National Classic Movie Day: 6 From the 60s

Here is my contribution to the National Classic Film Days Blogathon: 6 From the ’60s.

6 from the 1960s Blogathon (1)

The 1960s was a wild decade filled with good times, (The British Invasion, classic rock and roll, the youth movement, a young invigorating President, and man landing on the moon. But there were plenty of bad things too.  Racial unrest, political assassinations, and the Vietnam War topping the list. The Times They Were A Changin’

Movies were changin’ too. The old Hollywood studio system was on its last legs. They were fighting TV and an advanced guard of new filmmakers influenced by European filmmakers. Here are six of my many favorites…

Rosemary’s Baby

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Motherhood can be a joyous thing; the miracle of birth, a child the result of a bond between two people. Watching the child grow and discover life can be heartwarming and reaffirming. Then again, the idea of a live organism, another person growing inside you, just might be a bit unsettling and disturbing as you watch your body change, and who knows what the child will be like. He/she could turn out to be a bright, upstanding member of the community. Then again, your little precious could turn out be another Al Capone or Jeffrey Dahmer or even worse.

Many films have focused on the dark side of motherhood: Psycho, Mildred Pierce, and Mommie Dearest. There are plenty of other films with motherhood gone wrong. Angela Lansbury in The Manchurian Candidate is another of the big bad mothers. On the other side of the fence are mothers who love too much; they are self-sacrificing and end up with a daughter like Veda in Mildred Pierce.

And then there is Rosemary’s Baby. Polanski’s film is based on Ira Levin’s then bestselling novel.  Rosemary’s Baby can be viewed as just a great horror film, but it can also be read as a mother’s worst nightmare. Betrayed by her husband selling her out for a successful acting career, arranging to have her impregnated by the devil, forcing her to be left in the hands of a demonic doctor and some very devilish neighbors. The fear of rape, an unwanted pregnancy, and the fear of an abnormal deformed childbirth are also filtered into the storyline. Rosemary becomes isolated, trapped with no family or friends to confide in or help her.

The film was part of the New Hollywood that began to emerge in 1967 with The Graduate, Bonnie and Clyde. The youth audience had discovered the film. Rosemary’s Baby became another notch on the belt that killed the production code with its nudity and triumph of evil over goodness.

 

The Manchurian Candidate

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The Manchurian Candidate is a dark, provocative, and sophisticated, far out thriller about political extremism that may not seem as extreme as it once was in these strange 2020 political season, all told within the framework of a thriller. It was violent for its time. Raymond Shaw’s (Laurence Harvey) shooting and strangulation of two fellow squad members when they are still held prisoners in North Korea as well as the shooting of Raymond’s girlfriend (Leslie Parish) and her despised, by the Iselin’s, politician father (John McGiver). Finally, the shootings of both Senator Iselin and Raymond’s mother, as well as Raymond’s own suicide, are graphic. Maybe not by today’s standards but they remain shocking.

The Manchurian Candidate remains one of the most powerful, memorable and paranoid political thrillers. John Frankenheimer and screenwriter George Axelrod managed to take a far-out assumption and turn it into a convincingly frighteningly realistic and darkly comic work of art.

The Graduate

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There are some films that are indelibly burned into your psyche for whatever reason. It may have to do with the heart of every audience member jumping into their throats the first time the shark comes out of the water in Jaws. It could be the blaring rock sound of The Ronettes singing,  Be My Baby, on the soundtrack of  Mean Streets, or the discovery of a little know film called The Panic in Needle Park as you watch a then unknown actor named Al Pacino blow you away. There are certain films that are etched into your life and become a brick on the wall that helped build your love for movies. For me, The Graduate was one of those films. The source material, a novel by Charles Webb, was published in 1963 to little and no acclaim.

By the time the film was made in 1967, a lot had changed in America; the anti-war movement had emerged, long hair, hippies, the love generation, an anti-establishment movement was growing. There was a feeling of it was us against them (in 1968 Jerry Rubin would make the phrase “Never trust anyone over 30” a rallying cry). Webb’s Benjamin Braddock did not live in that world. He seems to be a character on the cusp, a product of 1950’s white picketed suburban America. Though unlike his 50’s counterparts, he did not want to follow in his parents’ footsteps. Subsequently, he drifts…mostly into an affair with Mrs. Robinson.

Still, the film was revolutionary for its time. It came out at a time when American cinema was finding a new path; a new generation of filmmakers were just beginning to emerge, many from television and the theater. Additionally, influences were emerging from European filmmakers, particularly the French New Wave of Truffaut, Godard and others. America’s old guard was on their last legs with their best days behind them. The look and style of the film was very much influenced by these factors.

The Collector

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The Collector is based on English author John Fowles first and best selling 1963 novel of the same name. Both a thriller and a look at class distinction the book was purchased for filming before it was even published.

Freddie Clegg (Terrance Stamp) is an awkward, unsociable butterfly collector. He reminds the viewer of Norman Bates. After winning the national lottery, Clegg quits his job as a clerk at a bank and buys a large English estate in the countryside. Oh yes, on the property is a bastion like cellar. Clegg has been stalking the beautiful Miranda Grey (Samantha Eggar), a young art student, who he has developed a fixation on, eventually kidnaps and holds prisoner in the cellar. “The Collector” and Freddie Clegg never caught on to the public’s imagination, like Norman Bates and “Psycho.” This may be due to Wyler’s more detached style as opposed to Hitchcock’s. Freddie Clegg and Norman Bates do have some similarities. They both shared awkward social skills; both are loners with little or no contact with the outside world. Freddie collects butterflies while Norman collects stuffed birds. Both men are obsessed with women, Freddie with Miranda and Norman with mother. Like Norman, Freddie is a precursor to the modern serial killers of later films

Bonnie and Clyde

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The first time I saw Arthur Penn’s now-iconic Bonnie and Clyde was soon after its release in 1967. It was at a Manhattan theater and the audience, including me, was at times unsure how to respond to what we saw on the screen. In the language of the sixties – it was mind-blowing! New York Times critic Bosley Crowther didn’t think so. When his scalding review came out, there was no doubt where he stood. He disliked the film immensely. He wrote calling it in part, “a cheap piece of bald-faced slapstick comedy that treats the hideous depredations of that sleazy, moronic pair as though they were as full of fun and frolic as the jazz-age cut-ups in Thoroughly Modern Millie.” In fairness, Crowther wasn’t the only critic of the day to knock the film. The studio faced with the negative reviews pulled the film from circulation.

Then something happened. Some critics wrote second reviews like Joe Morgenstern (Time magazine) reversing his first negative review. Pauline Kael highly praised the film from the beginning. Other critics came on board. That is except for Bosley Crowther who wrote two additional articles in which he continued to attack the movie.

The saddest part about the film’s legacy is not how it presented a violent view of America in the 1960s, but sadly it forecast the future and where we are at today. Bonnie and Clyde does not pack the same cultural impact at it did back in 1967. Many films since over the years,  two years later came Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch,  have presented more bloody on-screen violence than Bonnie and Clyde. Americans’ fascination with violence has continued to increase, negating the impact of Penn’s classic. What remains though is a classic gangster film, a bright light in the Warner Brothers hierarchy of legendary screen gangster movies, a landmark in American cinema that helped open the door for Hollywood last classic period in film,

Repulsion

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Upon its release in 1965, many critics hailed Repulsion as a masterpiece, Polanski even being hailed as the second coming of Hitchcock. The film won the top prize at the Berlin Film Festival and was a box office success in the United States beyond the art house circuit.

Repulsion, Roman Polanski’s first English-speaking film opens with an extreme closeup of Carol’s (Catherine Deneuve) eye and ends with a vintage family photo of Carol as a child. In the photograph, Carol is isolated from the rest of the family as Polanski’s camera slowly moves in on her same vacant looking eye. An absolute masterpiece of psychological horror, Repulsion ushered in, along with Hitchcock’s Psycho and Powell’s Peeping Tom the modern-day horror film. Polanski presents a nightmarish, hallucinogenic world full of dark expressionistic shadows with extreme close-ups and wide angles all edited to perfection.  The film is the first in an unofficial trilogy of “apartment films” with Rosemary’s Baby and The Tennant completing the threesome.  In all three films, Polanski conveys a disturbing unreceptive view of life in city dwellings.

Honorable Mentions

A Hard Day’s Night, In Cold Blood, The Wild Bunch, Psycho, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly,  West Side Story, Dr. Strangelove, Cool Hand Luke, Midnight Cowboy, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Goldfinger, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, Breathless, Once Upon A Time in the West, The Apartment, Battle of Algiers, Belle de Jour, Medium Cool, The Producers, To Kill a Mockingbird, Seconds.

6 from the 1960s Blogathon (1) You can read move takes on 6 From the 60s by clicking here!!!

This entry was posted in 1960's.

13 comments on “National Classic Movie Day: 6 From the 60s

  1. Hollywood adapting and Hollywood changing made for an exciting roller-coaster ride for audiences and creators alike. You write so well about the era and the films. It is a pleasure to read and a push to watch/re-watch.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. classicfilmtvcafe says:

    These are all pretty potent films in their own way! Your most unexpected choice is The Collector, which features a most memorable Terence Stamp performance. I was not surprised to see Bonnie & Clyde and Repulsion on your list!

    Liked by 1 person

    • John Greco says:

      It was tough narrowing it down to six. There are so many films that I easily could have selected. It was a time where the studios kind of lost their in what the public, especially the new youth market, was looking for.

      Like

  3. This is a brilliantly written piece, John. Wonderful job. All of the films mentioned packed a cultural wallop at the time they were produced and all of them still hold up. My favorite of the featured films is Bonnie and Clyde. The critics that lambasted it didn’t have the gift of foresight. Or perhaps they did, but they were so repulsed by its prelude that they couldn’t find any redemption in it. I have to be on guard of that attitude while watching today’s films.

    Liked by 1 person

    • John Greco says:

      Thanks Pam. I know of your love for the era Bonnie and Clyde. The film eventually ruined the career of NYT’s influential critic Bosley Crowther. By the late 60s he was out of touch.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hmm…I didn’t know that. Interesting. That’s what happens when you fall victim to a sea change. Of course the “victim” contributed to his own demise. Bonnie and Clyde is clearly a superb film. Anyone should recognize the artistry even if they don’t like the style.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. The Lady Eve says:

    Wonderful piece, John, and excellent choices. Oooh, The Collector, though. Did that film give me the creeps. I’d always thought of Terence Stamp as one of the most handsome of actors – until I saw this. He must’ve relished the role.

    Liked by 1 person

    • John Greco says:

      Thanks, Patty, The Collector has always been a favorite. It’s one of those films that fall into the same category as Psycho and Peeping Tom. The oddest thing is it came from William Wyler.

      Like

  5. Wow, this is such a great list.I have yet to see most of these, but I totally agree with you about “Manchurian Candidate.” Oh my word, that movie messes with the head.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. John Charet says:

    Love your choices of Bonnie and Clyde, The Manchurian Candidate, Repulsion and Rosemary’s Baby 🙂 Speaking of 60’s classics, what did you think of Point Blank from 1967? Truly dazzling I say 🙂 Anyway, keep up the great work as always 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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