Friday, May 15, 2020

My Picks for the 6 from the '60s Blogathon

This is our entry for the 6 From the '60s Blogathon in celebration of National Class Movie Day. Since the 1960s was an incredible decade for movies, choosing just six favorites proved to be incredibly difficult. While the half-dozen below are all marvelous films, I might pick a different six movies if faced with the same challenge next week!

Doris Day and Rock Hudson.
Lover Come Back (1961) - After mostly dramatic roles in the 1950s, Rock Hudson developed into a gifted comedian with Pillow Talk (1959) and this delightfully delirious follow-up. Rock stars as Jerry Webster, an unethical Madison Avenue advertising executive who will do anything to beat his rival, Carol Templeton (Doris Day). When Carol mistakes the womanizing Jerry as a nerdish inventor, he plays along--even to the point of emphasizing he's "never been with a woman." This leads to Rock's best scene, as Jerry tries to encourage Carol to seduce him in her apartment--during which a convenient phone call enlightens her about his true identity. While Lover Come Back is sometimes described as a variation of Pillow Talk, it's actually a superior film, with clever jabs at the advertising industry and sparkling supporting performances (especially from Tony Randall and Edie Adams).

Sidney Poitier ad Lilia Skala.
Lilies of the Field (1963) - Sidney Poitier won a Best Actor Oscar for playing Homer Smith, a drifter who stops to get water for his car at a southwestern farm run by German nuns. What Homer doesn't know is that the nuns believe he is the answer to their prayers--that he will build a chapel for them even though they have no money nor materials for the building. Often described as a feel-good movie, Lilies of the Field far exceeds that simple label with its inspirational message about faith and finding meaning in one's life. Poitier is at his most charming as Homer, a stubborn man who resists building the chapel initially. When he finally relents, he doesn't want anyone to help him. His scenes with the equally firm Mother Maria (beautifully played by Lilia Skala) are not to be missed.

Kirk Douglas in disguise.
The List of Adrian Messenger (1963) – John Huston’s mystery is best known for its gimmick: several famous stars make cameos in heavy make-up. While trying to spot the stars is undeniably fun, the gimmick disguises the fact that The List of Adrian Messenger is a highly-entertaining, crafty film that starts as a mystery and evolves into a suspenseful cat-and-mouse game. In the opening scenes, author Adrian Messenger provides a list of ten names to his friend Anthony Gethryn (George C. Scott), a former MI5 operative, and asks him to quietly find out if the ten people on the list are still alive. Gethryn agrees to undertake the assignment. A few days later, a bomb explodes aboard a plane carrying Adrian as a passenger. Based on a 1959 novel by mystery author and screenwriter Philip MacDonald, The List of Adrian Messenger borrows the killer’s motive from another famous detective novel (no spoilers here!). But the “why” is only part of the fun in The List of Adrian Messenger. It’s the “how” that differentiates it from other mysteries. Among his many skills, the murderer, played delightfully by Kirk Douglas, is also a master of disguises. That provides the opportunity for Douglas to don a number of incredible “looks” designed by make-up master Bud Westmore. Thus, the killer appears as a pointy-chinned priest, a short mousey man, a white-haired elderly villager, and others.

Tippi Hedren and Sean Connery.
Marnie (1964) – When I first saw Marnie as a teenager, it made no impression at all. I thought Tippi Hedren was miscast and Sean Connery dull. The plot--what there was of one--seemed thin and the characters lacked interest. Decades later, I watched it it again and, to my complete surprise, I loved it! Tippi Hedren's subtle detached performance made Marnie a vulnerable, intriguing character. The progressively complex relationship between Marnie and Sean Connery’s character generated suspense--in its own quiet way--worthy of Hitch’s best man-on-the-run films. I was captivated by Hitch's finest use of color (especially during the opening scenes). And finally, there was Bernard Herrmann's incredible score (which, for me, ranks second only to Vertigo among his Hitchcock soundtracks). I've often wondered how I missed all of this the first time around?

Hayley Mills spying.
The Chalk Garden (1964) – My favorite Deborah Kerr film is this offbeat, poignant tale about secrets and the passing of judgment on people, often without charity. Ms. Kerr stars as a governess (once again), hired by a dowager to care for the elderly lady’s out-of-control teenage granddaughter (Hayley Mills). The girl has a fondness for setting fires and delights in threatening to burn down the gloomy mansion set among the isolated cliffs. As the story progresses, its focus shifts from the young girl to the governess—a mystery woman who paces her room at night “like a caged animal,” has only new possessions, doesn't have a picture of a loved one in her room, and receives no letters or phone calls. This quiet film is content to rely on its carefully-crafted characters and wonderful performances (to include John Mills). They will ensure that The Chalk Garden lingers with you long after its secret is revealed.

Charles Bronson as Harmonica.
Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) – "Epic" and "sprawling" are the words critics frequently used to describe this now-revered 1968 Spaghetti Western. Yet, despite its lengthy running time and visually massive backdrop, Once Upon a Time in the West focuses tightly on the relationships among four people over a relatively short period of time. These characters are: Frank (Henry Fonda), a ruthless gunfighter who aspires to be a powerful businessman; Cheyenne (Jason Robards), a rascally outlaw with killer instincts; Jill (Claudia Cardinale), a former prostitute in search of a more meaningful life; and a mysterious revenge-minded stranger whom Cheyenne calls Harmonica (Charles Bronson). It took multiple viewings over the span of several years for me to fully appreciate Sergio Leone’s masterpiece. In the end, I was won over by its fascinating characters, overarching theme, Ennio Morricone’s score, and some marvelous set pieces (especially the opening and climactic showdown between Frank and Harmonica).

There are too many honorable mentions to list, but it's just wrong not to include: Bunny Lake Is Missing, Jason and the Argonauts, Von Ryan's Express, Where Eagles Dare, Goldfinger, To Kill a Mockingbird, Splendor in the Grass, Brides of Dracula, Flight of the PhoenixQuatermass and the Pit, 101 Dalmatians, and To Sir, With Love.

Click here to check out all the fabulous entries in this blogathon.

26 comments:

  1. Wow. You're right, Lover Come Back is superior to Pillow Talk.

    I wouldn't get miffed at a teen who didn't grasp Marnie. Heck, when I was a teen I thought North by Northwest was a bore.

    I can understand how these movies made it to the top of the heap (this week) as they all give us plots and characters who tease and tantalize with depths to explore.


    ReplyDelete
  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
  3. Put me down for a "ditto" on Lover Come Back over Pillow Talk!
    What a post. These are excellent choices. I'm SO glad people are posting movies I haven't seen yet. I have a long list of additions to my to be watched list thanks to this blogathon. Including some here. This is fun, fun, FUN.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Oh gosh - what memories. So funny how so many of us are choosing the same sort of films. Loved that you added Doris Day to the mix. What would the 60s be without her? Thanks for hosting this wonderful blogathon, Rick!

    ReplyDelete
  5. An interesting and eclectic list, Rick. I am one who prefers almost all of the other Day/Hudson (and Day/Garner, etc.) romcoms over Pillow Talk. Not that it isn't worthy, it's just that the formula seemed to improve over time.

    Great blogathon, again. Thanks for hosting!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I prefer Lover Come Back over Pillow Talk, though the latter is still quite funny.

      Delete
  6. Good choices. I agree about Marnie, it does grow on you. And OOATITW is easily one of the best westerns of the decade.

    Ive tried to win some converts to The List of Adrian Messenger but without much success. I did once meet someone else who likes it, so there's definitely at least three of us!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I only know one movie buff that has seen Adrian Messenger and doesn’t love it. So, it has its fans!

      Delete
  7. Never heard of The Chalk Garden. Thanks for listing it in your blogathon.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Interesting list with choices that don't come up on a regular basis. Don't agree about Lover Come Back over Pillow Talk, but I'm glad to see Marnie on the list. One of my favorite Hitchcocks that is so often unfairly derided.

    ReplyDelete
  9. What a great list, Rick! I share your sentiments about most of these films - especially Marnie and The Chalk Garden ( I had to save that one for the Comfort Films Blogathon ). I always thought the music to both of those films sounded very similar - perhaps that's what makes them so good back-to-back. And The List of Adrian Messenger is one of the finest mysteries of the 60s. So glad to see Lilies of the Field here, too. Love your runners-up, too!

    ReplyDelete
  10. Great list, I agree with you about Love Come Back. Did you ever see Mark Rappaport's documentary in ’92 with every veiled reference from every Hudson film abtly titled, Rock Hudson’s Home Movies? It's genius and proof of the subtext in films from that era due to the Hayes Code.

    I haven't seen Marnie in a long time. I should watch it again. Hitchcock is my favorite director.

    ReplyDelete
  11. What I especially love about your list is that it sounds just like you!

    ReplyDelete
  12. Lover Come Back and Pillow Talk are about neck-and-neck for me, mainly because they share so many similarities and they're both brilliant.

    The List of Adrian Messenger is a film I've wanted to see for the longest time. I keep relying on TCM to show it, but as far as I know they never have, so I may have to finally just buy it. It sounds incredible!

    And yay for the inclusion of Marnie! I've always felt it deserved more praise.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. List of Adrian Messenger pops up in TCM from time to time.

      Delete
  13. I have been eyeing The Chalk Garden but now I know I'll need to bump this one up on my viewing list. Lilies of the Field - ah, what a classic! Your choices make me want to dive right in and stay for a while. Wonderful!

    ReplyDelete
  14. My parents took me to see Lilies of the Field when it first opened. I was too young to recognize Poitier's prodigious talent, as well as Lilia Skala's wonderful turn. But I have since.

    As for The List of Adrian Messenger, I once won a game of charades using this film title. I agree that the plot surpasses Huston's hook of using disguised guest stars. Polydor and Ajax were a wonderful film team, and I would have liked to have seen them in another film.

    Point being, I'm all for any list that includes these two movies.

    ReplyDelete
  15. I was really curious to see your list, Rick, and was thrilled that you included The Lilies of the Field (one of my faves). Also, thanks for the introduction to The Chalk Garden – it sounds like a haunting film.

    Thank you for organizing this blogathon. There are some wonderful "new" films to see, and I can't wait to explore them. It was hard to pick six films, but it was interesting to see everyone's choices, and how popular some of the films are.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Ok, I'm a fan of The List of Adrian Messenger -- even though the only reason I watched it at first was for Herbert Marshall. It's quite a trip and very '60s'.

    I appreciate a Doris Day pick here, as I'm new to the Day/Hudson filmography (!) and this does sound like a great one to start.

    Thanks for organizing the blogathon!

    ReplyDelete
  17. I have yet to see Lilies of the Field, but the premise sounds a bit like Loretta Young's Come to the Stable. With Poitier's presence, I'm sure Lilies is superior. Marnie just missed making my list. I find it fascinating, even though most people consider it one of Hitch's lesser efforts. It always makes me feel off-kilter when I watch it. Once Upon a Time in the West has long been on my watch list. One of these days...

    ReplyDelete
  18. Rick. Sorry I wasn't able to post my own Blog entry (have had some family issues I have been dealing with).

    Great list. I completely agree about Once Upon... I think Leone is under-rated as a Director - possibly because he was making what were considered "genre films" at the time. But many of his works a great, and Once is a masterpiece.

    Morricone is not under-rated, though, and his score is not only one of his best, but one of the best ever written for an American film. The opening scene with the legendary harmonica line playing, and the squeaking of the wind vane conjures the dread approaching. You're not sure what it is, but you probably don't want to be there when the train arrives.

    Brilliant stuff.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Pardon my curiosity:

    Since you don't mention the stories that have emerged in recent years about the making of The List Of Adrian Messenger
    … I'm wondering if you've ever even heard/read about them?
    Mind you, Messenger has always been a favorite of mine; I saw it in an actual theater (the Coral in Oak Lawn IL, since defunct), in its initial release in '63, when I was 12 years old.
    Back then, twelve-year-old me liked it just fine - it was one of the reasons I became a mystery fan/buff.
    These days, almost-70-year-old me still feels much the same - and this is about a decade after I learned The Big Secret about the production.
    (I'm talking all around it here because I never want to deal in Spoilers.)
    The Big Secret has been written about extensively in other places, with much documentation (photographic and otherwise); you can find the whole story in many places here on the 'Net (including a few on your own sidebar).
    Speaking solely for myself, The Big Secret didn't diminish my fondness for Messenger in the slightest; actually I sort of admire the sheer nerve that went into it … but that's another story …

    Anyway, as I said - just wondering …

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Are you referring to the story about who wore the disguises? I’m not sure I believe that as the actors in disguise look like the actors.

      Delete
  20. Mitchum is definitely in it, he is so recognisable, especially his voice. The others must all be debatable. If you look at Lancaster's reveal and compare it to his character earlier in the film, they don't look like the same person at all. I suspect Sinatra didn't bother either.

    A lot of Kirk Douglas's character in disguise was played by another actor too, Jan Merlin I think. This does make sense as it's unnecessarily expensive to hire a big star and then make him so unrecognizable that anyone could play his part.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Kirk was a producer here as well. And that aspect WAS a prominent selling point. According to Merlin, Curtis, Sinatra, Lancaster only did the final unmaskings.

      Delete