Tag Archives: Movies

It’s a MAD, MAD, MAD World

by Rick Bretz

Two movies, one bomb. The movies Fail Safe (1964) and Dr. Strangelove (1964) will always be linked together for the year they were released and the different take that each had on the same idea of nuclear proliferation. One really isn’t better than the other movie.  Each approach the idea of nuclear war during the Cold War in different ways.

Dr_-Strangelove-War-Room

There’s nothing like a discussion about Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) and movies that speak to the topic. With all of this talk about Rocket Man, North Korea’s testing program and nuclear build up and proliferation, I think it is time to revisit two movies which came out at the same time that addressed the idea of MAD, Mutually Assured Destruction. The two movies are Fail Safe and Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.  They are both classic movies and meet the idea of a doomsday scenario with fear and dismay.

One was a serious look at how mankind could be destroyed if weapon use, policies and procedures were not well thought out.  The other was a brilliant movie about the absurdity of it all and the personalities that could bring to fruition such a chain of events.

Both featured military officers who lost their composure due to personal issues.  At the same time, these officers were also with people who provided a reasonable voice during the madness. Strangelove, memorably, also featured Peter Sellers playing three roles.  In one of my favorite characters of all time, Sterling Hayden gives us General Jack D. Ripper, a general who doesn’t have all of his chess pieces.

In the interest of full disclosure, I consider Dr. Strangelove one of the best satire movies of all time. Just about every line in the script is brilliant.  The idea that man would destroy itself is a concept to horrifying to contemplate for an extended time.  Therefore, the only real course of action is to just ridicule and laugh at the thought.

Fail Safe

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Fail Safe, directed by the equally legendary Sydney Lumet, is a serious study of policy, procedure and the decision making process required to save mankind.  Spoiler alert here…. Henry Fonda portrayed the President of the United States with a likable quality in a situation where he had to make decisions no one would want to make, namely taking out an American city to save the world.   The movie had the unfortunate luck of being released after Dr. Strangelove thanks to Kubrick employing the court system after he  found out the serious movie Fail Safe was being produced.  He knew the first one to be released would be the most successful.  Strangelove was released first and did well while Fail Safe didn’t not sell well.   Time has elevated both movies to cult status.  Fail Safe is considered a well thought out, intelligent perspective on nuclear warfare while Dr. Strangelove is considered a classic satire with several quotable lines in the dialogue.

Lines from Dr. Strangelove

General Jack D. Ripper: 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.

President Merkin Muffley: Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room.

General Jack D. Ripper: Fluoridation is the most monstrously conceived and dangerous communist plot we have ever had to face.

Major T. J. “King” Kong: Goldie, how many times have I told you guys that I don’t want no horsing around on the airplane?

General Jack D. Ripper: For God’s sake, Mandrake! In the name of Her Majesty and the continental congress, get over here and feed me this belt.

Major T. J. “King” Kong: Well, I’ve been to one World Fair, a picnic, and a rodeo, and that’s the stupidest thing I ever heard come over a set of earphones.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nJjMPHhuoXQ

Lines from Fail Safe

The President: How did you get to be a translator, Buck? You don’t seem the academic type.

Buck:  I guess I have a talent for languages, sir. I hear a language once I pick it right up. I don’t even know how. They found out about it in the Army.

Gordon Knapp: We’ve told them how to blow up our air-to-air missiles, and with them our planes.

Professor Groeteschele: They know we might have a doomsday system, missiles that would go into action days, even weeks after a war is over and destroy an enemy even after that enemy has already destroyed us.

Gordon Knapp: The more complex an electronic system gets, the more accident prone it is. Sooner or later it breaks

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-9R3w8wDrmM

 

Definitions:

Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD)- is a doctrine of military strategy and national security policy in which a full-scale use of nuclear weapons by two or more opposing sides would cause the complete annihilation of both the attacker and the defender (see pre-emptive nuclear strike and second strike).[1] It is based on the theory of deterrence, which holds that the threat of using strong weapons against the enemy prevents the enemy’s use of those same weapons. The strategy is a form of Nash equilibrium in which, once armed, neither side has any incentive to initiate a conflict or to disarm.

Game theory is the analysis of how decision makers interact in decision making to take into account reactions and choices of the other decision makers. International conflict and other phenomena in international relations occur as a result of decisions made by people

Notable Links:

http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/future_tense/2014/10/fail_safe_50th_anniversary_sidney_lumet_s_nuclear_war_movie_is_better_than.html

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0058083/?ref_=nv_sr_1

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0057012/?ref_=nv_sr_1

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Friedrich_Glasl%27s_model_of_conflict_escalation

http://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780199743292/obo-9780199743292-0071.xml

 

 

The Best of Cleopatra

Harvard_Theatre_Collection_-_Sarah_Bernhardt_TCS_2_(Cleopatra)

by Rick Bretz

 

As Egyptian Queens go, my favorite is Nefertiti, a name meaning “A beautiful woman has come.”

http://www.biography.com/people/nefertiti-9421166

In spite of preferences, there was another queen that gets most of the headlines and movie titles.  She would be Cleopatra.  It’s interesting to note that Cleopatra as a movie role has been taken on by many actresses.  She might be the most attempted historic role attempted by actresses, other than Queen Elizabeth I and the current Queen Elizabeth, since the first frame of celluloid was run through a projector. It’s interesting to compare how actresses interpret one personality in history.

The portrayals that stand out in history are delivered by Theda Bera, Claudette Colbert, Vivien Leigh, Sophia Loren and Elizabeth Taylor.  Other actresses have also attempted Cleopatra such as Monica Belucci but I want to concentrate on the five.

The Face of Cleopatra? Find out.

http://www.historyextra.com/article/ancient-egypt/face-cleopatra-was-she-really-so-beautiful

Cleopatra was of Greek Macedonian heritage but quickly learned the Egyptian language and identified with the Egyptian culture. This effort endeared her to the Egyptian people. She was a shrewd politician who maneuvered her way to be the sole ruler of Egypt. Empress Catherine the Great, who ruled Russia in the 1700s, followed this example by learning the Russian language early on in her education and immersing herself in the Russian culture when she came from Prussia to marry the future Peter III.

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/who-was-cleopatra-151356013/

The comparison among the five portrayals of Cleopatra is an interesting exercise but for the time they were released they were all noteworthy.

theda bera as cleopatra

Theda Bera-1917

Theda Bera, the silent screen’s first sex symbol, took on the role of Cleopatra in the silent film days in 1917.  This one is a challenge to assess because only a few seconds of her performance exists.  Since she was one of, if not the first, to take on the role of Cleopatra, you have to give her credit.   She set a standard for others to follow.

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000847/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OWn7L2pL5dI

-claudette-colbert-cleopatra

Claudette Colbert-1934

Claudette Colbert appeared on-screen in “It Happened One Night” and “Cleopatra” in the same year, 1934.  She showed some range that year.  Colbert had to have the look for Cleopatra but also at that time a speaking voice that recorded well for the movies. During the transition from silent film to “talkies” many actresses and actors were left behind due to poor speaking voices or voices that didn’t match their appearances on screen.  She had both, the look and the voice, and her portrayal shows it in the strong personality she shows on film in the Cecil B. DeMille production.  Cecil B. DeMille knew how to stage an epic. Although this film is shot in black and white, the pageantry of it competes with epics of today,  Colbert, however, takes over the screen next to her co-stars and displays a strong national leader from the beginning to the final frame.   In a nod to her hitchhiking scene with Clark Gable for “It Happened One Night”, she essentially did the same thing for Julius Caesar and Mark Antony as they applied their brakes to their horse and carriages to court Cleopatra.

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001055/

http://www.cinemagraphe.com/cleopatra-1934.php

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VTbs3va862A

 

 

Vivien Leigh-1945

If Vivien Leigh can seduce Rhett Butler, she can certainly do the same with Julius Caesar.  Although she has the look, she is not an actress that you think about when considering for the role of Cleopatra. She seems to play the part more playfully than being a tactful political rival and nation ruler. Leigh’s Cheshire cat smile seems to take away from cunning and ambitiousness.  Leigh does an admirable job as well as the supporting cast, especially Claude Rains as Caesar, but it is not the best of the lot.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0038390/

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000046/?ref_=tt_cl_t2

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JzPbWQ1yeZk

 

Sophia Loren-1954

This Italian film is more famous for Sophia Loren playing Cleopatra and the dual role of the slave girl look-alike who tries, with help, to make her way into the royal palace pretending to be Cleopatra.  It’s more of a comedy than a serious epic but Loren as Cleopatra is intriguing.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0045712/

 

 

cleopatra Elizabeth taylor

Elizabeth Taylor-1963

Elizabeth Taylor’s Cleopatra is perhaps the most well known or notorious of the actresses depending on your point of view.  The film’s cost over runs due to production problems, actor’s salaries and the cost of building the sets ballooned the budget from 2 million to some reports say 44 million, and that’s 1963 money. Contrary to popular opinion, it wasn’t a disaster it eventually made money and garnered 9 Academy Award nominations.  The on-set romance between Taylor and Richard Burton notwithstanding, Taylor’s version of Cleopatra rivals that of Claudette Colbert in its sexual nature and she portrays Cleopatra as a political figure and manipulator.  She captures the film the moment she rolls out of the carpet.  At that time, she was as powerful in Hollywood as Cleopatra was in Egypt and her 1 million plus salary proved it.   Despite the negative publicity it remains an epic to this day.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0056937/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cleopatra_(1963_film)

http://time.com/3877380/cleopatra-rare-photos-of-liz-taylor-richard-burton-on-set-in-1962/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h-IxtDdeL7

https://www.buzzfeed.com/briangalindo/15-things-you-might-not-know-about-the-movie-cleopatra?utm_term=.pboz6AQRx#.vbQEVb7Br

 

The rankings:

  1. Elizabeth Taylor (Because it was shot in color and had terrific sets)
  2. Claudette Colbert ( A close second)
  3. Theda Bera (She was the first)
  4. Vivien Leigh (She ‘s Vivien Leigh, worth a look)
  5. Sophia Loren (Only because it was comedy and not an epic)