Mike’s Top Ten of 1964
1964 is the year where the true schism occurs. The films seem to be clearly demarcated on either side of a line: either they’re representative of the last gasp of studio system filmmaking (evidenced by a generally bloated nature and a staid feel) vs. the new, vibrant filmmaking coming up that would be the calling card of the 70s independent movement. Trust me, you can tell the difference.
My favorite thing about 1964 is that there are two films in the top ten list that are just completely unknown. One is a film that was hated at the time and completely dismissed. The other is just a forgotten film that’s really engrossing and has some relevance to today.
Otherwise, the rest of the top ten is full of classics that are all just magical in their own way. Plus, it’s a really deep year. I can go thirty deep in this year for great movies. That doesn’t happen often.
Mike’s Top Ten of 1964
The Best Man
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
A Fistful of Dollars
A Hard Day’s Night
My Fair Lady
Paris When It Sizzles
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg
- Honorable Mention to: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
11-20: The Americanization of Emily, Becket, Father Goose, Goodbye Charlie, Séance on a Wet Afternoon, Seven Days in May, Sex and the Single Girl, What a Way to Go!, The Woman in the Dunes, Zorba the Greek
Tier two: Band of Outsiders, Blood and Black Lace, Fail-Safe, Hush… Hush Sweet Charlotte, I Am Cuba, The Killers, Kiss Me Stupid, Kisses for My President, The Naked Kiss, The Night of the Iguana, The Pawnbroker, The Pumpkin Eater, Robin and the 7 Hoods, Robinson Crusoe on Mars, A Shot in the Dark, Topkapi, The Train, The Unsinkable Molly Brown, Viva Las Vegas, Zulu
Tier three: The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao, The Chalk Garden, Cheyenne Autumn, Circus World, Ensign Pulver, Joy House, Lilith, Marriage Italian Style, The Outrage, The Yellow Rolls-Royce
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1. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
“Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room!”
What do I need to say about this movie? Legitimately one of the five greatest comedies ever made. It’s a masterpiece in every sense of the world.
I could spend this entire entry quoting all the famous lines and situations in this film. Instead, I will not get into how badly you need to see this film if you haven’t (you’ll figure that out on your own), but rather simply leave you with this:
2. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg
One of the single most beautiful films ever made. Forget about the color palate (which is sumptuous), this movie is one of those perfect entities. It’s so bold and audacious — there’s nothing like it. There was no template for this movie when it was made. It is a singular work of originality.
Every single line of this movie is sung. They don’t rhyme and it’s not a musical in that sense. It’s like an opera, where people sing even the minor lines. And the movie is designed to be so colorful and original that it’s practically artificial, evoking the golden age Hollywood musical. But the story is so touching and so heartbreaking that nearly everyone who sees it is destined to fall in love with it.
It starts Catherine Deneuve and Nino Castelnuovo as two characters who are madly in love. It’s not a matter of if they’re gonna get married, it’s when. They’re gloriously happy. And, as we know from other movies like this (see: The Cranes Are Flying), only tragedy can happen from there. He gets drafted to fight in the Algerian War and the two lose contact for a long period of time. To make matters worse, she’s pregnant, so now she has to decide whether to wait for a man she’s not sure is coming back or marry the rich guy who is courting her who is willing to marry her even if she is pregnant with another man’s child.
This movie is so beautiful. The train station scene, the gas station at the end — there are few greater joys than experiencing this film on the big screen for the first time.
“Do you expect me to talk?”
“No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!”
This is how the Bond franchise as we know it came to be. All the tropes started here. Which is funny because the plot of this one is actually pretty different than most other Bond movies. He’s basically hanging out with the villain for half the movie and it’s pretty clear what’s going on. I like that about it.
This is most people’s choice for best Bond movie, and rightfully so. It’s easily one of the top two or three of all time. I can’t argue that it isn’t the best one. This introduced the martini order, the DB5, the pre-credits sequence, all the gadgets and the name Pussy Galore. Not to mention the dead woman painted gold. If ever you were gonna write a Bond spec based on all the elements and were looking to one film as inspiration, this is the one to use.
I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention Shirley Bassey’s theme song, which is still one of the best Bond songs of all time. And Odd Job. Man, there’s so much great stuff here.
4. Paris When It Sizzles
“What’s the story about?”
“It’s an action/suspense, uh, romantic melodrama with lots of comedy, of course. And, uh, deep down underneath, a substrata of social comment.”
And here you thought My Fair Lady was gonna be the first Audrey Hepburn movie to appear on this list.
This was the one I mentioned up in the intro, the one that was hated at the time. That doesn’t interest me so much as how I feel about the film now. And I love this movie. I watch it at least once a year because I love it so much, and I usually end up showing this to people who have fairly similar film tastes to my own, because I know they’re going to love it.
William Holden stars as a screenwriter in Paris. He’s been paid to write a script based around a title: “The Girl Who Stole the Eiffel Tower.” He’s spent the majority of his time drinking and enjoying the city. Now, he’s on deadline, and needs a script to turn into the studio fast. He hires Audrey, a typist, to type his ideas down as he dictates them. Though immediately upon her arrival, he takes an interest in her, and starts finding out all these details of her personal life. And it’s through these details that he comes up with the plot of the movie. The movie, by the way, is then shown on the screen as he dictates it, with her as the lead and him worming his way into being the leading man. It’s got great cameos all over the place, most notably Tony Curtis, who is hilarious in spoofing himself all the way through this.
The movie takes a couple of crazy turns, but that’s by design, as everything you’re seeing on screen is changing based on what’s going on with Holden and Hepburn as they discuss this hypothetical film. It’s so wonderful and it’s one of my favorite movies of all time. I cannot recommend this movie highly enough.
5. My Fair Lady
“All I want is a room somewhere
Far away from the cold night air
With one enormous chair
Oh, wouldn’t it be loverly?”
Man, does this movie make me happy. Pygmalion as a play is one of the greatest things ever written. What Shaw accomplished with his dialogue in that is still awe-inspiring. They started on third base when they turned this into a musical and what’s even better is that all the songs are good! They didn’t even need to get great songs out of this and they did!
Everyone knows this film. Henry Higgins, Eliza Doolittle, “The rain in Spain falls mainly in the plain” — it’s an all time classic. And this is the best known film version of the story. Who doesn’t enjoy this movie?
You could watch the original 1938 film version of Pygmalion with Leslie Howard and get everything you need out of the story. But, why wouldn’t you watch this version, with Audrey Hepburn, Rex Harrison and great musical numbers? Sure, it’s overly long and bloated, but man does it look great and man, isn’t Audrey Hepburn the best? Might as well watch them both.
6. Mary Poppins
“In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun.”
This is one of those movies I lost touch with for years. You see it as a child and it’s fun, but you don’t really remember it at all. Then as you grow up, there’s that period where you move away from those childhood films and sort of denounce them for a while as you figure out your own tastes. I came back to this movie during the initial Oscar Quest and fell in love with it all over again.
This movie is absolutely magical. All of the techniques used in it are wonderful, and seem way ahead of their time. Also, one of the most iconic performances of all time by Julie Andrews. It’s just an all-time classic, this one. It’s practically perfect in every way.
7. A Fistful of Dollars
“Our orders are to make sure he does not die… but also to make sure he regrets the day he was born.”
Sergio Leone. Clint Eastwood. Ennio Morricone. Spaghetti western. We all know what it is.
This is a loose remake of Yojimbo, with Eastwood as a wandering gunfighter who wanders into a town with two warring gangs tearing it apart. So he plays the gangs against one another, ultimately taking them down to save the town.
It’s great. It’s a classic. Part of one of the greatest trilogies ever made. And they only get better as they go along!
8. A Hard Day’s Night
“It’s been a hard day’s night, and I’ve been working like a dog
It’s been a hard day’s night, I should be sleeping like a log
But when I get home to you, I find the things that you do
Will make me feel alright”
What more is there to say?
This film captures everything you need to know about the hysteria this band created. They could have gotten away with some bullshit film that had their music in it, which (and this is no knock) is pretty much what happened with Elvis some of the time. The films were mostly forgettable excuses to showcase his music. The Beatles, however, decided to actually try something with theirs. They exerted a creative influence, which allowed them to improvise and write gags, and they got Richard Lester to direct, who infused the film with an experimental nature that’s full of life and energy. This movie is groundbreaking in a lot of ways.
“You don’t love me. I’m just something you’ve caught. Some kind of wild animal you’ve trapped!”
Hitchcock’s last great film. This is one of his most underrated efforts in the entire filmography. It’s great.
Tippi Hedren plays a woman who steals a bunch of money from her employer and flees (sound familiar?). She constantly changes her identity and steals, but all that changes when she meets Sean Connery, a man who knows what she does and doesn’t care. He falls for her and wants to marry her, and the film is about him breaking her icy demeanor and getting to the heart of why she is the way she is. It’s really great.
This is a movie that you wouldn’t think you’d love at the outset, but it draws you in and keeps you there. It’s really great. This is the last of the Hitchcock films that bears all his hallmarks. After this, he just feels out of his era. Which is because he was a director who was perfect for the studio system. And when everything changed, his movies became out of touch, in a way. Which is why he’d never reach the heights he reached here again.
10. The Best Man
“You aren’t crazy, are you?”
“Any man who wants to be President is crazy.”
I almost had something else here until I realized, “Not only do I love this movie, but it’s also a hidden gem that deserves the spot.” No one knows about this movie. And it’s great.
It’s based on a Gore Vidal play, and is about two men vying for the Democratic nomination for the next presidential election. The previous president, Lee Tracy, is finishing his second term and the Democrats need to figure out who the next nominee is going to be. It’s down to two men: Henry Fonda, the older, steady hand who has been building toward this for years, and Cliff Robertson, the young upstart reminiscent of a Kennedy. The voting has been deadlocked, waiting for Tracy to weigh in and give his endorsement before electing one or the other. Neither candidate likes the other, and we watch as both begin to stoop to disturbingly low lengths in order to smear the other one so they can be the one that gets the nomination.
It’s great. It’s really great. It takes place in the hotel rooms behind the convention, and deals with all the backdoor political dealings that run the show, as well as the lengths some people will go to get ahead. I love this movie. Check it out. It’s a movie that could use a remake, since a lot of the situations are universal in politics and can easily be updated to deal with modern times.
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Honorable Mention: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
I only include stuff like this when it’s important. And this may be the greatest Christmas special ever made. (The three are this, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and A Charlie Brown Christmas. That’s it.)
Everyone grew up with this and everyone loves it. We can all practically quote it line for line, the amount of times it’s been on the TV during the holiday season. As a child, when this aired, we sat down and we watched it. This was appointment viewing in the 90s.
It’s quite impressive how good this is, considering it’s based on the song (which was based on a poem), and nowhere in the song does it mention an elf who wants to be a dentist and a gold prospector named Yukon Cornelius. I love all of these elements, but I’m just saying, they went pretty nuts in telling this story.
Also, have you noticed that the Rudolph song is basically asking us, “You know Chris and Joey and J.C. and Lance, but do you remember Justin Timberlake?”
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The Americanization of Emily — One of the great gems of the 60s and a film that James Garner considered the best he ever made. Also a film that Julie Andrews holds very dearly, and one that gets lost in the shuffle in her early works because it’s wedged between Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music. Those were her three first films. This one is about Garner as a self-confessed coward. He deliberately avoids conflict by being a glorified gofer (essentially supplying his superiors with hard-to-find items and beautiful women). He then meets and falls for Julie Andrews, who lost just about every man in her life in the war. Then, to make matters worse, he ends up getting sent to Normandy for D-Day, not as a soldier but as part of a film crew, meaning he’ll be one of the first soldiers on the beach. It’s… hilarious, this movie. It’s a dark comedy. Don’t expect broad laughs here. But man, is it funny and is it great. No one remembers this movie and it should really be seen by way more people. Also stars Melvyn Douglas, James Coburn and Keenan Wynn, and directed by Arthur Hiller. A true hidden gem you should check out.
Becket — Thus begins the trend of British monarchy dramas based on plays. These, to me, are the better Merchant-Ivory. Typically most people find Merchant-Ivory films boring. These films are so much more interesting. This one’s about the friendship between King Henry II and Sir Thomas Becket. They were great friends in their youth and now that Henry has the throne, he feels he needs someone he likes close to him, for both friendship reasons and to keep a measure of control. So he appoints Becket Lord Chancellor. Henry would rather be out drinking and fucking women, so he uses Becket as the guy who tells him what to do. Only problem is when Henry realizes that Becket is taking his role seriously, and is following divine law rather than his friend and king’s. Peter O’Toole and Richard Burton play Henry and Becket, respectively, and they’re fucking wonderful here. Two acting titans sharing the screen and getting to tear into juicy roles. O’Toole would later reprise his role as Henry in The Lion in Winter, which is arguably an even better performance than this one. Also look out for a quick but memorable turn by John Gielgud as the conniving king of France.
Father Goose — Great rom com that’s Cary Grant’s last great film. Charade is the last masterpiece and this is the last great film. He only made one more film after this, which is fine, but not great. Here, he plays a beachcomber who basically stays drunk all the time and hangs out on the beach, even though World War II is happening around him. He is a coast watcher, who was essentially coerced into the job by a friend, who deliberately strands him on the island and motivates him by telling him where all the booze is buried each time he spots an enemy ship. Complications ensue when he finds Leslie Caron, a French schoolteacher and her class stranded on a nearby island. (Very) reluctantly, he takes them back with him, and pretty soon, they subject him to the worst possible torture imaginable — responsibility. Trust me when I say this movie is great. If your tastes are similar to mine and you like movies like The Thin Man where your protagonist would rather be drunk and shirk responsibility if he can, this one’s for you. Also, this film won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, just in case you need awards to validate what I’m saying. Also, hell of a beginning to Ralph Nelson’s career. Here are the films he’s directed to this point in his career: Requiem for a Heavyweight, Lilies of the Field, Soldier in the Rain and this. That’s a run.
Goodbye Charlie — Great comedy. Directed by Vincente Minnelli, stars Debbie Reynolds, Tony Curtis and Walter Matthau. And a young Ellen Burstyn. It’s about a complete scumbag of a guy who goes around fucking married women and just being a complete scoundrel. One day, his behavior catches up to him, and he’s murdered by one of the husbands. He is then reincarnated as Debbie Reynolds. (S)he goes to Tony Curtis’s house, he being Charlie’s only friend, and convinces him of what’s happened. And now, Charlie’s got a new plan — use this new body to marry into some money. It’s great. You get to watch Debbie Reynolds play a scumbag dude in a woman’s body. Hilarious. And the more I watch Tony Curtis movies, the more I’m impressed by the great quality of the films he chose.
Séance on a Wet Afternoon — GREAT movie. One of those gems that everyone I show this to likes a lot. Directed by Bryan Forbes, it stars Kim Stanley and Richard Attenborough. She plays a phony psychic who wants more business, so she organizes for her husband to kidnap a wealthy family’s daughter just so she could go to police and “solve” the crime and gain notoriety. I’ll leave it at that because it’s a really interesting film and worth seeing without knowing where it goes. Stanley is incredible here and Attenborough continues to be one of those underrated actors who always makes everyone around him better. Highly recommend this movie.
Seven Days in May — Great political thriller. All-star cast too. Directed by John Frankenheimer (who is becoming a mainstay on these lists), it’s about a bunch of military leaders who plan to overthrow the government because they disagree with the president’s plan for nuclear disarmament. Stars Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Fredrich March, Ava Gardner, Edmond O’Brien and Martin Balsam. It’s great. 1964-1974 was the decade when the best political thrillers came out. This is one of the better, if not best, ones. If you liked Manchurian Candidate, you’ll like this.
Sex and the Single Girl — A 60s sex comedy that’s hilarious. Stars Tony Curtis, Natalie Wood, Henry Fonda, Lauren Bacall and Mel Ferrer. Curtis is a reporter who works for a sleazy tabloid. He’s tasked with interviewing Wood, an author who wrote a self-help book to help single women deal with men. The tabloid had previously written an article slamming her and she’s very opposed to the idea. So Curtis decides to go undercover as one of Wood’s patients. He’s neighbors with Fonda, married to Bacall, who’s got a bunch of marital problems. So Curtis uses all of Fonda’s problems (which Fonda confides to him) as his own in order to get closer to Wood. Naturally, hilarity ensues, and it’s a rom com, so you can guess where things go from there. The third act is this crazy car chase where everyone is driving to the airport at the same time, and they’re all swapping cars and changing places — it’s actually a bit of screwball genius. Really terrific film.
What a Way to Go! — A dark comedy with Shirley MacLaine as a woman who thinks she’s cursed because all her husbands seem to die. The whole movie is shown in flashbacks as she talks to a psychiatrist. The beautiful thing about it is that all the marriages are showing using different techniques. The first husband is Dick Van Dyke, and his segment is shown as a silent film. The second husband is Paul Newman, whose segment is shown as a foreign art film. The third husband is Robert Mitchum, whose segment is shown as one of those big budget, lavish 50s films. The fourth husband is Gene Kelly, whose segment is show, unsurprisingly, as a big Hollywood musical. Oh, and we have Dean Martin in the movie too. This movie is a whole lot of fun and is definitely something fans of cinema and old Hollywood will enjoy, because of its spoofing/homages to other genres.
The Woman in the Dunes — Wonderful film. Practically forgotten now. The only reason I came across it was because Teshigahara was nominated for Best Director. This movie is basically Kafka in Japan. A guy goes on a trip to the sand dunes in search of insects. He misses the bus so he has to stay in the village. When he wakes up the next day, he finds himself at the bottom of a quarry, in a house with a woman he’s never met. The house is slowly filling with sand. The woman was sent to live down here by the villagers and has to constantly dig herself out of the rising sand or else she will be buried. The excess sand is used by the villagers to make concrete. The woman was getting depressed, so the villagers basically kidnapped him and threw him at the bottom of a sand pit, figuring he’ll be the woman’s husband. He’s told he can either start digging along with the woman, or stop digging and die. It’s a fascinating film. Gorgeously shot and it’s just a beautiful, surreal, existential film that is endlessly compelling.
Zorba the Greek — If this movie doesn’t put a smile on your face, you’re doing life wrong. This is Anthony Quinn’s signature role, and he had a lot of great roles. The film stars Alan Bates as a British man in Greece to try to open a mine on his father’s land. He encounters Zorba, a peasant full of life, who says he knows all about mining and can help him. So the two travel together to the land, getting into all sorts of adventures. Really, what the film is about, is the vivacious Zorba teaching the uptight Bates how to live and enjoy life. The final scene on the beach is one of the greatest moments in cinema history, and never fails to make me happy. This movie is incredible, and needs to be seen by all. It’s a joy.
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- Band of Outsiders
- Blood and Black Lace
- Hush… Hush Sweet Charlotte
- I Am Cuba
- The Killers
- Kiss Me, Stupid
- Kisses for My President
- The Naked Kiss
- The Night of the Iguana
- The Pawnbroker
- The Pumpkin Eater
- Robin and the 7 Hoods
- Robinson Crusoe on Mars
- A Shot in the Dark
- The Train
- The Unsinkable Molly Brown
- Viva Las Vegas
Robinson Crusoe on Mars is one of the most self-explanatory titles you will ever see. That’s literally the story. Adam West plays a copilot who dies in the opening scene, and the Man Friday of the film is an alien. The effects are so wonderfully 60s and it’s such a camp classic. Highly recommend this one. A really great time. A Shot in the Dark is the second Clouseau film and, I think, generally regarded as the best of the Pink Panther films. It’s the one that cemented the Clouseau character and introduced a lot of the franchise’s running gags, like Cato. It’s definitely one of the great comedies. Peter Sellers was a comic genius. Fail-Safe is the serious half of the Dr. Strangelove story. Same plot — American planes are tasked with dropping nukes on Russia because of a mistake, and no one can contact them. This would have been a great movie if not for Strangelove. It’s a good movie to watch on a double bill with it, and it’s a really terrific film in its own right. Sidney Lumet directed it and it stars Henry Fonda and Walter Matthau.
I Am Cuba is the 1960s, Cuban version of Triumph of the Will. Not as sinister as that film, but still propaganda nonetheless. This was directed by Miguel Kalatozov, who directed The Cranes Are Flying. This is his second film that is generally regarded as an all around masterpiece. Anyone trying to be a director, cinematographer, or anything related to visual filmmaking needs to have seen this movie. This is like Man with a Movie Camera in terms of how influential it is. It’s one of the finest films ever made. The Unsinkable Molly Brown is a biopic of the woman famous for surviving the Titanic and giving herself the titular nickname. The actual story is about a girl raised in the backwoods who goes out and finds herself a rich husband. It’s quite possibly Debbie Reynolds’ best screen performance. She is a dynamo in this movie and earned herself a Best Actress nomination for the role.
Kiss Me, Stupid is a Billy Wilder screwball with Dean Martin and Kim Novak. Martin is a famous crooner who is stuck in a small town while on a bender. A songwriting team in the town plans to sell him one of their songs, so they organize to make sure he stays there a while. They hire Kim Novak, a prostitute, to pretend to be one of their wives and seduce Martin. Hilarity ensues. Not one of Wilder’s best best, but still really good. One of the few Wilder films that actually managed to drop to tier two. (There’s still only one of his movies to this point that hasn’t made the top ten list at all.) Robin and the 7 Hoods is a Rat Pack update of Robin Hood, set on the south side of Chicago. Sinatra is Robin Hood, Dean Martin is Little John, Sammy Davis Jr. is Will Scarlett, Peter Falk is Guy Gisborne, Barbara Rush is Maid Marian, Edward G. Robinson is King Richard, Victor Buono is the Sheriff of Nottingham, and Bing Crosby is Alan A. Dale. It’s so much fun. Not a perfect movie by any stretch — it’s basically an excuse to watch the guys hang out and do their thing. But who said that’s a bad thing?
Kisses for My President is a great Fred MacMurray family comedy. He becomes first husband, that is, his wife becomes president. So he’s stuck hanging around, not being able to spend time with her and having nothing to do. It’s fun as hell. Eli Wallach stars as a South American dictator MacMurray ends up at a strip club with. It’s very funny, and also really interesting because you can see it straddling two different eras of filmmaking. It’s trying to be a MacMurray Disney family comedy yet has strip club scenes and a subplot about him and his wife not being able to have sex because she’s president. Loses some steam by the end, but the first half is so good I don’t care. Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte is the follow-up psycho biddy film starring Bette Davis after What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (This one’s also directed by Robert Aldrich.) Here, she’s the protagonist. The film opens with a younger her trying to elope with her lover, which ends with a confrontation with her father and a murder. Years later, she’s a shut-in spinster living on her decayed plantation that workers are trying to demolish. Her cousin, Olivia de Havilland, shows up, and pretty soon Bette starts thinking she’s going crazy, with all sorts of old memories being dug up. (In a way, it’s like Baby Jane meets Gaslight.) Also features Joseph Cotten, Agnes Moorehead, Cecil Kellaway, Victor Buono (again), Mary Astor and Bruce Dern.
Viva Las Vegas might be my favorite of the Elvis films. It’s him and Ann-Margret. The plot doesn’t really matter. It’s pretty much just watching Elvis and listening to the music. He’s a race car driver here. Like I said, plot doesn’t matter. But man, is this ever the swinging 60s movie. Great stuff. Band of Outsiders is Godard, and one of his best. It’s very much in the vein of Breathless, and just three people hanging out and committing crimes. It’s got that laid back kind of feel to it, and literally stops in the middle for a dance sequence. It’s Anna Karina at her most alluring and one of the Godard movies that’s more accessible to the general public who isn’t used to foreign cinema or the more experimental Godard stuff. Blood and Black Lace is a Mario Bava giallo film that was really the template for the slasher movie. It set the tone for later films like Halloween. Kind of a proto slasher, if you will. It’s about a killer who is murdering the girls of a fashion house. So — hot women being brutally murdered. It looks great. Very colorful and a clear influence on Dario Argento and Suspiria.
The Naked Kiss is Sam Fuller, and one of the more batshit movies you’ll ever see. The opening scene is a handheld shot of a prostitute beating up a john with her purse, and all of a sudden her wig comes off, showing her bald head. And the film is about her reaching a small town and trying to start her life over. It’s really good. Definitely not for those expecting cookie cutter moviemaking. But that’s the beauty of Fuller — he made these offbeat, awesome movies. The Night of the Iguana is a fun little movie, based off a Tennessee Williams play. Richard Burton is a defrocked priest, fresh off a nervous breakdown, who leads a bunch of tourists through Mexico. There’s the old bitty and her underage niece who wants to sleep with him, the spinster — all these people. And tensions mount as things get along. Solid work by Ava Gardner, Deborah Kerr, Sue Lyon and Grayson Hall.
The Train is one of the great war thrillers of the 60s. A bunch of stolen art is put on a train to Germany, and the resistance has to figure out a way to stop the train from getting there without damaging the artwork. Burt Lancaster stars and Paul Scofield is awesome as the German colonel determined to get the art to Germany. John Frankenheimer directs. This one is a very high recommend. Topkapi is a heist film. Maximilian Schell and Melina Mercouri plan to rob a heavily-guarded bejeweled dagger from a museum. They hire a time that includes Robert Morley and Peter Ustinov to do so. And we watch them plan and execute the heist. It’s a lot of fun, and the highlight of the film is Peter Ustinov as a naive con man who is hired to be the patsy for the group without knowing it. He’s incredible here and won an Oscar for his performance. The Killers is the Don Siegel color remake of the ’46 film/adaptation of the Hemingway short story. Here, John Cassavetes plays the Lancaster role. Lee Marvin is one of the hitmen, Ronald Reagan is the mob boss and Angie Dickinson is the femme fatale. To me, not as good as the ’46 version, but still great.
The Pawnbroker is one of Rod Steiger’s finest performances. He plays (insert title here) who is a Holocaust survivor haunted by the tragedies of his past. That’s pretty much the film. There are a lot of subplots and it’s shot very 60s-style, but really it’s all about the Steiger performance. (Also features Morgan Freeman in his first film.) On the flip side, gender-wise, is The Pumpkin Eater. That’s a film that’s all about the Anne Bancroft lead performance. She is a woman who seems to be incredibly fertile and has something like seven or eight children. She’s married to Peter Finch, her third husband, who is cheating on her. The film is about her dealing with both her insane ability to bear children and her husband’s infidelity. Anne Bancroft is amazing here and the film is gorgeously shot by Oswald Morris.
Zulu is one of the great war films. British soldiers fighting the Zulu people. Incredible film. Michael Caine’s breakout performance. One of those movies that is essential that you don’t know is essential. I notice people tend to get to this late and then realize how good it is and wonder why they hadn’t seen it sooner. Here I am to try to prevent that from happening.
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- The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao
- The Chalk Garden
- Cheyenne Autumn
- Circus World
- Ensign Pulver
- Joy House
- Marriage Italian Style
- The Outrage
- The Yellow Rolls-Royce
The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao is a fun (and dated, and fairly racist) film about a traveling circus that comes into town. Tony Randall plays its proprietor, Dr. Lao (as well as like seven other characters throughout the film), whose magical circus creates all sorts of craziness in the town. It’s fun. The Chalk Garden is a slight variation on The Children’s Hour kind of story. Edith Evans hires Deborah Kerr as a governess for her spoiled daughter, Hayley Mills. Mills is a troublemaker who discovers that Kerr doesn’t like to talk about her past, so she sets out to uncover who she really is. It takes some interesting turns, and is a pretty solid film. Marriage Italian Style is a great half of a double feature with Divorce, Italian Style. This one also has Marcello Mastroianni, but this also has Sophia Loren, and was directed by Vittorio De Sica. Loren is Mastroianni’s mistress, who schemes to make sure he marries her. It’s hilarious. One of Loren’s great performances and just a really funny movie.
Circus World is just a weird and wonderful film about John Wayne as the owner of a circus. Need I say more? Ensign Pulver is a sequel to Mr. Roberts, though with all the roles recast. Robert Walker Jr. plays the lead role originated by Jack Lemmon, and Burl Ives plays the Jimmy Cagney part. It’s not as good as the original, but it has its moments. Think of it like a lesser comedy sequel (like almost all of them). Cheyenne Autumn is John Ford’s final western. Fittingly, like the history of the genre, it’s about the terrible treatment of Native Americans by the U.S. government. It’s a perfect end to Ford’s western career, and, in its own way, is the way the genre ended as well. Joy House is a French-made noir with Jane Fonda and Alain Delon. He’s on the run from some gangster and ends up in a house with Jane Fonda and her aunt. Fonda and her lover plan to murder Delon so they can use his passport, while Delon starts fucking Fonda’s aunt. It goes to some pretty fucked up places, and I love it. Lilith is a Robert Rossen film with Warren Beatty and Jean Seberg as two people who fall in love in an insane asylum. More specifically, he’s a soldier with PTSD and she’s a schizophrenic. He falls in love with her and… well, she’s volatile.
The Outrage is an American version of Rashomon. Like The Magnificent Seven was to Seven Samurai, this is Rashomon adapted for the American west. Stars Paul Newman in the Mufine role, as well as Laurence Harvey, William Shatner, Claire Bloom, Edward G. Robinson and Howard Da Silva. Not quite a Magnificent Seven-level adaptation, but worthwhile. Definitely worth a watch. The Yellow Rolls-Royce is an anthology film about the different owners of the same car. Stars Ingrid Bergman, Rex Harrison, Shirley MacLaine, Jeanne Moreau, George C. Scott, Omar Sharif, Alain Delon and Art Carney. Fun.
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