The Dr. Strangelove Alternate Ending Few People Have Ever Seen

Stanley Kubrick's "Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb" is still seen by many as the epitome of bleak political satire. More than 50 years after its original release in 1964, the film's absurdist portrayal of the Cold War between the U.S. and Soviet Union remains an unsettling reminder of just how easy it would be for humankind to wipe itself clean off the map through a nuclear catastrophe. And as depressing as I'm making the movie sound, "Dr. Strangelove" really is a darkly comical hoot thanks to its sharp writing, Gilbert Taylor's splendid black-and-white cinematography, and, of course, Peter Sellers' wonderfully over the top turn as Dr. Strangelove, the transparently diabolical ex-Nazi and scientific advisor to the utterly ineffectual U.S. President Merkin Muffley (also Sellers).

"Dr. Strangelove" follows Muffley as he and the other top officials in his administration work with Royal Air Force officer Lionel Mandrake (also Sellers, again) to prevent a mentally unwell Air Force general from launching a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union and starting a nuclear war. Ultimately, however, they fail (er, spoilers?), which leads into the movie's famous ending: a montage of clips of nuclear explosions (taken from footage of real nuclear bomb tests) going off around the world set to the melancholy tune of Vera Lynn's rendition of the WWII-era song "We'll Meet Again."

... At least, that's how the movie's theatrical cut concluded. The original version Kubrick shot was, to put it mildly, quite different.

You Can't Fight in Here. This is the War Room!

The alternate ending to "Dr. Strangelove" had Muffley and everyone else in the Pentagon's War Room abandon their efforts to stop the end of the world to engage in a massive custard pie fight. This isn't the stuff of rumor, either; official stills of the pie battle exist (see above), and the actual footage was publicly screened in 1999 at the National Film Theatre in London.

Kubrick explained his reasoning for dropping this sequence in an interview in 1969, stating, "I decided it was farce and not consistent with the satiric tone of the rest of the film." Separately, "Dr. Strangelove" co-writer Terry Southern wrote an article entitled "Notes from The War Room," where he elaborated on the thinking behind this decision:

The style and mood of the sequence should have reflected [the film's] grim circumstances. Kubrick's major goof was his failure to communicate that idea to the sixty or so pie-throwing admirals and generals, so that the prevailing atmosphere, as it came across on the film, might best be described as bacchanalian-with everyone gaily tossing pies, obviously in the highest of spirits. A disaster of, as Kubrick said, "Homeric proportions." Needless to say, the scene was cut.

The Effects of the Kennedy Assassination

By pure, terrible coincidence, "Dr. Strangelove" was going to hold a test screening on November 22, 1963 — the day U.S. President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. This also led to the movie's release date being delayed to late January 1964, on the assumption that audiences wouldn't be in the mood for a grim satire on the heels of such a horrific event. A line of dialogue by the B-52 commander and pilot, Slim Pickens, where he said, "A fella could have a pretty good weekend in Dallas with all that stuff," was also re-dubbed during post-production, with "Vegas" replacing "Dallas" to avoid being insensitive.

In another unpleasant accident, the film's original ending included a moment where George C. Scott's General Buck Turgidson, upon seeing President Muffley pied in the face, exclaimed, "Gentlemen! Our gallant young president has been struck down in his prime!" The film's editor, Anthony Harvey, suggested this was the real reason the pie fight was cut in an extra on the movie's 40th anniversary DVD, stating, "It would have stayed, except that Columbia Pictures were horrified, and thought it would offend [President Kennedy's] family." That said, everyone else who worked on "Dr. Strangelove" and have spoken on the matter have claimed the change occurred before Kennedy's death, so it's possible Harvey was simply mistaken.