Monday, February 20, 2012

Favorite Films of the 1960s

The 1960s were my formative years and my introduction to movies. Here are some of my favorites from the decade--I tried but can't cut it to ten. Some on the list may not be the decade's best, but they're ones I revisit often, ones that I can't resist watching when I come upon them surfing the TV,  from whatever point in the film.

A transitional decade for American film, by the end the old Studio system was kaput; and mirroring the changing society, films became progressively more permissive and violent. Most Classic film-lovers undoubtedly lament the change. Ever since, most actors seem less discerning in their choice of roles, and more producers more interested in capturing box office than putting out quality work. This may not be so, but it seems like it. In any case, 1960s cinema is a fine place to take a journey in nostalgia.

I never list these things in order, most to least favorite. It's impossible. Instead, I'll go with chronological order.

The Apartment - 1960

Shirley MacLaine's best role as a cute elevator girl unlucky in love. Jack Lemmon is the schmuck who loans out his apartment to office execs for hanky-panky. Whoever thought Steve Douglas a cad? (That's Fred MacMurry for those of you unfamiliar with the 1960s sitcom, My Three Sons). Favorite scene is the Christmas party when C.C. Baxter looks at Miss Kubelic's broken compact mirror, and realizes that she's the girl the boss is taking to his apartment. It's Wilder's best -- humor wise.

Psycho - 1960

Hitchcock took it up a notch with this creepy suspense thriller, paving the way for countless imitators to follow. Two iconic death scenes and Anthony Perkins' best performance. Favorite scene is the dinner conversation between Marion Crane and a disturbed Norman, who'd never hurt a fly. Stuffed animals never looked innocent again.     

To Kill a Mockingbird - 1962

Robert Mulligan's beautiful take on Harper Lee's timeless Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about growing up in the South. Gregory Peck's sensitive performance of courage in the face of racial prejudice is the best of his career, but it's Mary Badham's innocent Scout that is most memorable for me. Elmer Bernstein's haunting theme song, the old preacher telling Scout to stand because her father is passing, Boo Radley, and Atticus and Scout on the porch swing--it all adds up to a beloved film. Favorite scene is Scout on the courthouse steps, shaming the mob.     

Hatari - 1962

A sentimental favorite, perhaps the first drive-in feature I ever saw. Animal rights activists surely deride the film today, but it's still exciting and a great blend of adventure and humor. One of the last times John Wayne gets the girl--this time the lovely Elsa Martinelli. I love the Mancini score and still jump during the dangerous rhino chase.

The Great Escape - 1963

So what if John Sturges stuck Americans into Stalag Luft III on the eve of the war's largest prisoner escape? Authenticity aside, it's still the best of its kind. It solidified Steve McQueen's status as a superstar and showed the Allies putting one over on the Gestapo, albeit momentarily. A great all-star cast of the decade's top action heroes, and another memorable score by Elmer Bernstein. The night they go is nail-biting stuff. Favorite scene is McQueen's (stuntman Bud Ekins) motorcycle jump.

Charade - 1963

Cary Grant's last terrific film. Audrey Hepburn still looks great in Givenchy. Mancini's memorable theme. A nice twisting plot and the closest you can get to Hitchcock without the man. Everyone looks like they're having fun in Stanley Donen's delightful farce. Favorite scene is the romantic boat ride down the Seine at night and the stars' first kiss.

Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte - 1964

Southern Gothic was never more fun than in the hands of Robert Aldrich. Bette Davis is perfect as a woman who thinks she is coming unglued. A Classic film-lover's treasure with Davis, Joseph Cotton, Mary Astor, Agnes Morehead, Cecil Kelloway, and Olivia de Havilland, all nearing the end of their careers. A great theme song, though I wish Aldrich had included Patti Paige's vocal. Favorite moment is Davis' cutting remark to cousin Miriam: "What do you think I asked you here for? COMPANY?"

Seven Days in May - 1964

A not-so-far fetched political thriller about a planned military coup during the height of the Cold War. Fredric March's last great performance. Director John Frankenheimer was on a roll, sandwiching this between The Manchurian Candidate and The Train. Favorite scene is March's "tunnel of tyranny" speech at the end as President Jordan Lyman.

The Spy Who Came in From the Cold - 1965

Richard Burton's best performance as a seemingly burnt-out spy, Alec Leamas. From John Le Carre's terrific thriller, no film exposed the dirty underbelly of the spy game better. Burton's speech about men who devote their lives to espionage is his finest moment: "Seedy, squalid bastards like me: little men, drunkards, queers, hen-pecked husbands, civil servants playing cowboys and Indians to brighten their rotten little lives."

Alfie - 1966

Michael Caine breaks the fourth wall as an unrepentant ladies' man who likes his "birds." Hard to believe Caine was ever this thin and handsome. The film does a terrific job at capturing societal mores of the decade. Caine makes a cad charming and funny, at least up to a point. Favorite scene is Shelley Winters' giving him a taste of his own medicine. What's it all about, indeed.

The Good The Bad The Ugly - 1967

No one made a Western more fun to watch than Sergio Leone in this third "man with no name" feature. Three treasure hunters vie for buried gold in the middle of the Civil War. A terrific Morricone score and plenty of memorable sequences in Leone's signature style, highlighted by Eli Wallach's fabulous Tuco. Favorite scene is the last one: the shootout at the cemetery with Blondie leaving Tuco atop the shaky cross.

Bullitt - 1968

Steve McQueen at his coolest. As tight a police story as you will see with the best car chase of the decade. It provides a perfect snapshot of late 60s' fashion and culture. Favorite moment is the bad guys losing McQueen in the hills of San Francisco, only to see him appear in their rear-view mirror.

Planet of the Apes - 1968

What other film better captures the folly of the nuclear age? Perhaps the decade's best ending, even if you suspect the big reveal earlier.Totally mesmerizing in its day. It's still hard to picture Stella (Kim Hunter) in that makeup. Favorite moment is Charlton Heston's "Take your stinking paws off me you damn dirty ape!"


  1. Hey, Readerman, great choices for your favorite films of the 1960s! I was particularly pleased to see TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, PSYCHO, BULLITT, and CHARADE, since I've loved them since I was a kid. Great post!

    On the off-chance you're interested, I blogged about CHARADE a while back; here's the link:

    Looking forward to reading more of your posts!

  2. Thanks, DorianTB. I'll check out your Charade post. Most of these I can watch each year. I especially like Bullitt, one of the few listed I saw on its initial release.

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