Essential postwar American cinema, Hope-Crosby-style mirror image of Fail-Safe, Rabelaisian Cold War slapstick — Stanley Kubrick’s first genuinely original movie has been seen, re-seen, dissected, and iconized, but a few sly truths about it have yet to be fully grokked by the aging mezzobrow filmgoers and mysterious AFI list-makers (it’s been the third “Funniest” and the 26th “Greatest”).
First, that the hard-charging originality of the screenplay — think of it as the equivalent of turning The Hot Zone into an Apatow comedy — suggests a deficient legacy of credit owed to Terry Southern’s corner.
Second, that 1964 was stunningly early for such a balls-out attack on anti-Communist jingoism (who was the Columbia exec responsible for the green light?). Third and most vital, that the essential source of the film’s wit is the bald-faced equivalence of military-industrial ambition with giant, fat, erect cocks.
I saw this film multiple times as a young movie consumer before I understood that the entire atomic giggle-nightmare, from the bomb imagery to the characters’ names, is an extended lampooning metaphor for big swingin’ dicks, everywhere you look.
It may be then the most viciously anti-patriarchal film ever made in Hollywood — concluding as it does with the Splooge That Ends the World.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on May 14, 2014