"Gentlemen, you can't fight in here! This is the War Room!"Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb
— President Merkin Muffley
is a 1964 Black Comedy
film by Stanley Kubrick
. The plot is largely lifted from the 1958 novel Red Alert
by Peter George, who contributed to the film's screenplay.
One day, General Jack D. Ripper
(Sterling Hayden) goes mental. He orders the nuclear bombers under his command to carry out a surprise attack on the Soviet Union. He puts his entire military base in lockdown with all communications cut, ordering all radios confiscated (so that Communist infiltrators can't receive outside commands) and all troops to fire on anyone who tries to enter the base, even if they appear to be fellow Americans (because they will surely be Communists in disguise). Ripper's aide, British Group Captain Lionel Mandrake (Peter Sellers
), tries to talk sense into him but shortly realizes his boss has gone right out of his pointy little mind, believing that only he stands in the way of a Communist plot to contaminate America's "precious bodily fluids."
In Washington, U.S. President Merkin Muffley (Peter Sellers again) holds a meeting in the War Room. The President's wheelchair-bound
, ex-Nazi science adviser
, Dr. Strangelove (also Peter Sellers), and the Soviet ambassador both confirm that an attack on the USSR will trigger The Doomsday Machine
: a computer programmed to detonate a cobalt bomb that will kill nearly all life on Earth's surface with its radiation over the course of months, if the Soviet Union is attacked (or if any attempt is made to disable the Doomsday Machine
). The president gets on the hotline and desperately attempts to convince the drunken Soviet premier that the American attack is just a silly mistake as they attempt to call off the attack.
The film was supposed to be released in November of 1963 (see Too Soon
in the Trivia page), but was eventually released in January of 1964.
This film includes examples of:
- All Germans Are Nazis: Dr. Strangelove.
- Aluminium Christmas Trees/Truth in Television:
- Ripper's paranoia about water fluoridation was based on real conspiracy theories about the effects of fluoridation, some which persist to this day, minus the "vodka-drinking Russians did it" part.
- Strategic Air Command's motto really was "Peace Is Our Profession".
- USAF pilot survival kits really did contain such items as condoms and nylons, which can be quite useful in survival situations.
- It turns out that salting a bomb with cobalt is a handy method for making human extinction more likely.
- The babbling about a "doomsday gap" and a "mineshaft gap" was a nod to rhetoric from the 1960 presidential campaign. John F. Kennedy had attacked Nixon and the Eisenhower Administration for allowing the Soviets to open up a "missile gap" between themselves and the United States (in fact, the USA actually had more missiles). This kind of discourse would continue in the seventies with the so-called "Cruiser gap".
- The 24-hour B-52 squadrons within 2 hours of their targets inside the USSR? They were part of Operation Chrome Dome.
- The US military actually used "Operation Drop Kick" as a name. It revolved around biological warfare rather than nuclear.
- Ambiguously Evil: Strangelove spends all his screen time acting as cartoonishly evil as possible, and has a Nazi past to boot, but he never does anything all that evil, at least not that we know about.
- Appeal to Force: The point of the Doomsday Machine. Not that it does the Soviets any good in the long run.
- Apocalypse How: "Obviously, you've never heard of Cobalt-Thorium G. When the bombs detonate, they'll create a radioactive cloud, that would circle the earth for ninety-three years!"
- Armed Farces
- The Artifact: A pastry table seen in one scene refers to the original ending, a colossal pie fight, which was deleted from the film's final cut for being too farcical. The fact that a joke was made about the President being "struck down in his prime" by one of the pies didn't help its case (see Too Soon in the Trivia page).
- Artistic License – Gun Safety/Reckless Gun Usage: General Ripper with his Browning M1919 .30 caliber machine gun. He fires it from the hip and holds it by the barrel. In Real Life, he would be unlikely to hit anything at medium-to-long range, and would probably burn his hand off in the process.
- Ass in Ambassador: "Try one of these Jamaican cigars, Ambassador, they're pretty good." "No, I do not support the work of imperialist stooges." "Oh, only Commie stooges, huh?"
- Note that the Ambassador had just asked for a Cuban cigar.
- As You Know: The exchange between Dr. Strangelove and the Russian Ambassador.
Dr. Strangelove: But the whole point of the Doomsday Machine is lost...if you keep it a secret, why didn't you tell the world, eh?
Ambassador DeSadesky: It was to be announced at the Party Congress on Monday. As you know, the Premier loves surprises.
- Attack Pattern Alpha: Delivered via Sealed Orders - Wing Attack Plan R, which is removed from a whole safe full of attack plans. This was Truth in Television.
- Beneath the Earth: The future of mankind After the End is to dwell in underground facilities and fallout shelters for almost a century — quickly leading to an Adam and Eve Plot and oaths of eternal vigilance by those who think that "we must not be allowed a mine-shaft gap".
- The Big Board: Trope Namer. A gigantic, electronic strategic map of the USSR.
- Bilingual Bonus: Dr. Strangelove's name used to be Merkwürdigliebe before he moved to the US and had it changed. Merkwürdigliebe translates as strange love.
- Black Comedy: Arguably cinema's greatest example of the form.
- Bombers on the Screen: The primary purpose of The Big Board.
- Chiaroscuro: The War Room is lit this way.
- Cigar Chomper: Ripper.
- Cold War: Set in the contemporary sixties, at the height of the arms race.
- Colonel Kilgore: General Turgidson is letting his inner five-year old playing with army men out. His over-the-top enthusiasm shows he gets a hell of a kick out of a war he is supposed to prevent.
- Come Back to Bed, Honey: General Turgidson is called to the War Room, leaving his girlfriend protesting. In keeping with the overall theme of the movie he tells her "You just start your countdown, and ol' Bucky'll be back before you can say 'BLAST OFF!'"
- Comically Missing the Point: After being informed of the badness of the Doomsday Machine, a world-ending device, Turgidson's first reaction is, "Gee, I wish we had one of them doomsday machines!"
- Conspiracy Theorist: General Jack D. Ripper, with his belief that the Communists are poisoning American drinking water.
- Cool Shades: Dr. Strangelove's teashades.
- Corpsing: If you look carefully, you can see Peter Bull (the Russian ambassador) shaking with barely controlled mirth and biting his own lip as Sellers fights with his Evil Hand.
- Ambassador DeSadesky accuses General Turgidson of trying to plant a spy camera on him, and is later shown with another spy camera. This means that either Turgidson always carries a spy camera in case of such an eventuality, or the Russian ambassador carried two spy cameras.
- The survival kit carried by the crew of The Leper Colony. There's a season's worth of MacGyver material in there (not to mention that you could have a pretty good weekend in Vegas with all that stuff). Doubles as Aluminum Christmas Trees, since it was based almost entirely on real USAF pilot survival kits.
- The collection of Attack Plans kept aboard each B-52 in a safe provide instruction for every possible scenario that could be played out in a nuclear exchange. Truth in Television.
- General Ripper (emphasis on crazy), commander of an Air Force base, casually carries a machine gun in his golf bag, handy for additional holes.
- Critical Research Failure: In-universe. DeSadesky explains that the Soviets built their machine because they feared a "Doomsday-gap" when they "discovered" that the Americans were building one. When the US President refutes that as a ludicrous fantasy, the ambassador replies that their source was the New York Times.
- Cut Himself Shaving: Guano ironically lampshades it against Mandrake when he is informed of Ripper's death.
- Dangerously Genre Savvy: General Ripper may be demented, but he knows his trade; he's shown as an experienced and competent leader who invokes, anticipates, and discusses very relevant tropes.
- Death by Adaptation: Life on Earth as we know it! In the novel Red Alert, the lone bomber fails to destroy its target and nuclear catastrophe is averted.
- Decapitated Army: "Plan R" is designed to subvert this contingency; if Washington leadership is incapacitated, regional commanders have the authority to launch a counter-attack.
- Defictionalization: In probably the most disturbing example of defictionalization, the Dead Hand system constructed by the Soviets in the '80s is essentially a real-life version of the Doomsday Device.
- Deliberately Monochrome: By 1963, color was the standard and black-and-white photography was a deliberate artistic choice.
- The Determinator: Major Kong and the rest of the crew of The Leper Colony.
- Dirty Communists: Satirizing this trope is one the central tenets of the film. But the Soviets themselves are openly lampooned as well.
- Disproportionate Retribution: Pretty much what sets the plot in motion; General Ripper believes that Russians are fluoridating his drinking water.
- The Doomsday Device is designed and built to respond to an attack - any attack of any magnitude - with the detonation of so much salted nuclear ordinance that the surface of the Earth will be sterilised of all life with the possible exception of the cockroach.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: The opening scene, of a B-52 re-fuelling in mid-air (which really looks like two planes screwing) set to an instrumental version of "Try A Little Tenderness", no less. Interestingly, it was taken from stock footage that Kubrick simply discovered and made one of cinema's most memorable opening scenes.
- Doomsday Device
Gen. Turgidson: Gee, I wish we had one of them doomsday machines!
Strangelove: We briefly investigated making a similar machine ourselves. Based on the findings of the report, my conclusion was that this idea was not a practical deterrent ... for reasons which at this moment must be all too obvious.
- Double Vision: Scenes with Strangelove and Muffley in the same frame are either in long shot (the whole table) or with one character shot from behind.
- Do Unto Others Before They Do Unto Us: Ripper claims he's giving the US the best kind of head start he can.
- Downer Ending: Probably one of the funniest.
- Dressing as the Enemy: Ripper informs the personnel of the Air Force Base that "commie enemies" may pull this, and the defenders discuss it later when the forces sent by the US President are attacking them.
- Driven to Suicide: Ripper's fate. He does it because he is not sure he could trust himself to not give up the code to call The Wing back if he is in fact given "a pretty good working over."
- Dumbass Has a Point: When Mandrake is trying to reach the President by placing a collect call, he's told they won't accept, so he tries bumming 55 cents off of Guano... who rightfully points out "You don't think I'd go into combat with loose change in my pocket, do you?"
- Dying Moment of Awesome: Riding a nuke all the way to the target, whooping and hollering like a cowboy all the way down is about as awesome as a death gets! It's one of the most memorable (and parodied) scenes in the film.
- Either/Or Title: A well-known (and well-parodied) example.
- The End of the World as We Know It: The Doomsday Machine goes off and wipes out all human and animal life on the planet.
- Enemy Mine: President Muffley brings the Soviets into the loop as soon as he is informed of the peril. Turgidson is dismayed, instead urging that the United States launch an all-out attack now that Ripper has committed it to war.
- Evil Hand: Dr. Strangelove has one, which seems to act on Strangelove's violent and Nazi subconscious. The portrayal was so influential that the real life condition "alien hand syndrome" is also known as "Dr. Strangelove Syndrome".
- Exact Time to Failure: Justified, as a crewman on the bomber calculates how much flying time they have left after the missile explosion causes a fuel leak.
- Explain, Explain... Oh, Crap!: When President Muffley asks General Turgidson whether the remaining bomber has a chance to reach its target, Turgidson enthusiastically describes the crew's skill and technique and concludes by declaring "Hell, ye-!.. y-... y-..." - realizing the implications.
- Extremely Short Timespan: The film takes place over less than a day.
- Failsafe Failure:
- The Doomsday Machine is deliberately Fail Deadly. Otherwise it wouldn't be much of a Doomsday Machine, as Strangelove points out. Unfortunately it didn't occur to the Soviets to tell anyone about the device well after it became operational, rendering it a complete liability as Strangelove once again points out (though they were planing on announcing it the following Monday, because the premier "loves surprises").
'''But, the whole point of a Doomsday Machine is lost....if you KEEP IT A SECRET! WHY DIDN'T YOU TELL THE WORLD, EH?!"
- Muffley was assured by Turgidson that "Plan R" had safeguards against a rogue launch. Turgidson is reluctant to admit the failure and argues its reliability shouldn't be written off after a single incident.
- Fanservice: Precisely one female character appears in this movie. General Turgidson's mistress and secretary, heard in one scene and seen in a bikini in another. She is also a Playboy centrefold.
- The Fantastic Trope of Wonderous Titles
- A Father to His Men: When the base falls, Ripper feels let down and remarks that the soldiers were like his children. It rings as true as anything else he says. Mandrake manages to obliquely mock him.
Mandrake: I'm sure they all died thinking of you, every man jack of them... Jack.
- Major Kong plays this straighter.
- The Film of the Book: This was based on a novel by Peter George called Red Alert and was originally conceived as a straightforward drama. During the development of the script, Kubrick and company realized the potential for satire in the story and completely overhauled it. George subsequently wrote a Novelization of the finished film; a Recursive Adaptation.
- Fog of War: The Soviets are unable to detect the last B-52, The Leper Colony, because it is flying so low. The Americans urge them to concentrate the search around the assigned targets, but the crew switches them for targets of opportunity and fly at low altitude to escape detection.
- Ripper and Turgidson are both high-ranking generals, one goes rogue and has intimacy issues, the other stays loyal and is clearly a horn dog. The twist comes in their mannerisms; while Ripper is crazy, he sounds calm, collected, and soft-spoken. Turgidson makes a lot of rational points, but he is a stirred Large Ham who sounds deranged. Judging by the body language and demeanor of both men alone, Ripper would look the saner one.
- The energetic warmonger Turgidson also acts as a more direct foil to the mild, meek, and emasculated President Muffley.
- Forever War: Implied; the jingoist generals and advisors are planning After the End schemes to maintain the status-quo of the Cold War, prevent Soviet expansionism and a "mine-shaft gap". Reinforced by the use of "We'll Meet Again" over the final Apocalyptic Montage.
- Freud Was Right: Invoked by the film itself. A central theme of the movie is the portrayal of sexual symbolism as more than symbolism; Kubrick transparently paraphrases Clausewitz as in "war is the continuation of sex by other means". Specific examples include:
- In the opening refueling scene, the bomber and the tanker are coupling.
- Bat Guano thinks everything is some kind of "preversion", and ironically his stupidity carries some meta-truth.
- The madness of General Ripper is driven by not-even-veiled sexual references. He seems to be Compensating for Something with his stiff cigars and his long one-barreled machine gun.
- The film is rife with sexually Meaningful Names; the two warmongers (Jack D. Ripper and Turgidson) push against a peaceful and mild figure (Merkin Muffley). See below for more examples
- Near the end, there is another Mood Dissonance when the characters are happily planning a postnuclear scenario where the male to female ratio would land them with their own harems to repopulate the world. The excitement over this allows Strangelove to stand up.
- The end of the world is started by a man yelling and riding on top of a phallic bomb to a site called "Laputa" (Spanish for "the whore"). It triggers a series of climatic explosions.
- From Bad to Worse: Anything that could go wrong in the prevention of the end of the world, does.
- Gallows Humor: Given that it was made against the real-life backdrop of the Cuban Missile Crisis, in which nuclear war was a genuine possibility, much of the film's humor would have qualified at the time. Many contemporary viewers called "Dude, Not Funny!".
- General Ripper: Trope Namer, obviously. Air Force Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper, commander of Burpelson Air Force Base, goes mental and launches an attack on his archenemy, communist USSR.
- Genius Cripple: Doctor Strangelove.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar:
- Honed to an art form. Almost everything is a sexual reference of some kind if you look hard enough — Kong's target (Laputa), Buck Turgidson's name, Jack D. Ripper (the murderer Jack the Ripper mutilated women's sexual organs), Merkin Muffley (speaking of Country Matters), etc. etc. See Visual Innuendo below, also.
- A specific example, late in the film, is a scene where you can tell from Dr. Strangelove's dialogue and reactions that his Evil Hand is clearly doing something ... unsavory just out of frame. Apparently in his lap.
- Good People Have Good Sex: A semi-straight example — General Ripper won't allow himself to ejaculate during sex (the fear of losing his 'essence' is the motivating factor for his insane behavior, and he came to this conclusion after finding himself unable to perform at least once); on the other hand, General Turgidson has a relatively normal relationship with his Sexy Secretary and is not much better.
- Government Drug Enforcement: What General Ripper fears fluoridation has become.
- Grey and Gray Morality: The Americans and Soviets aren't that different: despite the crisis is told from the American point of view (which allows for a more direct satirization of the Western power), no side is really meant to be the good guys, as they both indulge in highly morally questionable behaviour (The Soviets build a Doomsday Device which is bad enough, only to compound things by not telling the Americans about it, while the American Plan R is simply a manual Doomsday Device that's also designed to fail in a deadly fashion, and they're using an obvious Nazi as a science advisor). They try to avert the catastrophe, yet each side is just as scheming or conniving or manipulative as the other, constantly harping on about various "gaps" (missile, doomsday, mineshaft, etc), and even after causing The End of the World as We Know It, they just can't take a step back, look at themselves, and wonder how much of this is their own fault.
- Harpo Does Something Funny: Many of the scenes with Peter Sellers were improvised, most famously the phone conversation with the Soviet premier and "Mein Fuhrer, I can walk!". This is especially impressive when you consider this was a movie by Stanley Kubrick, one of the most infamously controlling directors of all time.
- Herr Doctor: Strangelove is an ex-Nazi Mad Scientist who became a U.S. operative after the war. He has trouble shaking his old ways, to the point that he adresses the President (played by the same actor) with "Mein Fuehrer". With elements of Morally Ambiguous Doctorate.
- Hiroshima as a Unit of Measure: "Each B-52 can deliver a nuclear bomb load of 50 megatons, equal to 16 times the total explosive force of all the bombs and shells used by all the armies in World War II".
- Hitler Cam: Gen. Ripper is shot this way during the scene where he delivers his insane rant about "our precious bodily fluids".
- Hollywood Darkness: Early in the film, an establishing shot of Burpleson Air Force Base. It's easy to miss, given the heavy use of chiaroscuro throughout the film, except for visibly bright window lights and the airfield flood lights being lit.
- Horror Doesn't Settle for Simple Tuesday: When the radio operator checks the code in his book, one can briefly see "Valid: 13 September 1963" on the top of the page. Yep, you guessed it - the date was Friday the 13th.
- Hypocritical Humor:
- No fighting allowed in the War Room.
- SAC's motto "Peace Is Our Profession" is offhandedly highlighted by the camera angle several times; when Ripper explains how he's "preventing" World War III with his first-strike and later when the soldiers are fighting for the base.
- Turgidson being both a religious man and, assuming he's married, an adulterer in the same phrase while he is talking to his secretary/mistress. If he's not married, he's just commiting a different sin, fornication rather than adultery.
- The Soviet ambassador not supporting "imperialist stooges". He's quickly called out by the person offering him the object of offense (a Jamaican cigar) when the man says "Only Commie stooges, eh?" Note that the ambassador had asked for a Cuban cigar before being offered the Jamaican cigar.
- I Did What I Had to Do: Before kicking the bucket, Ripper remarks that he knows he'll have to answer in the afterlife for what he did and that he thinks he can.
- Insane Troll Logic: What led Ripper to first suspect the Communists of trying to "sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids" through fluoridation. "A profound sense of fatigue, a feeling of emptiness followed." So sex = loss of 'essence'! Fluoridation starts in 1946 = part of postwar commie conspiracy! It all makes sense! The commies are, of course, immune to their own plot, as they only drink pure vodka and would never, under any circumstances, drink water in the first place.
- Irony: Of the comedic variety, as the auto-destruct button "got hit and blew itself up".
- Irrevocable Order: The entire plot, as the general puts the base on lockdown. Played with in that they do manage to revoke it, but by then one plane is too damaged to receive the recall.
- Jerkass Has a Point: Everything General Turgidson says sounds deranged, but it's mostly factually correct.
- Kubrick Stare: General Ripper.
- Lampshaded Double Entendre: "Premier Kissov is a man of the people, but he is also a man, if you know what I mean."
- Lampshade Hanging: Subverted: It was impossible to launch a wing of B-52s on an irrevocable mission, and the movie acknowledges this, not to show their work but to calm potential hysterical moviegoers down.
- Large Ham: George C. Scott originally gave a subtle portrayal of Colonel Turgidson. Before filming each scene, Kubrick would tell him to do one take over the top to help entertain the crew. Almost the entire performance that made it into the film was made of these takes. It works. It works so hard. Notably, Scott was very upset at which takes were used, as he had been assured that his 'serious' takes would be ones used.
- Dr. Strangelove in dealing with his "evil hand". Even Turgidson is sitting there silently dumbfounded at Strangelove's behavior.
- Lawful Stupid: Col. "Bat" Guano initially refuses to let Mandrake break into a vending machine to get the change he needs to call the President even though the latter is trying to prevent a nuclear holocaust. Even after giving in Guano sternly insists he will "have to answer to the Coca Cola corporation".
- Leitmotif: 'When Johnny Comes Marching Home' plays whenever Major Kong's B-52 appears. It could, knowing Kubrick, also be a musical Double Entendre on the much, much darker 'Johnny I hardly knew ya'.
- Let no Crisis Go to Waste: Turgidson's initial suggestion; commit to a full attack while the Americans have the upper hand and win the Cold War. This is exactly what Ripper was planning, of course.
- Loads and Loads of Roles: Peter Sellers plays three roles. He was originally slated to play Major Kong, but broke his ankle during filming and the part was recast. Sellers also had trouble with the accent.
- The Loins Sleep Tonight: Implied to be the reason General Ripper went nuts with the "precious bodily fluids" and all.
- Long Title
- Madness Mantra:
- Mad Scientist: The dear doctor is a Shout-Out to Rotwang from Metropolis and classical Stock Characters.
- Malaproper: Bat Guano gets it all wrong, even on a verbal level.
Bat Guano: I think you're a deviated prevert. Gen. Ripper found out about your preversion and that you're organizing some kind of mutiny of preverts. If you try any of your preversions in there, I'll blow your head off.
- Meaningful Name: Just about every name in the film has some sort of suggestive connotation regarding sexuality, playing on the film's theme that war is fueled by masculine sexual urges. (See also Punny Name, below.)
- General Turgidson is a horn-dog whose name refers to a "turgid" erection.
- Group Captain Mandrake is a voice of reason, and his name refers to the Mandrake root, which can resemble a human figure and which (when ingested) acts as a hallucinogen. In certain ancient texts, it's referred to as an aphrodisiac.
- General Jack D. Ripper is motivated by sexual frustration (he's afraid of losing his "essence" through ejaculation) to spread destruction and is named for the misogynistic serial killer Jack the Ripper.
- And President Merkin Muffley is a pussy.
- Colonel "Bat" Guano is "batshit" insane. His Meaningful Name is lampshaded by Mandrake, who asks him if his name is real. What's really surprising is that the name was improvised by Sellers.
- The target for the bomber is Laputa. La puta is Spanish for "the whore". Doubles as a Shout-Out to Gulliver's Travels.
- The Russian ambassador's name DeSadesky refers to the outrageous Marquis de Sade, trope namer of the sexual tendency.
- The Soviet Premier is named Kissof ("kiss off" and/or "piss off")
- And let's not forget the multiple potential interpretations of "Strangelove".
- Military Alphabet:
- Most famously "Wing Attack Plan R for Romeo." Also used by the bomber crew. Major Kong's accent could be a shining example of why a phonetic alphabet is useful.
- General Ripper uses "R for Robert" when speaking to Mandrake on the phone. The Royal Air Force commonly used a different phonetic alphabet (including R for Robert) until adopting the NATO standard in the late 1950s — shortly before the events of the film. Since Group Captain Mandrake is a former RAF fighter pilot, Ripper may use it for Mandrake's convenience. Or maybe it's only an oversight filmed before someone could do the research.
- A Million Is a Statistic: General Turdgidson enthusiastically reports an unofficial analysis for the contigency summarizing that the United States would suffer reduced megadeaths (20M vs 150M) if they capitalize on the situation and commit to a full attack.
- Mood Dissonance: It's hard not to root for the crew of The Leper Colony, even with the knowledge that when they succeed, they've doomed the world.
- Mr. Exposition: General Turgidson and Doctor Strangelove are advisors who explain most of the strategical and technical details to the President, and to the audience by extension.
- Mutually Assured Destruction: Turgidson thinks it can be averted with a pre-emptive strike since the United States has a five-to-one missile superiority. Enforced once the Doomsday Machine comes into play as an involuntary Suicidal Cosmic Temper Tantrum.
- My God, You Are Serious: Major Kong's first reaction to being told Plan R is to tell his crew to stop horsing around. He sobers up really quickly.
- Names to Run Away From Really Fast: Whoever thought that putting a General Jack D. Ripper in control of the nuclear launch codes was a good idea?
- A Nazi by Any Other Name: When Turgidson learns Strangelove changed his name (Merkwürdigliebe), he comments "a Kraut by any other name".
- Newhart Phone Call: The conversation between President Muffley and Premier Kissof.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed:
- President Muffley has some similarities to Adlai Stevenson. Gens. Ripper and Turgidson could both be seen as caricaturing different aspects of real-life USAF General Curtis LeMay.
- Ripper also draws on Army General Edwin Walker, who was reprimanded by Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy for distributing John Birch Society literature to his troops (illegal under the Hatch Act) and making seditious comments about American officials. After resigning Walker ran for Governor of Texas and became a well-known spokesman for right-wing causes. Today however, Walker is probably better-known for Lee Harvey Oswald trying to assassinate him..
- Strangelove himself has aspects of several real-life nuclear scientists, but his obvious (if never stated) Nazi past specifically evokes Wernher von Braun. Arthur C. Clarke, who knew both Stanley Kubrick and Wernher von Braun, reported that Kubrick once asked him to "tell Wernher I wasn't getting at him". Clarke adds, "I never did because, firstly, I didn't believe him, and secondly, even if Stanley wasn't, Peter Sellers certainly was."
- Other scientists upon whom the Strangelove character was based were Herman Kahn, Edward Teller and John von Neumann. Contrary to popular belief, Strangelove was not based on Henry Kissinger, who at the time was not well known outside of academic circles.
- Noodle Implements: The survival kit - which was based entirely on real survival kits of the second world war.
- No Sense of Personal Space: As Ripper gets drunk, he starts getting uncomfortably close and hands-on toward Mandrake, suggesting a possible explanation for his sexual issues.
- A Nuclear Error:
President Muffley: Now then, Dmitri, you know how we've always talked about the possibility of something going wrong with the bomb. The BOMB, Dmitri. The hydrogen bomb. Well now, what happened is, uh, one of our base commanders, he had a sort of... well, he went a little funny in the head. You know. Just a little funny. And uh, he went and did a silly thing. Well, I'll tell you what he did. He ordered his planes... to attack your country.
- Oh, Crap: Two Explain, Explain... Oh, Crap! realizations:
- Under normal circumstances, a commander would be proud of his own units getting to its target against all odds. In this scenario, it means the end of the World as we know it. Gen. Turgidson misses this point for a while, gushing on about the toughness and skill of the surviving B-52 bomber and its crew. Finally, Pres. Muffley cuts in and asks directly: (on reaching the target and dropping a bomb, even through the entire Soviet air defense grid) "Has he got a chance?" Turgidson: "Has he got a chance? HELL YE...ye...y..." Turgidson's realization face is priceless.
- When Mandrake realizes what's happened.
: Well, I'm afraid I'm still not with you, sir, because, I mean, if a Russian attack was not in progress, then your use of Plan R - in fact, your order to the entire wing... [beat
] Oh. I would say, sir, that there were something dreadfully wrong somewhere.
- Ambassador DeSadesky, when his superiors tell him that the Doomsday Machine has just been installed.
- The One Thing I Don't Hate About You:
- Mandrake laments his treatment in a Japanese POW camp, but admits that the Japanese do make bloody good cameras.
- Downplayed by Turgidson, who despises the Russians but tries to balance the scolding with a fair compliment.
Turgidson: The Russki talks big, but frankly, we think he's short of know-how. You can't expect a bunch of ignorant peons to understand a machine like our boys. And that's not meant as an insult to you, Mr. Ambassador. I mean, we all know how much guts the average Russki's got. Look at all of them the Nazis killed off; they still wouldn't quit!
- Only Sane Man:
- Mandrake, at the base; Muffley, in the War Room; and most ironically the bomber crew (save, perhaps, for Kong).
- Played with Strangelove himself. Despite the Dead Hand Syndrome, there's a brief scene with the president demanding to know who would create a doomsday device; the camera lingers on Strangelove, calmly smoking in the shadow, the president off-screen. A few minutes from later, Strangelove casually suggests the mine shaft survival plan, a new system of government, including who lives and who dies. For all intents and purposes, he takes over the US government right then and there, in front of its actual leaders, who are oblivious. Nobody said the Only Sane Man has to be a good person. He looks and speaks like a Looney Tunes character, but everything he says is coldly rational.
- Operation Blank: Turgidson tells the President that the bombers in Ripper's wing were airborne "as part of a special exercise we were holding called Operation Drop-Kick".
- Orchestral Bombing: And what a bombing.
- Our Presidents Are Different: Merkin Muffley is no Jack Kennedy. President strawman for the most part, Peter Sellers and caricature go hand in hand, taken to the extreme during the phone call with his Russian counterpart. The man is compassionate and softspoken, but he comes off as weak, which is underscored by his baldness, poor eyesight and voice, affected by a cold in some scenes. To his credit, he's able to shut down Turgidson's gung-ho suggestions and is a Reasonable Authority Figure who takes the right decisions. These Hidden Depths are modelled after Adlai Stevenson's.
- Parody Names: The BLAND Corporation. A parody of the Real Life RAND Corporation. Talk about a Bland-Name Product.
- The Password Is Always Swordfish: Mandrake is able to guess the Override Command code because Ripper's madness had it spelled all over the place.
- Pay Phone: Mandrake has to relay the recall code to the Pentagon on one of these, and naturally finds he doesn't have enough change. Fortunately a vending machine is conveniently nearby.
Mandrake: Colonel, that Coca-Cola machine. I want you to shoot the lock off it. There may be some change in there.
Guano: That's private property.
Mandrake: Colonel, can you possibly imagine what is going to happen to you, your frame, outlook, way of life, and everything, when they learn that you have obstructed a telephone call to the President of the United States? Can you imagine? Shoot it off! Shoot, with the gun! That's what the bullets are for, you twit!
Guano: Okay. I'm gonna get your money for you. But if you don't get the President of the United States on that phone, you know what's gonna happen to you?
- Pointless Doomsday Device: The Soviets activated the Doomsday Machine before they told anyone about it, eliminating the whole point of its role as a deterrent from nuclear war. Dr. Strangelove points this out, and the Soviet ambassador counters that they were saving its announcement for a special occasion (See As You Know above).
- Poor Communication Kills: Mandrake has problems reaching the president to recall the bombers, he finds a Pay Phone, but has not enough pocket change and a brief issue with British vs American terms. Finally, one of the bombers cannot be recalled via the Override Command because its communication system has been destroyed. Armageddon ensues. And of course, the Soviets didn't tell the world about their Doomsday Device because their premier "loves surprises".
- It's even enforced by Big Bad General Ripper, whose first action in launching his nuclear attack on Russia is ordering his staff to destroy all their radios (so they won't know he's lying and that the Russians aren't actually attacking).
- Pragmatic Villainy: The United States ruled out building a nefarious device like the Soviet Doomsday Device only because they realized that such a device is not a practical deterrent and could come back to bite them hard.
- Properly Paranoid: General Turgidson on the Russian ambassador, who takes a photo of the Big Board with a camera disguised as a pocket watch (or a pocket watch with an integrated camera) at the end. It's ambiguous if the miniature camera really was his or if Turgidson actually planted it on him.
- Punny Name: Many of them.
- General Jack D. Ripper is self-explanatory.
- A merkin is a pubic wig often seen in burlesque. "Muff" is slang for vagina. With President Merkin Muffley, the film basically admits that one of its most well-meaning characters is, in schoolyard terms, a pussy.
- Guano is bat droppings collected for use as fuel, so Col. Bat Guano = "batshit insane".
- "Alexei de Sadeski" just puts a stock Russian suffix on "de Sade".
- The Radio Dies First: Invoked by Ripper with the base lockdown; he even impounds civilian radios. Straight example in the CRM-114, the communications device onboard the "Leper Colony".
- Realistic Diction Is Unrealistic: Averted with a vengeance. It's especially noticeable in President Merkin's phone call to the Soviet premier, like a cross between Sickeningly Sweethearts, No, You Hang Up First, and Casual Danger Dialogue, projecting a ridiculous image of Muffley.
- Red Right Hand: Dr. Strangelove's uncooperative right hand, which is so iconic that the real-life disease it's based off is sometimes referred to as "Strangelove Syndrome".
- Riding the Bomb: Major Kong delivering his payload is the Trope Maker.
- Rule of Symbolism: An odd example, the table at the war room has a green top, like a poker table, implying the leaders are gambling and bluffing with the human race. It doesn't show on screen, as the movie is black and white, but Kubrick insisted on it anyway.
- Sanity Slippage: Kubrick's thumbprint:
- General Ripper at some point in his backstory, as he was able to pass the safeguard tests and Turgidson and Mandrake are surprised by his sudden behavior.
- Dr. Strangelove's Nazi vein comes back enthusiastically at the end, where he becomes an unambiguous Mad Doctor.
- Sex Is Evil: General Ripper's insane conspiracy theories came about after experiencing confusion over sexual intercourse. He didn't know what a refractory period was, and thus interpreted his post-coital exhaustion as the woman stealing his "vital essence."
- Spared by the Adaptation: In Peter George's novelization, Ripper doesn't commit suicide. Instead he escapes at the controls of a plane. Of course, given what happens later we know it's only a temporary reprieve.
- Secondary Character Title: The good doctor is a memorable character, to be sure, but definitely not the main one.
- Secret Test: One of the crewmen speculates that it's a test — "give the go code, and see who would actually go." Major Kong rejects that possibility.
- Sensor Suspense: When the missiles are approaching the nuclear bomber.
- Serious Business: Inverted. It's the audience who gag at the enormity of the implications. The majority of the characters — either by circumstance or by training — are so tunnel-visioned that they comically miss the bigger picture.
- Sexy Secretary: Turgidson's bikini-clad playmate, Miss Scott.
- Short Title: Long, Elaborate Subtitle
- Shout-Out: Strangelove is an expy of Rotwang from Metropolis and the black and white chiaroscuros are also a nod to German Expressionism.
- The bomber being called Leper Colony may be a Shout-Out to Twelve O'Clock High (probably the movie).
- Shown Their Work: The movie is filled with references to military life and then quite obscure research. Also subverted, what the cockpit of a B-52 looked like was classified, so Kubrick and crew just made what a B-29 would look if the plane was shaped like a B-52. They were so close to correct that they were briefly investigated to make sure there was no spying going on! Also, all the procedures inside the aircraft (e.g. going through the checklists) are absolutely believable.
- Slave to PR: Turgidson suggests to capitalize on the mistake and do a full scale attack. Muffley shuts this down with an aversion of Would Be Rude to Say "Genocide". Turgidson slaps back.
You are talking about mass murder not war [...] I'm not going down in history as the greatest mass murderer since Adolf Hitler
Turgidson: Perhaps it might be better, Mr. President, if you were more concerned with the American People than with your image in the history books.
Muffley: General Turgidson, I've heard quite sufficient from you. Thank you very much.
- Soundtrack Dissonance: The ending montage, of course. In-universe, the playing of pleasant civilian music over the radio during a supposed nuclear attack is what clues Mandrake into Ripper's lie.
- Soviet Superscience: Subverted. The characters initially react as it's a big feat and the ominous name alone reinforces this perception, but Stangelove points out that the Doomsday Machine is within the means of even the smallest nuclear power.
- Stealth Pun: Dr. Strangelove is strangled by his glove.
- Stiff Upper Lip: Mandrake for a while, until Bat Guano's obstructionism makes him lose it.
- Straight Man: Peter Sellers plays two of these, oddly enough. His third role more than makes up for it.
- Strawman Political: President Muffley is a well-meaning but ineffectual liberal (look-up the meaning of merkin, or, for that matter, muff) and General Ripper is an insane "John Bircher" conservative.
- Stupidest Thing I've Ever Heard: Pronounced by Major Kong during his initial incredulous reaction when the crew receives the go ahead codes for "Plan R".
- Superweapon Surprise: The Doomsday Machine, "as you know the Premier loves surprises". It was meant to be announced on Monday.
- Survivor Guilt: President Muffley discusses it paraphrasing Khrushchev; Won't "the living envy the dead"? but Strangelove easily dismisses the concept.
- This Is a Work of Fiction: The US version has this kind of disclaimer note . Actually a subversion or a false reassurance since it conveys the stated position of the Air Force about the subject but not the acknowledgement of the film makers.
- This Is Not a Drill:
Ripper: Group Captain, I'm afraid this is not an exercise.
- Those Wacky Nazis: Dr. Strangelove is portrayed as a comically bizarre weirdo who is revealed to be completely insane at the very end of the film.
- Throwing Off the Disability: "Mein Führer, I Can Walk!"
- Unaccustomed as I Am to Public Speaking...: Major Kong reckons he ain't much of a hand at makin' speeches but ends up delivering a pretty solid one anyway.
- "Mr. President, I'm not saying we wouldn't get our hair mussed..."
- President Muffley, on the phone with the Soviet Premier — "One of our generals went a little... "funny"... and went and did a silly thing..."
- "I hate to judge a man before the full facts are in but at this point it does appear that General Ripper has exceeded his authority..."
- Unwitting Pawn: The crew of The Leper Colony. Poor guys are just following orders. They don't know that the guy who gave them has lost it.
- Vengeful Vending Machine: Col. Guano has to shoot a Coca-Cola vending machine to get change for a crucial phone call to the President. He gets Coke squirted in his face.
- Viewers Are Geniuses: The "survival kit" includes, among others, nylon stockings. While this can be lost to today's audience, in the 60s soldiers were issued nylons - they were supposed to wear them under the uniform, as the stockings would keep them warm.
- Visual Innuendo: There are a number of phallic and sexual images throughout the film to highlight its theme of sexuality. The famous opening credits sequence of planes refueling in a way which looks like sexual congress. General Ripper is particularly fond of compensating for his impotency with enormous cigars (and a machine gun). Major Kong straddles the strikingly tubular bomb just before it explodes.
- Vodka Drunkenski:
- Even though we hear only President Muffley's side of the conversation, it's quite obvious that Premier Kissov is sloshed out of his gourd. It's more than hinted earlier when DeSadesky warns Muffley beforehand of a probably-intoxicated Kissov.
- General Ripper asks Mandrake if he has ever seen a Russian drinking water and then "concludes" that they only drink vodka.
- The War Room: A very influential Ur-example. A huge, elaborate set designed by Ken Adam.
- Water Source Tampering: General Ripper has a paranoid belief that there is a Communist conspiracy involving water fluoridation which will lead to contamination of everyone's "precious bodily fluids".
- We Will Meet Again: The memorable final montage plays the song of the same name over images of atomic explosions, implying the two superpowers are destined to trade blows ever after.
- World Gone Mad: Every single group of people are various sorts of insane, incompetent, and/or incapable of focusing on the important subject at hand. Except for the bomber crew, who are all well-trained and manage to adapt to the various obstacles in their path. Too bad they're the one group that desperately needs to fail. Mandrake isn't too bad either. He manages to guess the password and get the wing recalled. except for one.
We'll meet again some sunny day...