Dr. Strangelove

Dr. Strangelove Summary and Analysis of : scene 16 (surrender at Burpleson) - scene 22 (recall code acknowledged)

scenes: surrender at Burpleson – Ripper’s suicide – unidentified radar blip – O P E / “Got any witnesses?” – radio gear is out – “some kind of deviated prevert” – recall code acknowledged


Outside Ripper’s office, the gunfire subsides. A cut to the exterior shows Ripper’s men surrendering to the army unit that the President sent. Back inside the office, Ripper realizes that his men have surrendered, and dejected, drops his own weapon. Mandrake continues to try to convince Ripper to give him the codes. Ripper asks Mandrake if he has ever been a prisoner of war, and if he was tortured, and Mandrake confirms that he was. Ripper admits he does not think he would hold up well under torture, and goes into the bathroom. Mandrake does not realize what Ripper is doing, and is still trying to convince Ripper to give him the recall code from outside the bathroom door when he is interrupted by a gunshot: Ripper has committed suicide.

Back in Major Kong’s B-52, the team is being approached by an unidentified radar blip. It is likely a missile, and the team begins evasive maneuvers. Just as it seems like the missile is deflecting, it detonates and is close enough that the blast damages the plane. The crew scrambles to regain control, and the plane eventually steadies, but has suffered damage. A cut back to Ripper’s office finds Mandrake frantically looking through Ripper’s notes for the recall codes. He finds a notepad scribbled with “purity of essence” and “peace on earth,” and realizes that the code is some variation on P-O-E.

Suddenly, the door is shot open and Colonel “Bat” Guano enters, brandishing an M1 carbine. He is immediately suspicious of Mandrake because he is not an American, and thinks that Mandrake killed Ripper. Mandrake, now the acting head of command at Burpelson, has a difficult time convincing Col. Guano that he needs to reach Strategic Air Command. Col. Guano starts marching Mandrake out of the office at gunpoint.

A cut to the B-52 shows Major Kong’s team analyzing the damage to their plane. The radio is badly damaged, probably because the auto-destruct circuit was hit. They determine that they will have enough fuel to make it to both targets, but not back to a base or neutral country afterward. We also find out from Major Kong that they are flying so low that they will not be spotted by Russian radar.

Back at Burpleson, Col. Guano continues to escort Mandrake out of the base. We find out that Col. Guano thinks that Mandrake killed Ripper in some conspiracy to hide his own “preversions” (intended to be “perversions,” but repeatedly misspoken by Col. Guano). Finally, Mandrake’s threats that Col. Guano would be punished for extreme negligence get through to him, and Col. Guano lets Mandrake try to get in touch with the President. Mandrake is hindered by a payphone and an operator who refuses to put him through without the correct amount of change. Mandrake asks Col. Guano to shoot the lock off of the Coca-Cola machine so that they can use the change for a payphone. Col. Guano is incredibly protective of the machine, which he does not want to steal from because it is “private property,” but he finally capitulates and is sprayed in the face with soda as he bends to recover the change.

It then cuts to the War Room, and we find out that the recall code O-P-E has been received and acknowledged. Everyone in the room starts celebrating. We hear that 4 planes are reported destroyed by the enemy, and the other 30 planes are turning around. Just before it cuts away again, we find out that the Soviet Premier is on the phone again, and very upset about something.


In the scene of Ripper’s suicide we find another potent criticism of the religious hypocrisy of the Cold War US military leaders. Ripper claims that he believes in the afterlife, and that he thinks he can answer for what he has done. Of course the audience understands that, according to Christianity, Ripper is an incredibly immoral person who ordered a needless attack that will result in massive civilian casualties, and he would certainly be punished in the Christian version of the afterlife. Additionally, Mandrake’s failure to see the suicide coming, despite Ripper’s reference to the afterlife, draws out his ineffectiveness, which parallels that of President Muffley. The parallel between the two protagonists of their respective settings is highlighted by their performance by the same actor, Peter Sellers.

The death of Ripper escalates the conflict by removing the only person who knows the recall codes, though the surrender of the base suggests the approach of a resolution. Further, the damage to the bomber in the following scene also contributes to this feeling of uncertainty--we hope for the crew’s failure to deliver their payload, and their recovery after being hit leaves open the both the possibility of being taken down or having to land, and the possibility of barely making it to their target. This scene raises some cognitive dissonance in the viewer, as we both simultaneously hope for the failure of the bomber but also for the survival of its crew, as the only people in the film who we know to be both competent and distressed by nuclear warfare.

Mandrake’s discovery of Ripper’s notes is the first step toward some form of resolution of the conflict. However, Col. Guano’s entrance almost immediately disturbs our certainty in that resolution because of his mistrust of Mandrake and misunderstanding of the situation. Additionally, the destruction to Kong’s bomber in the previous scene, in conjunction with the earlier focus on the radio’s auto-destruct circuit (see section 1 analysis), foreshadow a communication breakdown during the issuing of the recall code. The following scene, in which Kong and his team analyze the damage to the plane, confirms the radio damage. Further, Kong’s assessment that their low altitude will hinder Soviet radar from spotting them escalates the uncertainty—the audience knows that the President’s last-ditch plan is to help the Soviets shoot down the planes. The uncertainty caused by the shaky resolution in these scenes raises the dramatic tension of the film, as the audience anxiously waits for the crisis to be avoided.

Colonel Guano’s character serves almost solely to satirize the military and the military-industrial complex. His immediate assumption that Mandrake is to blame is at once xenophobic and homophobic: he criticizes Mandrake’s Royal Air Force uniform, suspecting him of wrongdoing because he is not American, and his assertion of Mandrake’s “preversions” is a reference to the US military’s policy on homosexuals in the military. At the time, the US military considered homosexuals to be deviants, and Col. Guano assumes that Ripper found out about Mandrake’s homosexuality, and so Mandrake organized “an army of preverts,” that is, organized the other homosexuals at the base, into a revolt against Ripper. Additionally, Guano’s repeated mispronunciation of the ‘pervert’ as ‘prevert,’ as well as his utter misunderstanding of the situation, mocks his intelligence. Like the other military characters in the film, Guano is used to represent the views, actions, and attitudes of the military as a whole, and in him we find a characterization of the military as xenophobic, unaccepting (in this case homophobic), and generally unintelligent.

Understanding Col. Guano’s role as a representative of the whole military, the scene with the Coca-Cola machine becomes a clear criticism of the military-industrial complex. Guano, despite having nearly destroyed Burpleson and killed or wounded many soldiers, refuses to deface the soda machine because of its status as “private property.” Although he eventually agrees to shoot the machine because he has been convinced to help Mandrake get in touch with the President, he gravely warns him “he will have to answer to the Coca-Cola Company.” This symbolic protection of capitalism and private industry at the expense of other military interests criticizes the problem of the military’s partnership with industrial forces.

The success of the recall code provides a brief moment of calm amid the chaos in the film. The characters understand the situation to be resolved, and though audience is uncertain of the status of Major Kong’s bomber, we now understand that bomber as the only obstacle to overcome in preventing a nuclear catastrophe. General Turgidson delivers a heavily religious speech after the confirmation of the recall code, again satirizing his paradoxical adherence to Christianity. He prays in thanks for his deliverance “from the forces of evil,” failing to realize the hypocrisy in what he says: he and the US military, with their obsession with nuclear proliferation and mutually assured destruction, are the very “forces of evil” that he speaks of, which almost annihilated the world. The interruption of his speech by the angry Soviet Premier opens the final section of the film, a descent into chaos.