To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)

To Kill a Mockingbird
Directed by Robert Mulligan
Written by Horton Foote from the novel by Harper Lee
1962/USA
Universal International Pictures/Paluka-Mulligan Productions/Brentwood Productions
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Rev. Sykes: Miss Jean Louise. Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father’s passing.

Robert Mulligan made a practically perfect novel into a practically perfect movie.

It is 1930’s small-town Alabama and most everybody is poor but making do.  This includes country lawyer Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck), a widower, and his children 10-year-old Jem and 6-year-old Scout.  The Depression is not depressing the kids any and they spend much of their time daring each other to conquer their fears.  The prime target is the Radley House, where a mystery man named Boo lives.  He is allegedly a horrible sight who must be chained in the basement.  Scout spends much of her time fighting to be included in the boys’ pranks.

Life changes for the Finch family when Atticus is hired to defend a black sharecropper accused of raping a white woman.  The majority of the townspeople think that lynching is too good for the man.  Complicating matters is the drunkenness and downright evil of the woman’s father, Bob Ewell.  Atticus’s strategy must be to accuse both Ewell’s of lying.  He loses the trial but not the animosity of the Ewells.  Probably all my readers know how this ends but I will go no further.

I read the novel when I was quite young, maybe twelve, and it really made an impression on me.  In previous viewings of the film, Peck seemed far too pompous in his delivery for the image of Atticus I had in my head.  I softened considerably to his performance on this re-watch.  All the other characters came off exactly as I had imagined them. The courtroom scenes are stirring but my favorite parts are the kids acting like kids.  The casting director did a hell of a job finding the child actors.

To Kill a Mockingbird won Academy Awards in the categories of Best Actor; Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium; and Best Art Decoration-Set Decoration, Black-and-White.  It was nominated in the categories of Best Picture; Best Supporting Actress (Badham); Best Director; Best Cinematography, Black-and-White; and Best Music, Score – Substantially original.

Trailer

1961 Recap and Ten Favorites List

I have now watched 102 films that were released in 1961.  A complete list can be found here.  It was an average year and I had 12 films for my favorites list.   The two films I didn’t have room for are: Leon Morin, Priest and Judgement at Nuremberg.  The list is no particular order.  I had a hard time deciding whether to put The Hustler or Yojimbo in first place and used my usual tie-breaker – if I could rewatch only one of the films it would be Yojimbo.

10.  Il Posto – directed by Ermanno Olmi

 

9.  The Steamroller and the Violin – directed by Andrei Tarkovsky

8.  West Side Story – directed by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins

7.  The Innocents – directed by Jack Clayton

6.  A Raisin in the Sun – directed by Daniel Petrie

5.  The End of Summer – directed by Yasujiro Ozu

4.  Through a Glass Darkly – directed by Ingmar Bergman

 

3. Divorce Italian Style – directed by Pietro Germi

2.  The Hustler – directed by Robert Rossen

1. Yojimbo – directed by Akira Kurasawa

 

The Children’s Hour

The Children’s Hour
Directed by William Wyler
Written by John Michael Hayes from the play by Lillian Hellman
1961/USA
The Mirisch Corporation
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental

Mrs. Lily Mortar: God will punish you.

Martha: He’s doing all right.

In which we meet a child more evil than little Rhoda in The Bad Seed.

Karen Wright (Audrey Hepburn) and Martha Dobie (Shirley MacLaine) have been friends since college.  They are now teachers and have opened a private girls school together. Karen is engaged to local doctor Joe Cardin (James Garner).  The women are saddled with Martha’s querulous, grandiose aunt Mrs. Lily Mortar (Miriam Hopkins).

The school is finally turning a profit, spurring Karen to set a wedding day with Joe.  This puts Martha in a very bad mood, one that aunt Lily proclaims is “unnatural”, along with Martha’s lack of interest men.  The argument is overheard by two of the little girls who unfortunately repeat it to the uncontrollable brat Mary.  When Mary is punished for one of her many acts of misconduct, she reports this – with embellishments – to her grandmother (Fay Bainter).

The grandmother checks out the story with aunt Lily, who has just been asked to return to New York, and she corroborates the argument with Martha.  Within days, every single student has been pulled out of school.  Although the accusation is completely untrue, things continue to go downhill for everybody concerned.

This film has held up quite nicely.  Did Wyler ever make a bad picture?  The acting is great, with MacLaine being the standout acting against type, and the story is powerful.  I got so involved I could have strangled that child if she was in the room!  Recommended if the subject matter appeals.

The Children’s Hour was nominated for Academy Awards in the categories of Best Supporting Actress (Bainter); Best Cinematography, Black-and-White; Best Costume Design, Black-and-White; and Best Sound.

Lover Come Back (1961)

Lover Come Back
Directed by Delbert Mann
Written by Stanley Shapiro and Saul Henning
1961/USA
7 Pictures Inc/Nob Hill Productions/Arwin Productions
First viewing/Netflix rental

Peter ‘Pete’ Ramsey: I told you sex would get you in nothing but trouble.

This is the middle film of the three early 60’s “sex comedies” that Rock Hudson and Doris Day made together.  It bears a striking resemblance to Pillow Talk but I prefer the earlier film.

Jerry Webster (Rock Hudson) is a wheeler-dealer ad man who snags clients with alcohol-fueled evenings and female companionship.  Carol Templeton is just breaking into the business and hates Jerry and all he stands for.  She finally convinces one of the women he has hired to show the client a good time to testify against Jerry before the ad council. Jerry fights back with a brilliant campaign for “VIP”, a product which has not yet been invented.  He hires Carol’s witness as the “VIP girl”.  After the spot is accidentally aired he hires a scientist to invent something to go with it.

Rock Hudson wears a beard for about half the movie

Carol attempts to steal the scientist and the product from Jerry’s agency.  Instead, she meets Jerry in his disguise.  A whole bunch of double entendres and bickering ensue.

Here, Rock Hudson’s character is a rat both the characters he plays.  I can’t understand why anyone with so much going for her would spend ten minutes with either one.  It must be his rugged good looks.  Other than that this stuff has been worked up to a winning formula in only two films.  Hudson and Day were made for each other and Tony Randall is a joy.  With Edie Adams as the VIP girl and Jack Kruschen as the scientist.

This was comic Jack Oakie’s last film.

Lover Come Back was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Writing – Screenplay and Story Written Directly for the Screen.

The Guns of Navarone (1961)

The Guns of Navarone  
Directed by J. Lee Thompson
Written by Carl Foreman from a novel by Alastair MacLean
1961/USA
Columbia Pictures Corp/Highroad Productions
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental

Prologue – Narrator:  In 1943, so the story goes, 2000 British soldiers lay marooned on the tiny island of Kheros, exhausted and helpless. They had exactly one week to live for in Berlin the Axis high command had determined on a show of strength in the Aegean Sea to bully neutral Turkey into coming into the war on their side. The scene of that demonstration was to be Kheros, itself of no military value, but only a few miles off the coast of Turkey. The cream of the German war machine, rested and ready, was to spearhead the attack, and the men on Kheros were doomed unless they could be evacuated before the blitz. But the only passage to and from Kheros was guarded and blocked by two great, newly designed, radar-controlled guns on the nearby island of Navarone. Guns too powerful and accurate for any allied ship then in the Aegean to challenge. Allied intelligence learned of the projected blitz only one week before the appointed date. What took place in the next six days became the legend of Navarone.

This is a solid war movie with a fantastic cast and lots of explosions.

Mallory (Gregory Peck) is a multi-lingual can-do army officer who is also a genius mountain climber.  High Command summons him and orders him to join a team to take out the guns on Navarone.  He will be assisted by the wise-cracking explosives expert Miller (David Niven), Greek resistance fighter Andrea (Anthony Quinn), Black (Stanley Baker), and fresh-faced young Greek Pappadimos (James Darren).  The mission will be commanded by Franklin (Anthony Quayle).  Unknown to any of the others, Mallory already knows Andrea well.  The Greek blames Mallory for the killing of his entire family by Germans and has vowed to kill him after the war.

The action starts right away and never really lets up.  The men suffer a storm at sea that sinks their fishing boat.  They swim to the island but almost immediately on arrival Franklin falls of a cliff and breaks his leg.  The team end up dragging him on a stretcher for the remainder of the film.  There are many encounters with Germans to dodge.  Finally, the team meets up with the resistance fighters who will help them.  They turn out to be women – Maria (Irene Pappas) and the mute Anna.

All that’s left to be determined is if, and how, the guns can be neutralized.

This is a rip-roaring sort of film with an equally stirring score.  The whole cast is pretty great but I would give the nod to Quinn if I had to choose.  My favorite scene is when he starts “acting” in an attempt to distract some Germans.  I don’t think I’ve seen so much blood and violence in an American war film to date on my journey.  An entertaining film for fans of this kind of thing.

The Guns of Navarone won the Academy Award for Best Effects, Special Effects.  It was nominated in the categories of Best Picture; Best Director; Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium; Best Sound; Best Film Editing and Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture.

Trailer – colors are vivid on the DVD

The Absent Minded Professor (1961)

The Absent Minded Professor
Directed by Robert Steveson
Written by Bill Walsh; story by Samuel W. Taylor
1961/USA
Walt Disney Productions
Repeat viewing?/Netflix rental

 

If you are looking for pleasant, amusing family viewing, this could be it.

Science-professor Ned Brainard’s brain  (Fred MacMurray) has room for only one thing — his work on anti-gravity energy.  As the story begins he is so engrossed in his experiment that he forgets his wedding for the third time.  Despite his groundbreaking discovery, things aren’t looking so good for the professor. His fiancee Betsy is furious and may be succumbing to the attentions of another man.  Brainard flunked the star player (Tommy Corchran) on the basketball team on the eve of the big game with their main rival.  And the star player’s father Alonzo P. Hawk (Keenan Wynne) is an alumni with a long outstanding loan with the school.  The ruthless father would like nothing better than to raze the college and put up a housing development.

Brainard is determined to win his fiancee back by proving the many wonderful properties of his discovery, which he calls Flubber.  The primary feature is that if dropped the substance keeps bouncing higher and higher without slowing down.  This enables Brainard to save the day at the basketball game and fly around the country in his old model T.  After some comic struggles the military becomes interested in the subject.  With Ed Wynn in a cameo as a fire chief.

I don’t remember much about this movie but it certainly would have the kind of thing the family would see in the theater when I was a child.  It’s amazing how down-right nice MacMurray could be when he wasn’t playing total rats for Billy Wilder.  There’s no moral in this, just pure fun.  I expect the laughs in reverse relation to the age of the viewer.

The film had a sequel The Son of Flubber in 1963 and was remade with the same title in 1997, starring Robin Williams

Bridge to the Sun (1961)

Bridge to the Sun
Directed by Etienne Perier
Written by Charles Kaufman from the autobiography by Gwendolen Terasaki
1961/France/USA
Cite Films/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
First viewing/Amazon Instant

I know how men in exile feed on dreams. Aeschylus

Carroll Baker surely had a wide range as an actor.  Here she plays a flighty Southern-belle type with a temper.

This is based on Gwendolen Terasaki’s autobiography.  It is 1935 and Gwen (Baker) is spending a short vacation in Washington DC visiting her aunt and one of her many beaus, a government official.   The official wangles the three an invitation to a reception at the Japanese Embassy.  It is there she meets diplomat “Terry” Terasaki (James Shigeta).  There is an immediate attraction and he asks her out.  They fall in love.  Both her relatives and the Japanese Ambassador oppose their marriage but their passion overcomes all obstacles.

Before too long, Terry is reassigned to Japan.  Gwen has a terrible time adapting to Japanese customs and the growing nationalism surrounding her but the marriage is strong enough to survive it.

By the time the couple returns to Washington, war clouds are on the horizon and they have a daughter in tow.  Terry surreptitiously works for peace.  After the attack on Pearl Harbor, all Japanese diplomats are immediately deported.  Gwen refuses to be left behind. Between the deprivation of war and Terry’s continued anti-war activities, Gwen struggles to hold her family together.

This is an interesting and well-made picture.  I enjoyed it and my husband liked it even more than I did.

Trailer

The Steamroller and the Violin (1961)

The Steamroller and the Violin (Katok i skripka)
Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky
Written by Andrei Tarkovsky and Andrey Konchalovskiy; story by S. Bakhmetyeva
1961/USSR
Mosfilm Children’s Film Unit
First viewing/Filmstruck

One of the luckiest things that can happen to you in life is, I think, to have a happy childhood. Agatha Christie

Tarkovsky’s debut solo film is both sweet and accomplished.

Seven-year-old Sasha is gifted.  He spends most of every day practicing the violin but neither his mother nor his instructor is ever satisfied.  The kids in his apartment block tease and torment him.  He is a very lonely child.

Sasha has his one day of happy childhood when Sergei, a steamroller driver, takes pity on him.  He lets the boy drive the steamroller and then takes him to get food for a shared lunch.  Sasha basks in the attention.

Tarkovsky tells the tale with great delicacy and charm.  It was the quiet moments surrounding the more arty camera effects that completely won me over, though the latter did build to a very satisfying ending.  Highly recommended.

Video essay on Tarkovsky and his solo debut

Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961)

Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea
Directed by Irwin Allen
Written by Irwin Allen and Charles Bennett
1961/USA
Irwin Allen Productions
First viewing/Netflix Instant

Admiral Nelson: If God ordains that Man should die without a fight, then why does He give us the will to live?

This apocalyptic submarine adventure provided few thrills to me.

Admiral Harriman Nelson (Walter Pidgeon) is also a genius submarine innovator.  His latest sub is being criticized in Congress and a team arrives to investigate.  This includes nit-wit psychiatrist Susan Hiller (Joan Fontaine).

After awhile, the Earth experiences some extreme climate change thanks to the Van Allen Belt.  Certain scientists believe that the climate will somehow burn itself out in a few weeks.  Admiral Harriman knows that he can save the Earth by shooting off a sea-to-air missile at a precise place and time before the other theory can be proved.  If he is wrong, he may provoke the Apocalypse himself.

En route, the sub picks up a nut-job mariner who believes that Harriman should not interfere with God’s plan to destroy the planet.  The sub loses contact with Washington, so Harriman is on his own.  Furthermore, the UN has sent a team of subs to stop him.  The crew’s morale is rock bottom.  Ultimately, Harriman’s sanity is questioned.  I will take bets on whether the world comes to an end.

The silly story culminates in a way that made no sense to me.  Other than a few impressive shots of the sub and a couple of camp sub v. giant squid encounters I can think of no reason to watch this movie.  With Barbara Eden as the Admiral’s comely secretary, Peter Lorre as the Admiral’s right-hand man and Frankie Avalon as a crew member.  Avalon also sang the inane title tune.

 

Lola (1961)

Lola
Directed by Jacques Demy
Written by Jacques Demy
1961/Italy/France
Rome Paris Films

First viewing/Netflix rental
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Life is a cabaret old chum … — “Cabaret”, lyrics by Fred Ebb

Refreshing proof that the French New Wave didn’t need to take itself so deadly seriously.

The plot is about first love and cycles through many examples, making it somewhat convoluted to summarize but not too hard to understand.

Roland Cassard is bored and chronically late for work.  He thinks he needs to see the world and when he is fired, he seeks employment with a shady hairdresser who needs someone to travel for him.  In the meantime, Roland meets a 14-year-old named Celine and her mother and, more importantly, another Celine, who was a childhood sweetheart. She is now a cabaret dancer who calls herself Lola (Anouk Aimee).  He falls in love with her but she is still in love with her first love, the father of her child.

The main clientele of the cabaret is American sailors.  One is infatuated with Lola.  He befriends the young Celine who falls in love with him.  Events continue to spiral.

This movie is a lot of fun.  It is stylish without being in any way meta or pretentious. The restoration looks stunning.  I had not expected the Michel LeGrande score, the theme of which became a hit – “Watch What Happens”.

Restoration trailer