50 Years Ago This Week

50 Years Ago This Week – Melville’s Le Samouraï

Le Samouraï, the tenth feature film of Mid Century Cinema favorite Jean Pierre Melville, had its premiere in France on October 25, 1967. Over the years it has come to be seen as the representative Melville film, and for many, their favorite of his thirteen movies. It is indeed a masterpiece; and one that is easily recognizable as a Melville production.

50 Years Ago This Week – Point Blank

On August 30, 1967 John Boorman’s Point Blank premiered in San Francisco. It was a fitting choice for a movie that begins and ends at the abandoned island prison of Alcatraz, even though Boorman, in an inspired move, shifted most of the film’s action from tie-dyed, summer-of-love San-Francisco to the cold, impersonal monochromes of Los Angeles.

50 Years Ago This Week – Bonnie and Clyde Rocks the Film World

Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde made its debut in August 1967, screening first at the Montreal Film Festival on August 4 before premiering in New York City nine days later.  A fictionalized account of the notorious depression-era outlaws, the film, starring Warren Beatty (who also produced), Faye Dunaway and Gene Hackman would become a sensation, landing on the cover of Time magazine as representative of a “New Cinema”—what would become known as The New Hollywood

50 Years Ago This Week – Kael Lauds Orson Welles

On June 24 1967, Pauline Kael – not yet established at the New Yorker where she would emerge as one of the most influential film critics in America – wrote a long essay for the New Republic singing the praises of the then under-appreciated Orson Welles and his new under-seen film, Chimes at Midnight.  “Like Brando, Welles is always being attacked for not having fulfilled his prodigious promise; but who has ever beaten the mass culture fly-by-night system of econom

50 Years Ago This Week – Dont Look Back

May 17, 1967 marked the release of Bob Dylan: Dont Look Back (that’s right, no apostrophe). A documentary of Dylan’s 1965 visit to England, cameras followed as the twenty-four year old Bob performed in proper concerts and on informal occasions, held forth in sparring matches with a clueless, often hostile establishment press, bantered with his entourage, and jousted with many.

50 Years Ago This Week – Sydney Lumet’s The Deadly Affair

On January 26 1967, Sidney Lumet’s The Deadly Affair opened in America (the UK-based production had its premiere in Britain the previous October).  Largely unnoticed at the time and a flop at the box office (though it did earn five BAFTA nominations), the movie is very much worth revisiting, both on the strength of its own formidable merits and also as an important harbinger of the introspective themes and aesthetic motifs of the emerging New Hollywood.

50 Years Ago This Week – Star Trek: Balance of Terror

One of the very best episodes of Star Trek, “Balance of Terror” (season 1, episode 14), first hit the airwaves on December 15, 1966.  A great show even with an average episode, "Terror" rolled out the best of everything that The Original Series (the kids call it TOS now) had to offer: a thoughtful and suspenseful plot (it is more about waiting for the action than the action itself—and all the better for it), soul-searching conversations about the meaning of life (no episode of TOS can make do without

50 Years Ago This Week – Another Masterpiece from Jean-Pierre Melville

Jean-Pierre Melville’s ninth feature film, Le Deuxieme Souffle, premiered in Paris on November 1, 1966.  The nominal plot – prison break, world-weary gangster, impossible heist, inevitable unraveling – sounds like standard-issue fare.  But in Melville’s hands . . . in Melville’s hands . . .

50 Years Ago This Week – Monte Hellman and Jack Nicholson, Twice

The program of the 1966 San Francisco Film Festival, which ran from October 20-30 of that year, featured two modest efforts that were the product of a partnership between Jack Nicholson and Monte Hellman. The duo, who had previously collaborated on a pair of movies in the Philippines, had this time gone off to the Utah desert on Roger Corman’s dime (which is probably an appropriate indicator of their total budget) and shot two Westerns in six weeks, featuring overlapping casts.

50 Years Ago This Week – Hitchcock/Truffaut

October 1966 welcomed the publication of Hitchcock: The Definitive Study of Alfred Hitchcock by François Truffaut, a long-form interview of the Master by one of his most devoted enthusiasts, who, both as a young critic and subsequently as a great filmmaker in his own right, counted Hitchcock among his idols.  (It is easy to point to The Bride Wore Black as the Truffaut film that most obviously reflects this influence—too easy, I would argue.  To see the cinema

50 Years Ago This Week – Star Trek!

Since September 8, 1966, we have lived in a world that has included Star Trek, a television show that made a small difference, in a good way.  That it would endure for fifty years, spawning endless descendants, sequels, books, movies, and subcultures, is astonishing.  (The show bounced around NBC’s schedule for three years before it was finally cancelled, a casualty of its perennially poor audience share.)  That it has, finally and perhaps inevitably, been largely reduced to an assembly-line mass-consumption multiplex blockbuster product-package is disappointing. 

50 Years Ago This Week – Who’s Afraid of the Production Code?

A milestone on the road to the Seventies Film, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, an adaptation of Edward Albee’s Tony Award winning play starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, was released fifty years ago.  Successfully bringing the play to the screen – with the explicit approval of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) – marked the beginning of the end for Hollywood’s draconian but eroding self-censorship system, overseen for over thirty years by its Production Code Authority (PCA).

50 Years Ago This Week – Harper

The Paul Newman vehicle Harper opened on February 23, 1966.  Despite the considerable talent attached – including cinematographer Conrad Hall (whose 70s credits include Fat City and Smile), screenwriter William Goldman (All the Presidents Men, Marathon Man), and a marvelous cast that also features Lauren Bacall, Shelly Winters, Robert Wagner and Janet Leigh (wasted in a thankless role that brings out Newman’s mugging) – it is by no means a must-see.  Goldman’s adaptation of a Ross McDonald novel (the source material probably accounts for the exce

50 Years Ago This Week – Batman!!!

January 12 1966 was a momentous day in television history, as perennial third-place network ABC unleashed Batman, with the first of 120 episodes that would air during its brief but glorious run.  Like Get Smart (which also negotiated an ambitious blend of comedy and drama), Batman straddled the cultural shifts of the mid-1960s, with one boot firmly planted on either side of the decade’s divide.

50 Years Ago This Week – Sydney Pollack’s First

The closing days of 1965 saw the release of The Slender Thread, the first feature film directed by Sydney Pollack, who had been scuffing around as a TV actor (and director) for the previous decade.  Thread marked the start of an impressive career for Pollack as a movie director (and subsequently as a notable producer as well).

50 Years Ago This Week – The Spy Who Came In From the Cold

Producer/Director Martin Ritt’s outstanding The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, based on the John le Carré novel, opened in America on December 16 1965.  The liberal-humanist Ritt (who was blacklisted in the 1950s) had a reputation for often wearing his politics on his sleeve, which is not typically a recipe for dramatic intrigue.  His first film, Edge of the City (1957) has an outstanding cast (including John Cassavetes, Sidney Poitier, and Jac

50 Years Ago This Week – Otto Preminger’s Bunny Lake is Missing

Bunny Lake is Missing, the last eminently masterful film from producer-director Otto Preminger (though six more would follow over the next fifteen years) was released on October 3, 1965.  It is very nearly a great movie: the gripping tale, with a smart, witty screenplay was gloriously shot on location in London in striking black and white (including some very fine night-for-night scenes); Preminger’s compositions and camera movements show him at the top of his impressive game. 

50 Years Ago This Week – Arthur Penn’s Mickey One

Mickey One, produced and directed by Arthur Penn, opened on September 27, 1965. A harbinger of the New Hollywood, it had the misfortune of arriving ahead of its time; had it been released two or three years later, it surely would have met with greater success and acclaim. But in 1965, a moody, expressionistic film that was more allegory than narrative was still hard-pressed to find a sizeable audience. 

50 Years Ago This Week – Get Smart

Get Smart made its television debut on September 18, 1965, with the episode “Mr. Big,” written by the show’s co-creators, Mel Brooks and Buck Henry.  The series, which can be watched with enormous pleasure today, arrived at a transitional moment in American politics and culture.  An odd hybrid of rat-pack sensibilities and New Hollywood anti-establishment irreverence, Get Smart was most obviously a hilarious sendup of James Bond, but it was also an unambiguous parody of the Cold War mind-set, at a time when such things were taken very seriously. (In March 1965 the U.S.

50 Years Ago This Week – John Schlesinger’s Darling

On August 3, 1965 Darling hit the big screen.  It was a huge commercial success and took home Academy Awards for actress and screenplay—but it is one of those “you had to be there” movies; no need to track it down if you haven’t seen it.  (Borderline scandalous at the time, both MGM and Columbia passed on the American distribution rights.)  A morality tale of the swinging European jet set, it is of interest to us at Mid Century Cinema as a stepping stone towards the New Hollywood.

50 Years Ago This Week – Adlai Stevenson Leaves the Building

Adlai Stevenson, Governor of Illinois and two-time Presidential nominee of the Democratic Party (he lost to Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956), died on July 14, 1965.  He succumbed to a heart attack while walking in London with the actress and politically active socialite (and occasional paramour of director John Huston) Marietta Tree.  An overview of his life can be found in this New York Times obituary.

50 Years Ago This Week – Godard’s Alphaville in Berlin

The favorite filmmaker of many a young, hip cinephile, John-Luc Godard was at the apogee of his movie-god status in 1965 when Alphaville, his dystopian sci-fi noir took home the Golden Bear at the fifteenth Berlin film festival.  The New Wave legend made an astonishing fifteen feature films from 1960 through 1967 (and eight shorts as well), heights he would never command again.

50 Years Ago This Week – Woody Allen’s First Screenplay

What’s New Pussycat? premiered on June 22, 1965, and despite its very promising cast – including Peter Sellers, Peter O’Toole, and Romy Schneider – we at Mid Century Cinema are Not recommending it.  It was never very good and has not aged well.  (Even the venerable Andrew Sarris, then purportedly rallying to Pussycat’s defense against its many detractors, noted its “serious flaws” and observed that it was “a loud picture, and its failures are loud failures.”) 

50 Years Ago This Week – Claude Sautet’s Second Try

In 1960, Director Claude Sautet released Classe Tous Risques, an outstanding escaped-killer-on-the-run drama featuring Lino Ventura and an unknown Jean-Paul Belmondo.  For his efforts he won the enormous respect of his peers (Jean Pierre Melville grabbed a hold of Ventura and made a similarly themed if very different picture, Le Deuxieme Souffle) but not much pr

50 Years Ago This Week – Alfred Hitchcock’s Last “Hour”

On May 10, 1965, “Off Season” the last episode of season three of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour was broadcast on NBC.  Not what you would call “must-see-TV,” nevertheless, for a number of reasons the fairly routine, thinly-motivated, and at times only tenuously credible drama effectively holds one’s attention throughout.  The first few minutes offer a strong and artfully done night-for-night suspense sequence culminating in a shoot-out, and from there a well-turned civics-lecture about the imperatives and responsibilities inherent to the use of force by the police that remains distress

50 Years Ago This Week – Landmarks and Locations

New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Law went into effect on April 19, 1965.  The collective, astonished reaction heard after the razing of old Penn Station in 1964: “you mean they can do that?” contributed to a movement that ultimately led to the measure.  It was not enough to save the majestic Singer Building from the wrecking ball in 1968 – the forty-seven story tower was once the tallest building in the world – but countless other treasures have been saved as a result of the Act.

50 Years Ago This Week – Sam Peckinpah’s Major Dundee

Major Dundee, Sam Peckinpah’s ill-fated Western starring Charlton Heston and Richard Harris, opened in New York City on April 7, 1965—or at least some version of it did.  Taken out of the director’s hands and cut by almost a third (an “extended version” DVD release restores some of the lost material), the movie was a textbook example of the “troubled production.”  Unsupported by an ambivalent studio that got cold feet just before production, Peckinpah—as he would do repeatedly in the future—led his large cast and crew deep into Mexico on the wings of an unfinished script and with m