Those familiar with Stanley Kubrick’s awesomely hysterical and justifiably obsessed-over 1964 film Dr. Strangelove or: How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Bomb are probably aware of the film’s original ending, which was cut by the director during the editing process.
In case you aren’t, and you had always thought it was a little odd that a gigantic long table of food was available for the characters in the war room scenes; there’s a reason that buffet was there. The original screenplay contained a massive, Three Stooges-style food fight (mostly pies) at the end, which was mixed in with the now-familiar montage conclusion. It picked up right from the moment we see Russian Ambassador Alexi de Sadesky (Peter Bull) sneaking away from the group and secretly photographing the “war board” with a spy camera hidden in what looks like a pocket watch (which is the last scene in that room in the film’s final version). Following that, General ‘Buck’ Turgidson (George C. Scott) breaks away from the group who’s arguing about the horrible Doomsday Machine to accuse Sadesky of spying with little cameras. He convinces the rest to search the Ambassador’s “seven bodily orifices” for more cameras. The Ambassador calls the General a “capitalist swine” as he reaches for a cream pie on the massive buffet table behind him and flings it at Turgidson, who ducks, and the pie ends up hitting American President Merkin Muffey (Peter Sellers, in one of three roles in the film) square in the face. Turgidson intones “Gentlemen, the President has been struck down, in the prime of his life and his presidency. I say massive retaliation!” And, in true screwball-style, it escelates into all-out food war amongst those in the war room. While this is all going on, Dr. Strangelove (Peter Sellers) is shown still standing after his miraculous seig-heil wheelchair recovery, which he then contradicts by falling flat on his face, alone. Unable to reach his chair, he snakes across the floor away from the group, inadvertently pushing his wheelchair even farther away from himself. Realizing he needs assistance, he is able to prop himself up on a faraway wall and observe the pie fight (which from his distance appears to be a blurry, white fluster of activity amongst the dark void that is the war room). With the camera in close-up of his face, Dr. Strangelove raises one hand holding a pistol he had in his jacket up to his temple. While still watching the pies fling, he attempts to shoot himself in the head, only to have his black-gloved other hand, which has proved to have a mind of it’s own, stop the gun hand and struggle the gun away from himself. This causes the gun to discharge in the air and makes the others stop and look over. General Turgidson, covered in food, breaks away from the group to assist Dr. Strangelove - who implores everyone to stop “these childish games” and get to the business of planning the re-germination of human society on the planet (and ponder the mental health of President Muffey and Ambassador Sadeskey, who are making ‘pie castles’ in the muck) since the Doomsday Machine has now been set into irreversible motion. To the best of my knowledge, the food fight sequence was intended to be cut in with the rest of the back-and-forth montage that makes up the film’s current ending sequences; Major T.J. ‘King’ Kong (Slim Pickens) and his iconic rodeo bomb-ride scene in mid-air, Dr. Strangelove’s new found ability to erect himself out of his wheelchair, and stock footage of atom bomb clouds exploding over the earth - all set to Vera Lynn cheerily coo-ing the war anthem “We’ll Meet Again.”
The whole pie fight sequence was actually filmed, and took two weeks to shoot at studios in London. Kubrick (a rabid perfectionist) wanted the slapstick scene to wryly encapsulate the ways in which rival countries’ military organizations compete with each other, often compounding non-existing threats into all-out wars. But by all reports, apparently Kubrick found the finished footage came across as too bacchanalian and silly. In the making-of documentary included with the latest DVD release, the film’s cinematographer recounts how in the footage, many of the actors can be seen repeatedly laughing, out of character, during the pie fight (admittedly it must have been hard not to). Realizing how expensive it would be to clean everything and start over, the studio had refused to allow a re-take of the food fight scene before shooting even began. Kubrick made the final decision to leave the whole thing out - giving us the shorter ending we see today. Turns out one of history’s most remarkable and significant art works concerning America’s Cold War era ended with an all-boys food fight that never was, and never will be.
One rumor had it that the J.F.K. assassination in Dallas, which occurred as the film was being made, was the reason the scene was eventually nixed - especially given Turgidson’s line about the President being struck down - but all reports claim this to be just a coincidence (although one true tidbit; because of the Kennedy assassination, one of Major Kong’s original lines while examining the survival kit aboard the B-52 bomber was ‘Shoot, a fellow could have a pretty good weekend in Dallas with all of that stuff’ and was redubbed to ‘in Vegas’ after filming). Dr. Strangelove was adapted as a screenplay from Peter George’s 1958 novel Red Alert, and was intended to be a drama. Kubrick has said that while writing the script (which he worked on with George, as well as satirist Terry Southern), there were so many moments that were inescapably satirical that the screenplay naturally morphed into a black comedy. The book did not include a food fight at the end (or for that matter, the character Dr. Strangelove). Peter George wrote a film novelization (a re-write of Red Alert morphed with the film) in 1964 - and I don’t know but I doubt this book includes the pie fight either.
The pie fight footage isn’t included in any of the DVD releases of the films, and because of the film’s period, I naturally assumed the footage had been lost forever. But apparently it does indeed still exist; it was screened for an audience in 1999 at the National Film Theater in London during a festival of the director’s work following his death that same year. To date, The Kubrick estate has not granted permission for the entire film sequence’s release in any form. But who knows, perhaps a future DVD release, or perhaps even a theatrical re-release, could include it as an extra. As a great fan of this endlessly watchable and perpetually relevant film, I would consider a viewing of just the raw footage a minor miracle.