Screengrab: Kubrick and the bomb

Screen GrabRichard Lutz sits down to his week-old tray of mince pies and picks the best of the movies on the box.

Are you the betting type? Like a flutter? Put a fiver on the 4.22 at Uttoxeter or the 2.15 at the dogs? If you are, slap a wager on which holiday is coming up from the following list of mawkish films splattered all over Channel Five this week. Mrs Miracle, The Christmas Card, Mistletoe over Manhattan, The Real St Nick….

I could go on. And, actually, I will at the end of this prestigious column that has won every arts award going ever (in Albania). Yes, it’s Christmas, Xmas, the Yuletide, Crimbo, St Nick’s Bunfight, the festive season…etc…etc.

Well, the unending run up to the thing anyway. But aside from the mudslide of Christmas films (see below), how about something whose quality you can feel when you rub it between your fingers, a movie that has staying power?

Casting aside this week’s other quality offerings such as the Elstree beauty Passport to Pimlico (a prescient anthem for UKIP) or that bleak masterpiece The Seventh Seal, there is a warning to us all in the shape of Stanley Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove (Fri, 13.10, Film4).

Made at the threshold of the mid-sixties, when the world went nuts over four Scousers with drainpipe trousers and Commie conspiracy threats, it is a brilliant satire on a planet heading for hell in a nuclear handcart (Word has it that we still are heading that way).

The whacko plot goes like this: a psychotic US general (named Jack D. Ripper) believes the Russkies are poisoning American drinking water and “sapping our precious bodily fluids.”

He hits the button to launch a hydrogen bomb against Moscow. Spineless American president Merkin Muffley  ays that the USSR has the right to punch back by picking a target in the US. But the USSR bear has other ideas. It has a ‘doomsday machine’ to blow up the whole planet. Only the mysterious former Nazi Dr Strangelove (one of three roles taken by Peter Sellers) has the solution, which involves herding several hundred thousand Americans into deep mineshafts to survive and re-surface again after an intense breeding programme. But will this plan by the wheelchair-bound scientist work?

Der Strangelove has a great cast in Sellers, George C. Scott, James Earl Jones, Sterling Hayden, and B-52 pilot Slim Pickens, who has the final say as he straddles the bomb as it plummets towards his Russian target. Its broad black comedy and shows Kubrick at his bleakest satiric best, the film nestling chronologically between his Lolita (1962) and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) which is being re-released soon.

Of course, America twitched all over the place when the director dared to show how the US too can go haywire with weapons that can smash this fragile planet to smithereens. And, of course, it knocked spots off the po-faced turgid drama Seven Days in May which came out in the same year and covered the same nuclear ground. Which just may go to show you that a funny film creates more impact than a serious one.

As a footnote, if you’re too lazy to pick up the remote to shut off the TV, stick around because Hombre follows Dr Strangelove. Sit in awe as lovely Paul Newman has to wear a laughable Hollywood wig and pretend he is an Apache.

Meanwhile, back on earth as created by Channel Five, I continue with my list of Xmas scheduled dross: Santa Junior, Meet the Santas, Noel, Dear Santa, The Real St. Nick, An Old Fashioned Christmas, A Perfect Christmas (This column guarantees no human beings were hurt making these movies).