Dr Strangelove and The Fall of 1964: A Time for Olympic Achievement and Global Anxiety

Peter Sellers in Dr Strangelove
Peter Sellers as Captain Mandrake, President Muffley and Dr Strangelove.
It was October, 1962, and Michael Dobbs wrote in his thrilling description of the Cuban Missile Crisis in his book “One Minute to Midnight“, how close the world came to mutually assured destruction.

Like Bobby, the president was now learning toward a blockade after initially favoring an air strike. His mind was still not completely made up, however. Blockade seemed the safer course, but it too carried huge risks, including a confrontation between the US and Soviet navies. After the meeting was over, he took Bobby (Kennedy) and Ted Sorenson out to the Truman Balcony of the White House, looking over the Washington Monument. “We are very, very close to war,” he told them gravely, before deflating the moment with his mordant Irish wit. “And there is not room in the White House shelter for all of us.”

The early 1960s was a time under dark clouds, threatening to become nuclear. In 1964, incumbent President Lyndon Johnson used this horrific television ad to scare people from voting for Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater by suggesting that he would take us all the way to nuclear disaster. (It may have worked.)

It was in this cultural milieu that director Stanley Kubrick directed Dr Strangelove, a bizarre and critically acclaimed film about a US General who orders the launch of nuclear missiles on the Soviet Union, and the US government’s debate and attempts to bring the bombers back, and thus prevent a nuclear war.

On October 9, 1964, a day before the opening ceremonies of the Tokyo Summer Games, and 8 days before China shocked the world by test exploding its first Atomic bomb, The Japan Times published a review of Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. The reviewer, Mary Evans, wrote, “Though the title is long, it couldn’t be more compact. In it are allusions to the obsessions of our times and to the only escape possible – intelligent detachment. The film is brilliant, mocking, incisive, funny, horrifying. Because it is so intelligent and honest, it is also reassuring.”

George C Scott, who would go on to win an Academy Award portraying WWII hero, General George Patton, portrayed another military leader named General Buck Turgidson. But it is the amazing actor, Peter Sellers, who played three major characters in the film, Captain Lionel Mandrake, President Merkin Muffley, and Dr. Strangelove. Here is a clip about the so-called “Doomsday Machine”, featuring President Muffley and Dr Strangelove.