Stanley Kubrick’s pitch-black comedy about nuclear apocalypse, first released in the midst of the Cold War paranoia of 1964, is still shocking in its giggly nihilism, surely meant to mirror the insanity of the mutually assured-destruction policy employed by the United States and the Soviet Union at the time. Post Iraq, what feels more topical is the depiction of America chomping at the bit to go to war, especially as personified by George C. Scott’s
growling general. Much is made of Peter Sellers’ comic triple play – he takes on the title character, the U.S. president and a visiting British officer – but it’s Scott who embodies the movie’s bug-eyed lunacy. As his pilots, flying under mistaken orders, speed towards Russia with their nuclear payloads, the general can’t help rooting for them, even if it ultimately means global annihilation. Most of the rest of Kubrick’s gags are smart but over-staged – like jokes that have been memorized by the brightest kid in class. From his use of a phallic cigar to the final scene of mushroom clouds blossoming to the tune of “We’ll Meet Again,” Kubrick fusses over his punch lines so much the humor often feels airless.