We may not be staring down mutually assured destruction the way we believed we were back in the Cold War days of the mid-20th century. But the recent tensions between the United States and Russia can make you oddly nostalgic for those chilly years when we were sure we were just a push of “the button” away from annihilation.
If you are subject to that creepy reminiscence, the Kentucky Theatre has a very well-timed Summer Classic Wednesday: the 1964 Stanley Kubrick satire Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. It shows at 1:30 and 7:15 p.m. Wednesday.
The movie was loosely based on the Peter George novel Red Alert and takes place during a crisis in which crazy Gen. Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden) — that name, alone, tells you where this film is going — has ordered a nuclear strike on the Soviet Union, which would unleash the rain of nuclear weapons that would leave both nations and much of the world in ruins. There are also characters named Maj. T. J. “King” Kong and Col. Bat Guano. Fun.
The real fun is the dark comedy of all the varied interests scrambling to deal with the situation, including comic genius Peter Sellers playing three roles including the title character, a former Nazi and nuclear weapons expert with an out of control hand who is one of President Merkin Muffley’s (also played by Sellers, and another funny name if you want to look it up) top advisers. As the danger deepens, Strangelove is the one that suggests gathering several hundred thousand people with a 10-to-one ratio of women to men to live in mineshafts and repopulate the country after nuclear devastation.
Sellers, who was known for performances playing multiple characters, also played British officer Lionel Mandrake who tries to face down Ripper and his derranged theories about Russians poisoning Americans’ “precious bodily fluids.” Sellers was also supposed to portay Maj. Kong, the Texas bombardier focused on fulfilling his nuclear mission, but had to bow out because of an injury giving Slim Pickens a chance to turn in one of his most memorable performances.
And the film is certainly remembered by people who experienced in the context of the fear it mocked, coming in at No. 3 on the American Film Institute’s list of funniest American movies and being called, “arguably the best political satire of the century,” by the late Roger Ebert.