketed with “Cobalt Thorium G” connected to a computer network set to detonate them automatically, should any nuclear attack strike their country. Within two months after detonation, the Cobalt Thorium G would encircle the earth in a radioactive cloud, wiping out all human and animal life and rendering the surface of the earth uninhabitable for 93 years. When the President’s wheelchair-bound scientific advisor, former Nazi Dr. Strangelove, points out that such a doomsday device would only be an effective deterrent if everyone knew about it, de Sadeski replies that the Russian Premier had planned to reveal its existence to the world the following week.
Aircraft commander Major T. J. “King” Kong riding the bomb.
Meanwhile, United States Army forces arrive at Burpelson, which is still sealed by General Ripper’s order. A bloody battle ensues. The Army forces eventually take over the base and Ripper kills himself, fearing he will be tortured into revealing the recall code. A US soldier named Colonel “Bat” Guano forces his way into Ripper’s office, where Mandrake identifies Ripper’s CRM code from his desk blotter (“OPE,” a variant of both “Peace on Earth” and “Purity of Essence”). Mandrake relays this code to the Pentagon with difficulty via payphone, the only working method of communication. Using the recall code, SAC successfully recalls most of the aircraft. However, President Muffley learns that a surface to air missile has ruptured the fuel tank of Major Kong’s plane and destroyed its communications device, making it impossible to recall this particular plane, even with the correct recall code. President Muffley tells the Soviets the plane’s target to help them find it; but he does not realize that due to the shortened range of the crippled aircraft, Major Kong has selected a closer target. When the plane approaches the new target, its damaged bomb doors fail to open, and Major Kong himself adjusts the wiring; whereupon the doors open and the bomb falls, with Kong straddling it, to the ground, and detonates, triggering the doomsday machine.
Dr. Strangelove recommends that the President gather several hundred thousand people, with a high female-to-male ratio (10 to 1), to live in deep mineshafts where the radiation would not penetrate, and to then institute a breeding program to repopulate the Earth when the radiation has subsided. Gen. Turgidson warns that the Soviets will likely do the same, and worries about a “mineshaft gap”. In the middle of this discussion, Dr. Strangelove rises unexpectedly from his wheelchair to announce a plan; takes a few steps; and shouts, “Mein Führer! I can walk!”. The film then cuts to a montage of nuclear detonations, accompanied by Vera Lynn’s recording of “We’ll Meet Again”.
Cast and characters
Peter Sellers as:
Group Captain Lionel Mandrake, a British RAF exchange officer
President Merkin Muffley, the President of the United States
Dr. Strangelove, the wheelchair-bound nuclear war expert and former Nazi, who gradually loses control of his gloved right hand
George C. Scott as General Buck Turgidson, a jingoist general
Sterling Hayden as Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper, a paranoid ultra-nationalist
Keenan Wynn as Colonel Bat Guano, the Army officer who finds Mandrake and the dead Ripper
Slim Pickens as Major T. J. “King” Kong, the B-52 Stratofortress bomber’s commander and pilot
Peter Bull as Soviet Ambassador Alexei de Sadeski
James Earl Jones as Lieutenant Lothar Zogg, the B-52’s bombardier
Tracy Reed as Miss Scott, General Turgidson’s secretary and mistress, the film’s only female character. Reed also appears as “Miss Foreign Affairs,” the centerfold in the June 1962 issue of Playboy magazine that Major Kong is shown reading in the cockpit.
Shane Rimmer as Capt. Ace Owens, the B-52 co-pilot
Peter Sellers’s multiple roles
Columbia Pictures agreed to finance the film on condition that Peter Sellers play at least four major roles. This condition stemmed from the studio’s opinion that much of the success of Kubrick’s previous film Lolita (1962) was based on Sellers’s performance, in which his single character assumes a number of identities. Sellers had also played three roles in The Mouse That Roared (1959). Kubrick accepted the demand, later explaining that “such crass and grotesque stipulations are the sine qua non of the motion-picture business.”
Peter Sellers’s roles
Group Captain Mandrake sitting at an IBM 7090 console
President Merkin Muffley
Sellers ended up playing three of the four roles written for him. He had been expected to play Air Force Major T. J. “King” Kong, the B-52 Stratofortress aircraft commander, but from the beginning Sellers was reluctant. He felt his workload was too heavy and he worried he would not properly portray the character’s Texas accent. Kubrick pleaded with him and asked screenwriter Terry Southern (who had been raised in Texas) to record a tape with Kong’s lines spoken in the correct accent. Using Southern’s tape, Sellers managed to get the accent right, and started shooting the scenes in the airplane, but then Sellers sprained an ankle and could not work in the cramped cockpit set.
Sellers is said to have improvised much of his dialogue, with Kubrick incorporating the ad-libs into the written screenplay so that the improvised lines became part of the canonical screenplay, a practice known as retroscripting.
Group Captain Lionel Mandrake
According to film critic Alexander Walker, the author of biographies of both Sellers and Kubrick, the role of Lionel Mandrake was the easiest of the three for Sellers to play, as he was aided by his experience of mimicking his superiors while serving in the RAF during World War II. There is also a heavy resemblance to Sellers’s friend and occasional co-star Terry-Thomas and prosthetic-limbed RAF ace Douglas Bader.
President Merkin Muffley
For his performance as President Merkin Muffley, Sellers flattened his natural English accent to resemble an American Midwesterner. Sellers drew inspiration for the role from Adlai Stevenson, a former Illinois governor who was the Democratic candidate for the 1952 and 1956 presidential elections and the U.N. ambassador during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
In early takes, Sellers faked cold symptoms to emphasize the character’s apparent weakness. This caused frequent laughter among the film crew, ruining several takes. Kubrick ultimately found this comic portrayal inappropriate, feeling that Muffley should be a serious character. In later takes Sellers played the role straight, though the President’s cold is still evident in several scenes.
In keeping with Kubrick’s satirical character names, a “merkin” is a pubic hair wig. The president is bald, and his last name is “Muffley”; both are additional homages to a merkin.
Dr. Strangelove is an ex-Nazi scientist, suggesting Operation Paperclip, the US effort to recruit top German technical talent at the end of World War II. He serves as President Muffley’s scientific adviser in the War Room. When General Turgidson wonders aloud what kind of name “Strangelove” is, saying to Mr. Staines (Jack Creley) that it is not a “Kraut name,” Staines responds that Strangelove’s original German surname was “Merkwürdigliebe,” without mentioning that “Merkwürdigliebe” translates to “Strangelove” in English. Twice in the film, Strangelove “accidentally” addresses the president as “Mein Führer”. Dr. Strangelove did not appear in the book Red Alert.
John von Neumann proposed the strategy of mutual assured destruction
The character is an amalgamation of RAND Corporation strategist Herman Kahn, mathematician and Manhattan Project principal John von Neumann, rocket scientist Wernher von Braun (a central figure in Nazi Germany’s rocket development program recruited to the US after the war), and Edward Teller, the “father of the hydrogen bomb.” There is a common misconception that the character was based on Henry Kissinger, but Kubrick and Sellers denied this; Sellers said, “Strangelove was never modeled after Kissinger—that’s a popular misconception. It was always Wernher Von Braun.”
The wheelchair-bound Strangelove furthers a Kubrick trope of the menacing, seated antagonist, first depicted in Lolita through the character “Dr. Zaempf.” Strangelove’s accent was influenced by that of Austrian-American photographer Weegee, who worked for Kubrick as a special photographic effects consultant. Strangelove’s appearance echoes the mad scientist archetype as seen in the character Rotwang in Fritz Lang’s film Metropolis (1927). Sellers’s Strangelove takes from Rotwang the single black gloved hand (which in Rotwang’s case is mechanical because of a lab accident), the wild hair and, most importantly, his inability to be completely controlled by political power. According to film critic Alexander Walker, Sellers improvised Dr. Strangelove’s lapse into the Nazi salute, borrowing one of Kubrick’s black leather gloves for the uncontrollable hand that makes the gesture. Dr. Strangelove apparently suffers from diagnostic apraxia (alien hand syndrome). Kubrick wore the gloves on the set to avoid being burned when handling hot lights, and Sellers, recognizing the potential connection to Lang’s work, found them to be menacing.
Slim Pickens as Major T. J. “King” Kong
Capt. “Ace” Owens, Lt. W. D. Kivel, and Major T. J. “King” Kong about to open Wing Attack Plan R.
Slim Pickens, an established character actor and veteran of many Western films, was eventually chosen to replace Sellers as Major Kong after Sellers’s injury. Terry Southern’s biographer, Lee Hill, said the part was originally written with John Wayne in mind, and that Wayne was offered the role after Sellers was injured but he immediately turned it down. Dan Blocker of the Bonanza western television series was approached to play the part, but according to Southern, Blocker’s agent rejected the script as being “too pinko.” Kubrick then recruited Pickens, whom he knew from Pickens’s work in Marlon Brando’s One-Eyed Jacks.
Fellow actor James Earl Jones recalls, “He was Major Kong on and off the set—he didn’t change a thing—his temperament, his language, his behavior.” Pickens was not told that the movie was a comedy and was only given the script for scenes he was in, to get him to play it “straight.”
Kubrick biographer John Baxter explains, in the documentary Inside the Making of Dr. Strangelove:
As it turns out, Slim Pickens had never left the United States. He had to hurry and get his first passport. He arrived on the set, and somebody said, “Gosh, he’s arrived in costume!,” not realizing that that’s how he always dressed … with the cowboy hat and the fringed jacket and the cowboy boots—and that he wasn’t putting on the character—that’s the way he talked.
Pickens, who had previously played only minor supporting and character roles, said his appearance as Maj. Kong greatly improved his career. He later commented, “After Dr. Strangelove the roles, the dressing rooms and the checks all started getting bigger.”
George C. Scott as General Buck Turgidson
General Buck Turgidson imitating a low-flying B-52 “frying chickens in a barnyard.”
Kubrick tricked Scott into playing the role of Gen. Turgidson far more ridiculously than Scott was comfortable doing. Kubrick talked Scott into doing over the top “practice” takes, which Kubrick told Scott would never be used, as a way to warm up for the “real” takes. Kubrick used these takes in the final film, causing Scott to swear never to work with Kubrick again.
During the filming, Kubrick and Scott had different opinions regarding certain scenes, but Kubrick got Scott to conform largely by repeatedly beating him at chess, which they played frequently on the set. Scott, a skilled player himself, later said that while he and Kubrick may not have always seen eye to eye, he respected Kubrick immensely for his skill at chess.
Novel and screenplay
Stanley Kubrick started with nothing but a vague idea to make a thriller about a nuclear accident, building on the widespread Cold War fear for survival. While doing research, Kubrick gradually became aware of the subtle and paradoxical “balance of terror” between nuclear powers. At Kubrick’s request, Alastair Buchan (the head of the Institute for Strategic Studies), recommended the thriller novel Red Alert by Peter George. Kubrick was impressed with the book, which had also been praised by game theorist and future Nobel Prize in Economics winner Thomas Schelling in an article written for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and reprinted in The Observer, and immediately bought the film rights. In 2006, Schelling wrote that conversations between Kubrick, Schelling, and George in late 1960 about a treatment of Red Alert updated with intercontinental missiles eventually led to the making of the film.
In collaboration with George, Kubrick started writing a screenplay based on the book. While writing the screenplay, they benefited from some brief consultations with Schelling and, later, Herman Kahn. In following the tone of the book, Kubrick originally intended to film the story as a serious drama. But, as he later explained during interviews, he began to see comedy inherent in the idea of mutual assured destruction as he wrote the first draft. Kubrick said:
My idea of doing it as a nightmare comedy came in the early weeks of working on the screenplay. I found that in trying to put meat on the bones and to imagine the scenes fully, one had to keep leaving out of it things which were either absurd or paradoxical, in order to keep it from being funny; and these things seemed to be close to the heart of the scenes in question.
Among the titles Kubrick considered for the film were Dr. Doomsday or: How to Start World War III Without Even Trying, Dr. Strangelove’s Secret Uses of Uranus, and Wonderful Bomb. After deciding to make the film a black comedy, Kubrick brought in Terry Southern as a co-writer. The choice was influenced by reading Southern’s comic novel The Magic Christian, which Kubrick had received as a gift from Peter Sellers, and which itself became a Sellers film in 1969.
Sets and filming
Dr. Strangelove was filmed at Shepperton Studios, near London, as Sellers was in the middle of a divorce at the time and unable to leave England. The sets occupied three main sound stages: the Pentagon War Room, the B-52 Stratofortress bomber and the last one containing both the motel room and General Ripper’s office and outside corridor. The studio’s buildings were also used as the Air Force base exterior. The film’s set design was done by Ken Adam, the production designer of several James Bond films (at the time he had already worked on Dr. No). The black and white cinematography was by Gilbert Taylor, and the film was edited by Anthony Harvey and Stanley Kubrick (uncredited). The original musical score for the film was composed by Laurie Johnson and the special effects were by Wally Veevers. The theme of the chorus from the bomb run scene is a modification of When Johnny Comes Marching Home. Sellers and Kubrick got on famously during the film’s production and shared a love of photography.
Model of the War Room constructed for the film.
The War Room with the Big Board.
For the War Room, Ken Adam first designed a two-level set which Kubrick initially liked, only to decide later that it was not what he wanted. Adam next began work on the design that was used in the film, an expressionist set that was compared with The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. It was an enormous concrete room (130 feet (40 m) long and 100 feet (30 m) wide, with a 35-foot (11 m)-high ceiling) suggesting a bomb shelter, with a triangular shape (based on Kubrick’s idea that this particular shape would prove the most resistant against an explosion). One side of the room was covered with gigantic strategic maps reflecting in a shiny black floor inspired by the dance scenes in old Fred Astaire films. In the middle of the room there was a large circular table lit from above by a circle of lamps, suggesting a poker table. Kubrick insisted that the table be covered with green baize (although this could not be seen in the black and white film) to reinforce the actors’ impression that they are playing ‘a game of poker for the fate of the world.' Kubrick asked Adam to build the set ceiling in concrete to force the director of photography to use only the on-set lights from the circle of lamps. Moreover, each lamp in the circle of lights was carefully placed and tested until Kubrick was happy with the result.
Lacking cooperation from the Pentagon in the making of the film, the set designers reconstructed the aircraft cockpit to the best of their ability by comparing the cockpit of a B-29 Superfortress and a single photograph of the cockpit of a B-52, and relating this to the geometry of the B-52’s fuselage. The B-52 was state-of-the-art in the 1960s, and its cockpit was off-limits to the film crew. When some United States Air Force personnel were invited to view the reconstructed B-52 cockpit, they said that “it was absolutely correct, even to the little black box which was the CRM.” It was so accurate that Kubrick was concerned whether Ken Adam’s production design team had done all of their research legally, fearing a possible investigation by the FBI.
In several shots of the B-52 flying over the polar ice en route to Russia, the shadow of the actual camera plane, a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, is visible on the snow below. The B-52 was a scale model composited into the Arctic footage which was sped up to create a sense of jet speed. Home movie footage included in Inside the Making of Dr. Strangelove on the 2001 Special Edition DVD release of the film shows clips of the B-17 with a cursive “Dr. Strangelove” painted over the rear entry hatch on the right side of the fuselage.
Red Alert author Peter George collaborated on the screenplay with Kubrick and satirist Terry Southern. Red Alert was more solemn than its film version and it did not include the character Dr. Strangelove, though the main plot and technical elements were quite similar. A novelization of the actual film, rather than a re-print of the original novel, was published by George, based on an early draft in which the film was meant to be bookended by aliens trying to understand what happened after arriving at a wrecked Earth.
During the filming of Dr. Strangelove, Stanley Kubrick learned that Fail-Safe, a film with a similar theme, was being produced. Although Fail-Safe was to be an ultra-realistic thriller, Kubrick feared that its plot resemblance would damage his film’s box office potential, especially if it were released first. Indeed, the novel Fail-Safe (on which the film of the same name is based) is so similar to Red Alert that Peter George sued on charges of plagiarism and settled out of court. What worried Kubrick most was that Fail-Safe boasted acclaimed director Sidney Lumet and first-rate dramatic actors Henry Fonda as the American President and Walter Matthau as the advisor to the Pentagon, Professor Groeteschele. Kubrick decided to throw a legal wrench into Fail-Safe’s production gears. Lumet recalled in the documentary, Inside the Making of Dr. Strangelove: “We started casting. Fonda was already set … which of course meant a big commitment in terms of money. I was set, Walter [Bernstein, the screenwriter] was set … And suddenly, this lawsuit arrived, filed by Stanley Kubrick and Columbia Pictures.”
Kubrick argued that Fail-Safe’s own 1960 source novel Fail-Safe had been plagiarized from Peter George’s Red Alert, to which Kubrick owned creative rights, and pointed out unmistakable similarities in intentions between the characters Groeteschele and Strangelove. The plan worked, and Fail-Safe opened eight months behind Dr. Strangelove, to critical acclaim but mediocre ticket sales.
The end of the film shows Dr. Strangelove exclaiming “Mein Führer, I can walk!” before cutting to footage of nuclear explosions, with Vera Lynn singing “We’ll Meet Again.” This footage comes from nuclear tests such as shot BAKER of Operation Crossroads at Bikini Atoll, the Trinity test, the bombing of Nagasaki, a test from Operation Sandstone and the hydrogen bomb tests from Operation Redwing and Operation Ivy. In some shots, old warships (such as the German heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen), which were used as targets, are plainly visible. In others the smoke trails of rockets used to create a calibration backdrop can be seen.
Former Goon Show writer, and friend of Sellers, Spike Milligan, was credited with suggesting the Vera Lynn music for the ending.
Original ending: the pie fight
The cream pie fight was removed from the final cut
It was originally planned for the film to end with a scene that was filmed, with everyone in the war room involved in a pie fight.
Accounts vary as to why the pie fight was cut. In a 1969 interview, Kubrick said: “I decided it was farce and not consistent with the satiric tone of the rest of the film.” Critic Alexander Walker observed that “the cream pies were flying around so thickly that people lost definition, and you couldn’t really say whom you were looking at.” Nile Southern, son of screenwriter Terry Southern, suggested the fight was intended to be less jovial. “Since they were laughing, it was unusable, because instead of having that totally black, which would have been amazing, like, this blizzard, which in a sense is metaphorical for all of the missiles that are coming, as well, you just have these guys having a good old time. So, as Kubrick later said, ‘it was a disaster of Homeric proportions.'”
A first test screening of the film was scheduled for November 22, 1963, the day of the John F. Kennedy assassination. The film was just weeks from its scheduled premiere, but because of the assassination the release was delayed until late January 1964, as it was felt that the public was in no mood for such a film any sooner.
One line by Slim Pickens—”a fella could have a pretty good weekend in Dallas with all that stuff”—was dubbed to change “Dallas” to “Vegas”, since Dallas was the city where Kennedy was killed. The original reference to Dallas survives in the French-subtitled version of the film.
The assassination also serves as another possible reason why the pie-fight scene was cut. In the scene, after Muffley takes a pie in the face, General Turgidson exclaims: “Gentlemen! Our gallant young president has been struck down in his prime!” Editor Anthony Harvey stated that “[the scene] would have stayed, except that Columbia Pictures were horrified, and thought it would offend the president’s family.” Kubrick and others have said that the scene had been cut earlier because it was not consistent with the rest of the film.
In 1994 the film was re-released. While the 1964 release used the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the new print was in the slightly squarer 1.66:1 (5:3) ratio that Kubrick had originally intended.
Satirizing the Cold War
Dr. Strangelove takes passing shots at numerous Cold War attitudes, such as the “missile gap”, but it primarily focuses its satire on the theory of mutual assured destruction (MAD), in which each side is supposed to be deterred from a nuclear war by the prospect of a universal cataclysmic disaster regardless of who “won”. Military strategist and former physicist Herman Kahn, in his 1960 On Thermonuclear War, used the theoretical example of a doomsday machine to illustrate the concept of MAD; in effect, Kahn argued, both sides already had a sort of doomsday machine, since their nuclear arsenals were large enough to destroy most life on Earth. Kahn, a leading 1950s critic of American strategy, urged America to plan for a limited nuclear war, and later in the 1960s became one of the architects of the MAD doctrine. Kahn held that a nuclear war was inherently suicidal (because it is unwinnable) thus neither side would be willing to engage in all-out nuclear war. Kahn came over as cold and calculating, for example in his willingness to estimate how many human lives the United States could lose and still rebuild economically. This attitude is reflected in Turgidson’s remark to the president about the outcome of a preemptive nuclear war: “Mr. President, I’m not saying we wouldn’t get our hair mussed. But I do say no more than ten to twenty million killed, tops, uh, depending on the breaks.” Turgidson has a binder that is labelled “World Targets in Megadeaths”, a term coined in 1953 by Kahn and popularized in his 1960 book On Thermonuclear War.
The plan to regenerate the human race from the people sheltered in mineshafts is a parody of Nelson Rockefeller’s, Edward Teller’s, Herman Kahn’s, and Chet Holifield’s 1961 plan to spend billions of dollars on a nationwide network of concrete-lined underground fallout shelters capable of holding millions of people. This proposed fallout shelter network has similarities and contrasts to that of the very real and robust Swiss civil defense network. Switzerland has an overcapacity of nuclear fallout shelters for the country’s population size, and by law, new homes must still be built with a fallout shelter.
To refute early 1960s novels and Hollywood films like Fail-Safe and Dr. Strangelove which raised questions about U.S. control over nuclear weapons, the Air Force produced a documentary film—SAC Command Post—to demonstrate its responsiveness to presidential command and its tight control over nuclear weapons.
In the months following the film’s release director Stanley Kubrick received a fan letter from Legrace G. Benson of the Dept. of History of Art at Cornell University describing his interpretation of the film as being sexually-layered. The director wrote back to Benson and confirmed his interpretation, “Seriously, you are the first one who seems to have noticed the sexual framework from intermission to the last spasm.”
The film was a popular success, earning US$4,420,000 in rentals in North America during its initial theatrical release.
It was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry. In 2000 readers of Total Film magazine voted it the 24th greatest comedic film of all time. It holds a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 61 reviews. It is ranked number 21 in the All-Time High Scores chart of Metacritic’s Video/DVD section with an average score of 96. It is also listed as number 26 on Empire’s 500 Greatest Movies of All Time.
Dr. Strangelove is on Roger Ebert’s list of Great Movies, described as “arguably the best political satire of the century.” It was also rated as the fifth greatest film in the 2002 Sight & Sound’s directors’ poll—the only comedy in the top ten.