Darling (1965)

darling

Starring: Julie Christie,  Dirk Bogarde, Laurence Harvey, Jose Luis de Vilallonga

Director: John Schlesinger

Summary: A young beauty sacrifices love and happiness to become an international celebrity

Other Nominations: Director, Actress (Christie)*, Original Screenplay*, B&W Costume Design*

Positives

-While the movie as a whole hasn’t aged well and the critique itself  isn’t done that effectively, it’s one of the first films to capture some of the major problems with the baby boomer generation (and those who came after them).

-There are some really good tracking shots and the film captures the look of the period in swinging London with its whole production design.

Negatives

-Very much a film of its time and place-mod culture in 60s Great Britain and very chic, and Christie represents concerns about youth in this era being self-absorbed, shallow and immature (but fashionable and attractive!) with difficulty/having no interest in forming truly meaningful and lasting relationships. However, it’s the same critique for 2 hours without any new insight as it goes on, she just keeps getting into fleeting relationships with different men while advancing her career. Reflects the worst parts of European cinema of the time i.e. empty pretension., saying more than what you really are; ironically, it’s as hollow as the kind of people it’s criticizing.

-Christie’s Oscar acceptance speech should have began with “I want to thank the Academy for giving Julie Andrews an Oscar last year”, because there’s no other way she was going to beat her for Sound of Music; on her own merits she’s…not that great. None of the men have much of a personality and don’t add anything, but her performance has to be the backbone of the movie and she must elevate the character to something that’s engaging on some level, but at that she fails. There’s no depth to her character (which is the point) but also to her performance-she’s very one-note; an example of someone with a similar character but still gives an excellent performance (but who is also better written which helps) is Faye Dunaway in Network, a film coming up in about a decade here. While she isn’t bad by by any means, it also isn’t much to talk about and doesn’t save the movie when it was the only thing that could have.

Overall

This was probably something fresh and new in its time, but it has not aged well at all. It makes the same point over and over again for its entire runtime and the characters and performances are nothing to write about. Skip.

Rating: D+

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Doctor Zhivago (1965)

zhivago

Starring: Omar Sharif, Julie Christie, Geraldine Chaplin, Rod Steiger, Alec Guinness,

Tom Courtenay, Ralph Richardson, Klaus Kinski

Director: David Lean

Summary: Illicit lovers fight to stay together during the turbulent years of the Russian revolution

Other Nominations: Director, Supporting Actor (Courtenay), Adapted Screenplay*, Original Score*, Sound Mixing, Color Art Direction*, Color Cinematography*, Color Costume Design*, Film Editing

Positives

-The overall presentation is great as you would expect of a David Lean film, even if it doesn’t quite reach the lofty heights of Lawrence of Arabia in either audio or visuals. “Lara’s Theme”, which can be heard by itself in the music breaks, is excellent though.

-Steiger should have easily gotten a Support Actor nomination as he’s the outstanding performance in this movie; the only reason I can think of for he didn’t was because he was already nominated for Best Actor that same year for The Pawnbroker. Christie was very good too, better than she was in Darling. She was probably nominated for that movie because she was the total focus of that movie vs. being a significant but not the main character.

-Some of the elements in the movie are excellent even if the movie is on the whole uneven. The serious, dramatic scenes showing the revolution from lead-up to aftermath are great, and the subplot between Steiger and Christie is strong.

Negatives

-As stated, this is an uneven more that could have been better if they had made some different choices. I think it should have either fully committed to a hard-hitting story about the revolution or it should have fully explored all of the many relationship plots; instead, it kind of tries to split the difference to its detriment. Courtney’s character also should have been a bigger part of the movie and is brushed aside despite his apparent significance, and Chaplin’s character (Zhivago’s wife) is just kind of there.

-It’s certainly long at 3 hours and 20 minutes or so, although I’m not exactly sure what to cut out even if some parts dragged at times.

Overall

A good movie, but also not one of Lean’s better efforts-I liked Lawrence of Arabia, The Bridge on the River Kwai and even Great Expectations more-even if it was his biggest financial success (8th all-time adjusted for inflation). While it has it’s expected strengths, some of the plotting decisions weren’t great.

Rating: B

Ship of Fools (1965)

ship

Starring: Oskar Werner, Vivien Leigh (her final film), Simone Signoret, Lee Marvin, Jose Ferrer, Elizabeth Ashley, George Segal, Michael Dunn (in his film debut), Charles Korvin, Heinz Ruhmann (in his only English-language role)

Director: Stanley Kramer

Summary: Passengers on a steam ship in the 1930’s struggle with their tangled relations and the rise of Nazism

Other Nominations: Actor (Werner), Actress (Signoret), Supporting Actor (Dunn), Adapted Screenplay, B&W Art Direction*, B&W Cinematography*, B&W Costume Design

Positives

-A lot of great performances here from a fantastic cast. Werner and Signoret deserved their nominations, even if they’re screentime is relatively low due to the ensemble nature of the movie-their chemistry is terrific, their relationship feels genuine and their storyline is the best in the movie. Among the others members of the cast, there’s a lot of other fun sights to see: Michael Dunn, the first actor with dwarfism to have a sustained career, Vivien Leigh in her last performance (fittingly as a past her prime southern dame), Lee Marvin in his only substantial Best Picture nominee performance (he also had a minor role in The Caine Mutiny) and Heinz Ruhmann in his only English-Language performance; I had never heard of him, but apparently he was a huge deal in Germany during the Nazi era and made a big comeback around this time, solidifying himself as an icon-he was named the best German actor of all-time by award or poll domestically twice (1995 and 2006).

Negatives

-This movie has been called “Grand Hotel on a Boat”, and that’s a fairly apt comparison, although this film is worse in that it bounces around between way more characters than that one did-that movie really only had 5 characters, while this has all of the ones named above plus another half dozen I didn’t list who have subplots of their own w/ beginnings, middles and ends. It tries to cover too much and doesn’t dig into much depth with many of them. Other than Werner, I don’t think anybody gets more than 20 minutes real screentime in this.

-As is usually the case with Stanley Kramer, this is mostly just a blunt social commentary. Essentially every character and storyline is tied into the themes of prejudice and standing up for oneselves against injustice in some way, but in the most and least nuanced ways possible for the most part. Judgment at Nuremberg (the last film of his that I watched) did a better job with this, as you at least had the Maximilian Schell character to provide some shades of gray.

Overall

An ensemble cast movie with lots of really good performances, especially from Werner and Signoret, that make it a decent watch, but the bluntness of the social commentary throughout and the inclusion of too many characters and plots brings it down.

Rating: C+

*The Sound of Music (1965)*

sound

Starring: Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer, Eleanor Parker, Richard Haydn, Charmian Carr, Peggy Wood

Director: Robert Wise

Summary: A woman leaves an Austrian convent to become a governess to the children of a naval officer widower

Other Nominations: Director*, Actress (Andrews), Supporting Actress (Wood), Adapted/Treatment Score*, Sound Mixing*, Color Art Direction, Color Cinematography, Color Costume Design, Film Editing*

Positives

-This is Julie Andrews at her best, everything about her is so darn likeable and her singing as always is amazing. Few people have ever entered the industry with the kind of splash she did, and she was seemingly born to be the big star of this era of big, lavish, glossy musicals. Plummer, as much as he hated the movie, is perfect as Captain Von Trapp, showing total coldness when he needs to and warmth when he needs that, but still keeping himself restrained.

-Lots of memorable songs-this is the height of the Oscar & Hammerstein/Lerner & Lowe-style of musical (even if they reprise the same 10 songs over and over again).

-The film looks outstanding, with great cinematography, beautiful location footage in Austria and that wonderful 60’s-era color that you can’t quite get anymore.

-It constantly borders on being sickly-sweet, but it really is full of charm and is enjoyable for most of its run-time, even if you don’t like musicals

Negatives

-At 3 hours, the movie does overstay its welcome after a while. In some ways, the movie feels like it should have wrapped up with the wedding, as that concludes what is almost the singular plot of the first 2 hours plus; ironically, the original release in Germany did end the movie there, but for completely different reasons. Sure, there were some allusions to the Nazi threat, but it’s very far in the background to what is a fairly simple love story, making the last 45 minutes feel sort of tacked on with a different plot, tone and style entirely.

Other Stuff

-Despite it’s massive success as the movie that saved 20th Century Fox after the debacle of Cleopatra, Robert Wise only directed this movie as a fill-in project during the lengthy pre-production of the movie he really wanted to make, The Sand Pebbles (which I will be reviewing next year)

Overall

As musicals go, I can see why it’s considered one of the best: it has the musical icon herself, Julie Andrews, many great songs and a sweet tone without being overbearing. If you love musicals, you’ve seen it already, but if you haven’t, this is as good as this type of musical gets.

Rating: B+

A Thousand Clowns (1965)

clowns

Starring: Jason Robards, Barbara Harris (her film debut), Barry Gordon, Martin Balsam, William Daniels, Gene Saks

Director: Fred Coe

Summary: A free-spirited New Yorker fights to maintain custody of his nephew

Other Nominations: Supporting Actor (Balsam)*, Adapted Screenplay, Adapted/Treatment Score

Positives

-This is one of the finest screenplays I’ve seen for this project. Not only is the dialogue extremely well-written, it’s so much smarter and nuanced than you would expect given the premise and the way these types of films about free-spirits always seem play out (examples: You Can’t Take it With You, Auntie Mame). I really don’t want to get into how the movie plays out, but it’s both a celebration and a critique of the classic free-spirit character. The first half hooked me with its dialogue and characters, but it’s the second half is where it really shines and becomes something special.

-A lot of excellent performances, especially Robards in one of his few starring roles in a movie. With the exceptions of Harris and Balsam, the entire cast came from the original broadway production and this decision clearly paid off. Robards is by no means subtle, but his character is not the kind you would expect to be. He balances being entertaining and likeable with also being a bit obnoxious, while also doing a great job when the character has his more emotional and dramatic moments. He was nominated for a Golden Globe, but should have easily gotten an Oscar nomination as well. It surprises me that Balsam won an Oscar given his relatively small amount of screentime and the lack of showiness in his part; however, he does have a great scene that really adds a lot to the movie. Everybody else is also very good, with Saks really only getting two scenes but making the most out of both of them.

Negatives

-It still very much feels like the play that it was with most everything taking place in Robards’ apartment and with a small cast of characters. This isn’t that big of a detriment (after all, A Streetcar Named Desire is the same way), but they could have opened it up more.

Overall

This is the first time in a long time in this project that a film has blindsided me like this-I had never heard of it or heard anyone ever talk about it (it has under 2500 IMDB votes as of this writing, although it has a very solid 7.6 rating). This is a tremendous film that is so much richer than I was expecting given its premise, with excellent writing and performances all-around. Your mileage may vary, but highest recommendation.
Rating: A

1965 in Review

Other Notable Films from 1965

For a Few Dollars More: The second part of the “Dollars” trilogy, and the first one that is really a great movie, with Clint Eastwood joined by Lee Van Cleef, who is actually a good guy in this one (vs. him as “the bad”, a completely different character in the last film of the trilogy). Much like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, it also ends with a wonderfully tense stand-off at the end,one that is underrated and just as good as the one in that movie.

The Ipcress File: Harry Saltzman had produced the first three James Bond films (and all of them through 1974), but wanted to do a very different kind of secret agent movie with a new character, Harry Palmer (played by Michael Caine). It’s gritty, realistic and an un-sexy movie, but is great in it’s own right as a spy film. #59 on the BFI British films list.

Cat Ballou: Lee Marvin won Best Actor for his dual role as Kid Shelleen and Tim Strawn in this Western comedy musical that also starred Jane Fonda. #50 on the AFI Laughs list and their #10 Western.

Repulsion: Roman Polanski’s first English-language film, and one his best psychological horror films that he excelled in early on. It features one of the best depictions of a descent into madness on film, and was one of Catherine Deneuve’s big breakout films that led to her long and successful career.

1965 Nominees in Review

A Thousand Clowns: A

The Sound of Music: B+ (Won Best Picture)

Doctor Zhivago: B

Ship of Fools: C+

Darling: D+

In a year with two pretty iconic films, I never would have guessed the totally under the radar A Thousand Clowns would come away as the far and away favorite. I can’t say enough about it. As for the rest, The Sound of Music was the monster box office hit of the decade and is still quite understandably a beloved classic, so it was the most obvious choice for Best Picture. Doctor Zhivago is a good movie, but I can’t agree with its modern appraisal as a classic and Lean has clearly done better work. The other two films are more forgettable, but at least Ship of Fools was a pretty easy watch and had a great cast vs. Darling which just kind of sucked.

For 1966, a two movie race for Best Picture-two of the nominees won 11 Oscars, the other 3 won a combined zero. Terence Stamp refused to reprise his Broadway role as the lead in this movie, so they turned to his roommate instead; The last of three consecutive Best Picture winners that had also won Tony Awards for Best Play or Musical; The debuts of director Mike Nichols and actor Alan Arkin; and a movie featuring the woman who (allegedly) wrote the novel the Emmanuelle movies were based on.