General Jack D. Ripper (played by Sterling Hayden): “Today, war is too important to be left to politicians. They have neither the time, the training, nor the inclination for strategic thought. I can no longer sit back and allow Communist infiltration, Communist indoctrination, Communist subversion and the international Communist conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids.”—from Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964), directed by Stanley Kubrick, written by Kubrick, Terry Southern and Peter George, adapted from George’s novel Red Alert, aka Two Hours to Doom
(Forty-five years ago on this date, Dr. Strangelove burst, like one of the bombs in the movie, on an unsuspecting world.
The first test screening, scheduled for November 22, 1963, was pushed back—along with the film’s premiere—because, it was felt, America would not be ready for such a bitterly dark satire so soon after the traumatic assassination of JFK.
Even when it was released, one scene had to be toned down: a custard pie-throwing fight in the War Room. When the President falls face down after being hit by one of these pies, Gen. “Buck” Turgidson leaps up to scream: “Gentlemen! Our gallant young president has just been struck down in his prime!" No way that was going on celluloid after the events in Dallas…
The film’s great acting triumph came courtesy of Peter Sellers, who played three roles: British Capt. Lionel Mandrake, the Stevensonian American President Merkin Muffley, and, of course, the title character.
Originally, Sellers was supposed to tackle a fourth role—Maj. T.J. “King” Kong—but was having trouble with the Texas accent. Depending on your point of view, a broken ankle Sellers incurred either forced Kubrick to find a replacement in that role or offered Sellers a graceful exit from a difficult part.
One person offered the Kong role was Dan Blocker—Hoss from Bonanza—who wasn’t crazy about a script written by liberals. But if that’s hard to swallow, try the other potential replacement in that part: John Wayne, whose political views tended far more toward Gen. Ripper’s than President Muffley’s. At least Blocker turned the part down. Wayne didn’t even deign to reply to the offer!)