Cast: Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden, Keenan Wynn, Slim Pickens, Peter Bull, Tracy Reed, Jack Creley, James Earl Jones, Frank Berry, Robert O’Neil, Glenn Beck, Roy Stephens, Shane Rimmer, Hal Galili, Paul Tamarin, Laurence Herder, Gordon Tanner, John McCarthy
At Burpelson Air Force Base, U.S. Air Force Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper (Hayden) suspects that the communists are conspiring to pollute the “precious bodily fluids” of the American people. Mentally unhinged, General Ripper orders the 843rd Bomb Wing past its failsafe points and into Soviet airspace. Ripper tells base personnel that the Soviet Union has started a war, orders the confiscation of all radios, and puts the base on alert against possible attack by Soviet troops. Miss Scott (Reed), General Turgidson’s attractive secretary and mistress, takes a telephone call alerting him that something has gone wrong. Air Force General Buck Turgidson (Scott), still in his underwear, learns of irregular operations of the 843rd wing. Later, in the War Room at the Pentagon, General Turgidson tells President Merkin Muffley (Sellers) that an Air Force base commander has launched a nuclear attack on the Soviets and has sealed off his base. When President Merkin states that he was under the impression that only he could order such an attack, Turgidson explains that apparently General Ripper made unauthorized use of provisions of Plan R, an emergency war plan enabling a senior officer to launch a retaliation strike if the President has been killed during a sneak attack. Turgidson suggests that the President might as well take advantage of the situation and order a full scale attack on the Soviets, since it is impossible to stop the attack without issuing a recall code known only to General Ripper. But President Muffley instead invites Soviet Ambassador de Sadesky (Bull) to the War Room, explains the situation, and sets up a hotline conversation with the Soviet Premier to avert a nuclear war. It takes a while to reach the Premier, apparently on a drinking party at his dacha. President Muffley orders the Army to arrest the errant air base commander, but the base defensive forces take the Army soldiers for disguised Soviets and a protracted firefight ensues. The President seeks advice from Dr. Strangelove (Sellers), a wheelchair-bound genius strategist with a heavy German accent and a gloved right hand that occasionally attempts to strangle him. Finally getting the Soviet Premier on the hotline, President Muffley cautiously tells him that one of his base commanders went a little funny in the head and ordered his planes to attack the USSR. The Premier becomes totally deranged upon hearing the news, but Muffley placates him by offering the information necessary for Soviet air defenses to shoot down the planes before they reach their targets. The Soviets reveal a complication: they have recently irreversibly activated a doomsday machine that will automatically destroy all life on Earth if the USSR is hit by nuclear weapons. Dr. Strangelove, who seems to find nuclear annihilation sexually stimulating, counters that such a device would not be a practical deterrent “for reasons which at this moment must be all too obvious.” Group Captain Lionel Mandrake (Sellers), a Royal Air Force officer serving in General Ripper’s command, turns on a radio and hears music instead of Civil Defense alerts. Realizing that there is no attack on the United States and aided by Army Colonel “Bat” Guano (Wynn), Mandrake desperately tries to extract the secret recall code from the paranoid General Ripper. Meanwhile, flying below Soviet radar, a B-52 crew commanded by Maj. T.J. “King” Kong (Pickens) skillfully avoids Soviet efforts to shoot them down and, unable to reach the intended targets, proceed instead to a target of opportunity. Although Kubrick did not have access to the real War Room or a B-52’s interior, the sets are absolutely convincing and utterly realistic. Cinematography by Gilbert Taylor. Special Effects by Wally Veevers. Based on the novel Red Alert by Peter Bryan George, the film is darkly reminiscent of theories from Herman Kahn’s book On Thermonuclear War.