From Russia with Love (1963)

From Russia with Love
Directed by Terence Young
Written by Richard Malbaum; adapted by Johanna Harwood from a novel by Ian Fleming
1963/UK
Eon Productions
Repeat viewing/Amazon Prime

James Bond: So, you’re Tatiana Romanova.

Tatiana: My friends call me Tania.

James Bond: Mine call me James Bond.

My favorite Bond ever is back in another action-packed romp.

Ernst Blofeld is also back as the head of the international terrorist organization SPECTRE. He has lured Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya) from the KGB to steal a Soviet encryption device. This involves an elaborate double cross that will draw James Bond into a plot to steal the device for MI-5.  The bait is unwitting and beautiful Soviet agent Tatiana Romanova who will seduce Bond for her country.  Bond is wise to the Soviet-angle but plays along.

The rest of the story involves lots of humor, sex, and gun-play culminating with Bond’s stand-off against SPECTRE henchman Grant (Robert Shaw).

This sophomore effort is no slump but solidifies the franchise’s formula of wit, sex, and violence.  If Zatoichi is a popcorn series, order a double serving for Bond!

Trailer

The Nutty Professor (1963)

The Nutty Professor
Directed by Jerry Lewis
Written by Jerry Lewis and Bill Richmond
1963/USA
Paramount Pictures
Repeat viewing/Amazon Instant
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Dr. Hamius R. Warfield: Kelp, it’s human nature. Kelp, people just don’t like teachers blowing up their kids!

I was not amused.

Despite the fact that he is a moron, Dr. Julius Kreb (Jerry Lewis) is a genius chemistry professor and beloved of all his students.  Beautiful Stella Purdy (Stella Stevens) takes a special interest in him and he in her.  Kreb decides that he needs to boost his sex appeal. Since the gym is not for him, he searches for a chemical solution.

Eventually, he stumbles across a formula that tranforms him into the swinging but obnoxious lounge singer Buddy Love.  Stella is both strangely attracted and repelled by his creation.  And Love transforms back into Kreb at the most awkward moments …

The running time of The Nutty Professor gave me ample time to analyze why I can’t stand Jerry Lewis.  I think it’s basically that his persona is of an infantile idiot.  All comedians play the fool but Lewis takes it that one step further into imbecility.  Bud Abbott strikes me the same way.  I like my comedians clever but eccentric.  The one positive about this movie is there is no food humor, which features prominently in some of his films I like even less.

Trailer

America America (1963)

America America
Directed by Elia Kazan
Written by Elia Kazan
1963/USA
Athena Enterprises/Warner Bros.
First viewing/FilmStruck

 

Elia Kazan: [Voice-over] My name is Elia Kazan. I am a Greek by blood, a Turk by birth and an American because my uncle made a journey.

Could this be Elia Kazan’s masterpiece?

In voice-over at the beginning Kazan tells us that this is the story of his uncle’s journey to America.  Kazan came from a family of Anatolian Greeks.  They, as well as the large minority Armenian population, came under considerable oppression in their native Turkey.

It seems that young Stavros Topouzoglou has dreamed of going to America ever since he was aware there was such a place.  A violent crack-down on Armenians and the murder of his friend only strengthen his resolve.  The rest of his family don’t think much of the America plan.  When things get even worse, though, the father decides to entrust Stavros with everything of value the family possesses and to send him to Constantinople to work with his uncle in a rug business.  The idea is that Stavros will work hard and then gradually move the rest of the family to the capital.

Stavros is tricked and robbed of the family fortune on his way to the city.  He turns up at his uncle’s door with nothing and realizes that the rug business is not and never will be a going concern.  He begs the uncle not to reveal the loss and begins to work unceasingly, almost beyond human endurance, to earn his passage to America.  But nothing will come easily to Stavros.

As the story proceeds we learn that Stavros is willing to do almost anything to achieve his dream.  He hits rock bottom at about the time he finally gets on the ship to the Promised Land.

This film goes immediately on to my Best New-to-Me Movies of 2017 list.  I was skeptical when I learned it is almost three hours long but it kept my interest throughout.  The movie was shot on location in Greece and Turkey and looks stunning.  It is full of heart-felt performances.  Kazan sure doesn’t sugar-coat his family’s history.  This makes the story even more moving.  Highly recommended.

America America won the Academy Award for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White.  It was nominated in the categories of Best Picture; Best Director; and Best Writing, Story and Screenplay – Written Directly for the Screen.

Clip – opening

Paranoiac (1963)

Paranoiac
Directed by Freddie Francis
Written by Jimmy Sangster
1963/UK
Hammer Films
First viewing/Netflix rental

 

Strange how paranoia can link up with reality now and then. — Philip K. Dick

A well-shot and fairly scary modern thriller from Hammer Pictures.

The setting is a dysfunctional household in contemporary England.  The original owners, John and Mary Ashby, died thirteen years previous.  Their teenage son Tony fell into the sea three years later.  Still living are the remaining two children — Simon (Oliver Reed), a nasty drunkard, and delicate Eleanor (Janette Scott), who has pined for her brother Tony since his death and may or not be insane.  Eleanor is cared for by buxom French nurse Francoise.  Completing the picture is Simon and Eleanor’s stern Aunt Harriet.

After the family’s annual memorial service for the departed, Eleanor starts seeing visions of her brother Tony.  There are lots of twists and turns in the plot and I think I will leave this right there.

I have been watching a fair number of horror duds lately and this movie was a very welcome relief.  Hammer is famous for its Gothic horror but really made all sorts of films. Cinematographer-turned-director Freddie Francis keeps this interesting to look at throughout.  The movie ends up in a place I didn’t quite expect it to take me – always a good thing.

Trailer

Zatoichi the Fugitive (1963)

Zatoichi the Fugitive (Zatôichi kyôjô-tabi)
Directed by Tokuzo Tanaka
Written by Seiji Hoshikawa, story by Kan Shimozawa
1963/Japan
Daiei Studios
First viewing/FilmStruck

 

Man at inn: [about Zatoichi] His sword is shiny and ice-cold. The only thing it won’t cut in this whole wide world is oil and the bond of lovers.

This series is the perfect popcorn viewing!

Our hero Ichi, the blind yakuza/masseur/swordsman, tries his hand at wrestling at which he naturally also excels.  Because he has defeated the champion of a syndicate of yakuza bosses, he is now their number one target for execution.  He also has drawn the attention of a sinister samurai who is now the lover of his old sweetheart Otone. Ichi finds time to unite a couple of star-crossed young lovers while slaying all who dare to challenge him.

This series not only goes well with popcorn but acts like potato chips – you can’t watch just one!  There are three released in 1963 and I am kind of spacing them out to prolong the enjoyment.

The Ugly American (1963)

The Ugly American
Directed by George Englund
Written by Stewart Stern from a novel by William J. Lederer and Eugene Burdick
1963/USA
Universal International Pictures
First viewing/Netflix rental

 

“The bureaucrat has become a self-styled sacred person; and the common man is blocked from finding out what the bureaucrats are doing, let alone controlling them.” ― William J. Lederer, A Nation of Sheep

Good, frustrating film about how clueless diplomats can be.

Anyone with a name like Harrison Carter MacWhite would seem to be born to be an Ambassador.  As the film begins, MacWhite is being questioned during Senate confirmation hearings as Ambassador to Sarkan, a fictitious Southeast Asian nation that clearly is a stand-in for Vietnam.  He is proud of his friendship with Deong, whom he met when both were resistance fighters during the Japanese occupation of that country. Deong went on to become a revered figure in the country’s battle for independence.  Those opposed to MacWhite’s nomination believe Deong is now a Communist.  At any rate, MacWhite is confirmed and travels to the country.

He is greeted at the airport by an anti-American demonstration that disintegrates into a riot in which the Ambassador’s car is attacked.  When MacWhite arrives at the Embassy he gives the entire staff a dressing down and lets them know that anyone who does not toe his mark will be on the first plane out.  Obviously, he is not about to listen to what any of them has to say.

That evening, he goes to meet with his old buddy Deong who admits to having organized the demonstration but having no idea how it went out of control.  As the conversation continues, Deong and MacWhite practically come to blowsover Deong’s belief that American imperialism, “war-mongering” and support for the dictatorial Prime Minister are destroying his country and that the Americans must go.  MacWhite concludes that Deong is in fact a Communist.

Against the advise of every single person that has been in country longer than he, MacWhite believes the solution to the problem is to expand the American-constructed “Freedom Road” that Deong opposes.  How many people must be killed before he learns the error of his ways?  With Pat Hingle as the altruistic American in charge of construction of the Road.

I thought this got the dynamic of some Embassies pretty darned right, unfortunately. Brando is perfect cast against type as a man who is often wrong but never in doubt.  I liked the film a lot and would recommend it to anyone drawn to the story line.

Trailer – the color on the DVD is much better

Robert Frost: A Lover’s Quarrel with the World (1963)

Robert Frost: A Lover’s Quarrel with the World
Directed by Shirley Clarke
WGBH
First viewing/FilmStruck

 

 

“These woods are lovely, dark and deep,/ But I have promises to keep,/ And miles to go before I sleep,/ And miles to go before I sleep.” ― Robert Frost, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

A reminder of a time when poetry and politics could meet and of a great American poet.

This film was completed just before the poet Robert Frost died at the age of 88 in 1963.  By then he had become an American institution.  He had old ties to the Democratic Party and was a friend to the Kennedy Administration.  We see him wow the crowds at a couple of poetry readings and be interviewed in New Hampshire.

Clarke put together an interestingly cut documentary that gave a real feeling for the man and his thought.  Frost is a great reader of his own work.  It is just short of an hour long.

The film won the Academy Award for Best Documentary, Features.

 

The Fire Within (1963)

The Fire Within (Le feu follet)
Directed by Louis Malle
Written by Louis Malle from a novel by Pierre Drieu La Rochelle
1963/France
Nouvelles Editions de Films
First viewing/Netflix rental

Alain Leroy: Tomorrow, I kill myself.

Well-made but too damned depressing.

Alain LeRoy is thirty-something and for four months has resided in a sanitarium in Versailles where his estranged wife placed him for his alcoholism.  His doctor regards him as cured yet Alain is reluctant to leave, believing he will relapse quickly.  The movie begins with a first trip to Paris where he sleeps with a friend of his wife.  He returns to the sanitarium where he begins to plan his suicide for the next day.

Instead of shooting himself, Alain makes another trip to Paris to say good-bye to old friends, mostly from his drinking days.  Despite all the joy and life of Paris and the obvious love of his friends, Alain relapses.  What will happen the next day?

I don’t know what it is about 1963 but it seems to have been dominated by madcap comedies and complete downers.  This falls into the later category.  Malle shows us some stunning views of Parisian life but can’t overcome his plot.

I have a real problem with suicide in general.  I know that the people are mentally ill by this point but it seems like the ultimate act of selfishness to me.  Thus I had little empathy for Alain and his self-absorbed plight.

Clip

Tom Jones (1963)

Tom Jones
Directed by Tony Richardson
Written by John Osborne from the novel by Henry Fielding
1963/UK
Woodfall Film Productions
Repeat viewing/FilmStruck

 

Narrator: Heroes, whatever high ideas we may have of them, are mortal and not divine. We are all as God made us, and many of us much worse.[

Although the young Albert Finney continues to be very easy on the eyes, I don’t think this film has aged all that well.

The film is based on the ribald picaresque Georgian novel and is set in the same period. Tom Jones (Finney) was found abandoned in the bed of Squire Allworthy, adopted and raised as Allworthy’s own son.  The bastard grows up to be a scamp and babe magnet who can’t resist bedding his many conquests.  His heart, however, belongs to the fair Sophia (Susannah York), daughter of Allworthy’s neighbor Squire Western (Hugh Griffith). She loves him too but may be unwillingly forced to marry Tom’s rotten cousin.  Eventually the cousin arranges to trick Allworthy into kicking Tom out of his house.

The remainder of the story covers Tom’s many adventures, both romantic and otherwise, on the road.  Sophia has run away from home and has some adventures of her own before the two are reunited.  With Edith Evans as Allworthy’s sister; Diane Cliento as a wild poacher’s daughter; Joyce Redman as the randy Mrs. Waters; and Joan Greenwood as Lady Belleston, an aristrocratic conquest of Tom’s.

This movie is an epic comedy that is mainly various set pieces strung together as a story.  I remember it being better than it seemed to me this time around.  The comedy is broad and didn’t work as well.  There’s a kind of dated flavor of “Swinging Sixties” “Swinging England”. On the other hand Finney and the scenery are gorgeous and the various supporting actresses are accomplished.

Tom Jones won Academy Awards for Best Picture; Best Director; Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium; and Best Music, Score – Substantially Original. It was nominated in the categories of Best Actor; Best Supporting Actress (Diane Cliento, Edith Evans and Joyce Redman); and Best Art Direction – Set Decoration, Color.

Trailer

I Fidanzati (1963)

I Fidanzati (The Fiances)
Directed by Ermanno Olmi
Written by Ermanno Olmi
1963/Italy
22 Dicembre/Sicilia Cinematografica/Titanus
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental

“Absence makes the heart grow fonder, but it sure makes the rest of you lonely.” ― Charles M. Schulz

This is a charming combination of a unique kind of love story with tender travelogue of Sicily.

Milanese Giovanni has accepted an 18-month transfer to his company’s plant in Sicily.  It will mean a promotion for him and separation from his long-time fiancee Liliana.  She is now barely speaking to him.  They part on very tense terms.

In Sicily, the lonely Giovanni begins to pine for his sweetheart.  The two begin a tentative correspondence in which they both reveal the feeling that had been surpressed by over-familiarity.  Giovanni also explores the wonders of an alien way of life.

It’s a simple story, sweetly told.  I was thinking I could have used more love story but I wouldn’t have wanted to miss any of the gorgeous shots of Sicily either.

Clip – this was my favorite part!