Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

bonnie

Starring: Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, Michael J. Pollard, Gene Hackman, Estelle Parsons, Gene Wilder (in his film debut)

Director: Arthur Penn

Summary: The legendary bank robbers run riot in the 1930’s South

Other Nominations: Director, Actor (Beatty), Actress (Dunaway), Supporting Actor (Hackman), Supporting Actor (Pollard), Supporting Actress (Parsons)*, Original Screenplay, Costume Design, Cinematography*

Positives

-This was a huge part of the wave (well, more like a tsunami) of films from this era that aggressively pushed the boundaries for what was acceptable content in a Hollywood film. The level of graphic violence on display was shocking for the time, especially in the level of blood shown (it was one of the first movie to make extensive use of squibs) combined with the fast-paced editing and cinematography that emphasized it; it was also a throwback to some of the pre-code gangster films that glorified the criminals, with Bonnie and Clyde as young attractive lovers fighting against the establishment (here, the banks who were foreclosing on farmers during the depression as well as the police). It’s success sent shockwaves through Hollywood and opened the door for a slew of other, even more violent mores.

-While the whole cast is solid (and everybody of note got Oscar nominations), the standout here is Faye Dunaway in her breakout performance. Dunaway is one of my long-time favorite actresses and I’ve liked her in most everything I’ve ever seen her in, and here she’s perfect as a model of reckless, impassioned, highly sexualized youth.

-Beyond just the cinematography making the violence impactful, it also does a wonderful job of capturing the look and feel of the depression-era South with its desolate plains and abandoned or dilapidated homes.

Negatives

-There’s a ton of style here and a lot of historical significance, but in terms of substance from its story or characters, it’s middling. Some of the attempts to make it more than a simple reckless youth/gangster movie are half-baked, like their hatred of banks and police for being against the common man during the depression and Clyde’s impotence which are potentially interesting but not explored with a whole lot of depth.

Other Stuff

-Legendary film critic Bosley Crowther was fired from the New York Times after 27 years on the job in 1967, and it’s generally agreed that this was due to his persistent and frequent negative comments on this film due to its content which made him look like he was out of touch with the modern filmgoer and the changing society in America.

Overall

I liked it for its abundant style, especially the art direction, cinematography, banjo music and editing, along with Dunaway’s performance. However, some of the meatier elements weren’t anything to write home about, and I tend to gravitate towards those kind of movies as a general rule.
Rating: B-

Doctor Dolittle (1967)

dolittle

Starring: Rex Harrison, Anthony Newley, Samantha Eggar, William Dix, Richard Attenborough, Peter Bull, Geoffrey Holder

Director: Richard Fleischer

Summary: After the animal communicating veterinarian goes too far for his clientele, he and his friends escape their hometown to the sea

Other Nominations: Original Score, Musical Score, Original Song (“Talk to the Animals”)*, Art Direction, Cinematography, Sound Mixing, Film Editing, Visual Effects*

Positives

-I has more charm than I was expecting, although the novelty wears off eventually. You can see the massive effort that the movie took to make due to the incredible number of live animals that were used (around 1200)

-Rex Harrison is solid in the lead even if his talk-signing isn’t that great.

Negatives

-The songs on the whole are very mediocre, even “Talk to the Animals” which is by the far most remembered and won the Oscar. What’s interesting is that they got Leslie Bricusse to write the songs, but didn’t get his long-time collaborator to help: Anthony Newley who was in the freakin’ movie. The two wrote the songs for Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Stop the World-I Want to Get Off as well as hit songs like the theme from Goldfinger and “Feeling Good.” Why they only used one of them when they were both obviously available, I don’t know.

-As was seemingly standard for musicals from this era, it’s long (2 hours, 32 minutes), but also very slow and dull most of the time.

-There were originally two songs in the initial cut from Harrison and Newley where they talk about both of them falling in love with Eggers’ character; these were cut from the final version, which makes her character almost completely pointless.

Other Stuff

-The production behind the film is arguably more famous (and interesting) than the film itself. First off, they had to purchase two sets of trained animals, because the first were from California and when they tried to bring them to England for filming, they were of course quarantined and they had to get more. Second, the animals, no matter how well-trained they were, were disruptive–the most notable being the parrot who would yell cut during scenes. Third, Rex Harrison was awful-he and his entourage were racist towards some of the cast members, but also just didn’t care: if one scene he wasn’t in that took place on an island, he drove his yacht into the middle of the frame just to be a jerk. Finally, the island locals threw rocks at the giant snail prop because their children had recently been plagued by gastrointestinal epidemic caused by snails. The final product was a huge flop, not only because of it’s inherent mediocrity but also because 1) it was released the same week as The Jungle Book, 2) there was a media controversy about the racism in the original books the movie was based on and 3) people were starting to get tired of old-school musicals by this time (next year’s Best Picture winner not outstanding). So how did it get 9 Oscar nominations? Fox wined and dined the academy members in lavish screenings and who knows what else they did. Fox tried to replicate the success of Sound of Music and failed miserably, but did not learn their lesson: they also released the big-budget musicals Star! (1968) and Hello, Dolly! (1969) which also failed, and once again they bought off the Academy in an attempt to sucker people into watching the movie-both were nominated for 7 Oscars, with the latter getting a Best Picture nomination.

Overall

Mediocre movie musical that’s not quite as bad as some make it out to be, but is still very lackluster.

Rating: D+

The Graduate (1967)

graduate

Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft, Katharine Ross, William Daniels, Murray Hamilton

Director: Mike Nichols

Summary: A recent college graduate has an affair with his neighbor’s wife, then falls for her daughter

Other Nominations: Director*, Actor (Hoffman), Actress (Bancroft), Supporting Actress (Ross), Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography

Positives

-All the main performances are excellent, even Ross (in her first major role) who does the best given her character is fairly generic. Hoffman was also a bold casting choice given it was his first significant role, but was a perfect choice: he has a great average-guy dorkiness at the beginning that feels very genuine and his performance lets you ignore some of his characters’ defects. Bancroft’s performance is all the more amazing considering she was actually only 7 years older than Hoffman-the age gap comes through primarily because of her body language and air of worldly experience she exudes.

-The soundtrack featuring songs from Simon & Garfunkel is an all-time classic with the songs “The Sound of Silence”, “Scarborough Fair” and “Mrs. Robinson” (which was a reworked version of a song they had kicking around called “Mrs. Roosevelt”, which is why it was not eligible for Best Song). The tone of the songs work well with the scenes they are played over, with the ending being one of the best ever in part due to the song choice.

-It works extremely well as a dramedy, as the humor holds up wonderfully and feels unique and original (especially for the time), and the drama underlies everything and the whole tone of the movie feels consistent throughout.

-Nichols brought back Sam O’Steen from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and his work here is even better, with some inventive transitions and one of the most effective montage sequences I can remember; that he wasn’t even nominated is astounding to me. The cinematography is also consistently good, and I especially liked how he used the camera focus level (i.e. only part of the frame is in focus or it transitions from out of focus to in).

Negatives

-As good as Dustin Hoffman is, Benjamin Braddock simply isn’t likeable as a character: there’s nothing engaging about him as a person, he isn’t really someone you want to root for, especially not given the entire situation. The only reason we want to see him succeed is because of the scenario (two young people in love and the parents forbidding it is shooting fish in a barrel along with the dramatic theatrics at the end) and performances, not because of his character. Also, Ross’ character is, as stated, underwritten and doesn’t have much of a defined personality.

Overall

The movie has a lot going for it, but I can’t agree with its status as a classic because of the fundamental flaw it has with it romance story that comprises the second half of the film-that there’s not a good reason for the audience to really want these two characters to come together at the end. Nevertheless, it’s still a really good movie and launched the career of one of the great actors of the next 25 years.

Rating: B+

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967)

dinner

Starring: Spencer Tracy (in his last film), Sidney Poitier, Katharine Hepburn, Katharine Houghton (in her film debut), Cecil Kellaway, Beah Richards, Roy E. Glenn, Isabel Sanford (in her debut)

Director: Stanley Kramer

Summary: An aging couple’s liberal principles are tested when their daughter announces her engagement to a black doctor

Other Nominations: Director, Actor (Tracy), Actress (Hepburn)*, Supporting Actor (Kellaway), Supporting Actress (Richards), Original Screenplay*, Song Score, Art Direction, Film Editing

Positives

-Some very good performances, especially from Hepburn and Poitier. It’s good to see Hepburn after a 27 year absence (The Philadelphia Story from 1940) and she’s still great, with her emotional scenes the most memorable; she didn’t have to do much acting there considering her partner of 26 years Spencer Tracy, was dying in front of her on set (and in fact died 17 days after completing the movie), but she hits it out of the ballpark. As for Poitier, I can’t think of anybody else in Hollywood at the time who could have credibly embodied the substantial requirements of the role-a black actor who is the most upstanding person humanly possible. He doesn’t get a lot of scenes to show off his stuff, but when he does (such as the scene in the study with his father), he’s as good as ever.

-While the premise itself is somewhat dated, the movie on a broader level is still very relevant: what are the limits of liberalism for liberals and the concept of NIMBYism (“Not in My Backyard”) in general. It’s all well and good to say “I want the U.S. to take in more refugees in from war-torn countries”, but what if someone asks you to take some in? This is a challenge with any progressive ideology, and one that humans in general have-people may like things when they are conceptual in nature (more money for schools), but not when it directly impacts them in any way (I have to pay more taxes for schools). I may be reading too much into the movie (as it is totally focused on the singular issue of interracial marriage), but I still think it raises good questions that still are relevant in our times. Finally, even as a dated concept, it still works perfectly as a good “love conquerors all” story.

Negatives

-The whole movie has a very artificial feeling, even if that was intentional to an extent. Poitier is almost a comically perfect, intelligent, thoughtful and conscientious person who has been dropped on earth by the gods for us unworthy mortals to bask in his greatness-yes I know this is sort of the point, but he comes off as unrealistic. Additionally, the entire situation this movie is based on, that the parents have about 6 hours or so to go from having never heard of a relationship between the two to total acceptance of it or the marriage is off, makes you painfully aware that you are watching a movie plot.

Other Stuff

-As someone from the San Francisco Bay Area, I often wondered: how many millions would Hepburn and Tracy’s hilltop, ocean-view house in San Francisco that overlooks the Golden Gate Bridge cost now?

Overall

Although a lot of people call it dated, and that’s fair enough, the bigger problem for me comes from how contrived the movie feels sometimes. Regardless, this is still a good movie with a great cast and its message can be applied broadly and made totally applicable to modern viewers.

Rating: B-

*In the Heat of the Night (1967)*

heat

Starring: Sidney Poitier, Rod Steiger, Warren Oates, Lee Grant, Larry Gates, Anthony James

Director: Norman Jewison

Summary: A black police detective from the North forces a bigoted Southern sheriff to accept his help with a murder investigation

Other Nominations: Director, Actor (Steiger)*, Adapted Screenplay*, Sound Effects, Sound Mixing*, Film Editing*

Positives

-Both leads (and the characters they play) are excellent. Poitier gives a career-best performance as Det. Virgil Tibbs, a strong departure from the kind of characters he played in Lilies of the Field and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?-not only an intelligent black man, but one who doesn’t want to take any shit from anybody, and has a lot of righteous anger. His facial expressions are great and he has a couple of very memorable scenes that are going to get a reaction out of any audience, even today. I’m surprised that Steiger was the one who got the Oscar nomination instead of Poitier (and won) considering he has the less flashy and attention-grabbing part, but he totally embodies his character of a redneck police chief through his posture/walk and speech.

-The score by the legendary Quincy Jones adds a lot and the soul music pairs well with the sweltering Southern atmosphere of the movie. It would have almost certainly been nominated if not for Jones already getting a nomination for another film (In Cold Blood).

Negatives

-Considering this is a detective procedural whodunnit in addition to a social commentary film, the resolution of the case feels really rushed and unsatisfying, in addition to the motives being a little confusing on my first watch (I had to watch it back again to catch all the dialogue).

-At the time, it was very rare to see a character like Virgil Tibbs in a film, a black character who is assertive against racist whites, takes nothing from nobody and shows them who’s better; since then, there was an entire genre devoted to this-Blaxploitation, which takes away some of the power of the character that was so evident in its time.

Overall

Watch it mainly for the wonderful lead performances by Poitier and Steiger, even if it has lost some of its power and doesn’t work as that effective of a police procedural film.

Rating: B

1967 in Review

Other Notable Films from 1967

Cool Hand Luke: Nominated for four Oscars but not Best Picture, this is one of Paul Newman’s classic performances in this anti-establishment film at the height of the Vietnam War. In the National Film Registry.

In Cold Blood: This well-regarded adaptation of Truman Capote’s true crime movie was also nominated for four Oscars but not Best Picture, including Director and Screenplay. In the National Film Registry.

Playtime: Possibly Jacque Tati’s most acclaimed film which served as a criticism on the cold sterility  modern life, featuring some amazing sets and tons of sight gags. Named by the BFI as the 35th Greatest film of all-time.

The Dirty Dozen: An incredibly cynical and violent WWII film from great director Robert Aldrich about a group of death row inmates who are sent on a dangerous mission and if they survive, their sentences will be commuted. Features an outstanding and colorful cast with Lee Marvin (“Thank God! He’s always drunk and violent!”), Charles Bronson, Donald Sutherland, Telly Savalas, Jim Brown and John Cassavetes.

1967 Nominees in Review

The Graduate: B+

In the Heat of the Night: B (Won Best Picture)

Bonnie and Clyde: B-

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?: B-

Doctor Dolittle: D+

A lot of quality movies, but there’s a lot of films here that are considered classics of Hollywood that I found to be merely good or really good because of their evident and substantial flaws. Replace the joke of a Best Picture nominee Doctor Dolittle with Cool Hand Luke and this is one of the best years of the decade easily even if nothing was truly great in my opinion.

For 1968: The last big hurrah for the classic movie musical (well, for the most part), with two of them being nominated for 19 Oscars, winning 7 including Best Picture, Best Director and Co-Best Actress; a film whose two two leads had a combined 20 Oscar nominations and featured the debuts of Anthony Hopkins and Timothy Dalton; A well-known actor makes his directorial debut in a film starring his wife; and the last Best Picture nominee to be based on a Shakespeare play.

Guess what though? 1967 was the 40th Academy Awards ceremony and so we have another set of best of lists coming our way.

Best of 1958-1967

Top 10 Movies

  1. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)
  2. The Apartment (1960)
  3. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
  4. Dr. Strangelove (1964)
  5. A Thousand Clowns (1965)
  6. Anatomy of a Murder (1959)
  7. Becket (1964)
  8. Elmer Gantry (1960)
  9. The Hustler (1961)
  10. Ben-Hur (1959)

Ranking the Best Picture Winners

  1. The Apartment (1960)
  2. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
  3. Ben-Hur (1959)
  4. West Side Story (1961)
  5. The Sound of Music (1965)
  6. In the Heat of the Night (1967)
  7. A Man for All Seasons (1966)
  8. My Fair Lady (1964)
  9. Gigi (1958)
  10. Tom Jones (1963)

Best Actor: Peter O’Toole (Lawrence of Arabia, Becket); Runner-Up: Sidney Poitier (The Defiant Ones, Lilies of the Field, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, In the Heat of the Night)

Best Actress: Julie Andrews (Mary Poppins, The Sound of Music); Runner-Up: Elizabeth Taylor (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Cleopatra, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?)

Best Director: Mike Nichols (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, The Graduate); Runner-Up: David Lean (Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago)