Sunday, August 10, 2014

Don't Make a Scene: Dr. Strangelove: or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

This week's headlines brought the Cold War and all its absurdities back home. One can imagine Obama and Putin on the hot-line, threatening economic sanctions against each other and Putin saying "Oh, yeah?! Well, I'm going to not import any of your food!" not realizing that it would cause more harm to the Russian people than it would to the U.S. economy.

Hmmm. Maybe he was drunk. 

The Story: Stanley Kubrick's nightmare comedy about the checks and balances of the American-Russian nuclear stalemate coming undone provided many opportunities for the display of Official Absurdity, and the way that things can go wrong at the worst times. The President's hot-line call to the Russia President is the most sustained of these and quite a solo act for Peter Sellers as President Merkin Muffley, a well-meaning Adlai Stevenson-like egghead. As with so much of the movie, the comedy comes from everything conspiring to make the situation worse from faulty phone-lines to the peccadilloes of those in power. And in the style of then-up-and-coming comic Bob Newhart, the heart of the comedy comes from only getting one side of the conversation. It is enhanced that the clock is ticking on mutual annihlation, and yet, protocol must be met, niceties offered...and awkwardness inevitable. Tick. Tick. Tick.

The Set-up: An Air Force general has gone nuts and sent a squadron of B-52's to drop their nuclear payload on Soviet Russia. With time a critical factor, and recalling the planes an impossibility, the American President calls his Russian counter-part to inform him of the news from the War Room of the Pentagon, while Joint Chiefs (including the hawkish General "Buck" Turgidson--played by George C. Scott) and the Russian Ambassador DeSadesky (Peter Bull) listen in.


Ambassador DeSadesky: I've done as you ask. Be careful, Mr. President. I think he is drunk.
President Merkin Muffley: Hello?
President Merkin Muffley: Ah, Hello, uh, Dimitri? Listen, I-I can't hear you too well. Do you suppose you could turn the music down just a little? Oh, that's much better.
Muffley: Yes, heh, yes...Fine, I can hear you now, Dimitri, clear and plain and coming through...
Muffley: ...fine. I'm coming through fine, too, eh? Good, then. Well, then, as you say, we're both coming through fine. Good. Well, it's good that you're fine...
Muffley: ...and-and I'm fine. I agree with you, it's great to be fine. Ha ha ha ha.  
Muffley: Now, then, Dimitri, you know how we've always talked about the possibility of something going wrong with the Bomb.
Muffley: ...The Bomb, Dimitri. The Hy-drogen Bomb.
Well, now what happened is, um, one of our base commanders, he had a sort of...we-ell, he went a little funny in the head. You know, just a little...funny...
Muffley: And-uh-he went and he did a silly thing. Well, I'll tell you what he did: He ordered our attack your country. A'--
...well, let me finish, Dimitri.
Muffley: Let me finish, Dimitri.

Muffley: Well, listen, how do you think I feel about it? Can you imagine how I feel about it, Dimitri? 
Muffley: Why do you think I'm calling you, 
Muffley: ...just to say "Hello?" Of course, I like to speak with you! Of course, I like to say "Hello!" Not now, but anytime, Dimitri! I'm just calling to tell you something terrible has happened....It's a friendly call, of course, it's a friendly call. Listen, if it wasn't probably wouldn't have even got it!
Muffley: They will not reach their targets for at least another hour. I am...I am positive, Dimitri. 
Muffley: Listen, I've been all over this with your...
Muffley: ...ambassador, it is not a trick! Well, I'll tell you...we'd like to give your air staff a complete rundown of the targets the flight plans and the defensive systems of the planes.
Muffley: Yes! I mean if-if-if we're unable to recall the planes I'd say that, uh...well, uh...We're just gonna have to help you destroy them.
Muffley: I know they're our boys. 
Muffley:  Alright, well, listen now, who should we call? Who should we call, Dimitri? Wha..? The People...sorry, you faded away there.
Muffley: The People's Central Air Defense Headquarters. Where is that, Dimitri? In Omsk. Right? Yes? Oh, you'll call them first, will you? Uh-huh. Listen, do you happen to have the phone number on you, Dimitri? We..What? I see, just ask for Omsk Information. A-a-a-mmm.
Muffley: I'm sorry too, Dimitri. I'm very sorry. Alright, you're sorrier than I am, but I'm sorry as well!
I'm as sorry as you are, Dimitri. Don't say you're more sorry than I am, because I'm capable of being just as sorry as you are. So, we're both sorry, alright? 
Muffley: Alright!

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

Words by:
Peter George, Terry Southern ,Stanley Kubrick, and Peter Sellers

Pictures by:
Gilbert Taylor and Stanley Kubrick

Dr. Strangelove is available on Sony/Columbia DVD.

We'll meet again.

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