Contempt (1963)

Contempt (Le mepris)
Directed by Jean-Luc Godard
Written by Jean-Luc Godard from a novel by Alberto Moravia
1963/France/Italy
Rome Paris Films/Les Films Concordia/Compagnia Cinematografic Champion
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Camille Javal: If you love me, just be quiet.

Meta.  Godard. Ugh.

Arrogant American Producer Jeremy Prokosh (Jack Palance) has hired director Fritz Lang (played by himself) to direct a production of Homer’s Odyssey.  He is disappointed in the lack of sex and, well, “more” in the current script and hires playwright Paul Javal (Michel Piccoli) to jazz it up.  Prokosh shrewdly assesses that Paul will be seduced by the money he needs to keep his beautiful wife Camille (Brigitte Bardot).

Soon Prokosh sets about seducing Camille with what looks like Paul’s passive assent. Nothing much else happens but what seems like hours of pointless marital arguments and philosophizing about cinema.

This irritates me more than any Godard film I have seen to date.  By far the best part is the long nude scene with Bardot that opens the film, though I am scarcely in the demographic that can enjoy that fully.

The rest of the film is filmed with too clever movie references (Paul has to wear a hat all the time like Dean Martin in Some Came Running, etc.) and deadly dull philosophy.  The nadir is a scene that stretches an argument between Camille and Paul to 34 deadly minutes – it’s one of those “You don’t love me any more” “what makes you say that?” “no you don’t” “yes I do” fights – that made me glad I don’t own a revolver to shoot out the TV screen.

There is some nice music and the cinematography is gorgeous.  This is the biggest budget and most successful film that Godard made.  It is somewhat comforting that even he hated it.

The Mouse on the Moon (1963)

The Mouse on the Moon
Directed by Richard Lester
Written by Michael Pertwee from the novel by Leonard Wibberley
1963/UK
Walter Shenson Films
First viewing/Amazon Instant

[repeated line] Grand Duchess Gloriana XIII: It’s that nasty tin thing again!

This was possibly more hilarious in 1963 than it is now.

The setting is The Duchy of Grand Fenwick as introduced in 1959’s The Mouse That Roared.  The duchy is still presided over by Grand Duchess Gloriana XIII (Margaret Rutherford) but Rupert Mountjoy (Ron Moody) has taken over as Prime Minister.  Mountjoy has determined that the tiny duchy needs new plumbing and once against plots to get the money out of the US.  This time the plan is to announce that Grand Fenwick needs cash for its space program.  This will give the Americans the chance to show “international cooperation” with a country that cannot really compete.

In the meantime, a scientist has in fact dreamt up a low-tech way to get to the moon and the US and USSR can’t risk coming in second … or third.  With Terry-Thomas as a birdwatcher.

This lost me shortly after it began.  There are some funny moments but the humor is perhaps too topical … and too British …to really work for this viewer at this late date.

The Kiss of the Vampire (1963)

The Kiss of the Vampire
Directed by Don Sharp
Written by Anthony Hinds
1963/UK
Universal International Pictures/Hammer Films
First viewing/Netflix rental

 

Dr. Ravna: [referring to Marianne] I will not say that she has not changed in any way., Mr. Harcourt. She has, as you may put it, grown up – tasted the more sophisticated, more erotic fruits of… life.

Gerald Harcourt: [realizing that she has been initiated into vampirism] Oh, my God!

Dr. Ravna: [officiouly] God is hardly involved, Mr. Harcourt.

Perhaps Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee could have injected some oomph into this underwhelming Gothic horror flick.

The story takes place in the early years of the last century.  As the film begins, we witness a professor driving a stake through a coffin just as it is about to be lowered into the earth – this will be one of the few evidences of blood shown in the film. We then follow the journey of newlyweds Gerald and Marianne who are motoring through Europe.  They run out of petrol and are forced to stay in a hotel that has fallen on hard times.  It contains only one other guest – the professor we saw at the beginning.

The local aristocracy reaches out to the couple, inviting the two to dinner and then a ball.  But it is soon clear that Dr, Ravna and his family have sinister intentions with regard to Marianne ….

This may be the least scary vampire movie ever made.  When I think Hammer horror I think gore and ominous atmosphere.  This movie is lacking in both as well as in good acting or storytelling.  A disappointment.

8 1/2 (1963)

8 1/2
Directed by Federico Fellini
Written by Federico Fellini, Tulio Pinelli, Ennio Flaiano, and Brunello Rondi
1963/Italy/France
Cineriz/Francinex
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Guido: When did I go wrong? I really have nothing to say, but I want to say it all the same.

One of the few meta films that succeeds for me on every level.

Director Guido Anselmi (Marcello Mastroianni) attempts to take refuge from his many problems at a health spa.  He is pursued by his entire production company and various aspirants for parts in his film.  All these people want to know is what the film, which is actually in production, is to be about.  Guido is unable to tell them or to escape them.  To add to his problems both his mistress (Sandra Milo) and his long-suffering wife (Anouk Amie) have joined him.

Guido tries to escape into childhood memories and various fantasies.  But he is constantly plagued by an internal and external critic who get the better of him before the glorious ending.

Fellini and I are on the same wave-length, at least through 1963, and I have loved this film since the first time I saw it.  I don’t think the black-and-white cinematography and production design has ever been bettered.  I find Guido’s creative and personal troubles and their resolution immensely satisfying.

8 1/2 won Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Costume Design, Black-and-White.  It was nominated in the categories of Best Director; Best Writing, Story and Screenplay, Written Directly for the Screen; and Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White.  Nino Rota was clearly robbed for his fantastic score.

American trailer

Monstrosity (1963)

Monstrosity (AKA The Atomic Brain)
Directed by Joseph V. Mascelli
Written by Vy Russell, Sue Dwiggins, and Dean Dillman Jr.
1963/USA
Cinema Venture
First viewing/Amazon Prime

Narrator: As with the other bodies stolen from cemeteries, the nerve endings of the brain were too far gone to receive a proper transplant. The experiment failed to produce anything more than a walking, breathing zombie-like creature. But the doctor permitted her to wander about the laboratory – she was harmless and … [leering tone] at times even amusing.

Horror meets mild titillation in this truly weird and terrible brain transplant movie.

Dr. Frank’s experiments in atomic brain transplants are being financed Mrs. March, a wealthy, mean and nasty old woman.  She hopes to have her 80-year-old brain transplanted into a sexy young body so that she can at last be “loved for herself.” For now her needs are satisfied by craven gigolo Victor.

Dr. Frank has been somewhat successful with transplanting animal brains into dead bodies leaving a Wolf Man like monstrosity to do his bidding.  What he needs are some live bodies to work on.  These arrive in the form of foreign young women – from Britain, Austria, and Latin America – hired by Mrs. March as domestics.  On and on the story goes as experiments pile up, misfiring along the way to the fiery climax.

Once again the Random Number Generator has supplied a movie from the very bottom of the barrel to begin a new year.  This one is bizarre in the extreme.  The most amusing part is the sexy “British” girl’s – she’s named Bea! – sporadic attempts at an accent that range from Cockney to upper class.  But there’s something for every bad movie lover here.  It does drag at only just over an hour.

Clip – opening

1963

In 1963:

Cleopatra, the most expensive film ever made to date, opened. It was one of the biggest flops in film history (cost-overruns made the $2 million budget become $44 million). The off-screen extra-marital affair conducted between stars Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton) was beneficial for the film’s bottom line.  Nevertheless, it took many years for the film to recoup its enormous costs.

Ampex began to offer its first consumer version of a videotape recorder, sold through the Neiman-Marcus Christmas catalogue for $30,000.  The first theater originally designed as a multiplex opened – it was called Parkway Twin (for its two screens).

Sex symbol Jayne Mansfield appeared naked (breasts and buttocks) in the unrated sex farce Promises! Promises, making her the first mainstream actress to appear nude in an American feature sound film. (The honor would have been held by Marilyn Monroe in Something’s Gotta Give (1962), but she died during production.)  The provocative film was heavily publicized in Playboy‘s June 1963 issue, with pictures to prove it. That led to the magazine’s publisher Hugh Hefner being charged with obscenity (and later acquitted) — the only time in his life.

Actor/director Dick Powell died at the age of 58 in Los Angeles, CA — much too soon.

The biggest and saddest news of the year was the assassination of President John  F. Kennedy Dallas, Texas on November 22. Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in as president later that day.  Shooter Lee Harvey Oswald was murdered by Jack Ruby two days later. The FBI and the Warren Commission officially concluded that Oswald was the lone assassin, but various groups contradicted the findings of the Warren Report and believed that Kennedy was the victim of a conspiracy. After Kennedy’s death, Congress enacted many of his proposals, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In Civil Rights, the year began with Alabama governor George Wallace declaring “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation for ever.”  On April 3, African Americans in Birmingham, Ala., began daily nonviolent demonstrations and sit-ins . Over 400 protestors were arrested, including Dr. Martin Luther King.  On August 28, King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC. In September, Ku Klux Klan members bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala.

“Sugar Shack” by Jimmy Gilmore and the Fireballs was the #1 song on Billboard‘s 1963 Year-End Chart of Pop Singles.  The Reivers by William Faulkner won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.  Martin Luther King was Time Magazine’s Man of the Year.

The Beatles’  first full-length album “Please Please Me” was released in March.  It topped the charts in the United Kingdom for thirty weeks until replaced by another Beatles album, “With The Beatles.”  The band’s massive success in the USA would wait until 1964.

The Soviet Union launched the Vostok 6 spacecraft, carrying Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space.  UK War Minister John Profumo resigned after admitting he lied about his relationship with Christine Keeler.  Call girl Keeler was simultaneously involved with a Soviet Navy officer and a drug dealer.

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I have 139 films on my list for 1963, though I doubt that I will watch all of them.  It can be found here.

1963 Oscar Winners

1963 Nominees for Major Oscars

1962 Recap and Ten Favorite Films

I have now watched 116 films that were released in 1962.  A complete list can be found here.  It was a strong year and I had 19 films for my favorites list.   They could have been sliced and diced in any number of ways – I aimed for a balance between List and non-List films.  The  films I reluctantly left off my Top Ten were: An Autumn Afternoon; Advise and Consent; Sanjuro; Gypsy; The Music Man; Jules and Jim; The Longest Day; Cape Fear; and Vive le tour .  The list is no particular order though Harakiri would remain at the top no matter how I compiled the list.

10.  A Long Day’s Journey Into Night – directed by Sidney Lumet

9.  Whatever Happened to Baby Jane – directed by Robert Aldrich

8.  The Days of Wine and Roses – directed by Blake Edwards

7.  Cleo from 5 to 7 – directed by Agnes Varda

6.  The Manchurian Candidate – directed by John Frankenheimer

5.  The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner – directed by Tony Richardson

4.  To Kill a Mockingbird– directed by Robert Mulligan

3.  The Miracle Worker – directed by Arthur Penn

2.  Lawrence of Arabia – directed by David Lean

Harakiri – directed by Masaki Kobayashi

 

The Trial of Joan of Arc (1962)

The Trial of Joan of Arc (Procès de Jeanne d’Arc)
Directed by Robert Bresson
Written by Robert Bresson from the transcript of the trial
1962/France
Agnes Delahaie Productions
First viewing/FilmStruck

 

Jeanne d’Arc: My voices were from God. All I did, I did at God’s command. My voices did not lie. My visions were from God.

As with many of Bresson’s films, this is slow going but beautiful.

Most of the dialogue was taken from the actual transcript of Joan’s trial.  The English are, naturally, cast in a very bad light and possibly Bresson wrote the behind the scenes parts. The story concludes with Joan’s martyrdom at the stake.

Bresson directs in his usual “non-acting” style which is always distancing for me. Thankfully, the images were enough to keep me engaged.  I had never noticed before but, at least in this one, Bresson focuses a lot of his attention on feet, cutting off the heads and torsos of his actors while they are in motion.  His camera is much more lively than his actors or plot.

Hell Is for Heroes (1962)

Hell Is for Heroes

Directed by Don Siegel
Written by Robert Pirosh and Richard Carr
1962/USA
Paramount Pictures
First viewing/Netflix rental

 

Pvt. John Reese: The outfit I came from was a real dilly. There was a general, a major, two captains, two lieutenants, and me. There’s a squad for you, buddy-o.

Platoon Sgt. Bill Pike: Sounds like a court martial board.

Steve McQueen is the ultimate bad boy soldier in this low-budget combat drama.

Everybody in a platoon situated on the Siegfried Line believes their squad will be sent home shortly.  Instead Sgt. Pike (Fess Parker) announces they are going back into battle. Before they do, they are joined by the surly Pvt. Reese (McQueen).  On the front, six of the men learn they will stay behind to divert the enemy while the bulk of the force is sent elsewhere.  This is truly hell.  Reese only makes it more hellish by trying to wage one-man warfare.  With Charles Coburn, Bobbie Darin, and Bob Newhart as other GIs.

IMDb trivia: At one point, a columnist was visiting the set, and he mentioned to another observer that Steve McQueen seemed to be his own worst enemy. Co-star Bobby Darin overheard the comment and quickly replied, ‘Not while I’m around’.”

Don Siegel certainly knew how to direct action and the combat scenes here are solid despite some financial limitations.  The GIs conform to stereotypes that were born 20 years before but it’s kind of fun to see a cast that would carry us through the next 10-20 years do its stuff.  I particularly liked Newhart, though admittedly his routine does not fit in with the tone of the film as a whole.

The Dungeon of Harrow (1962)

The Dungeon of Harrow
Directed by Pat Boyette
Written by Pat Boyette and Henry Garcia
1962/USA
Herts-Lion International Corp.
First viewing/Netflix rental

Cassandra: You’re quite safe now. You’re in the castle of Count Lorente De Sade.

Writer/director Pat Boyette gives Ed Wood a run for his money in the bad movie department.

As the film begins, the dying Aaron Fallon bemoans the end of his line.  We segue into flashback.  Fallon and the captain are the only survivors of a shipwreck (which seems to have been staged in a bathtub).  They wash up on the island of the evil Count de Sade.  His companions all seem to be slaves with no hesitation to carry out his maniacal orders.  We eventually learn that there is a deadly secret locked up in the Count’s basement.

This movie is really terrible in all its aspects. The acting may be the worst part.  Some of the actors seem to have learned their lines phonetically.  The poor print and sound on the DVD I received did not help, though I strongly suspect that the quality may just reflect the original.  Is this bad enough to be enjoyable?  Just barely.

Clip – even the credits are terrible!