Monday, April 2, 2012

Dr. Strangelove (1) vs. 1941 (16)


       “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying About the Bomb” is a dark comedy set in the Cold War.  It was directed by Stanley Kubrick and released in 1964. An insane general launches a nuclear bomber attack against the Soviet Union to protect America’s “precious bodily fluids”. In the War Room, the President and his advisers try to prevent the Soviets initiating their “doomsday device” by recalling the B-52s or helping the Soviets thwart the attack.

       “1941” is a period comedy set in the week after Pearl Harbor. It takes place in California. It was directed Steven Spielberg and released in 1979. The plot revolves around a Japanese sub that is attempting to bombard Hollywood. There are several subplots including the stationing of an artillery piece in a families front yard, a love triangle between a tanker, a Zoot Suiter, and a dance hall girl, and a rogue fighter pilot searching for enemy aircraft. Mayhem ensues.


      “Dr. Strangelove” features a tour de force by Peter Sellers. He plays British Group Captain Mandrake, President Muffley, and ex-Nazi scientist Strangelove. It is an amazing performance and earned an Academy Award nomination.  (He lost to Rex Harrison of "My Fair Lady"!) He is ably supported by the supporting cast. George C. Scott plays the bellicose Gen. Turgidson. He was told by Kubrick to do over the top practice takes and then Kubrick used those takes in the film (much to Scott’s chagrin). Slim Pickens was told the movie was a drama which results in his scenes as Capt. “King” Kong on his B-52 being very taut.

       “1941” has a large cast of recognizable faces. It’s an odd mixture of dramatic actors trying to get in the spirit (Ned Beatty, Warren Oates, Robert Stack) and comedians trying too hard to stand out. It is obvious they are trying too hard. Noone stands out. John Belushi and Dan Ackroyd were given the meatiest roles, but both end up flailing about trying to overcome the weak script.  It gets to the point where Ackroyd's character suffers a concussion so he can spout gibberish. The stand-out performance is given by, believe it or not, Slim Pickens as the Jap captive Hollis “Holly” Wood.

First half score: Strangelove – 49 1941 - 35


       “Strangelove” is one of the most highly regarded Cold War satires. It was nominated for the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar (losing to "Becket"!). It skewers the policy of Mutually Assured Destruction. It gleans laughs from the insanity of nuclear war. It is seldom laugh out loud funny and in fact parts are suspenseful. It is a classic of dark comedy. The best word to describe it would be “biting”.

       “1941” seems to have started out as a standard farce and then degenerated into a frantic, chaotic mess. The film gets off to a good start with a parody of the opening of “Jaws” (with the same actress) and includes a hilarious scene with “Holly” Wood on the Japanese sub. Most of the rest is forced. The dialogue is pedestrian and the second half substitutes physical mayhem for subtlety. There are several scenes reminiscent of the last part of “The Blues Brothers” – destruction as comedy.

Second half score; Strangelove - 44 1941 - 35


        This was a match-up between a classic comedy and a cult favorite. “Dr. Strangelove” is ranked #3 on AFIs list of 100 Greatest Comedies and is considered one of the most important war comedies ever made. On the other hand, “1941” was a miscue by Spielberg. It was generally considered a flop when it first came out and (just as with some other justifiably frowned on movies) has somehow been rehabilitated into cult status. It has its fans who find the desperate flailing attempts at humor to be amusing. However, no one in their right mind could argue it belongs in a conversation with “Dr. Strangelove”.

Dr. Strangelove   93
1941                    70


  1. Comparing these two is like comparing The Apartment to Biodome. But like you I like them both. 1941 is actually a terrific idea for a movie and should have been much better then it was. I'd compare Spielberg at that time to Landis with Blues Brothers. Young and overindulgent directors playing with expensive toys. The special effects and miniatures in 1941 are very well done. The music is perfect and makes it a better movie. If he had edited out that riduculous house falling off the cliff crap at the end...but thats history. Strangelove was a much more difficult movie to make I'm sure. Satire is hard. I think its kinda slow at times, but Peter Sellers and George C. Scott make the movie. Sellers was pretty brilliant in that one. I like the scene where Scott does a roll across the floor and keeps talking. I wonder if that was in the script? I dont recall many people in the theatre when we saw 1941. Maybe they were all at King Kong (remake1). Just kidding.

  2. the war movie buffApril 5, 2012 at 11:34 AM

    1941 is the perfect example of a movie where if the director could not think of something funny, he would blow some shit up. The secenes with Belushi chasing Matheson plane through the skies of L.A. show Speilberg's greatness, but it just makes the rest of the movie sad. Here are some of those pitiful moments; the unoriginal ballroom brawl, the destruction of the house, the tank running through the paint factory, the shooting out of the lights on the L.A. street - any one of which would have been too much!


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