Tag Archive for '1960s'

The Singing Nun

The Singing Nun (8/24/15) TCM (1966 **) Directed by Henry Koster, starring Debbie Reynolds, Ricardo Montalban, Greer Garson, Katharine Ross and Ed Sullivan. When a nun lands a recording contract, then goes onto fame and glory, it makes it surprisingly hard to do the Lord’s work. Oh, the mid-1960s were a strange time. This is one of those films that everybody was aware of, most people had seen, but was really not a particularly good film. The screenplay (based on a true story — more on that in a minute) seemed to have been written in about a week, and the lighting throughout felt more suitable for a TV show than a feature film. Attempts to add contemporary relevance (“I’m going to have an abortion, sister!”) seemed completely discordant. And I didn’t even find the music to be particularly memorable! Though I’m not interested enough to do a lot of research, I’m understandably curious about whether or not this project was rushed into production based on the success of The Sound of Music, released the year before. Now I mentioned that The Singing Nun was based on a real person, a woman named Jeanne Deckers, who achieved fame in the early 1960s because of a French-language chart-topping song “Dominique.” Her story is actually quite tragic, and in 1985 she was no longer a nun and committed suicide, along with her female lover.

Judgment at Nuremberg

Judgment at Nuremberg (8/22/15) TCM (1961 ***1/2) Directed by Stanley Kramer, written by Abby Mann, starring Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Richard Widmark, Marlene Dietrich, Maximilian Schell, Judy Garland, Montgomery Clift and William Shatner. In 1948, A Maine judge is asked to travel to Germany and head a tribunal determining the fate of German judges who, under Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party, passed judgment on those brought before them. As my wife and her mother tour Germany, my Nazi atrocities film festival series concludes. At a certain point during this courtroom drama, the prosecuting attorney shows film footage taken during the liberation of one of the concentration camps. Unfortunately, I don’t have the historical context to know the impact that footage had on audiences in 1961. Nearly two decades had lapsed since the defeat of the German army, and I know that some of the footage had been seen before. It’s undoubtedly an unfair comparison, but I’m reminded of the Zapruder footage shown during Oliver Stone’s JFK (1991).

Finian’s Rainbow

Finian’s Rainbow (6/28/15) TCM (1968 ***1/2) Directed by Francis Ford Coppola, based on the musical by E.Y. Harburg, Fred Saidy and Burton Lane, starring Fred Astaire, Petula Clark, Tommy Steele and Don Francks. When Finian McLonergan steals a leprechaun’s pot of gold and travels to America’s deep South, it doesn’t take long before the rightful owner shows up and demands its return. While it certainly doesn’t seem that long ago, I’d previously watched and reviewed this film back on 3/1/06, and described how it became one of my sentimental favorites. While it’s not a perfect movie, I’m so glad to report that its place in my heart hasn’t changed much since childhood. I haven’t much to add other than this time around I noticed some similarities to The Muppet Movie (1979). Specifically, compare the Muppets’ “Moving Right Along” to Keenan Wynn in “The Begat.” In addition to that, I also began to wonder if Finian‘s original musical was influenced to any degree by Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream? Curiously, googling the obvious search terms shed absolutely no light on the matter. (Favorite)

My Geisha

My Geisha (3/17/15) Retroplex (1962 ***) Directed by Jack Cardiff, starring Shirley MacLaine, Yves Montand, Edward G. Robinson and Robert (“Love That Bob”) Cummings. A famous actress fools her director husband into thinking she’s a Japanese geisha so he’ll cast her as the lead of his next project, a film adaptation of Madame Butterfly. This was an absolutely beautiful film, originally shot in Technicolor and 2.35:1 widescreen. However, I got the sense from beginning to end that My Geisha was stuck in second gear: Almost every scene was paced too slowly and at 119 minutes running time it could have easily been trimmed by 20 minutes. MacLaine was delightful as usual, and the rest of the cast was fine in their supporting roles. The male lead, Yves Montand, has never been an actor on my personal radar; the only other film of his that comes to mind is Let’s Make Love (1960), in which he co-starred with Marilyn Monroe. One final note: A couple of times I had to remind myself that it was a very different world 50 years ago, such as during an uncomfortable scene in which the nominal comic relief character Bob Cumming essentially commits what would be considered by modern standards attempted rape.

Doctor Dolittle

Doctor Dolittle (2/26/15) Encore (1967 ***1/4) Directed by Richard Fleischer, based on the books by Hugh Lofting, music by Leslie Bricusse and Lionel Newman, starring Rex Harrison, Samantha Eggar, Anthony Newley, Richard Attenborough and Geoffrey Holder. A British veterinarian with the ability to “talk to the animals” and less-than-polished people skills goes on a voyage to find the Great Pink Sea Snail, as one does. I reluctantly acknowledge that, by objective standards of cinematic quality, Doctor Dolittle is not a great film. I say this even though it was nominated for Best Picture. However, it remains a sentimental favorite of mine, and watching it again after all these years conjured forth fond memories of childhood. I particularly loved the music and fetched by wife to listen with me to “Fabulous Places,” a song I’ve come to associate with her and her love of travel. (I was delighted that as the characters sang that she was able to say “been there” time and again.) Another personal tidbit: As a child, I had the LP of the film’s songs as performed by… Alvin and the Chipmunks. Some of the songs from that album can be found on Youtube.com, and I highly recommend checking them out.

Ski Party

Ski Party (2/3/15) TCM (1965 *1/2) Directed by Alan Rafkin, written by Robert Kaufman, starring Frankie Avalon, Dwayne Hickman, Deborah Walley and Yvonne Craig. Two college buddies join the ski club’s holiday trip, ostensibly to save their girls from a blonde-headed Lothario. This movie answers the question: What did the Beach Blanket Bingo kids do when they weren’t at the beach? True confession time: My top reason for recording this film was to catch its pre-Batgirl appearance by Yvonne Craig, and sadly Ski Party (and Craig, honestly) disappointed on that front. It would be an understatement to say this was not a good movie. The screenplay appeared to have been written in about a half hour, and much of the “comedy” consisted of — and this is my best guess — the director telling his actors: “Bump into each other in a funny manner, then deliver your lines.” Undoubtedly the best scenes in the film were the musical numbers by Leslie Gore and James Brown. The latter was so bizarre that I turned to my wife and asked, “why don’t we have any pot in the house?” The main reason for watching Ski Party would probably be as a cultural artifact, a glimpse into a world of fifty years ago. And not all of it was pretty, either. There was some downright misogynistic shit going on, and I suspect the screenwriter was working out some issues with women. This was particularly evident in a scene where Avalon and Hickman dress in drag, infiltrate a slumber party, beat six girls senseless in a pillow fight, then act like they’ve struck a mighty blow for brotherhood.

The Thomas Crown Affair

The Thomas Crown Affair (1/20/15) TCM (1968 ***) Directed by Norman Jewison, written by Alan Trustman, starring Steve McQueen, Faye Dunaway, Paul Burke and Jack Weston. A rich bank executive pulls off the perfect heist, then falls into bed with the sexy woman brought in to find the evidence of his guilt. I haven’t seen the 1999 Pierce Brosnan / Renee Russo remake of this film, though my wife has and assures me it’s quite good. I’m only mildly curious about it, mainly because the original didn’t quite do it for me. I appreciated the originality of the premise and that the story structure was far from a carbon copy of the standard heist film. However, I think in order for me to have been fully engaged I would have had to buy into the romance between McQueen and Dunaway. The fact that I never did is really the direct result of the inscrutability of the characters themselves.

My Fair Lady

My Fair Lady (12/30/14) TCM (1964 ***1/4) Directed by George Cukor, based on the musical by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Lowe, which was in turn based on the play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw, starring Audrey Hepburn, Rex Harrison, Stanley Holloway and Wilfrid Hyde-White. A cunning linguist makes a wager that he can transform a flower girl into a lady. This film was presented on TCM as part of its Essentials series, currently co-hosted by Robert Osborne and Drew Barrymore. Osborne posited that this movie had a number of flaws, with the biggest being the casting of Audrey Hepburn in the leading role instead of Julie Andrews who had played Eliza Doolittle on Broadway. In fact, it was Osborne’s position that the film didn’t even deserve to be considered an “Essential.” I kept this in mind as I watched, and I definitely noticed a number of times when the film was less than perfect, and not necessarily because of Hepburn, who was certainly delightful. In particular, I felt the film’s third act was dragged out to the point of annoying me, and as much as I loved the showstopper “Get Me to the Church on Time,” it did nothing whatsoever to advance the story.

Gambit

Gambit (12/28/14) TCM (1966 **1/2) Directed by Ronald Neame, starring Shirley MacLaine, Michael Caine and Herbert Lom. A dancer is hired for an art heist because she’s an uncanny look-alike for a rich man’s dead wife. This film has a highly unusual structure: The first few minutes of the film show what would happen if the heist took place without a hitch. Then the clock is rewound and we see what “really” happened, where nearly everything that could go wrong does. Sadly, after the “gimmick” has been spent, the film doesn’t really hold up as a heist film, and when the final “secret” is revealed, I didn’t really buy it. Then again, it’s a film of its time, and it’s always fun to watch Michael Caine and Shirley MacLaine, though that’s probably not enough to really recommend it.

One Million Years B.C.

One Million Years B.C. (12/12/14) TCM (1966 **) Directed by Michael Carreras, starring Raquel Welch, John Ricardson and Percy Herbert. Can Loana and Tumak, a prehistoric couple from different tribes, find true love in a hostile world that wants to kill them? This film contained no real character dialogue, and so it employed a documentary-ish voice-over to get the audience oriented. Whether it was actually necessary or not reminded me of a technique Roger Corman used to use when he acquired weak films: Just add a voice-over. Let’s be honest, though. The number one reason 90% of the people have ever watched this film is Racquel Welch. (I choose to take the fifth as to whether I fall into that majority or not.) And nothing I write will really sway those 90% anyway, so I’ll leave it to you to make up your own mind about watching it. One additional note, however: I was somewhat surprised by how many plot elements the film had in common with a certain animated stone-age family. No, not The Flintstones, The Croods (2013), a film I just happened to have worked on..