Dr. Strangelove – 50 Year Anniversary

January 30, 2014

Dr Strangelove: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Fifty years ago this week (January 29, 1964), director Stanley Kubrick‘s classic black comedy/satire was released … make that UNLEASHED into theatres.  It’s place as a legendary and classic film is quite secure.  I wrote about it not too long ago, and here is the link if you’d like to get my take:


Also, just for fun, here is a rare image from the infamous filmed, but cut, pie fight that occurred in the war room (Yes, that is George C Scott).  It was an over-the-top (even for this film) slapstick scene that was deemed too tasteless so soon after the assassination of President John Kennedy.

strangelove pie fight


THE SHINING (1980) revisited

January 29, 2013

shining Greetings again from the darkness. One of the keys to my love of cinema is what I term the “three D’s” – Dispute, Discussion and Debate.  Legendary director Stanley Kubrick directed only eleven feature films, each a perfect fit for the “three D’s”.  Now combine Kubrick with renowned author Stephen King, and the result is 33 years (and counting) of ongoing dispute, discussion and debate.  The Shining is considered one of the best horror films of all-time and limitless in its ability to entertain … even after the closing credits.

Kubrick and his co-writer, novelist Diane Johnson, took the already twisted source material and delivered a film focused more on the downward spiral towards madness than King’s supernatural story.  Sure Kubrick gives us ghosts (Lloyd the bartender, Grady the butler, the two girls and the women of Room 237), but the bulk of time is spent watching the three members of the Torrance family each breakdown in their own special manner.

shining7 The ambiguities of the story are intensified on the closing shot of the 1921 photograph featuring the likeness of Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson). The various interpretations over the years have only added to the cult status and overall perplexity associated with this masterpiece.  The historic Texas Theatre in Dallas presented a 35 mm print this past weekend and it was a thrill to once again watch the movie on the big screen with a full house.

There are so many elements that elevate this one above most horror films. The claustrophobic feel that comes with an isolated hotel snowed off from society is complimented by a cast of actors who fully commit to what must have appeared ludicrous on the script pages.  Jack Nicholson was at the peak of the acting profession (just a few years after Chinatown and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) and really creeps us out with his aggressive descent into insanity.  Shelley Duvall survived an actor’s nightmare during filming as Kubrick was relentless in his efforts to make sure she shining5was constantly hysterical and on the verge of tears.  Yet, she never fails in convincing us that she is frantically grasping for sanity as she works to save herself and her son.  Despite having no previous acting experience, six year old Danny Lloyd won the role of Danny, who is blessed/cursed with “the shining” – a psychic ability to see the past and the future.

Over the years, conclusions have been reached that Kubrick was making a statement on topics ranging from the slaughter of Native Americans, the Holocaust, the supernatural, alcoholism, and the hollow institution known as family. Regardless of your interpretation, it’s impressive that a horror film can generate such divisive thoughts. Even more impressive is how the movie sucks you in with a methodical pace and  deliberate build-up to a wild ending … an ending missing a key hospital scene that was cut by Kubrick AFTER the film was initially released.

Known as The Overlook Hotel in the movie, it’s really a conglomeration of many different hotels. The exterior shots are of Timberlake Lodge in Oregon.  Much of the interior, including the Colorado room where Jack writes, is patterned after Ahwahanee Lodge in Yosemite, though the red bathroom is courtesy of the Arizona Biltmore (and Frank Lloyd Wright).  The giant set was built shining3in England and included the shrubbery maze that is front and center come climax time.  Stephen King was inspired to write the story after staying at The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado. In 1997, he personally oversaw a TV mini-series that stayed true to his original story … and was filmed at The Stanley.

Scatman Crothers is best known as a musician and composer, but immediately became well respected for his role as Dick Hallorann, the hotel’s chef.  The scene where he discusses the meaning of “the shining” with Danny became infamous for the 148 takes demanded by Kubrick. His penchant for multiple takes nearly broke the actors and the crew, but most since then have acknowledged the grueling approach provided the edge needed for the dramatic effects seen in the movie.

Some other interesting aspects of the movie include the numerous “classic lines” such as Nicholson’s ad-libbed “Here’s Johnny!” and “Little Pig, Little Pig”; the controversial line from Grady (Philip Stone) stating Torrance has “always been the caretaker”; Torrance’s exchange with Lloyd the bartender (Joe Turkel) when he calls alcohol the “white man’s burden”.  It’s also interesting shining2to note that the visual of the two girls was influenced by Diane Arbus’ famous photograph.  Ask yourself; prior to seeing this movie, would you have recognized REDRUM?  Since this was in the days before computers, a secretary spent months typing up (yes on a typewriter) the hundreds of pages that read “All work and no play make Jack a dull boy”.  In the Gold Room party scene, that’s 17 year old Vivian Kubrick (daughter of Stanley) smoking a cigarette while sitting on the sofa. And a special note to my fellow baseball lovers, Shelley Duvall whacks Nicholson with a Carl Yastrzemski model Louisville slugger.  Of course, Stephen King is a lifelong Red Sox fan, so this was a nice touch.

It’s understandable if you consider the movie more disturbing than horrifying. Kubrick would take that as a compliment.  As for the complexities and contradictions, nothing is more frightening than the unexplained and the unreasonable. Without an obvious roadmap to a tidy conclusion, Kubrick keeps us guessing and leaves us uncomfortable by what we have seen. Maybe most remarkable is the incredible way this movie impacts you EVERY TIME you watch.  This is quite an accomplishment for the horror genre, since most depend on visual tricks, cheap scares and over the top gore.  If you are waiting for more, Stephen King is scheduled to release “Dr. Sleep”, which is the story of an adult Danny (no word on whether Tony is with him) who now works with those who share “the shining”.  Just don’t expect Danny Lloyd to reprise his childhood role.  He hasn’t acted in over 30 years and is enjoying his career as a science teacher.

check out Danny’s big wheel scene:



November 2, 2012


Greetings again from the darkness. Difficult to decide if it’s more shocking that this film is almost 50 years old, or that it ever got released in the first place. No other black comedy satire on such a sensitive political issue has ever had its theatrical release right smack dab in the middle of the ongoing issue. The cold war between Russia and the US was in high gear and the Cuban Missile crisis had just occurred. In fact, President Kennedy’s assassination caused the film’s opening to be delayed.

 Stanley Kubrick only directed eleven feature length films, and ten of them can be considered classics (A Clockwork Orange, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Shining, to name a few). Dr. Strangelove is regarded as one of the greatest comedies of all-time, though it’s difficult to imagine anyone under 30 really “getting” much of the humor – unless they happen to be a history buff. The movie could come across as one big “inside joke” to those unfamiliar with the times.

 Loosely based on Peter George‘s “Red Alert” novel, Kubrick decided to take the source material and turn it into satire. He brought in Terry Southern (“The Magic Christian”) to help with the script, and then he turned the incomparable Peter Sellers loose in 3 roles (originally 4, but he broke his leg and gave up the Commander King Kong role). Stories abound with Sellers causing multiple takes and significant editing due to his ad-libbing cracking up other cast members (and even Kubrick).

 The structure of the film involved three separate, yet intertwined sequences. We see Burpelson Air Force Base Commander General Jack D Ripper (Sterling Hayden) issuing the order to Group Captain Mandrake (Sellers) to lock down the base. It turns out, Ripper has gone a bit loony and somehow issued the strike first command against Russia. Mandrake spends much of this segment trying to calmly obtain the Recall Codes from Ripper. We also meet the crew of one of the multiple B-52 bombers in route to Russia. Led by Commander “King” Kong (Slim Pickins), they are on the way to deliver two nuclear bombs. One of his crew is played by James Earl Jones in his screen debut. Lastly we go inside the War Room where President Merkin Muffley (Sellers) is meeting with his Joint Chiefs of Staff and advisors. A key player here is General Buck Turgidson (George C Scott) in full kill and be killed mode.

 There are so many interesting bits to discuss, but let’s limit to just a few. Watch the camera angles that Kubrick uses to film Hayden. He is made to look both powerful and nuts. Hayden (so great in Kubrick’s The Killing) has the voice and tough guy stance to make us believe he could start a war due to a Russian plot to pollute the “precious body fluids” of Americans. Sellers plays two roles in the War Room, but his straight man performance as the President allows George C Scott to really shine in one of his few comedic turns as an actor. Scott’s performance is somehow over the top AND right on the button (so to speak). When watching Slim Pickins in the iconic final image, keep in mind that he was a real life rodeo cowboy prior to breaking into acting.

 Obviously the character names are outlandish (Keenan Wynn plays Col. Bat Guano), but it should be noted that the character of the President was based on real life politician and Presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson. The General Turgidson character is based on real life General Curtis LeMay who was infamous for his kill ’em first attitude. Also, General Ripper was based on General Thomas S Power, who was LeMay’s protégé and ultimate replacement as Joint Chief of the Air Force. It should also be noted that Tracy Reed is the only female character who appears … and yes, that is her in the Playboy magazine that Commander Kong is perusing.

There are so many classic lines and sight gags in the film that it’s challenging to keep up on the first viewing. Also, it’s been a few years since a pay phone and coke machine played such vital roles. When Kubrick killed the original pie fight ending, he added more frightening images and the poignant closing song – “We’ll Meet Again” by Vera Lynn. Director Sidney Lumet did a film version of this same basic story told in a straight-forward and thrilling manner. His Fail-Safe was released less than a year after Dr. Strangelove.

**NOTE: While it’s now common to refer to the film as “Dr. Strangelove”, the actual title is Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.  It is the longest title of any film nominated for a Best Picture Oscar.  The film received four total nominations, but it turned into the year of My Fair Lady (Best Picture), George Cukor (Director), and Rex Harrison (Actor).

watch the unusual trailer:




July 12, 2012

 Greetings again from the darkness. Director Stanley Kubrick only made 11 feature films, and there have been arguments made for all 11 to be considered cinematic classics. This one must surely be included with Spartacus, Dr Strangelove, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and The Shining as films that are safe and secure in movie history. Based on the novella from Anthony Burgess, the focus on Alex makes this an extremely disturbing and uncomfortable film to watch, even 41 years after original release.  Still, I couldn’t resist an opportunity to watch it one more time … with a full house on the big screen.

Malcolm McDowell is just terrific as Alex, the sadistic, remorseless, psychotic leader of a pack of hoodlums who terrorize innocents just for the sake of doing so. To emphasize Alex’s distorted view of society, Kubrick utilizes a wide-angle lens to show us his Point of View. There is much commentary in the film and most of it is quite obvious. One of the least discussed is the interaction of Alex and his “droogs”. When they tire of his relentless power-mongering and the lack of big scores from all of their criminal activity, we see how young thugs would handle such a situation.  Got milk?

 There is also much criticism directed at the British government and the world of psychiatry, especially mind-control. Kubrick obviously had extreme views on these topics as he went off-track from the source material to make his points in extreme fashion. The idea of moral choice being the distinguishing factor of a man could be debated, but seems logical when contrasted with the anti-violence rehabilitation system favored by the minister.

There are some fascinating visuals with the milk-plus bar, the artwork and wide-angle lens … especially when focused on Patrick Magee’s face during the rape scene. Also, the use of Ludwig van Beethoven to put Alex in the mood for “ultra-violence”, and then his subsequent song and dance to “Singin in the Rain”, show what the other side of music can mean to those not quite right in the head.  Don’t worry about missing some of the “droogs” dialogue.  They have a language of their own and it is based in Russian roots.  Michael Bates adds a touch of comedy relief as the over-bearing prison guard. His mannerisms are quite funny, yet somehow believable.

The film received four Oscar nominations including Best Picture and Best Director, though sadly, McDowell was not recognized. While there is much in the film that is difficult to watch, the brilliance of the material, script, acting and directing are a treat for movie lovers. One bit of trivia: that is David Prowse who plays the writer’s bodyguard. Mr. Prowse would go on to play Darth Vader in the Star Wars films.

not sure if this is an official teaser trailer, but it provides a taste without spoiling any scenes:

THE KILLING (1956) revisited

March 9, 2012

 Greetings again from the darkness. What a treat to see this one on the big screen, some 56 years after its release. This is famed director Stanley Kubrick‘s first real feature-length film and is a quasi-film noir near the end of that genre’s run. You undoubtedly know Kubrick’s more famous work on 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, and The Shining, among others. His amazing eye with the camera is on full display here, but this provides quite a different look from his later works.

Sterling Hayden stars as Johnny, the leader of a gang who plans to rob a racetrack of 2 million dollars. At its core, this is a traditional heist film, but it is presented in anything but a traditional manner. The non-linear timeline and constant flashbacks and flash-forwards influenced many future filmmakers such as Quentin Tarantino and Christopher Nolan. For the era, this was incredibly unique and a bit experimental. In fact, the studio forced Kubrick to add the narrator post-production to make it easier for the viewer to follow. The narrator is Art Gilmore, a prolific voice actor, who was heard in numerous movies, TV shows and previews.

 Support work is provided by many familiar character actors that we all recognize. Elisha Cook is best known for his work in The Maltese Falcon and Vince Edwards gained fame as TV’s “Ben Casey”. There are two actresses of note here. Marie Windsor plays the scheming, double-crossing wife/girlfriend whom Hayden’s character claims has a dollar sign right where her heart should be. Ms. Windsor also appeared in Swamp Women, director Roger Corman‘s directorial debut. Coleen Gray plays Hayden’s loyal girlfriend. Ms. Gray had a long, prolific career as an actress, but never achieved the stardom that many predicted.

 As viewers, we are included in most of the strategy involved in the heist and recognize many of the details as they occur. One of the more fascinating scenes is a bar fight featuring Kola Kwariani. This is a very unusually staged fight and is actually quite humorous today, with a touch of The Three Stooges. This was Mr. Kwariani’s only film appearance and it’s quite memorable for a professional wrestler! Another sequence that really stands out features Timothy Carey as a sharpshooter. His speech pattern is a bit bizarre, but we never doubt his commitment to the cause. Carey’s character has a very daring exchange with a race track security guard that is even uncomfortable so many years later.

Kubrick was groomed as a still photographer and his expert eye is obvious in each of his films. His approach to filming the horse racing scenes is spectacular, and stands in contrast to his love of stressed faces in close-ups. Supposedly Rodney Dangerfield appears as an extra during the bar fight, but I missed him. Probably need the DVD for that! This one is certainly worth checking out for a glimpse into early Kubrick and the screen magnetism of Sterling Hayden … who 16 years later (as Sgt McClusky) would break the jaw of Michael Corleone with a single punch, and later be the victim of one of Hollywood’s all-time mob hit scenes in Louis restaurant.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are interested in what early Kubrick looks like compared to his later hits OR you want to see Sterling Hayden in prime form

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: the gangster and heist films of the 40’s and 50’s aren’t to your taste

see the original trailer:

TMI (2-14-12)

February 14, 2012

TMI (Today’s Movie Info)

February: Director’s Month

 STANLEY KUBRICK (1928-1999) only made 12 full length feature films, but 11 of them could be considered classics. His 1956 The Killing is still considered one of the best of the Film Noir genre, and Paths of Glory (1957) is a staple in Film Classes for war films. Spartacus (1960) and Lolita (1962) provided true insight into his filmmaking genius, and the turning point in his career was the critical acclaim and box office success of his war/political black comedy Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964). After that, Kubrick had the power that only a handful of directors ever achieve – he was free to choose what movies he wanted to make, when he would make them, how he would make them, and with whom he would make them. In 1968 he collaborated with Arthur C Clarke to create what many still consider the best sci-fi film ever, 2001: A Space Odyssey.  In the 70’s came his ultra-violent masterpiece A Clockwork Orange (1971) and also Barry Lyndon (1975).  For many film lovers the classic modern horror film is Kubrick’s The Shining (1980), based on Stephen King’s novel (though King despised the adaptation).  In 1987, Kubrick explored the dark psychological damage caused by war in Full Metal Jacket.  His final film was Eyes Wide Shut (1999), which received very mixed critical reviews (he claimed it was his best film).  Kubrick died in his sleep in while working on another sci-fi film.  His friend, Steven Spielberg, finished the film and dedicated AI: Artificial Intelligence (2001) to Stanley Kubrick.  Over his career, Kubrick received 13 Oscar nominations, winning for Best Special Effects for “2001”. Since he gave so few interviews, he was often described as a recluse. Kubrick scoffed at the label saying “I have a wife, three children, three dogs, seven cats.  I’m not a Franz Kafka sitting alone and suffering.”