These are Terry Southern’s times

Terry Southern was the man behind the funniest parts of the screenplay for Stanley Kubrick’s film Dr. Strangelove. It’s not surprising that John Edwards’ favorite film is Dr. Strangelove:

On October 7, John Edwards, Democratic vice presidential candidate and U.S. Senator from North Carolina, will consider Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964). Edwards chose Stanley Kubrick’s black comedy about nuclear war because of its message that “putting this kind of power into the hands of human beings – no matter who they are – is an extraordinary thing.”

I read a brilliant memoir in Harpers Magazine of Southern’s career as a writer by George Plimpton, but I can’t find it online. It gets a passing mention in this excellent and comprehensive article in the Austin Chronicle.

The resulting film was full of Terry Southern touches, from the names of the characters (Keenan Wynn played the memorable Major “Bat” Guano) to the prayer that George C. Scott delivers in the war room. Southern’s Texas origins are particularly evident in the character of the American B-52 pilot played by cowboy-character actor Slim Pickens. Pickens’ down-home delivery was perfect for the speeches he gave to the crew as they were flying.

Just past the fold are some of the quotes from Dr. Strangelove that make me think that Southern had some sort of crystal ball and saw 2004 looming as clearly as if it was in the rear view mirror…

General Jack D. Ripper : Your Commie has no regard for human life. Not even his own.


General Jack D. Ripper : Mandrake, do you recall what Clemenceau once said about war?
Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake : No, I don’t think I do, sir, no.
General Jack D. Ripper : He said war was too important to be left to the generals. When he said that, 50 years ago, he might have been right. But 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.


[Turgidson advocates a further nuclear attack to prevent a Soviet response to Ripper’s attack]
General “Buck” Turgidson : Mr. President, we are rapidly approaching a moment of truth both for ourselves as human beings and for the life of our nation. Now, truth is not always a pleasant thing. But it is necessary now to make a choice, to choose between two admittedly regrettable, but nevertheless *distinguishable*, postwar environments: one where you got twenty million people killed, and the other where you got a hundred and fifty million people killed.
President Merkin Muffley : You’re talking about mass murder, General, not war!
General “Buck” Turgidson : Mr. President, I’m not saying we wouldn’t get our hair mussed. But I do say no more than ten to twenty million killed, tops. Uh, depending on the breaks.


[After learning of the Doomsday Machine]
President Merkin Muffley : But this is absolute madness, Ambassador! Why should you *build* such a thing?
Ambassador de Sadesky : There were those of us who fought against it, but in the end we could not keep up with the expense involved in the arms race, the space race, and the peace race. At the same time our people grumbled for more nylons and washing machines. Our doomsday scheme cost us just a small fraction of what we had been spending on defense in a single year. The deciding factor was when we learned that your country was working along similar lines, and we were afraid of a doomsday gap.
President Merkin Muffley : This is preposterous. I’ve never approved of anything like that.
Ambassador de Sadesky : Our source was the New York Times.


Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake : Colonel… that Coca-Cola machine. I want you to shoot the lock off it. There may be some change in there.
Colonel “Bat” Guano : That’s private property.
Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake : Colonel! Can you possibly imagine what is going to happen to you, your frame, outlook, way of life, and everything, when they learn that you have obstructed a telephone call to the President of the United States? Can you imagine? Shoot it off! Shoot! With a gun! That’s what the bullets are for, you twit!
Colonel “Bat” Guano : Okay. I’m gonna get your money for ya. But if you don’t get the President of the United States on that phone, you know what’s gonna happen to you?
Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake : What?
Colonel “Bat” Guano : You’re gonna have to answer to the Coca-Cola company.

God, it just goes on and on. When media watchdogs were trying to force Sinclair Broadcasting to give equal time to the Kerry Campaign if they were going to show “Stolen Honor,” or whatever that hack piece of shit was called, they should have asked them to broadcast Dr. Strangelove on another night. It would been a perfect counterpoint.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *