Best Discoveries of 2021: The 1960s
The 1960s tends to get the short shrift of my movie-watching time, stuck between film noir of the 1950s and the experimental 1970s, but I have some real knockouts for you if you're a '60s fan. Here we go:
War and Peace (1966-67) Sergey Bondarchuk (Criterion Blu-ray)
This adaptation of the Tolstoy novel isn’t perfect, but my goodness, what a vision. Tremendous in every aspect. You simply must see all seven hours (divided into four smaller films) of this wonder. Oh, to see this on a big screen…..
Accident (1967) Joseph Losey (Criterion Channel)
Harold Pinter’s adaptation of Nicholas Mosley’s 1965 novel is the third of four collaborations with director Joseph Losey, which also includes The Servant (1963), Modesty Blaise (1966), and The Go-Between (1970). In Accident (which begins with an accident, then turns to an extended flashback), Oxford don Stephen (Dirk Bogarde) tutors two philosophy students: the young and beautiful Anna (Jacqueline Sassard) and the overconfident but likable William (Michael York). Too bad for Stephen, but Anna and William seem to be attracted to each other. Also attracted to Anna is Stephen’s arrogant colleague Charley (Stanley Baker), who sets in motion a series of events that will change everyone’s lives. Philosophy fans will know that the word “accident” doesn’t mean a sudden, anticipated event, but rather the application of a general rule to a situation where the rule don’t actually apply, such as “Birds can fly. Therefore, emus must be able to fly too.” (Taken from fallacyinlogic.com.) Whether you’re a fan of philosophy or not, Accident is worth checking out.
La Collectionneuse (1967) Éric Rohmer (Criterion Channel)
I know I’m swimming upstream on this one. I thought My Night at Maud’s (1969) was utterly amazing, causing me to dwell on it long afterward, but La Collectionneuse did nothing for me. The characters: the art dealer Adrien (Patrick Bauchau), his friend Daniel (Daniel Pommereulle) and the girl Haydée (Haydée Politoff), seem more like chess pieces than real characters. As characters, I cared for none of them. Although I didn’t care for this, I do plan to revisit it in the coming years, as well as the other Rohmer films I haven’t seen. So don’t hate me just yet.
The Executioner (El verdugo, 1963) Luis Garcia Berlanga (Criterion Channel)
I am just beginning my journey through the films of Spanish filmmaker Luis García Berlanga, and if you’re in the same boat, this looks like a great place to start. (Thanks to my friend Miriam for suggesting this one!) This dark comedy features Nino Manfredi as José Luis, a young man who decides to have some good times with Carmen (Emma Penella), the daughter of a local aging executioner Amadeo (José Isbert). When Nino gets Carmen pregnant, he marries her but finds life getting very complicated. I won’t tell you any more, but José Isbert is hilarious as the executioner (but he’s not the only executioner in the film). The comic timing is as perfect as the film is dark. I highly recommend this one, which you can currently find on the Criterion Channel and on Blu-ray, also from Criterion.
The Fortune Cookie (1966) Billy Wilder (Amazon Prime)
The Fortune Cookie provides further evidence that very, very few comedies should run longer than 90 minutes. Jack Lemmon plays Harry Hinkle, a cameraman who gets injured at a Cleveland Browns game. Harry’s injury is relatively minor, but his brother-in-law, lawyer William “Whiplash Willie” Gingrich, believes he can win a lawsuit that will set them both up for life. Everything leads to an ending that is wonderful, but getting there takes over two hours with equal parts hilarity and routine.
The Servant (1963) Joseph Losey (Criterion Channel)
This first collaboration between director Joseph Losey and playwright Harold Pinter finds the new servant (Dirk Bogarde) to a lazy British aristocrat (James Fox) causing problems with the rich man’s household and life. The film examines the two men as well as the two women (Sarah Miles and Wendy Craig) in their lives in a psychological study that is fascinating, compelling, and unforgettable. The Servant is one of those “Where has this film been all my life?” movies, one I hope to return to very soon.
Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960) Karel Reisz (Criterion Channel)
This British kitchen sink drama finds Arthur Seaton (Albert Finney) as a roustabout factory worker living only for booze and his girlfriend Brenda (Rachel Roberts), the wife of one of Arthur’s coworkers. Yet when he meets a new girl named Doreen (Shirley Anne Field), Arthur starts moving in that direction. A powerful look for its time at working class Nottingham, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning still holds up as a fine drama.
Robbery (1967) Peter Yates (Kanopy)
You could say that the chase scene in Robbery was a dress rehearsal for the more famous chase in Bullitt (1968), also directed by Peter Yates, but Robbery stands on its own and is perhaps more impressive. Stanley Baker plays Paul Clifton, a criminal who masterminds an incredibly difficult heist of cash from a government mail train traveling from Scotland to London. The film is full of tension, suspense, great chase scenes, and one of my favorite elements of any heist films, the meticulous planning. Thanks to Elric Kane from the Pure Cinema Podcast for reminding me that I need to see this film, one that had been on my watchlist for a long time. Now playing on Kanopy, Robbery is also available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber and on Region B from Network.
Darling (1965) John Schlesinger (Criterion Channel)
I could write an entire essay on this film, but that would require me to watch it again, which I’m not ready to do. While I appreciate the film and thought Julie Christie’s Oscar-winning performance was spectacular, her character Diana Scott is not one I’d like to revisit. Based on the opening scene, I expected Schlesinger to make more of a connecting statement at the film’s conclusion. Perhaps he did, but either it was too muddled, or I am too thick to discern it. A revisit is probably in order, but not anytime soon. UPDATE: Just last night one of the participants in our virtual Great Movies discussion of Hud (1963) compared the title character of that film to Diana in Darling. An apt comparison, I think.
The Cremator (1969) Juraj Herz (Criterion Channel)
The best film I saw in Hooptober 8.0 as well as one of the best films I’ve seen this year. Karel Kopfrkingl (Rudolf Hrušínský) oversees the operation of a crematorium in Prague, an occupation he sees not as a job, but a calling, “liberating” the souls of the dead into a better existence. Although the film employs some extremely dark humor, it does so much more, which I will not disclose here. Hrušínský’s performance is absolutely stunning, but the entire film is extraordinary. This is a masterpiece.
Kwaidan (1964) Masaki Kobayashi (Criterion Channel)
This beautiful anthology film presents adaptations of four Japanese folk tales, brilliantly realized. That’s all you need to know. I hope you’ll check it out.
Next time: The ‘70s