We celebrate this year the 50th anniversary of the release of Dr. Strangelove — which holds up as one of the greatest film comedies, and indeed one of the greatest films tout court, ever made. It is very much of its time — the Cold War, an era whose passing I, who lived through more than half of it, it do not lament — but it remains alive, because of a splendid script and excellent performances, and also because it helped in no small measure to shape the sensibility of our current era. Dr. Bradley Birzer of Hillsdale College has a fascinating appreciation of this classic film over on The Imaginative Conservative, an essay I commend to readers’ attention. He is spot-on, especially, in acknowledging how important George C. Scott’s performance is to the success of the film: Scott creates a character who’s an “over-the-top” and “Shatneresque” caricature — yet somehow manages to humanize him as well.
I learned from Dr. Birzer a little fact about the movie that I had never known before. In one of the memorable pieces of dialogue for which Dr. Strangelove is renowned, Slim Pickens as an Air Force pilot is briefing his bomber team on the contents of the emergency kits at their disposal should they have to bail out over Russia:
Survival kit contents check. In them you’ll find: one forty-five caliber automatic; two boxes of ammunition; four days’ concentrated emergency rations; one drug issue containing antibiotics, morphine, vitamin pills, pep pills, sleeping pills, tranquilizer pills; one miniature combination Russian phrase book and Bible; one hundred dollars in rubles; one hundred dollars in gold; nine packs of chewing gum; one issue of prophylactics; three lipsticks; three pair of nylon stockings. Shoot, a fella’ could have a pretty good weekend in [Vegas] with all that stuff.
In the original version, it turns out, he says you could have “a pretty good weekend in Dallas with all that stuff.” But the movie came out just a few weeks after President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas — so the word Vegas was dubbed in.
Younger readers who have not seen the film really should; it’s an admittedly dark, yet strangely cheerful, treat.