Stanley Kubrick directed Dr. Strangelove: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, but viewers only familiar with his more overtly lavish films—The Shining, A Clockwork Orange, 2001: A Space Odyssey—might not realize it at first. (Unless, of course, they paid attention to its distinctive Pablo Ferro-designed opening credits.) Kubrick’s fifth feature, released in 1964 and set in that same era, did not require the director and his collaborators to build an entire space station, nor to write dialogue in the specialized slang of the hooligans of London’s apocalyptic future, nor to release crashing waves of blood from elevator doors. A few rough-and-ready flying and shooting sequences aside, the physical production of Dr. Strangelove required only the accoutrements of the United States military—mostly real, some imagined.
Yet more than a few of Kubrick’s fans now hold up Dr. Strangelove as the director’s most intricate work. By my own highly personal measure of the sheer frequency with which I can watch the movie (I attend nearly every theatrical screening, no matter what), it certainly ranks as his richest.
This owes in large part to Kubrick’s signature perfectionism, which forged Dr. Strangelove as much as it did the films that followed. Watch Inside: Dr. Strangelove (part one, part two, part three, part four, part five), and you can learn just what went into filming this story of a crazed general, a gung-ho bomber, a frustrated RAF captain, a German nuclear scientist in mortal combat with his own right hand, and the looming prospect of mutually assured destruction. Interviews with cast members, critics, editors, producers and others associated with the picture reveal how this Cold War worst-case-scenario developed into something so very… Kubrickian. And into a Kubrickian comedy, at that.
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on literature, film, cities, Asia, and aesthetics. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.