Wednesday, January 29, 2014

How Are Your 'Precious Bodily Fluids' Holding Up?

Gentlemen, you can't fight in here! This is the War Room!

President Merkin Muffley (Peter Sellers)

I am a fan of movie director Stanley Kubrick's work. I really like all of his films — can't think of one that I don't like — but my absolute favorite is probably the one that premiered 50 years ago today, "Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb."

Actually, "Dr. Strangelove" isn't my favorite Kubrick movie all the time. Sometimes my favorite is "2001: A Space Odyssey," and sometimes it is "A Clockwork Orange." Sometimes it's "The Shining."

Occasionally, it is "Lolita" or even "Eyes Wide Shut." Heck, as I say, I like 'em all.

But none of Kubrick's other movies match "Dr. Strangelove" in terms of producing lines that I love ...

Like when Peter Sellers, as President Merkin Muffley, tells an American military official (George C. Scott) and a Russian ambassador who have come to blows, "Gentlemen, you can't fight in here! This is the War Room!" (The American Film Institute named that the #64 quote in movie history.)

But, really, there are so many wonderful lines in "Dr. Strangelove" that I can't narrow it down to a single favorite line. I discover new lines to enjoy and appreciate every time I see it.

There are some lines, of course, that have amused me from the start.

Just about every time that Slim Pickens opens his mouth is funny, whether he is preparing his crew for "noo–klear combat, toe to toe with the Rooskies" or whooping while he rides a bomb to his death.

Everything is built around a really simple premise — an Air Force officer, aptly named Jack Ripper, issues an order for bombers in the air to attack Russia, and the movie is about the attempts on the ground to stop that attack. A very similar movie, "Fail–Safe," was in the theaters that year as well, but, whereas Kubrick's movie was a black comedy, the other was definitely a drama.

I've always been an admirer of George C. Scott. His performance in "Patton" is one of the great portrayals of an historical figure in cinematic history, but I always enjoy watching him as Gen. Buck Turgidson, an adviser to the president. Scott was a complete actor, able to do comedy as well as drama.

The lines were great, but a big part of that was hearing them from the mouths of just the right people.

Peter Sellers has long been one of my family's favorites, but he was never funnier than he was in "Dr. Strangelove," in which he played three parts. Three times as many chances to be funny — and two were with foreign accents that he could exaggerate as he wished.

Still, some of my favorite scenes are when Sellers is playing the American president. At one point, for example, he asserts that Ripper (Sterling Hayden) is a psychotic.

"I'd like to hold off judgment on a thing like that," Scott's character replies, "until all the facts are in." (This is after Ripper has already sent the bombers on their mission.)

And, of course, it is always funny to watch Hayden rant that "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."

I also enjoy Ripper's description of his personal battle to protect those "precious bodily fluids."

"I first became aware of it," he tells Mandrake, his British attache, "during the physical act of love. A profound sense of fatigue, a feeling of emptiness followed. Luckily I was able to interpret these feelings correctly. Loss of essence. I can assure you it has not recurred, Mandrake. Women sense my power, and they seek the life essence. I do not avoid women, Mandrake, but I do deny them my essence."

Never fails to make me laugh.

As it is with every Peter Sellers movie I have ever seen, it gets better with each viewing, too. Perhaps that is because I know what is going to happen, and I can focus my attention on the lines that always make me laugh.

And that, in turn, permits me to "discover" other lines on subsequent viewings.

I thoroughly enjoy watching Sellers as Mandrake, timidly declining Ripper's order to help him fire his weapon at incoming troops. Sellers' gift for physical comedy was evident — even though he took no pratfalls.

But it is as the movie's title character, Dr. Strangelove, that Sellers is at his most entertaining.

He projects a very Nazi–esque demeanor when he rhapsodizes on the benefits of a Doomsday Machine, then chastises the Soviets for keeping their development of one to themselves.

"The whole point of a Doomsday Machine is lost," he says, "if you keep it a secret! Why didn't you tell the world?"

In 50 years, it's never been a secret how funny "Dr. Strangelove" is. AFI ranks it #3 among the comedies (#39 overall).

Some of us might rank it higher than that. Much higher.