The Best of 2017: The 1960s

The Best of 2017 - The 1960s

Ah, the decade I was born… So many films I missed and can now watch. Let’s see what turned up:

lavventura

L’Avventura (1960) Michelangelo Antonioni
FilmStruck (2:23)

Fair warning: you’ll see this film again on another list. I don’t have any problem placing it on more than one list. It’s probably the film I’ve thought the most about this year. Please, read on.

blow-up

Blow-Up (1966) Michelangelo Antonioni
FilmStruck (1:51)

(Here’s another film that could go into more than one category, yet I’m including it here because the film simply cries out “The 60s!”)

The debate continues. Is Blow-Up film noir or is it something else? It played on the Noir City circuit in 2016 (one of the films I was unfortunately unable to attend) but I wonder how many conversations ensued about whether or not it should be included as a film noir. I’m not entirely sure myself.

Put very simply, a London fashion photographer named Thomas (David Hemmings) photographs a couple in Maryon Park. The young woman (Vanessa Redgrave) – obviously seeing an older man, neither of them aware that they are being photographed – tracks down Thomas, demanding the film. Even though the film is over 50 years old, I’m not going to tell you what happens next, other than one thing: after blowing-up the photos, Thomas sees something he wasn’t supposed to see.

I could say so much about this film, but not without at least one more viewing. Roger Ebert wrote a review of the film in 1998, reflecting back on his thoughts on seeing the film just before he became a professional film critic. One year later, he wrote a post called “Corpse from Blow-Up Speaks!” which is required reading for anyone who has seen the film. If it is legitimate, it places the film in an interesting light, to say the least.

Although I only saw it this year for the first time, Antonioni’s L’avventura (1960) will probably become one of my favorite films of all time. Although Blow-Up will probably never make that list, it contains moments that remind me of L’avventura, and moments that seem as if they came from another director. Again, I need to see both films again, as well as much more of Antonioni’s work. I hope you will also.

navarone

The Guns of Navarone (1961) J. Lee Thompson
DVD (2:38)

Based on Alistair MacLean’s 1957 novel of the same name, The Guns of Navarone chronicles the mission of an Allied commando team to destroy a German fortress and its two massive guns, thereby seizing control of the island of Navarone where 2,000 British soldiers are being held. That team includes Gregory Peck, David Niven, Anthony Quinn, Anthony Quayle and more, including a cameo by Richard Harris. (It also stars British actor Percy Herbert, who was also in The Bridge on the River Kwai and just about every other film involving the British in WWII during the 50s and 60s.) It’s one of those epic war adventures that I’m sorry it took me so long to see, but it was worth the wait.

swimma

The Swimmer (1968) Frank Perry, Sydney Pollack (uncredited)
Grindhouse Releasing Blu-ray (1:35)

Previous thoughts here.

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The Lion in Winter (1968) Anthony Harvey
MGM DVD (2:14)

Set during Christmas 1183, King Henry II (Peter O’Toole) must decide which of his sons will inherit the throne: Richard the Lionheart (Anthony Hopkins), Geoffrey II, Duke of Brittany (John Castle) or the youngest son John (Nigel Terry). Henry also allows his estranged wife Eleanor of Aquitaine (Katherine Hepburn) leave from her imprisonment to enjoy the festivities, of which there are plenty, yet few of them what you might call celebratory. Extraordinary film which earned three Oscars – Best Actress for Hepburn (tied with Barbara Streisand for Funny Girl, the only time this has happened in this category), Best Adapted Screenplay for James Goldman, and Best Music Score for John Barry.

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Ride the High Country (1962) Sam Peckinpaw
Warner Archive Blu-ray (1:34)

It was director Sam Peckinpaw’s second film and star Randolph Scott’s (above left) last, after a career that spanned over 100 films. The film stars another guy who’d made a few movies in his time, Joel McCrea (above right) as Steve Judd, an ex-lawman who’s seen better years and probably should pack it in and go home, but agrees to guard a gold shipment from a mining camp to the town of Hornitos, California. Judd’s friend Gil Westrum (Scott), along with the young Heck Longtree (Ron Starr), agree to help. Ride the High Country contains elements of the traditional western combined with the new directions the genre would take, some from the hands of directors like Peckinpaw. The new Warner Archive Blu-ray is excellent.

car

One, Two, Three (1961) Billy Wilder
MGM/UA DVD (1:44)

Previously discussed here

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Charade (1963) Stanley Donen
DVD (1:55)

Often called the best Hitchcock film Hitchcock never made, Charade is an effective mystery/thriller/romance/comedy starring Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. The less I tell you about the plot, the better, but I will say that the film also stars Walter Matthau, George Kennedy, James Coburn, Ned Glass and features music by Henry Mancini. You’ll be glad you watched it. Cary Grant’s next-to-penultimate film. (There should be a better term for that, and probably is; I just don’t know it.)

home_hill

Home from the Hill (1959/60) Vincente Minelli
DVD – library (2:30)

In the opening of Home from the Hill, Captain Wade Hunnicutt (Robert Mitchum), a wealthy East Texas landowner, gets shot by man while out with a hunting party. The man claims Hunnicutt, despite being married to his gorgeous wife Hannah (Eleanor Parker), has been seeing the man’s wife. Hunnicutt is a womanizer and everyone in town knows it, including his illegitimate son Rafe Copley (George Peppard). Yet Hannah has tried to shield Theron (George Hamilton), Hunnicutt’s real son with her, from full knowledge of his father’s shenanigans. The rest of the film is one of those epic family sagas that I typically don’t like, but the actors are superb, the script is good, the Milton Krasner cinematography is beautiful, and Vincente Minelli’s direction combine to make this two-and-a-half hour family drama nothing short of riveting.

haunted_palace

The Haunted Palace (1963) Roger Corman
Borrowed from a friend (1:27)

In 1875, Charles Dexter Ward (Vincent Price), the great-great-grandson of a warlock named Joseph Curwen, comes to the town of Arkham having inherited the Curwen palace. No matter than Curwen put a curse on the entire town of Arkham and its descendants for burning him over 100 years earlier. Does the spirit of Curwen live on inside the palace? (If not, we’re looking at a 15-minute movie, so the answer is yes!) Although marketed as an Edgar Allan Poe film, this one is really an H.P. Lovecraft story all the way. The Haunted Palace is wonderfully atmospheric and features yet another excellent performance by Vincent Price as well as appearances by Lon Chaney Jr., Elisha Cook Jr., and Debra Paget in her final film role. The film also earns the “Most Green Make-Up Used in a Movie” award for 1963. (Check out Lon Chaney Jr’s mug in the photo above.)

That’s it for the 60s. Next: my favorite decade other than the 1940s.

2 thoughts on “The Best of 2017: The 1960s

  1. The 60’s aren’t quite as rich for me as the previous decades but of course there is much brilliance there. Again I’ll stay away from those that don’t really need attention called-although if you haven’t seen Inherit the Wind-perhaps my favorite film of the decade-do so with all available haste-and mention some of what I think are under known gems.

    All the Way Home-Quiet drama of a family faced with the sudden death of the father at the turn of the century. Contains what is probably Jean Simmons best work onscreen how she wasn’t nominated (she should have won) is a mystery.

    The Assassination Bureau-What would seem to be the basis for a tense drama, a woman reporter infiltrates a group of assassins (who only kill people who deserve it) and puts out a contract on their leader, gets the comic adventure spin in this fun film starring Diana Rigg and Oliver Reed.

    The Comic-Loosely based on the life of Buster Keaton this looks at the rise and fall of silent film comic genius Billy Bright (Dick Van Dyke). Not a great film, and it suffers from that chronic 60’s problem of everyone wearing modern clothing and hairstyles despite being set decades earlier, but Van Dyke pours himself into the lead. An interesting misfire.

    Dear Heart-Gentle comedy/drama of two lonely people who meet by chance at a convention and despite commitments elsewhere find themselves drawn to each other. Wonderful work by Geraldine Page and Glenn Ford in the leads supported by a tremendous assortment of top character performers lead by Angela Lansbury.

    Far from the Madding Crowd-Stately gorgeously filmed (by Nicolas Roeg) version of the Hardy novel might take a few viewings to fully appreciate, as it did for me but is beautifully acted by Alan Bates, Peter Finch and Julie Christie.

    Gertrud-Stately Danish film about a love triangle is not for all tastes but has an absolutely great performance by Nina Pens Rode at its center.

    I Could Go On Singing-Judy Garland’s last film is one of the better swan songs for a star of her magnitude. The story isn’t terrible original, and uses facets of Judy’s life, but as a vehicle for her enormous talent it can’t be beat ending as it should with her feet firmly planted, arms akimbo singing to the heavens.

    Medium Cool-A reporter covering the 1968 Democratic Convention finds himself pulled into the violence that erupts during it in this film that has a definite documentary feel.

    North to Alaska-Rollicking adventure comedy with prospectors John Wayne and Stewart Granger looking for gold amid feuds and romantic complications with shady lady Capucine.

    The Prize-Hitchcockian thriller set during Nobel Prize week in Stockholm with Paul Newman a reprobate writer who senses things are not as they seem with another winner (Edward G. Robinson). Good cast, sleek production and a nice light edge.

    The Pumpkin Eater-A woman with many children (Anne Bancroft) from her multiple marriages confronts the problems with her failing third one. Heavy going but Bancroft gives a knockout performance, one of the best of any decade.

    The Running Man-Stylish thriller directed by Carol Reed of insurance scammer Laurence Harvey faking his death and hiding out in Malaga until wife Lee Remick can join him. Trouble begins when they run into claims adjuster Alan Bates who they fear is on their trail. It’s a toss-up which is more beautiful the location filming or Lee Remick and Alan Bates. Apparently a nightmare to make with Lee being quoted about Harvey “The tales I can tell of working with him are too horrendous to repeat.”

    Up the Down Staircase-An earnest young teacher goes to work in a tough inner city school, the film follows her adjustments during her first year. Sandy Dennis gives her best performance subsuming the worst of her tics in the lead.

    What a Way to Go!-Shirley MacLaine is a female Jonah who just wants a simple life but despite her best efforts she ends up fabulously wealthy because the seeming failures she marries (and marries) become successes owing to innocent suggestions she makes and then bite the dust soon after leaving her bereft but dripping in clothes and jewelry. Each one of her doomed marriages is interpreted as a spoof on a different film genre with the husbands played by a string of huge stars (Paul Newman, Robert Mitchum, Gene Kelly, Dean Martin & Dick Van Dyke among them). A fun crazy quilt of a film.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What a great and entertaining film The Lion in Winter is! Kate Hepburn and Peter O’Toole are so well matched and just rip each other apart with such glee. Even with the trio of excellent actors playing their sons doing their very best they still don’t stand a chance of competing against the lead pair. Of Kate’s four Oscars this is the only one I think she deserved for the performance awarded. An endlessly rewatchable movie.

    I don’t come near loving any of these others nearly as much though Home from the Hill comes the closest. It’s such a rich full-bodied drama with Mitchum, Eleanor Parker and the Georges creating memorable characters and Minnelli’s painter’s eye keeps the film visually interesting over its slightly overlong run time.

    The Swimmer was an odd challenging sometimes frustrating but always interesting watch. Lancaster was one movie star who did truly love to test his limits as a performer, occasionally stretching beyond his gifts but at least trying and often succeeding.

    One, Two, Three is a fun frenzied comedy with Cagney giving it everything he’s got as the brash exasperated exec easily eclipsing his costars though Arlene Francis is her usual charming self as his wife.

    I always want to love Charade more than I do. It starts out great and I do like it but for me it seems to deflate a bit as it goes along ending up being a middling film for both of its stars. However it’s a masterpiece compared to the hideous remake The Truth about Charlie with Mark Wahlberg and that personality vacuum Thandie Newton.

    Ride the High Country is a solid Western given that extra punch by Scott and McCrea and Vincent Price makes The Haunted Palace worth sitting through even if it goes exactly where you expect it to in exactly the way you think it will.

    I’ve never gotten all the love for Guns of Navarone. Of its type it was fine but I kept waiting for it to WOW me the way it seems to do for other people and it didn’t.

    Blow-Up really does scream “I was made in the 60’s”. That’s not a bad thing though it locks the film into a certain category. I prefer a more linear through line to my films so it’s somewhat scattered narrative keeps it from being a big favorite but it is a good film and I’ll watch Vanessa Redgrave in anything. I’ve kept that in mind when I’ve watched several of her films-A Quiet Place in the Country and The Trojan Women come immediately to mind-and that’s all that has kept me there to the bitter end!

    I finally watched L’Avventura early this year and I’m afraid we disagree on it. I thought Monica Vitti was terrific and the film had some interesting scenes and moments but it didn’t work for me as a whole. Having spoken to a few other people after I watched it the film seems to be that sort of film. You either really love it or you don’t. No one I spoke to hated it, nor did I, but neither were they passionate about it.

    In that aspect it’s different from another very 60’s picture-Last Year at Marienbad, something that had been praised to the skies to me and which I detested with every fiber of my being. After viewing it I discovered those were very much the only two reactions to it, adoration or loathing.

    Liked by 1 person

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