Saturday, June 09, 2012

Peter Bryant's Red Alert

I read Peter Bryant's 1958 novel Red Alert, which was the inspiration for the movie Dr. Strangelove. The two diverge in very significant ways that ultimately highlight Stanley Kubrick's creative talents, not to mention Peter Sellers'. The novel is earnest and dead serious. A rogue general (the novel's Quentin becomes Jack D. Ripper in the movie) decides the only way to save the world is to destroy the Soviet Union's nuclear arsenal, even though that means killing millions of people. He uses a top secret plan that tells bombers to attack, then puts his base on lockdown so that no one can recall them.

What Kubrick saw was that the story was so serious, crazy, and yet ultimately rather believable that the narrative deserved to have a mocking tone. Dr. Strangelove is not in the novel, nor are there references to "precious bodily fluids," or George  C. Scott's goofy gum chomping general, or the Colonel Bat Guano's constant references to commie "preverts." The novel, in fact, does not have the Doomsday Machine either. Instead, there is the very human drama of a U.S. president agreeing to allow the destruction of a U.S. city (Atlantic City) if a Soviet city were hit first. It shows some optimism about how human beings can work together, whereas the Doomsday Machine is out of any human hands.

The most important difference between the two is that the serious work had a happy ending and the farcical work ended with the destruction of the planet.

Anyway, if you haven't seen Dr. Strangelove, or haven't seen it recently, check it out again, as I did. There's always something new to find in it.


Randy Paul 11:09 PM  

Terry Southern, one of the writers was the major source of the satire in the film. He was recommended to Kubrick by Peter Sellers.

Anonymous,  4:11 AM  

The novel sounds like the plot of the over-earnest Fail-Safe (1964)... at least ending with the U.S. Pres allowing a U.S: city to be bombed in retaliation for an "accidental" bombing of the Soviet Union.

Greg Weeks 7:48 AM  

quick Google search suggests the authors were successfully sued as a result.

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