Tuesday, November 28, 2006

A question for our times: Please tell me it isn't necessary to explain now who Gen. Jack D. Ripper is (purity of essence, purity of essence)


I paused before posting Hendrik Hertzberg's creepy portrait of Dr. Eric Keroack, Chimpy the Prez's eerie choice to oversee "population services" in the Dept. of Health and Human Services. What gave me pause was Hertzberg's brilliantly evocative description of Dr. Keroack as "a sort of family-friendly version of General Jack D. Ripper." What gave me pause--and I'm sure the matter must have been discussed in the New Yorker copy department too--was whether readers would know who Gen. Jack D. Ripper is.

I would love to be embarrassed here, to be barraged with scornful assurances that of course everyone knows. But I worry all the same. Stanley Kubrick's stupefyingly great Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb is 42 years old. Forty-two! (Yikes!) What's worse, it's in black and white. I keep hearing that you can't pay people to watch black-and-white movies nowadays.

So I just don't know whether you can now make casual reference to General Ripper, the Air Force base commander who goes completely nuts and, to protect the "purity of essence" of our bodily fluids against the demon Russkies, sets nuclear war in motion. In a film overflowing with astonishing performances, let's just say that there is none better than Sterling Hayden's glorious incarnation of the daffy Ripper (our opening photo).

I think my favorite line in the movie, though, is merely spoken about General Ripper. It's the reluctant, hedged-six-ways-to Sunday admission by gum-chewing Gen. Buck Turgidson (George C. Scott, above), in response to President Merkin Muffley's persistent questions, that in launching a nuclear attack it appears that General Ripper "may have exceeded his authority."

Candid admission: I didn't know President Muffley's name. I had to look it up.

Say, while we're on the subject, I don't suppose we have room here for a picture of President Muffley--one of Peter Sellers' three amazing role assumptions in the picture. Oh, come on, let's see if we can't just squeeze him in.


At 1:50 PM, Anonymous jerryb said...

One of my all time favorites. One of the first DVDs I actually bought. My vaforite line is spoken by Slim Pickens, as the bomber pilot, when he's going back to unstick the bomb bay doors. He says, "I'll get them doors open if it hair lips ever'body in Bear Creek". And he does too. One of Sellers best works.

It's my understanding that DoD got suspiscious when they saw the bomber scenes because they were a little too close to reality. I think they actually sent somebody to talk to Kubrick about it.

One for the ages. That film should be put in a time vault for some future anthropologist to find.;)

At 7:35 PM, Blogger knobboy said...

It certainly expanded my vocabulary.

Bat Guano (Colonel): "I think you're some kind of deviated prevert. I think General Ripper found out about your preversion, and that you were organizing some kind of mutiny of preverts."

At 10:43 PM, Blogger Scott said...

Brilliant movie by a brilliant director. Sterling Hayden's son lives in the town I grew up in and told me some good stories about his dad and his best friends dad when he was growing up...a guy named Lee Marvin.

"Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: Uh, Jack, Jack, listen, tell me, tell me, Jack. When did you first... become... well, develop this theory?
General Jack D. Ripper: Well, I, uh... I... I... first became aware of it, Mandrake, during the physical act of love.
Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: Hmm.
General Jack D. Ripper: Yes, a uh, a profound sense of fatigue... a feeling of emptiness followed. Luckily I... I was able to interpret these feelings correctly. Loss of essence.
Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: Hmm.
General Jack D. Ripper: I can assure you it has not recurred, Mandrake. Women uh... women sense my power and they seek the life essence. I, uh... I do not avoid women, Mandrake.
Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: No.
General Jack D. Ripper: But I... I do deny them my essence."

At 12:43 AM, Anonymous Geoduck said...

It's not surprising you couldn't remember Muffley's name; he is deliberately set up in the film to be a transparent nonentity.

At 11:56 AM, Blogger skaterina said...

didnt Sterling Hayden take his kids, i think there were four, off to live on a sailing ship for many months, years ?

and arent the characters from Catch 22 by Joseph Heller also as memorable as those in Dr. Strangelove ? they are for me

At 12:35 PM, Anonymous the goob said...

Both of my daughters (17 and 21) have seen this movie and loved it. In fact, one of them viewed it in a high school history class. Much hope for public education there.
Whether or not they'd recognize a reference to Jack D. Ripper right off I'm not sure, but if I reminded them of the character I'm sure they would.
Oh, and as long as we're reciting favorite lines? This movie has more of my favorites than any other, but I have to include "You'll have to answer to the Coca Cola company"

At 7:41 PM, Blogger keninny said...

Thanks for joining in , Goob, and sharing your daughters' experience.

And as a matter of fact, you've scooped me on my second-favorite line from the picture. I was already planning a sequel built around it! Never mind, let me see what kind of picture I can come up with--I'm hoping for Keenan Wynn and Peter Sellers together at that very moment!


At 9:34 PM, Blogger Randy G said...

Peter Sellers was orginally going to play a fourth role in the film as well, that of the bomber pilot.

"Gentlemen, you can't fight in here. This is the War Room"

At 11:08 AM, Anonymous Albany Rifles said...

GEN Buck Turgidson: Mr. President, we must not allow a mineshaft gap!

At 10:08 PM, Blogger Ryan said...

"Mein Fuhrer! I can walk!!"

Best last line of any movie ever.


Post a Comment

<< Home