A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
Every time you see a great film, you find new things in it. Viewing Stanley Kubrick's "Dr. Strangelove" for perhaps the 10th time, I discovered what George C. Scott does with his face. His performance is the funniest thing in the movie--better even than the inspired triple performance by Peter Sellers or the nutjob general played by Sterling Hayden--but this time I found myself paying special attention to the tics and twitches, the grimaces and eyebrow archings, the sardonic smiles and gum-chewing, and I enjoyed the way Scott approached the role as a duet for voice and facial expression.
That can be dangerous for an actor. Directors often ask actors to underplay closer shots, because too much facial movement translates into mugging or overacting. Billy Wilder once asked Jack Lemmon for "a little less" so many takes in a row that Lemmon finally exploded: "Whaddya want! Nothing?" Lemmon recalls that Wilder raised his eyes to heaven: "Please God!" Kubrick, whose attention to the smallest detail in every frame was obsessive, would have been aware of George C. Scott's facial gymnastics, and yet he endorsed them, and when you watch "Strangelove" you can see why.
Scott's work is hidden in plain view. His face here is so plastic and mobile it reminds you of Jerry Lewis or Jim Carrey (in completely different kinds of movies). Yet you don't consciously notice his expressions because Scott sells them with the energy and conviction of his performance. He means what he says so urgently that the expressions accompany his dialogue instead of distracting from it. Consider the scene where his character, Gen. Buck Turgidson, is informing the president that it is quite likely a B-52 bomber will be able to fly under Russian radar and deliver its payload even though the entire Soviet air force knows where the plane is headed. "He can barrel in that baby so low!" Scott says, with his arms spread wide like wings, and his head shaking in admiration at how good his pilots are--so good one of them is about to bring an end to civilization.
Another actor, waving his arms around, might look absurd. Scott embodies the body language so completely that it simply plays as drama (and comedy). In another scene, scurrying around the War Room, he slips, falls to a knee, rights himself, and carries on. Kubrick the perfectionist left the unplanned slip in the film, because Scott made it seem convincing, and not an accident.