A Pictorial History of the Movies: 1964 – Dr. Strangelove

This is a really tough year. There are a lot of choices here. And I mean a lot.

You have two James Bond movies (From Russia with Love and Goldfinger, the latter being the official 1964 film), Mary Poppins, My Fair Lady, A Fistful of Dollars, and A Hard Day’s Night. And those are just the great choices. Let’s not even get into the good ones.

Yet… I feel like history has made this the choice. It’s just such a good and iconic movie, and really represents that underbelly of Hollywood of the satirical, black comedy. And coming when this did, it’s a good representation of a time right when Hollywood went having pretty rigid standards for what they talked about and what they didn’t to saying and showing pretty much whatever they wanted.

Not to mention all the iconic moments in this — “The War Room,” riding the bomb, “You’ll have to answer to the Coca Cola company,” “Mein Fuhrer, I can walk!”… it’s amazing how ahead of its time this film is.

This movie came out in the middle of the Cold War, when the U.S. spent about a decade scaring the American public into thinking the Soviet Union could nuke us at any time. They did fucking AIR RAID drills in the schools! And Stanley Kubrick was originally trying to adapt the novel Red Alert, which was a thriller. And then, as he started writing it, and realized it was actually pretty funny. He saw how ridiculous the whole thing was, and thus… this movie was born.

The other thing I love is that, based on photographs alone, they managed to design a cockpit of a B-52 so realistic the Air Force came to ask them how they knew.

But anyway – I watched this movie again very recently, and it’s just astounding how good it is. It’s the best work some actors have ever done. George C. Scott is so incredible in this movie, and he usually gets so little credit. Sellers, of course, is just incredible. People remember Strangelove the most, but he actually has the smallest amount of screen time as him. His work as President Muffley and Lionel Mandrake is other level. And Sterling Hayden, of course, with all the monologues he has.

I’m talking about how great the film is and not so much about why it’s the choice. I think what makes this the right choice is that it perfectly captures this ridiculous era in American history where everyone was taking things so seriously, yet the whole thing was so utterly ridiculous. Imagine trying to explain the Cold War to people: we spent thirty years worried someone was going to attack us. And they spent 30 years worried we were going to attack them. So we engaged in non-combative races to do things first. And then nothing happened, and we won because their country fell apart first. That’s not a war. That’s marriage.

So this film perfectly represents this ridiculous era in American history, comments so wonderfully on it without ever becoming too over the top, and has since become so iconic, that it’s hard to not consider it the most representative film of its year.


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