Monday, March 30, 2020

Cinema '62: A Book Review

In their new book Cinema '62: The Greatest Year at the Movies, authors Stephen Farber and Michael McClellan set out to dispel the popular notion that 1939 was the best year for movies. Farber, a former president of the Los Angeles Critics Association, and McClellan, a former senior executive for Landmark Theatres, make a compelling case that 1962 was a landmark year for motion pictures.

They contend that 1962 "stands out as a pivotal year in film history," as it signaled the end of the studio era and the "full-blown emergence of the New Hollywood." They support their argument with chapters devoted to topics such as: the growth of international cinema; the rise of new American auteurs such as John Frankenheimer, Stanley Kubrick, and Sam Peckinpah; the continuing popularity of established stars like John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, and Henry Fonda; strong female roles in films such as The Manchurian Candidate, The Miracle Worker, and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?; the popularity of literary adaptations; and the emergence of more films that examined racial conflict (e.g., To Kill a Mockingbird and The Intruder). These chapters serve as a potent reminder that the early 1960s were indeed a turning point in global cinema.

However, the authors are less successful when championing 1962 as an important year for psychological dramas and films with strong sexual themes. Otto Preminger had already knocked down sexual barriers in the 1950s, dealing frankly with the topic in popular films such as The Moon Is Blue and Anatomy of a Murder.  Likewise, psychological dramas were common in the decades prior to the 1960s, with subtle ventures such as Black Narcissus (1947) and more blatant ones like White Heat (1949) and Suddenly, Last Summer (1959).

Of course, as filmmaker Bill Condon states in the foreword to Cinema '62: "Choosing the best year in movies has always been fun sport, for film critics and fans alike." Keeping that in mind, Cinema '62 sparks an interesting, entertaining debate. One cannot deny that a proliferation of classic movies was released in 1962. In addition to films mentioned earlier in this review, the list of significant motion pictures includes: Lawrence of Arabia, The Music Man, Ride the High Country, Jules and Jim, Birdman of Alcatraz, Lolita, Victim, Lonely Are the Brave, David and Lisa, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and Advise & Consent.

Farber and McClellan briefly address "Other Films of 1962" in an appendix that covers everything from Elvis Presley's popularity to Disney's reign at the box office to imported sand-and-sandal pictures like Damon and Pythias. Another appendix lists accolades and box office figures for major 1962 releases. Cinema '62 also contains a comprehensive index, although it would have been nice to include a handy list of all the major films released in the U.S. in 1962.

Note: We were provided with a digital review copy of this book.


  1. Should be a fun read and mental exercise.

  2. Nice review. My reading stack is a bit high right now, but I will bookmark and see if I can read it later. One also notable fact about 192 - the year I was born. Maybe that is why I like films so much.

  3. Both years are markers for different reasons. 1962 was a sea change for cinema and a needed break from the past. 1939 was Hollywood at its mature peak. Considering that the War was right around the corner, its flickering light stands out before the oncoming darkness.

  4. Thanks for bringing this book to my attention Rick. '62 had some compelling movies, but I'm not convinced (by the film titles and without having read it) that it beats '39. Still, it should be a good read

  5. Sounds like an interesting read. I'm another who is skeptical about 1962 being the greatest Hollywood year, but it looks the authors could make a compelling case.