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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Here's how Dr. Strangelove turned a Cold War horror story into comedy gold

Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb is both one of Stanley Kubrick’s most terrifying films and, simultaneously, his absolute funniest. The tale of a bunch of all-powerful maniacs, plunging the world into nuclear destruction through a mix of paranoia, patriotism, and plain stupidity, has served as a helpful reference point for political absurdity since its 1964 release. A new video looks at the way that Dr. Strangelove’s dark comedy stems from Peter George’s Red Alert, a novel that shares almost the exact same plotline as Kubrick’s film, but none of its humor.


YouTube channel CineFix has examined the differences between Red Alert and Dr. Strangelove, pointing out how a cautionary nuclear age thriller became ... a cautionary nuclear age comedy. The long and the short of it? The terrors of Cold War brinkmanship—the bone-deep fear that comes from the post-war knowledge that the world could end with a few button presses—lend themselves pretty well to a pitch-black satire with only a few tweaks.

CineFix shows how Kubrick’s version of the story shifts elements from George’s book just enough that the humor inherent to such a bleak story comes to the forefront. Just a few of the examples: the B-52 bomber crew’s blind loyalty is satirized by casting Slim Pickens as the naive, cowboy leader of the group, General Ripper (originally General Quinten) is still frighteningly determined to carry out an unnecessary preemptive strike, but Kubrick’s bit about the Russians meddling with America’s “precious bodily fluids” makes his idiocy impossible to ignore. Oh, and Kubrick cast Peter Sellers not just as the American president and an RAF officer, but as original character Dr. Strangelove (who has a way of slapping exclamation marks on the latent ridiculousness of every scene he’s a part of).

The video goes over many more details, generally proving that there really is no form of gallows humor more effective than the radioactive noose hanging over the entire planet’s heads. If we have to live with a background hum of terror coloring our every waking moment, we might as well get some good jokes out of it.

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Contributor, The A.V. Club. Reid's a writer and editor who has appeared at GQ, Playboy, and Paste. He also co-created and writes for videogame sites Bullet Points Monthly and Digital Love Child.