Hello, Gorgeous

Funny Girl made a star out of Barbra Streisand. All she had to say was “Hello, gorgeous” in her feature film debut. Funny Girl was originally a Broadway musical based on the life of singer, entertainer, and all around funny girl Fanny Brice. Although Hollywood wanted a bigger star, Streisand made the role her own on Broadway. Director William Wyler similarly took a chance on the then unknown Audrey Hepburn for Roman Holiday. Streisand is such a natural talent who fully embodies a 1930’s starlet.

Like Fanny, Streisand has unconventional beauty that didn’t stop her from becoming famous. Streisand very much earned her Best Actress win, but she did ironically have to share it with the legendary Katherine Hepburn for her performance in The Lion in Winter. Funny Girl was the most successful film of 1968, but it still lost Best Picture to fellow musical Oliver! We follow Fanny’s success in the Ziegfeld Follies and her love story with handsome gambler Nicky Arnstein. Luckily I became familiar with Florenz Ziegfeld after watching The Great Ziegfeld.

Walter Pidgeon hits the right note of frustration with Fanny. Anne Francis is one of the many Ziegfeld girls to appear alongside her. Betty Boop herself Mae Questel even makes an appearance. Though it’s Kay Medford as Fanny’s supportive mother who was also nominated. This was the third movie in a row I saw with Omar Sharif. A romance between the Jewish Streisand and Egyptian Sharif was very daring for the time. It’s an epic romance supported by several showstopping numbers like “People” or “Don’t Rain on My Parade.” Though they grow distant in the end, “My Man” is the best song to end a gorgeous picture like Funny Girl.

Funny Girl

“Hello, gorgeous”

Followed by: Funny Lady

What We’ve Got Here is Failure to Communicate

Cool Hand Luke is one the greatest prison movies ever made. Continuing to inspire the New Hollywood movement of the late 60’s. Based on the 1965 book of the same name, Cool Hand Luke became a symbol for anti-establishment. A perfect film for the Vietnam era. In fact, Cool Hand Luke has a rare 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. It wasn’t nominated for Best Picture, but it was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay from the author Donn Pearce. Most of the movie is based on his own experience as a Florida inmate. Director Stuart Rosenberg captures the overwhelming heat of the hot Florida sun. Music Score was also nominated for its hopeful twangy melody.

Paul Newman became an even more iconic star nominated for his performance as Lucas Jackson. Luke is a veteran sent to a Florida prison camp for a petty crime. As his Biblical name suggests, the movie uses Christian themes to convey his journey. Newman’s smile is a trademark that makes Luke a strong-willed hero who fights the establishment. He wins admiration in a boxing match, manages to eat 50 hard boiled eggs, and wins a game of poker that earns him the nickname “Cool Hand Luke.” As great as Newman is, it’s George Kennedy who won Best Supporting Actor as fellow inmate Dragline. He taunts Luke at first, but develops a strong friendship that gives him the best arc.

Many notable prison inmates include big names like Harry Dean Stanton or Dennis Hopper. The film is light on women, but it does feature a memorable one scene performance from Jo Van Fleet as Luke’s visiting mother. As well as a particularly sexy scene where Joy Harmon washes a car in front of the inmates. Prison wardens are the bad guys who continually try to break the inmates by putting them in “the box.” The “man with no eyes” is the most iconic warden, but it’s Strother Martin as the Captain who utters the most iconic line. “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate” is another famous quote that proceeds the movie it comes from. Luke tries to escape many times, but they’re never able to break him. Making Cool Hand Luke a determined success.

Cool Hand Luke

Luke boxes Dragline

His Silence was More Powerful than Words

A Man for All Seasons is a movie for all seasons. It recounts the reign of King Henry VIII from the perspective of noble devout Catholic lawyer Sir Thomas More. Since Hollywood loves British films, historical epics, courtroom drama, and religious commentary, A Man for All Seasons won big at the Academy Awards. It won Best Picture, Best Director Fred Zinnemann, Best Actor Paul Scofield, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, and Best Costume Design. A Man for All Seasons was the last color winner of the latter two categories, because black & white was all but consumed by technicolor in the late 60’s. Fortunately I saw the last black & white winner (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) as well.

A Man of All Seasons is beautifully shot with elaborate costumes that bring history to life. Though he wasn’t a big name in film, Scofield reprises the role of Thomas More from the earlier stage production. More denies Henry VIII when he seeks divorce from his wife Catherine of Aragon and further when the king declares himself Supreme Head of the Church of England. Luckily the Simpsons episode “Margical History Tour” made the story easier to follow. All I know is that Henry VIII was a pompous jerk who desperately wanted a son and made More’s life difficult when he refused him. An Oscar nominated Robert Shaw is perfectly boisterous as Henry VIII, but it’s Scofield who perfectly conveys More’s respectability, strong belief, and quiet determination.

Wendy Hiller was also nominated as his wife Alice More who’s forced to sit idly by as her husband suffers. After Tom Jones, Susannah York played Margaret More, another nobleman’s daughter. A subplot between Margaret and her Lutheran suitor William Roper further shows More’s conviction. Corin Redgrave appears along with his more famous sister Vanessa Redgrave who cameos as Anne Boleyn. A very young John Hurt plays Richard Rich, a young servant who betrays More. Orson Welles finally appears in a Best Picture winner in a brief performance as the former Lord Chancellor. More is mostly opposed by his former friend the Duke of Norfolk and the more hostile Thomas Cromwell played by Nigel Davenport and Leo McKern respectively. They’re threatened by his silence, but More makes his voice known in a stirring trial that costs him his life. A Man for All Seasons is a remarkable exercise in good conscience.

A Man for All Seasons

Sir Thomas More stands before his trial

A Love Caught in the Fire of Revolution

Doctor Zhivago is an epic love story set in the backdrop of the Russian Revolution. After the immense success of Lawrence of Arabia, director David Lean traded the hot desert of Arabia for the cold winter of Russia. The ever-changing 60’s were probably the best time to tackle such a controversial topic. Doctor Zhivago was a very popular Russian novel by Boris Pasternak, turned into an equally popular film. Both the book and movie were banned by the Soviet Union. That didn’t stop the book from receiving a Nobel Prize or stop the movie from being one of the highest grossing films of all time. Doctor Zhivago was also nominated for Best Picture and Director, but The Sound of Music had them beat. Most of its Academy Awards were won by the latter, but the former did manage to win Best Adapted Screenplay, Art Direction, Cinematography, Costume Design, and Music Score.

I actually recognized the romantic Lara’s theme, but most audiences were split on the romance. I don’t know much about Russian politics, but I know anything is easier to digest with a human element. It’s no Gone with the Wind, but Yuri Zhivago and Lara Antipova’s love story kept me invested for over 3 hours. Even though they’re not always together. After Lawrence of Arabia, Omar Sharif was promoted to leading man. Alec Guinness is still given an important role as the narrating comrade general brother of Zhivago searching for his long lost daughter. Yuri is a good hearted doctor and poet gifted a Balalaika by his late mother. The lovely Julie Christie is mesmerizing as Lara, but the actress ended up winning for a different 1965 movie. Yuri and Lara’s paths converge only a few times before they finally embrace in a throw of passion.

Until then, both parties end up with different lovers. Yuri is raised by his aunt & uncle and ends up in an incestious marriage with his cousin Tonya played respectfully by Geraldine Chaplin. They have a son named Sasha and most of their time is spent fleeing the Russian Civil War by train. You may recognize Klaus Kinski as one of the anti-revolutionary passengers. Lara is caught between several men. The much older Victor Komarovsky forcefully puruses Lara until she’s forced to shoot him at a Christmas Eve party. Rod Steiger is perfectly despicable, but it’s Tom Courtenay as the cold bespectacled revolutionary Pasha who earned a nomination and Lara’s hand in marriage. They have a daughter named Katya, but Pasha doesn’t stick around. Yuri and Lara’s forbidden romance is reinforced by deep shadows and several artistic shots. You truly feel the coldest of the environment when the two lovers risk their lives to find each other. It’s not a happy ending, but Doctor Zhivago burns with the fire of revolution.

Doctor Zhivago

Dr. Yuri Zhivago and Lara enter a frozen house

I Ain’t Down Yet

The Unsinkable Molly Brown is a big and brassy rags to riches story. 20th century socialite Margaret Brown was known to her friends as Maggie, but known to the world as the “Unsinkable Molly Brown.” She’s perhaps the most famous person to survive the sinking of the RMS Titanic. I got to know her by watching Kathy Bates’ portrayal in Titanic (1997). Blissfully unaware that her life story was turned into a 1960 Broadway musical. The movie adaptation is a lot of fun, but it would be nothing without an Oscar nominated performance from Debbie Reynolds.

Molly is found floating down the Colorado River in a basket. She’s raised as a rough ‘n’ tumble tomboy, but dreams of a better life. Ed Begley plays her old fashioned pa Seamus who wishes her luck on her journey. Molly’s dreams change when she ends up singing in a saloon and marrying poor Leadville miner Johnny Brown played by newcomer Harve Presnell. He teaches her how to read and they have a hasty wedding in a cabin built by him. When a gold supply makes them rich, Molly and Johnny live a lavish lifestyle.

Molly is the same fun loving person she was before, but she decides to seek culture when her wealthy Denver town doesn’t accept her. Her neighbor Gladys is a big naysayer, but her country mother Buttercup played by Hermione Baddeley does accept them. When Molly drifts away from her husband, she finally realizes what’s important in life on her way home from Europe. There isn’t much Titanic in the movie, but the iceberg and Molly’s heroism on the lifeboat are enough. Songs are more scarce than the original musical, but they help make The Unsinkable Molly Brown an unsinkable hit.

The Unsinkable Molly Brown

Johnny and Molly Brown dance

Itโ€™s Not Unusual

Tom Jones has nothing to do with the famous Welsh singer. Though the 1963 film did inspire his stage name, Tom Jones is actually a jolly good romp that won Best Picture. It’s not unusual for a comedy to win big at the Academy Awards, but Tom Jones is vastly different than something like Lawrence of Arabia. The only similarity is that they’re both British productions. Unlike Lawrence of Arabia, Tom Jones is a brisk 2 hours with looser camera work and plenty of women to go around. It’s based on the somewhat edgy 1749 novel The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling. Tom Jones is a bastard found by a squire and raised as a gentleman who grows into a frequent womanizer. Tom Jones won Best Adapted Screenplay for making the source material suitable for general audiences. Though sexual and provocative in nature, the movie jokingly makes a point of not showing anything.

Tom Jones has subtle, often silly British humor that includes a silent film style opening, out of nowhere fourth wall breaks, sped up chase scenes, comedic freeze frames, and wacky transitions. All accompanied by delightful Best Music Score winning piano music. It’s an acquired taste to be sure. Tony Richardson won Best Director, but even he wasn’t satisfied with the final product. Though nobody won, 5 cast members were nominated including an unprecedented 3 nominations for Best Supporting Actress. The Oscar nominated Albert Finney became a breakout star who balances Tom’s kind nature and out of control labido. George Devine plays the kindly Squire Allenby who raises him, but it’s Hugh Griffith as the bumbling Squire Western who earned a nomination. Tom spends time with many women, but it’s the lovely Susannah York as the Squire’s daughter Sophie who earns his love.

She’s a lady who participates in deer hunts and doesn’t put up with Tom’s womanizing. Edith Evans was nominated for playing Sophie’s no-nonsense aunt Miss Western. Diane Cilento was also nominated for playing the loose Molly Seagrim who seduces Tom. She’s a sexbomb who makes Tom unfit to wed Western’s daughter. David Warner plays the villainous Blifil, cousin of Tom, and son of his deceased Aunt Bridget. When Tom is banished, he ends up in sword fights and seduced by more women in an attempt to return to Sophie. Joan Greenwood stands out as the much older amoral noblewoman Lady Bellaston, but it’s Joyce Redman as the rescued Mrs. Waters who earned the third nomination. A final revelation about Tom’s mother hints at potential incest (what’s new pussycat?), but it’s all a hilarious misunderstanding. Though Lilies of the Field should’ve won, Tom Jones is a comedy of errors that elevates the overlooked genre.

Tom Jones

Tom Jones settles down with Sophie Western

Big Things Have Small Beginnings

Lawrence of Arabia may be the most influential epic in Hollywood history. Considered by many to be one of the greatest films ever made. When I decided to watch every Best Picture winner, I knew Lawrence of Arabia would be the most daunting. I already watched Gone with the Wind when I was younger, but I took my time with Lawrence of Arabia. Even though it was one of the last critically acclaimed classics I still hadn’t seen. My parents would often bring up how long the movie is. At around 3 hours & 42 minutes, Lawrence of Arabia is the longest Best Picture winner of all time.

Though Gone with the Wind is just about equal in runtime, I knew I was more guaranteed to be invested in the story. For years I thought Lawrence of Arabia would be boring, but I was fully invested from beginning to end. Lawrence of Arabia was a major influence for some of the biggest filmmakers in Hollywood. It’s iconic desert setting was the basis for many action, adventure, fantasy, and/or science fiction stories. Much like his previous epic The Bridge on the River Kwai, British director David Lean took a lesser known historical conflict and gave it a massive scale…

Lawrence of Arabia

Lawrence readies Ali, Auda, and his Arab army for battle

Lawrence of Arabia is based on the life of T. E. Lawrence. A British Army officer known for joining the Arab Revolt during World War I. Most of the movie is based on his autobiography Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Except for his death in a motorcycle accident shown at the very beginning of the film. Which goes to show that even a man who takes part in a devastating conflict can die an ordinary death. Lawrence of Arabia has often been called a masterpiece, but I know Lawrence’s life story isn’t entirely accurate. Regardless of how they portray him, Lawrence of Arabia is meant to be a larger than life epic that emphasizes its production value.

Lawrence of Arabia is shot in crisp technicolor with Super Panavision 70 cinematography and a powerful score composed by Maurice Jarre. It’s the music you think of when exploring the desert by camel. Speaking of desert, a big reason for the massive runtime are several lingering shots of sand that are beautiful especially when the sun starts to set. Lawrence of Arabia also includes an overture, intermission, and exit music. The first half recounts Lawrence’s life before his untimely death. I was already familiar with his early days in Cairo since the movie Prometheus features the famous lines: “The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts” and “Big things have small beginnings.”

The cast is not so surprisingly boys only without a single speaking part for women. Since there’s no romance, some people think there’s overt gay subtext, but I don’t really see it that way. The all-male cast is brilliant no matter how much screen time they’re given. Screen legend Peter O’Toole got his big break playing T. E. Lawrence. His blonde hair and piercing blue eyes contrast his mostly Arab comrades. Lawrence thinks his Arabian assignment to find Prince Faisal will be fun, but he soon finds himself drawn into their war against the Turks. O’Toole is great at portraying Lawrence’s heroism, aversion to violence, and conflicting ideologies. The movie leans into Islamic territory, but there are Christian themes as well.

After winning an Oscar for The Bridge on the River Kwai, Sir Alec Guinness played the Arabian prince as convincingly as he could. He doesn’t have a ton of screen time, but he makes an impact whenever he does appear. Faisal’s viewpoints directly contrast with Lawrence’s British superior General Allenby played by Jack Hawkins. Anthony Quayle assists Lawrence later in the film as Colonel Harry Brighton, and an aging Claude Rains represents the more political side of the conflict as Mr. Dryden. Lawrence’s most complex relationship is with Arab leader Sherif Ali. Omar Sharif made a major impression as one of the only Egyptians in the main cast. Ali’s entrance is iconic as he very slowly approaches Lawrence and his guide at a well. The scene is excellent at building tension.

Lawrence and Ali have many ups and downs, but they remain loyal to one another. They first earn each other’s respect when Lawrence risks his life to save a fallen comrade. Lawrence also gains two young Arab servants who follow them on their journey. Hispanic actor Anthony Quinn also convincingly plays Auda Abu Tayi, leader of a rival Arab tribe who’s mostly in it for money. When they eventually seize Aqaba, Lawrence seeks weapons and assistance from the British. Unaware that they plan to take over the country when the war ends. Lawrence slowly acclimates to the Arabian lifestyle by wearing the traditional robes and headdress, but it’s in the second half that he truly shifts allegiances. Arthur Kennedy plays an American journalist tasked with turning Lawrence into a hero of the war. He photographs an epic train attack against the Turks that ends badly for some of Lawrence’s men.

Lawrence and Ali get to know their enemy better when they find the Turkish Bey played by Josรฉ Ferrer in a small but memorable role. As the revolt continues, Lawrence becomes more and more disillusioned. He finally ends up on a road to Damascus where he leads a massive Arab army. Lawrence goes too far in an iconic scene where he cries out for “No prisoners!” and proceeds to slaughter most of the fleeing Turks. It’s an impressive battle that gets surprisingly bloody. They form an Arab council in Damascus, but it doesn’t last. The movie finally ends with Lawrence returning home and seeing a motorcycle that foreshadows his eventual fate. Lawrence of Arabia was nominated for 10 Academy Awards including Best Actor for O’Toole, Supporting Actor for Sharif, and Adapted Screenplay. Winning 7 Oscars for Best Picture, Director, Art Direction, Cinematography, Film Editing, Music Score, and Sound. Lawrence of Arabia left an impact on cinema.

Lawrence of Arabia 2

Ali slowly approaches Lawrence and his guide

Crimes Against Humanity

Judgment at Nuremberg is a riveting courtroom drama. Even at 3 hours long, I was invested in every word of the historic trial. The film centers around the 1948 Military Tribunal for German judges affiliated with Nazi crimes against humanity. Stanley Kramer is the right director for the job. Judgment at Nuremberg was nominated for Best Picture and Director, but it was Abby Mann who won for Best Adapted Screenplay. Similar to Marty, Judgment at Nuremberg is an extended adaptation of a Playhouse 90 episode. Some actors reprise their roles, but the movie also gained an all-star cast. Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Marlene Dietrich, Montgomery Clift, Judy Garland, and a pre-Star Trek William Shatner all have a role.

Shatner plays a different kind of captain with a small role in the trial. An older Tracy leads the court as Chief Judge Dan Haywood. In between court sessions, Haywood explores Nuremberg trying to understand how the war affected its citizens. He develops a short-lived romance with the German Frau Bertholt played by Dietrich. Richard Widmark strongly opposes the ex-Nazi defendants as an American prosecutor, but it’s Maximilian Schell who stands out as German defense counsel Hans Rolfe. His conflicted attitude towards his country and the crimes committed won him the Oscar for Best Actor. Lancaster is just as passionate as the mostly silent defendant Ernst Janning who finally speaks up near the end.

Garland gives what may be her final great performance as German woman Irene Hoffmann who breaks down at the witness stand. Clift similarly breaks down playing another German victim named Rudolph Peterson. Judgment at Nuremberg touches on several heavy themes. We hear about sexual sterilization, the fallout of a Jewish-Gentile relationship, Nazi torture methods, and of course Concentration Camps. Although released in 1961, the movie doesn’t shy away from actual Holocaust footage. While not an easy watch both for its subject matter and the fact that it’s almost impossible to find, Judgment at Nuremberg benefits from showing both sides of a difficult discussion.

Judgment at Nuremberg

Hans Rolfe pleads his case

I’m Spartacus!

Spartacus is an inspirational historical epic. One year after Ben-Hur, Hollywood legend Kirk Douglas sought a similar project to make up for losing the title role. Spartacus is also a hero who stood against the Roman Empire, but the Howard Fast novel and Stanley Kubrick film both take place Before Christ. Although he was relatively unknown at the time, Kubrick was given a massive budget on par with Ben-Hur. Even though Kubrick didn’t have full creative control, his meticulous style made the movie what it is. More violent and/or sexual scenes had to be restored years late.

Spartacus is also responsible for ending the controversial Hollywood blacklist. Since Douglas openly supported blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo. Many of the movie’s themes can be interpreted that way. Spartacus is another 3 hour epic that held my attention from beginning to end. Spartacus is a rebellious slave trained as a gladiator before inciting an uprising that made him the leader of a gladiatorial army. Douglas barely says a word, but his intense dedication speaks for itself. Spartacus falls in love with a fellow slave named Varnina played by the lovely Jean Simmons. Varnina’s struggles are just as intense as her husband. Tony Curtis plays a young slave who forms a bond with the hero.

Laurence Olivier is just as commanding as Spartacus’ sworn Roman enemy Crassus. The Roman Senate tries to stop Spartacus, but only Crassus takes it personally. Charles Laughton plays one of the more reasonable members of the Senate, while John Gavin plays the more well known Julius Caesar. Out of all these respected actors, only Peter Ustinov managed to win Best Supporting Actor as a bumbling slave trader. Spartacus wasn’t nominated for Best Picture, but it did win Best Art Direction, Cinematography, and Costume Design. Of course Spartacus is more remembered for the pivotal line “I’m Spartacus!” where his men refuse to give him up. It’s a powerful moment that doesn’t ensure a happy ending, but Spartacus will continue to live on.

Spartacus

Spartacus leads his army

A Savage Story of Lust and Ambition

Room at the Top is the most scandalous story the late 50’s had to offer. Although black & white with a standard full screen format, Room at the Top is filled with swearing and strongly implied sexual situations. Most of the movie centers around an affair between a younger man and an older woman. Since Room at the Top came out in 1959, it predates Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Graduate. I think they got away with so much because the film is a British production not made by a major studio. Room at the Top is based on a 1957 novel that managed to win the movie Best Adapted Screenplay. It was nominated for Best Picture, but only Ben-Hur had any chance of winning.

The title Room at the Top refers to poor former POW Joe Lampton who wants to turn his life around by marrying a wealthy woman. He sets his sights on the lovely young Susan, but he quickly develops a strong connection with the older and less wealthy Alice. I know it’s an affair, but Joe and Alice’s romance is so genuine that you can’t help but root for them. Alice’s husband doesn’t treat her right and refuses to divorce her. Joe has no feelings for Susan, yet he’s forced to marry her through unexpected circumstances. Laurence Harvey gives a complex performance, but it’s Simone Signoret who deserved her Best Actress win with an even more multilayered performance.

Room at the Top is also known for featuring the shortest performance ever nominated in an acting category. Hermione Baddeley’s performance is only 2 minutes & 19 seconds long, but boy does she leave an impression. She plays a friend of Alice who wants her to be happy, comforts her when she’s down, chastises Joe when the unthinkable happens, and reacts with disappointment at his wedding in only four separate scenes. Room at the Top truly is a savage story of lust and ambition.

Room at the Top

Joe makes love to Alice