Monday, June 12, 2006

Who Wrote Dr Strangelove?

It is one of the most celebrated films of the Sixties but who actually wrote the screenplay for Dr Strangelove? Stanley Kubrick, Terry Southern and Welsh writer Peter George (see pic) are all credited as co-writers but the truth appears to be more complicated than that.

The film is based on Peter George's novel Two Hours to Doom (1958) (American title: Red Alert) which concerns an American commander who takes it upon himself to send a fleet of B-52s to nuke the USSR. The book is a grim piece of pulp fiction which taps into contemporary fears of the nuclear arms race.

On a trip to London Kubrick read it and snapped-up the film rights for $3,000. He enlisted George's help and together they began working on the screenplay. The Welsh pulp novelist would call round to Kubrick's Kensington flat where intense writing sessions would ensue in the kitchen.

In an article for Films and Filming Kubrick credited himself with turning Strangelove into a "nightmare comedy". It was he (he insisted) who decided to ditch the thriller plot and bring in cult writer Terry Southern to help introduce a whackier satirical dimension to the screenplay.

As Southern and Kubrick re-worked the script, George (who drank milk with his whisky) lay in hospital getting treatment for ulcers. Southern (according to Southern) re-wrote large parts of the dialogue and renamed the characters. It took him 6 weeks.

After its release in 1964 Southern was given most of the credit for writing Dr Strangelove. This annoyed both Kubrick and George. George was so miffed he wrote a public letter pointing out he and Kubrick had spent 10 months putting together a script and that Southern had only been brought in to do some additional writing.

Kubrick meanwhile issued press releases and explained to interviewers that he had been working on the script for many months. Kubrick the auteur firmly believed he should be given most of the credit for the movie . What's clear is that the screenplay controversy cast a bit of a shadow over the success of Dr Strangelove.

Whether this had anything to do with Peter George's eventual suicide is difficult to say. In 1966, in the study of his Sussex home, the Welshman blew his own brains out. Alcohol problems and a continuing preoccupation with a nuclear holocaust may also have been contributory factors. At the time of his death George, who was originally from Treorchy, was working on a book called Nuclear Survivors.