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

The Suitor (1962)

The Suitor
Directed by Pierre Etaix
Written by Pierre Etaix and Jean-Claude Carriere
1962/France
C.A.P.A.C/Cocinor/Copra Films
FilmStruck/First viewing

“You don’t need scores of suitors. You need only one… if he’s the right one.” ― Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

If you like Tati, you really ought to give Etaix a try.

Pierre (Etaix) is a truly strange and obsessive young man. As the movie begins, he seems to spend of of his time in his lavishly decorated bedroom studying astronomy and/or astrology.  His parents decide it is time for him to marry.  The amiable young man is only too happy to switch one obsession for another.  He starts off by asking the Swedish au pair who lives with the family but she doesn’t understand English.

So Pierre must hit the streets.  First, he happens upon a bossy drunk who is as obsessed with marriage as himself.  But she is not for him and he falls for a singer he sees on TV.

This contains lots of dialogue-free visual comedy a la Tati with the same kind of funny sound effects.  Pierre creates just as much mayhem as Monsieur Hulot but is decidedly odder.  I laughed out loud several times.  That earns a recommendation from me.

Clip

How the West Was Won (1962)

How the West Was Won
Directed by John Ford, Henry Hathaway and George Marshall
Written by James R. Webb
1962/USA
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Cinerama Productions Co.
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental

 

Zebulon ‘Zeb’ Rawlings: I said, ‘Now, why’d you get in such a fix? Do you like fightin’ grizzlies?’ He said, ‘Well, not ‘specially. I just wanted to go somewhere and the bear was there first.’ I guess I just wanna go somewhere, too.

The big Cinerama moments are the parts I remember from my childhood.  They are still the best thing about this movie, even on flat screen.

The film covers the conquest of the West starting from the first settlers moving to the Mid-West along the Erie Canal.  This part of the film focuses on the Prescott family and their daughters Eve (Carroll Baker) and Lilith (Debbie Reynolds).  Eve eventually woos and wins mountain man Zeb Rawlings (James Stewart).  Lilith is eager for the finer things in life and, after a disaster that kills her father and mother, becomes a music hall singer. She ends up marrying gambler Cleve Van Allen (Gregory Peck).

We then move on to the Civil War.  By this time Zeb Jr. (George Peppard) is a young man. He goes off to fight for the Union.  After the war is over, he works for the railroad under construction.  He finds the work distasteful and eventually becomes a lawman.  With too many stars to count in smaller roles including Henry Fonda, John Wayne, Walter Brennan, Thelma Ritter, etc. etc. etc.  The film is narrated by Spencer Tracy.  Henry Hathaway directed the bulk of the film with John Ford taking over for the Civil War Segment and George Marshall for “The Railroad”.

I believe I saw this at the Cinerama Dome in LA on its original release (thanks Mom!).  The only part that sticks vividly in my memory is the sequence in the river rapids.  I had forgotten that the film also contains a boffo gunfight and derailment as the climax.  There’s some really stunning scenery throughout.  I found the story a bit too contrived for my liking.  There’s certainly nothing to complain about in the acting department.  Recommended to those curious about the outer limits of widescreen cinematography.

Clip – closing sequence

The Magic Sword (1962)

The Magic Sword Directed by Bert I. Gordon
Written by Bernard C. Schoenfeld; story by Bert I. Gordon
1962/USA
Bert I. Gordon Productions
First viewing/Netflix rental

 

Lodac: [chuckling] You don’t like Sir Branton? Oh, come now. A damsel in distress can’t afford to pick and choose.

This fairy tale adventure from giant-creature specialist Bert I. Gordon came as a very pleasant surprise.

Sir George was left an orphan and raised practically since birth by Sybil (Estelle Winwood), a sorceress.  It is his 20th birthday.  A magic reflecting pool shows him that Princess Helene, his beloved, has been kidnapped.  Sybil refuses to let him ride to her assistance.  To cheer him up, she shows him all the magic items she will give to him when he turns 21. George tricks Sybil and locks her underground. He then departs for the castle with the magic sword, magic armor, and 6 knights resurrected from the dead.

Evil wizard  Lodac (Basil Rathbone) tells Helene’s father, the King, that he will feed his daughter to a dragon in seven days time.  Dastardly Sir Branton, who wants Helene for himself, promises the king he will rescue the girl in exchange for her hand in marriage.  George arrives in the knick of time and the king promises the princess to whomever rescues her.  The seven start out as a group.

Lodac has placed six curses between the palace and the dungeon where the princess is being kept.  High adventure ensues.

I wasn’t expecting much especially after learning that this was sent up on Mystery Science Theater 3000.  I don’t know why because I found it thoroughly enjoyable.  The effects are good for a movie of this vintage and budget.  The make-up is award-worthy.  It was great fun watching Basil Rathbone do his thing. This would make excellent family viewing with boys of a certain age.

David and Lisa (1962)

David and Lisa
Directed by Frank Perry
Written by Eleanor Perry from a book by Theodore Isaac Rubin, MD
1962/USA
Lisa and David Company/Vision Associates Productions
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental

David Clemens: What makes you think that I ever really talked to you at all? When people talk, it means they say what they really feel. All you ever do is toss words around.

Patients David and Lisa help each other recover from mental illness in this drama about a school for troubled youth.

David Clemens (Kier Dullea) lives in his head where he is an expert on psychology.  He crumbles into a sobbing mess if anyone, however accidentally, touches him.  Lisa Brandt (Janet Margolin) is a child-like schizophrenic who speaks only in rhyme.  Somehow the two patients connect on a deep level.  David uses his insight to communicate with her and they become friends.  In the meantime, David is resistant to any type of therapeutic interaction with the staff.

Eventually, David’s parents take him out of the school.  He runs away from home and back to the school where he finally begins to open up.

It is amazing how the nature vs. nurture debate has shifted in the last 55 years.  I think most professionals accept a biochemical and genetic model of mental illness these days. It sure is cheaper than talk therapy!  Back in 1962, the model was distinctly Freudian.  I tend to think that it is a mixture of both nature and nurture.  At any rate, this is a touching, if a bit simplistic, coming-of-age story

Clip

The Music Man (1962)

The Music Man
Directed by Morton Da Costa
Written by Marion Hargrove and Franklin Lacey based on the musical comedy by Meredith Wilson
1962/USA
Warner Bros.
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental

Harold Hill: I always think there’s a band, kid.

Revisiting this long-time favorite was a joy from the first minute to the last.

Traveling salesman “Professor” Harold Hill (Robert Preston) has left ahead of the tar-and-feather brigade so often that he become the bane of others in the profession.  His gimmick is selling the items to outfit a boys’ band – instruments and uniforms – on the basis that he will teach the kids how to play.  Hill cannot read a note of music and relies on something called the “think system” until the uniforms arrive and he can quickly skip town.

Both the mayor (Paul Ford) of his latest target – River City, Iowa – and the local piano teacher and librarian Marian Paroo (Shirley Jones) are skeptical.  Hill successfully dodges their efforts to make him present his credentials.

Hill is quite a gifted salesman and brings River City excitement that it has never known.  He gets more than he bargained for from his attempts to sweet talk the frosty Marian.  With Hermoine Guingold as the mayor’s wife, Buddy Hackett as Hill’s buddy, Pert Kelton as Marian’s mother and Ronny Howard as her little brother.

I had seen the movie several times before I was in the play in junior college.  The soundtrack was also in frequent rotation at home.  The musical was a huge hit on Broadway and the filmmakers didn’t mess with success, resulting in a certain staginess. Whatever – it makes me completely happy.  Most of the players expertly repeat their Broadway roles.  Preston is amazing.  Warmly recommended to musical lovers.

The Music Man won the Oscar for Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture.  It was nominated for Best Picture; Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color; Best Costume Design, Color; Best Film Editing; and Best Sound.

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I am going to Las Vegas for a wedding.  Will return August 4.

Clip

1962

In 1962:

36-year-old sex symbol Marilyn Monroe was discovered dead in her Brentwood bungalow of an apparent drug overdose, a death the coroner ruled as “a probable suicide.” Speculations arose over her associations with President John F. Kennedy and his brother. Director Michael Curtiz died at age 75.

Universal was purchased by talent agency MCA. Later that year, Congress prohibited studios from operating their own talent agencies.  After producing independent films for six years (mostly in Europe), former Fox studio VP Darryl Zanuck took over financially-troubled 20th Century Fox (at the time of the making of the expensive flop Cleopatra (1963)).

During the filming of Cleopatra (1963), in April of 1962, Pope John XXIII issued a denouncement of the rumored illicit affair between its two main stars, then-married Elizabeth Taylor and future husband Richard Burton.  Taylor was accused of “erotic vagrancy”(!) by the Vatican. The two married in 1964 after divorcing their spouses.

Marlon Brando was paid $1.25 million for his role in MGM’s flop Mutiny on the Bounty (1962) as Fletcher Christian.  He was the first actor to break the $1 million threshold.

Sixteen-year-old Patty Duke became the first minor to win a competitive award when she won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance as Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker.

The Bay of Pigs Fiasco ended when 1,113 prisoners taken during the attempted invasion were exchanged for $53 million in food and medicine.  The Cuban missile crisis occupied the attention of the world in October and November and was finally resolved when the USSR removed the ICBM’s located there on November 20th.  (I clearly remember my elementary school teacher telling us that we might be bombed soon!)

John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth.  James Meredith became the first African-American student to enroll at the University of Mississippi.  President Kennedy proposed a “Consumer Bill of Rights”.

The Edge of Sadness by Edwin O’Connor won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.  How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying by Frank Loesser and Abe Burrows won for Drama.  The instrumental “Stranger on the Shore” headed the Billboard Hot 100, despite spending only one week atop the charts.  “I Can’t Stop Loving You” by Ray Charles and “Sherry” by the Four Season tied for most weeks at number one, with five weeks each.  Pope John XXIII was Time Magazine’s Man of the Year.

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1962 looks like it will be one of the better years in cinema.  The films I will select from can be found here.

Montage of Photos from Oscar Winners

Montage of photos from major Oscar Nominees