Recently, finished reading a new book by Mark Harris called “Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood”. Harris writes about the development and making of the five films that would become 1967’s Best Picture nominees. The films; Bonnie and Clyde, The Graduate, In The Heat of the Night , Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and Dr. Doolittle were released at a pivotal time in Hollywood History. Within the film industry the old style Hollywood studios were on their last legs. The production code, the gatekeeper of film morality, was being attacked by such adult films as Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, The Pawnbroker and Blow-Up. Outside the industry, The Civil Rights movement was in full force, the Vietnam War continued to escalate and the youth culture was blossoming. The Beatles and other groups were changing the music scene, Haight-Asbury, hippies; the Love Generation were busy being born.
In the middle of all this came five films, two that would represent the old Hollywood still fighting to survive with Dr Doolittle and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, and the soon to be new Hollywood with Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate. The fifth nominee, In The Heat of the Night was somewhere in the middle.
All five stories are fascinating. Harris weaves his way from one film to the next and then back and forth with extraordinary and precise detailed care. Interesting tidbits include Robert Redford badly wanting the role of Benjamin in The Graduate. Leslie Caron, Jane Fonda and Tuesday Weld were all considered for the Bonnie Parker part before director Arthur Penn and Producer/Actor Warren Beatty settled on relative newcomer Faye Dunaway. Bonnie and Clyde’s first time screenwriters Robert Benton and David Newman wanted and almost got at one time or another French New Wave director’s Francois Truffaut and Jean Luc Godard as potential directors of the film. Stanley Kramer could not understand why his film Guess who’s coming to Dinner? was considered part of old Hollywood when he always saw himself as a rebel pushing the boundaries and being cutting edge. 20th Century Fox practically bought its way into getting a nomination for Dr. Doolittle even though everyone knew they had an over budgeted lumbering mess on their hands. Jack Warner, who was in his last days as boss of Warner Brothers, and others hated Bonnie and Clyde so much that despite long lines at theaters in New York City they refused to release the film wide across the country. It wasn’t until the film received 10 Oscar nominations that WB re-released the film.
It’s a fascinating study and a must read for film lovers. When everyone talks about The New Hollywood of the 70’s it actually started in 1967 with the release of Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate. The book is up there on par with Peter Biskind’s Easy Riders, Raging Bulls and Julie Salomon’s The Devils Candy: The Bonfires of the Vanities Goes to Hollywood.