The Rat Pack

Ocean’s 11 is the original heist. Although I grew up knowing about the Ocean’s trilogy, most people forget the idea dates back to 1960. The Rat Pack was an entertainment group consisting of famous Las Vegas entertainers like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop. The movie is mostly an excuse to bring everyone together to make some money, sing some songs, and wear well-tailored suits. It was also the second to last film for prolific director Lewis Milestone. I didn’t live through the 60’s, so I only knew so much about the ensemble cast.

Sinatra plays World War II paratrooper Danny Ocean who plans a major heist with his fellow comrades. Together they rob 5 casinos on New Year’s Eve. I tried as hard as I could to follow all 11 members. Martin gets a chance to sing “Ain’t That A Kick In The Head” as Sam Harmon. Davis Jr. entertains and has an important role in transporting the money as Josh Howard. Lawford is rich mama’s boy Jimmy Foster. Richard Conte has a heart condition as Tony Berdorf.

Bishop plays Mushy, Henry Silva plays Roger, Buddy Lester plays Vince, Richard Benedict plays Curly, Norman Fell plays Peter, and Clem Harvey plays Louis. Not to mention Angie Dickinson as Ocean’s wife or Akim Tamiroff as an unofficial racketeer for the team. George Raft, Red Skelton, and Shirley MacLaine all have fun cameos, but everything feels aimless. It was a good opportunity to see Caesar Romero without Joker makeup as the undoer of the team’s heist. It’s obviously wrong what they’re doing, but their comeuppance feels like a ripoff. Ocean’s 11 is only worth it for the Rat Pack.

1. Ocean's 11

Ocean’s 11

In the Land of Submarines

Yellow Submarine is a groovy mix of trippy visuals and songs by The Beatles. The late 60’s were far more psychedelic and experimental. The Beatles were apprehensive about making a third film after Help!, but they still needed to honor their three picture contract that began with A Hard Day’s Night. An animated production was a fair compromise since Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr didn’t need to physically appear until a quick live-action cameo. The Fab Four are all voiced by soundalikes, but you can’t really tell the difference.

Yellow Submarine sparked my curiosity the most since it was the closest thing to adult animation at the time. It has a cult following and even a LEGO set. The only real comparison is Fantasia, both for its abstract visuals and strong emphasis on music. Yellow Submarine takes place in the magical music loving world Pepperland where the villainous Blue Meanies attack. Old Fred takes the titular Yellow Submarine to Liverpool where he recruits the Beatles to save them. The band experience the Sea of Time, the Sea of Science, the Sea of Monsters, the Sea of Nothing, and the Sea of Holes until they reach the Sea of Green.

Yellow Submarine is a weird nonsensical adventure, but it gets weirder when they make friends with intellectual creature Jeremy Hillary Boob, Ph.D. voiced by Dick Emery. When they reach Pepperland, the Beatles fight the Blue Meanies with the power of music. The soundtrack includes way more hit songs like the titular “Yellow Submarine,” “Eleanor Rigby,” “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” and “All You Need is Love.” Yellow Submarine is a one of a kind experience.

Yellow Submarine

The Beatles in their Yellow Submarine

I Need Somebody!

Help! helped increase the popularity of The Beatles. Director Richard Lester was given a bigger budget that included more actors, more locations, and filming in color. Although Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr all admit the follow up wasn’t the best experience. Apparently they were high on marijuana half of the time. I’ve known about Help! for years since my parents had a copy of it on VHS. Much like A Hard Day’s Night, Lennon wrote the title song after Beatles Phase II and Eight Arms to Hold You were denied.

Unlike A Hard Day’s Night, Help! sort of has a plot. This time The Beatles are targeted by a religious cult who sacrifice people to their goddess Kaili. Ringo is singled out since he’s the one wearing the sacrificial ring. Help! is like a parody of spy films since Ringo’s ring is the McGuffin that everyone wants. John, Paul, and George all attempt to help their mate. Leo McKern is the cult’s psychotic leader Clang and newcomer Eleanor Bron switches sides to help the band.

The Beatles are also targeted by a scientist who seeks to rule the world with the ring. Help! is obviously more absurd and reliant on British humor. The movie is filled with slapstick gags and comedic on-screen texts. Each song feels more like it’s own music video since the Fab Four travel from London to the Austrian Alps and the Bahamas. Such new songs include the titular “Help!” and “Ticket to Ride.” Although it doesn’t quite compare to A Hard Day’s Night, Help! needed no help being a fun adventure for the band.

Help!

The Beatles go skiing

And I’ve Been Working Like a Dog

A Hard Day’s Night capitalizes on the immense success of The Beatles. Beatlemania was at an all time high in the mid 60’s. Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr are all part of the most popular band that ever lived. The title was suppose to be either The Beatles or Beatlemania before Starr came up with A Hard Day’s Night. Of course I’m a Beatles fan, but I’ll admit I always assumed the movie was named after an existing song. Turns out Lennon wrote the song in one night.

A Hard Day’s Night is a very low budget black & white mockumentary directed by Richard Lester and starring the real life Fab Four. The movie is basically a day in the life of The Beatles as they deal with screaming fans and explore London leading up to an important television appearance. Paul is joined by his troublesome grandfather played by Wilfrid Brambell, Ringo leaves the band temporarily, John is a smart-aleck, and George is there too. The boys from Liverpool are natural actors who play off their chemistry with one another.

There isn’t much of a plot, but the movie was still nominated for Best Original Screenplay. Along with Best Score, since music is the true star of the movie. We hear hits like the titular “A Hard Day’s Night,” “Can’t Buy Me Love,” and “She Loves You.” A Hard Day’s Night was a highly influential precursor to music videos. Each song is like its own music video with jump cuts and other commercial techniques. A Hard Day’s Night is one of the greatest rock musicals ever made.

A Hard Day's Night

The Beatles run from their fans

Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid changed the way we saw cowboys in Hollywood. Although I hadn’t seen the movie until now, I’m fine with reviewing it on my birthday. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid quickly became one of my favorite westerns. 1969 was a big year for all sorts of cowboy movies. Including True Grit, The Wild Bunch, and the eventual Best Picture winner Midnight Cowboy. Though Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid did win more awards. Aside from a nomination for Best Picture, Best Director George Roy Hill, and Best Sound, the movie won Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Original Score, and Best Original Song. I’ll bet you didn’t know “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” originated from a western.

Cinematography was deserved since the movie utilizes sepia tone in some scenes. Although based on the real life outlaws, the story is still mostly fictionalized. While not as intense as the other westerns, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid does subvert the genre for the New Hollywood movement. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid are undeniable anti-heroes who rob trains and banks, but end up being very likable thanks to the pitch perfect pairing of Paul Newman and Robert Redford. Butch is the leader and Sundance is quick on the draw. Newman and Redford play off each other very well. There’s a definite sense of humor when the duo reunite with their posse the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang.

Their funniest scene involves the duo jumping off a cliff in order to evade capture. Butch and Sundance actually do the unthinkable by fleeing to Bolivia. They’re joined by Sundance’s mysterious lover Etta Place. This would be Katharine Ross’ second most famous role after The Graduate. Her most iconic scene involves her riding a bicycle with Butch as the award winning song plays. Etta helps out when the duo is forced to rob banks using Spanish. When they try to go straight, Strother Martin has a role as the man who hires them. You may also recognize a young Cloris Leachman as a harlot and Sam Elliot in one of his first westerns. When things go south, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid go out in a blaze of glory. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid made cowboys cool again.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

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