Classic Movie Review: 'Dr. Strangelove'

Aug 19, 2017
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Have you seen these classics?

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "CASABLANCA")

HUMPHREY BOGART: (As Rick Blaine) Here's looking at you, kid.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "GONE WITH THE WIND")

CLARK GABLE: (As Rhett Butler) Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ON THE WATERFRONT")

MARLON BRANDO: (As Terry Malloy) I could've been a contender.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ALL ABOUT EVE")

BETTE DAVIS: (As Margo) Fasten your seat belts.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "JERRY MAGUIRE")

CUBA GOODING JR: (As Rod Tidwell) Show me the money.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "TAXI DRIVER")

ROBERT DE NIRO: (As Travis Bickle) You talking to me?

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "WHEN HARRY MET SALLY")

ESTELLE REINER: (As Older Woman Customer) I'll have what she's having.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE COLOR PURPLE")

OPRAH WINFREY: (As Sofia) I ain't never thought I'd have to fight in my own house.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE LION KING")

JEREMY IRONS: (As Scar) Long live the king.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE SHINING")

JACK NICHOLSON: (As Jack Torrance) Here's Johnny.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "STAR WARS: EPISODE V - THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK")

DAVID PROWSE: (As Darth Vader) I am your father.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE WIZARD OF OZ")

MARGARET HAMILTON: (As The Wicked Witch of the West) I'll get you, my pretty.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS")

ANDY SERKIS: (As Gollum) Precious.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE DARK KNIGHT")

HEATH LEDGER: (As Joker) Why so serious?

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY")

ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER: (As The Terminator) Hasta la vista, baby.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE GODFATHER")

RICHARD S CASTELLANO: (As Clemenza) Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.

SIMON: Well, we're here to help in our series in which we ask listeners and colleagues to watch classic films from which they may quote but haven't actually seen. MAD, mutually assured destruction, is back in the news. That's tragic but - and if there is a but, it's a good time to rediscover maybe the greatest dark comedy of all time. We're so pleased to be joined this week by my treasured colleague, the host of Weekend Edition Sunday, Lulu Garcia-Navarro. Lulu, thanks for walking down the hall.

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: Thank you. I am pleased to be here.

SIMON: I understand you have never seen Stanley Kubrick's 1964 "Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb."

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That is exactly right. This came up in a pitch meeting that we were having over North Korea. And the film came up, and I had to confess that I had never seen it.

SIMON: To fill in a few people, an American general goes mad, orders a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union. Peter Sellers plays three roles. Terry Southern is often credited with the script. You saw it this week. I kept coming in and out of your office...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You did.

SIMON: ...To enjoy it. What did you think?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Extraordinary, pertinent, funny, biting. And just George C. Scott is extraordinary in it. He's one of my favorite actors.

SIMON: Gen. Turgidson.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. And I thought it was really - it was made in the '60s, right? 1960...

SIMON: '64 it came out, yeah.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: '64. And it just feels like it is as urgent as ever. It feels right on the nose.

SIMON: As you know, unfortunately - because I go on about this - I've studied the film. And I made a list of little things, little items I can share with you, OK?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: OK.

SIMON: Taken from the novel "Red Alert" by Peter George, Kubrick actually set out to make a drama.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: OK.

SIMON: But he decided in the middle of it it would make a better satire.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Ah.

SIMON: Peter Sellers was supposed to play a fourth role.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Ah.

SIMON: He was supposed to be the cowboy captain of the U.S. bomber.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: OK.

SIMON: But he twisted his ankle on an early take. He couldn't get around the set, so they hurriedly signed Slim Pickens, an old cowboy star probably later to be famed in "Blazing Saddles." They didn't tell him the film was a satire.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, he was playing it straight.

SIMON: He was playing it straight.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Really?

SIMON: He's brilliant. He's great in it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He's brilliant in it. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

SIMON: I think he was the note of kind of, you know, verisimilitude - forgive the expression - that they needed. Sellers's ankle injury also encouraged him to play Dr. Strangelove in a wheelchair.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Oh, which is just the perfect touch.

SIMON: Yeah.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah.

SIMON: Hard to think of the role otherwise.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah.

SIMON: Now, there's one scene in particular that moved you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. Let's play it.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DR. STRANGELOVE")

STERLING HAYDEN: (As Jack D. Ripper) Mandrake, do you recall what Clemenceau once said about war?

PETER SELLERS: (As Lionel Mandrake) No, I don't think I do, sir, no.

HAYDEN: (As Jack D. Ripper) He said war was too important to be left to the generals. When he said that 50 years ago, he might have been right. But today, war is too important to be left to politicians.

SIMON: Sterling Hayden, by the way, as Gen. Jack D. Ripper.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Right. And he's at this point - basically gone crazy. He thinks fluoride is turning everyone into communists in America because they placed it in the water, which I think was a popular theory in the 1950s.

SIMON: Oh, absolutely. It was, yeah.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It was actually brought in. That was a real thing.

SIMON: It was despoiling our precious bodily fluids.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Right - as he put it. And then, you know, he's sitting there, and he's talking about that. And it just struck me as how, today, we've got all these generals in power who are actually politicians. And when we were talking about the problems with North Korea, it just showed me how things change but how they remain the same. And so, yeah, I thought it was just right on the money.

SIMON: When you saw the film...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah.

SIMON: ...Could you see why people reacted as strongly as they did in the '60s?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. So I thought - so this is the weird thing. And I told you this when you walked in. I was like, I thought this was...

SIMON: I walked in about half a dozen times.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: This is true. But the first time - it was like, I thought this was supposed to be a comedy. And at first, I was kind of reading it straight. I was like, this actually seems like a totally plausible thing that could happen - that a general goes crazy and sends a bomber off to, like, you know, attack Russia. I finally got the comedy of it. But, yeah, at first, I was trying to get my head around it.

SIMON: Lulu, we've been asking people - listeners - to watch a movie they missed and tweet us their 140-character review. What's yours?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Makes you laugh but also makes you terrified. A little too close to our reality today. Must see.

SIMON: Oh, that's good.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Laughter).

SIMON: Lulu Garcia-Navarro, you'll hear her - you're on tomorrow, right?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, I am.

SIMON: You'll hear her tomorrow on Weekend Edition Sunday. Thanks so much for being with us.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WE'LL MEET AGAIN")

VERA LYNN: We'll meet again - don't know where, don't know when. But I know we'll meet again some sunny day. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.