1964

Theater admission numbers had dropped dramatically to below 1 billion. The trend started to reverse itself with the arrival of blockbusters and multi-plexes, but Hollywood would never get back to its glory days in the 1940s and 1950s.

Sony began marketing the first reel-to-reel video tape recorder designed specifically for home use in 1964 — however, widescale consumer use of video tape recorders didn’t really take off until the mid-1970s.

Alan Ladd died at the age of 50, due to a lethal combination of alcohol and drugs. Peter Lorre died of a heart attack/stroke at the age of 59.  Elizabeth Taylor married Richard Burton for the first time.

Ronald Reagan’s last feature film appearance before his retiring from the screen was in director Don Siegel’s The Killers (1964) in which he played a ‘heavy’ for the first time. Two years later, he would be elected governor of California.

After three civil rights workers were murdered in Mississippi, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights act of 1964 but this did not stop the violence as it continued to increase in many American cities.  The Act outlaws discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. It prohibited unequal application of voter registration requirements, racial segregation in schools, employment, and public accommodations. Resistance to the public accommodation clause continued for years on the ground, especially in the South. Resistance by school boards continued into the next decade, with the most significant declines in black-white school segregation only occurring at the end of the 1960s and the start of the 1970s.  Lyndon Johnson was returned to office in a landslide victory over  Barry Goldwater.

A parent wrote to the US Attorney General complaining that the lyrics to “Louie Louie” by The Kingsmen were obscene. After 2 years of investigation, the FBI dismissed the complaint because the lyrics of that recording were “unintelligible at any speed”.

The great soul singer Sam Cooke was shot dead at a motel under disputed circumstances.

“I Want to Hold Your Hand “spent seven weeks atop the Billboard Charts, making it the number one single of the year.  At one point, songs by The Beatles occupied the top 5 places on the Billboard Top Ten.  Both Beatlemania and the British Invasion took Amereica by storm. Other  British groups also found success including The Rolling Stones and The Animals and together with the American talent of The Supremes and Bob Dylan many say this was one of the greatest years for music in the last century. Also one young loud talented boxer by the name of Cassius Clay won the Boxing World heavyweight championship from Sonny Liston. Time Magazine’s Man of the Year was Lyndon B. Johnson.   No Pulitzer Prize was awarded for either literature or drama in 1964.

Although the U.S. denied that it had combat soldiers in South Vietnam, U.S. soldiers routinely participated in combat operations against the Viet Cong. The number of U.S. soldiers in South Vietnam rose to more than 16,000 by year’s end with 122 combat deaths in just that year.

The President of South Vietnam Ngô Đình Diệm initiated a brutal crack-down on protests by Buddhists against his (largely Roman Catholic) government that caused consternation in the U.S. and concern that the Diệm government was failing. In November, Diệm was overthrown and killed in a coup d’état by his military, with the tacit acquiescence of the United States. A military junta headed by General Dương Văn Minh replaced Diệm.

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The movies I will choose from can be found here.

Montage of stills from 1964 Oscar Winners

Montage of stills from major 1964 Oscar Nominees

A Legend or Was It? (1963)

A Legend or Was It? (Shito no densetsu)
Directed by Keisuke Kinoshita
Written by Keisuke Kinoshita
1963/Japan
Shochiku Eiga
First viewing/FilmStruck

 

Legend remains victorious in spite of history. Sarah Bernhardt

Set in the last days of WWII, this film is powerful but completely tragic.

We are told from the colorful beginning that this is a tale so tragic that the participants never speak of it.  Then we segue into flashback and black-and-white.  The Sonobe family – grandma, mother (Kinuyo Tanaka), son and two daughters – have evacuated from Tokyo to Hokkaido.  As the story begins, another son has returned from the war due to illness.  The family is resented by most of the local villagers but has managed to feed itself because the mayor’s son wants to marry the oldest daughter.  She doesn’t like him but has agreed to the marriage.

The brother informs his family that the mayor’s son was guilty of atrocities in China.  This is enough to cause the sister to reject him and allows the villagers’ resentment to grow into real hate.  The son reveals himself to have been fully capable of war crimes.  All this domestic tragedy is set to the bad news coming in from the front.

Well, the movie certainly delivers all the sadness it promised.  There is a very interesting counterpoint between the villagers’ fanatical patriotism and the family’s growing conviction Japan will lose the war.  Despite the unremitting bleakness, the movie is  well and powerfully made and acted.

 

 

Stop Train 349 (1963)

Stop Train 349 (Verspätung in Marienborn)
Directed by Rold Hädrich
Written by Jim Henaghan, Victor Vicas and Norman Borisoff from a story by Will Tremper
1963/France/Italy/West Germany
Da Ma Produzione/ Hans Oppenheimer Film/Hoche Productions et al
First viewing/Amazon Instant

There are many people in the world who really don’t understand, or say they don’t, what is the great issue between the free world and the Communist world. Let them come to Berlin. There are some who say that communism is the wave of the future. Let them come to Berlin. And there are some who say in Europe and elsewhere we can work with the Communists. Let them come to Berlin. And there are even a few who say that it is true that communism is an evil system, but it permits us to make economic progress. Lass’sie nach Berlin kommen. Let them come to Berlin. – John F. Kennedy, 1963

After a somewhat cheesy opening, this topical political thriller works really well.

By treaty, the East Germans allowed the U.S. Army to operate a sealed train between West Berlin and West Germany, crossing East German territory.  On this run of the train there is an unscheduled stop within East Germany and a East German escapee jumps onto the train.  A sympathetic nurse unlocks a sealed door and attempts to hide him.

This doesn’t work too well because an obnoxious and nosy U.S. journalist (Jose Ferrer) is soon onto a story.  At the border between East and West Berlin the train is again stopped by East German and Soviet authorities demanding the refugee, which the Army denies harboring.  Tense negotiations ensue.

After the introductory bad “theme song” with shots of Berlin this becomes a taut thriller. One is really unsure of the fate of the refugee to the very end.  The negotiations struck me as very realistic.  Recommended to those looking for an obscure gem.  I watched a dubbed  version.

Clip – does not reflect the quality or tone of the rest of the film

The Disaster Artist (2017)

The Disaster Artist
Directed by James Franco
Written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber from a book by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell
2017/USA
Good Universe/New Line Cinema, etc.
First viewing/theatrical showing

 

Greg Sestero: Tommy, dude, this really isn’t necessary.

Tommy Wiseau: No, no! Very necessary. I need to show my ass to sell this picture.

I and the rest of the audience of the showing of this movie at the Palm Springs International Film festival laughed our asses off.

This is the story of the friendship of cult director Tommy Wiseau (James Franco) and actor Greg Sisteros (Dave Franco).  Both had an unlikely dream of making it in Hollywood. Unfortunately, Hollywood did not agree so Wiseau decided to do it himself by making The Room, now considered one of the worst movies ever made.

The plot delves into the inexplicable personality of the truly unique Wiseau with humor and some sympathy. We laugh at Wiseau’s clueless efforts while ultimately admiring his never losing faith in himself or his project.  The scenes of the friends are interspersed with the making of the movie.  Before the credits role we are treated to a number of shot-for-shot divided screen recreations of The Room.  If you liked Ed Wood (1994), you might like to give this one a try.

Wiseau has always refused to reveal much about his background or personal life and the film leaves many questions unanswered.  I had a hell of a good time though.  I hope Franco is nominated for a Best Actor Oscar.  He makes the film work.

We were treated to a Q&A with the scriptwriters and Greg Sisteros after the film.

The Room (2003)

The Room
Directed by Tommy Wiseau
Written by Tommy Wiseau
2003/USA
Wiseau-Films
First viewing/YouTube

Johnny: YOU ARE TEARING ME APART, LISA!

It’s as if Ed Wood made a love-triangle soap opera punctuated with soft-core porn.

The movie takes place in an alternative universe masquerading as San Francisco.  Johnny is a bank employee who has been engaged to Lisa for the last five years.  They make love two or three times a day.  She is bored and starts an affair with Johnny’s best friend Mark on the eve of their nuptials.  When Johnny finds out about Lisa’s duplicity   SPOILER

 

he kills himself.

Obviously, the above is a pretty thin plot for a 99 minute movie.  So there are several other characters who drop in for little particular purpose.  What really adds to the running time however, are the endless soft-focus sex scenes featuring the aging Wiseau’s bare buttocks and with Mark, who is at least more attractive.  Wiseau also seems to like to toss footballs around more than the average guy.

I watched the movie alone and must admit it was an experience.  But it is even better with other people. I managed to find a youtube video with three young people commenting as they watched this for the first time that made me laugh pretty hard.

You have to admit the guy had a vision, demented as it may have been.  In the future, though, I will stick to my beloved bad sci-fi.

Montage of “worst” moments does not fully convey the impact of this terrible, terrible film

The Skydivers (1963)

The Skydivers
Directed by Coleman Francis
Written by Coleman Francis
1963/USA
Crown International Pictures
First viewing/YouTube

Joe Moss: Coffee? I LIKE coffee!

The director’s Beast of Yucca Flats was so bad it was good.  This later effort is just plain bad.

One has to work pretty hard to find the plot.  I think it goes something like this.  A married couple is running a sport skydiving business.  It is failing largely because fatalities keep it shut down while the FAA investigates.  For some reason not related to their physical attractiveness each of the spouses is hit on by outsiders whom they reject.  Acid does not react well with parachute material.

Harry Rowe: Suzy, you’re a broad. Get lost!

Unlike most ultra-low budget dreck this film has a cast of thousands.  Not a one of them can act.  I watched the Mystery Science Theater 3000 riff-track of the movie after seeing the film straight and it was an improvement.

 

The Incredible Journey (1963)

The Incredible Journey
Directed by Fletcher Markle
Written by James Algar from a book by Sandra Burnford
1963/Canada/USA
Cangary/Walt Disney Productions
First viewing/Amazon Instant

 

Animals are such agreeable friends – they ask no questions; they pass no criticisms. George Eliot

Just what the title promises plus all the cuteness anyone could handle.

A professor is offered a short-term teaching assignment at Oxford and leaves his family’s pets – Bodger, an ancient Bull Terrier; Luath, a Golden Retriever; and Tao, a Siamese cat – with a family friend.  Everything goes nicely until the friend goes on a hunting trip and leaves the pets with house sitters.  Something about being with strangers awakens a strong instinct in Luath to return home to the professor’s house.  The other two follow along.  The journey will take them 200 miles over Canada’s wilderness.  They have numerous adventures on the way along with encounters with kindly humans.

These are some super talented animal actors and there is plenty to enjoy if you like this sort of thing.  I do.

It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963)

It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
Directed by Stanley Kramer
Written by William Rose and Tania Rose
1963/USA
Casey Productions
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental

Lennie Pike: Then what happens next? I’ll tell you what happens: Then they all decide that I’m supposed to get a smaller share! That I’m somebody extra special stupid, or something! That they don’t even care if it’s a democracy! And in a democracy, it don’t matter how stupid you are, you still get an equal share!

I’ve laughed at and loved this movie from the time I saw it on original release as a pre-teen.  It stands up extremely well!

Just about every TV comedian of the 50’s and early 60’s shows up in this romp along with most of the other comics you could think of in cameos.  The framework is as follows. Various cars traveling through the desert stop at the scene of an accident.  The men go to see if they can help.  They find Smiler Grogan (Jimmy Durante) about to kick the bucket – literally.  Before he does, he tells them that he has buried $350,000 under a “Big W” at Santa Rosa State Park.

The people discuss cooperating but when they cannot decide on shares, it is every man for himself!

So begins a cross-country race by car (and plane) to arrive first and claim the dough.  Just about everything that can go wrong does – hilariously – along the way.  The police, headed by Capt T. G. Culpepper (Spencer Tracy,) watch on in bemusement.  Among the claimants are:  Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Jonathan Winters, Micky Rooney, Buddy Hackett, Phil Silvers, and Terry-Thomas.  Ethel Merman plays the mother-in-law from hell and Dick Shawn is her mama’s boy son.  Blink and you might miss Jerry Lewis, Jack Benny, the Three Stooges, Buster Keaton, etc., etc., etc.

Oh my gosh.  It’s hard to single out the funniest parts of this.  See below for Winters and Silvers standing off.  There’s also a fabulous fist fight between Berle and Terry-Thomas. Really it’s one gag after another.  You don’t have time to breathe!  Highly recommended.

It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World won the Academy Award for Best Effects, Sound Effects.  It was nominated in the categories of Best Cinematography, Color; Best Sound; Best Film Editing; Best Music, Original Song (“It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World”); and Best Music, Score – Substantially Original.

Trailer

Montage of fantastic scenes! – this had me laughing all over again even though I just saw it yesterday

Il Sorpasso (1962)

Il Sorpasso  
Directed by Dino Risi
Written by Dino Risi, Ettore Scola, and Ruggero Maccarri
1962/Italy
Incei Film/Sancro Film/Fair Film
First viewing/Netflix rental

Bruno Cortona: Put this one on. Its Modugno. Poetry doesn’t do much for me. I like music. This song’s really great. Mystical. Really gets you thinking. Ah, music. I really like Modugno. This song really drives me crazy. It seems so simple, but it’s got everything – – loneliness, inability to communicate, and that stuff that’s all the rage now – – alienation, like in Antonioni’s films. Did you see “L’eclisse”?

Roberto Mariani: Yes

Bruno Cortona: I fell asleep. Had a nice nap. Great director, Antonioni. I saw him in his Flaminia Zagato once. I couldn’t stop gawking.

This is sort of a road movie in which a free-spirited Roman braggart drives a shy law student around the city and its environs.  Your opinion of the film will likely depend on your opinion of the braggart.  I couldn’t stand him.

The story begin when Bruno Cortona (Vittorio Gassman) talks his way into the apartment of law student Roberto Mariani to make a phone call.  It is a major holiday and the streets of Rome are deserted.  Bruno is not able to reach the people he was supposed to catch up with so he suggests that Roberto accompany him.  Roberto had set aside the time for studying but allows himself to be persuaded.  At first the idea is that the two will share a meal.  But once Bruno has Roberto in his clutches he decides that he must stay for the whole adventure.

Bruno is one of the least considerate most irresponsible drivers in movies.  He delights in driving at high speeds and feels compelled to pass anyone in front of him.  He also enjoys making insulting remarks and chatting up women.  Slowly Robert comes to admire Bruno’s life style and begins to loosen up a little himself.

I think the filmmakers mean us to believe Bruno has an admirable spontaneity and freedom that Roberto if not ourselves should immulate.  I disliked him thoroughly.  The ending of this film comes out of nowhere. It didn’t make me like the movie any more than I had but it made sense.

Opening Credits

Hatari! (1962)

Hatari!
Directed by Howard Hawks
Written by Leigh Brackett; story by Harry Kurnitz
1962/USA
Malabar
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental

 

Sean Mercer: Oh this is gonna be great! The Indian is knocked off, I’ve got a woman photographer on my hands,now you and the Frenchman break out in monkey bites and we’re a month behind already!

If you like Africa, wild animals or John Wayne this could make an enjoyable light afternoon at the movies.

Young Brandy De la Court has inherited a ranch in Africa from her father.  Sean Mercer (Wayne) helps her run the business – capturing wild animals for zoos – with the assistance of Pockets (Red Buttons) and a old-timer called “The Indian” (Bruce Cabot).  By the time the film is fairly started the crew has picked up a German and Frenchman, who inevitably become rivals in love, and beautiful wild game photographer “Dallas” (Elsa Martinelli).

We follow the adventures and misadventures of these folks for the rest of the film.  The entire cast seems to be having a ton of fun and nothing is taken too seriously.

According tothe trivia, the wild animal captures were all accomplished as shown on screen by the actors and the African Masai that come along for the ride.  Obviously no killing is involved, but we do witness all these creatures running in panic in high speed chases by jeeps until they are exhausted.  This looks like no fun at all for the animals and highly dangerous for the cast.  Yet these scenes did not take away from the essential light-hearted camaraderie of the piece.

Hatari was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Cinematography, Color.


Trailer