"Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” was released 50 years ago this week. The film is regarded as a cinematic masterpiece today (AFI ranked it No. 39 in its’ 10th anniversary Top 100 in 2007), but in February 1964, Times’ film editor Philip K. Scheuer didn’t find much to like. I’m partial to the deadpan of the subheadline: "Kubrick’s ‘Satire’ Tells All About End of World, Ha Ha." But this is a great line too:
… a publicist at Columbia, which is distributing the picture, assured me it would be my “cup of tea.” After suffering through two screenings of “Dr. Strangelove,” I would sooner drink hemlock.
Scheuer issues no spoiler alerts while giving away the ending and laments that “[a]ll members of our armed forces are pictured as either utterly unscrupulous or just plain stupid.”
And then he makes a point that is rather jarring to a reader in today’s era of the antihero.
Is all this necessary? I submit that, as with “[It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad,] Mad World,” villains are not funny per se — especially when there are no good guys around to offset them.
Scheuer doesn’t spare the actors either.
Peter Sellers plays three parts, all in widely disparate make-up: the President, an RAF exchange officer and Dr. Strangelove, a Nazi fanatic employed as our top nuclear scientist. His bumbling Briton comes through; the others are, with all due respect to his talent for mimicry, simply preposterous. George C. Scott (I have never seen him give a bad performance till now) makes the staff chairman — Gen. Buck Turgidson — a mugging, stomach-scratching, gum-chewing vulgarian.
That’s Peter Sellers above, later in 1964. He’d had a heart attack and was photographed leaving the hospital with his wife.
— Matt Ballinger
Original published caption, May 8, 1964: GOING HOME — British comedian Peter Sellers, 38, stricken with a heart attack April 6 that almost cost him his life, gets a hug from his Swedish actress wife, Britt Eklund, 21, as he leaves Cedars of Lebanon Hospital on an ambulance litter Thursday. Credit: Los Angeles Times