A Dream Deferred

A Raisin in the Sun is all about the American dream from the perspective of an African American family. Lorraine Hansberry became the youngest playwright and the first black woman to have a play performed on Broadway. A Raisin in the Sun had a predominantly black cast that was pretty unheard of at the time. The 1961 film maintains the entire Broadway cast including Sidney Poitier. Although this was the first majority black movie I’ve seen with Poitier, it was actually my brother who recommended it after seeing most of it in school. A Raisin in the Sun refers to a poem by Langston Hughes who asked “What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?”

The Younger family live in a cramped apartment in the Southside of Chicago, but they all have big dreams. Poitier plays the money obsessed father Walter Lee who wants a business of his own where he no longer has to serve anyone. A young Ruby Dee plays his longsuffering pregnant wife Ruth and Diana Sands plays his opinionated sister Beneatha who can’t decide what she wants to do with her life. Their young son Travis is played by newcomer Stephen Perry since the original actor was probably too old. Poitier was nominated for a Golden Globe and so was Claudia McNeil. I was especially impressed by McNeil who manages to hold the family together as the strong-willed matriarch Lena. The conflict of the movie comes when Lena receives a $10,000 insurance check from her late husband.

A Raisin in the Sun deals with all sorts of problems from a black perspective, but they’re just like any other family that wants more. Ivan Dixon is Beneatha’s African suitor Asagai who embraces their heritage and Louis Gossett Jr. is her wealthier suitor George who sees no problem in their community. This was actually the first film role for the future Oscar winner. Despite his pride and opposition, Walter embraces his mother’s decision to use the money for a house. Though the movie was directed by Daniel Petrie, the only white actor in the cast is the meek John Fiedler as Mark Lindner, a representative of their all-white neighborhood who asks them to reconsider. Walter’s final speech about finding a better life is a must watch for any race. A Raisin in the Sun has aged very well.

A Raisin in the Sun 1961

The Younger family

The Microverse

Fantastic Voyage pushed the concept of miniaturization further than anyone thought possible. By shrinking a crew of people down to microscopic size and inserting them inside the human body. If that plot sounds familiar, it’s because dozens of cartoons are practically required to make a Fantastic Voyage episode. I can’t tell you how many parodies I’ve seen before watching the original 1966 movie. I always assumed Fantastic Voyage was a Jules Verne story, but it’s actually 100% original aside from inspiration from The Incredible Shrinking Man. Though the novelization was written by sci-fi legend Isaac Asimov before the movie’s release. Richard Fleischer was the perfect director who already had submarine experience with 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

A nifty miniaturized sub called the Proteus is manned by a crew for the U.S. Government. Their mission is to save the life of scientist Dr. Jan Benes who perfected shrinking technology. A failed assassination by the Soviet Union gives Benes a lethal blood clot that can only be removed by a precision laser within the body. The crew consists of a more heroic Stephen Boyd as CIA agent Grant, Raquel Welch as sexy technical assistant Peterson, William Redfield as ship pilot Captain Owens, Arthur Kennedy as suspected laser surgeon Dr. Duval, and Donald Pleasence as the much more untrustworthy medical officer Dr. Michaels.

Meanwhile, Edmond O’Brien and Arthur O’Connell play Military officers who help on the outside. The crew travel from the heart to the lungs avoiding antibodies and white blood cells along the way. The 1 hour time limit is stressful, but the most tense moment is in the ear canal where even the smallest sound can send a shockwave. Any interpretation of the movie has a different exit strategy, but the original goes for the eye. Fantastic Voyage can be a little dated with it’s colorful recreation of the human body, but it still looks really impressive for 1966. Enough to win an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects and Best Art Direction – Color. A sequel or remake might have improved its special effects, but Fantastic Voyage doesn’t need a franchise to be fantastic.

Fantastic Voyage

The Proteus crew swim around Benes’ body

I Wish I Were a Fish

The Incredible Mr. Limpet was Warner Bros. turn at a live-action/animation hybrid. Something Dinsey already perfected a long time ago. As I mentioned in my The Ghost and Mr. Chicken review, The Incredible Mr. Limpet was the first movie starring Don Knotts. He made it during a hiatus from The Andy Griffith Show, but it’s mostly a voice role. Knotts plays the meager bespectacled Henry Limpet who has an unhealthy obsession with fish. To the point he wishes he were a fish. It’s one of three original songs in the movie.

Animation was the only option when Mr. Limpet magically transforms into a fish with glasses. Like SpongeBob, The Incredible Mr. Limpet is live action on the surface and animated underwater. They’re not exactly Looney Tunes, but the fish characters are cute. Limpet meets a Crusty crab and a lovely fish that he names Ladyfish. The fish love story wouldn’t be weird if Limpet didn’t have a wife back home. Carole Cook plays his fed up wife Bessy and Jack Weston plays his best friend Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class George Stickle.

Though technically a kids movie, Limpet uses his newfound fish form to help the Navy track down Nazi submarines. He’s the only fish with a confirmed kill count. Even stranger is Limpet’s supersonic “thrum” that wards off enemies. The occasional blending of live action and animation looks good for 1964. There were several attempts to make a fully live action remake, but no one wants to see a comedians face superimposed on a fish body. The Incredible Mr. Limpet is better left in the 60’s.

The Incredible Mr. Limpet

Henry Limpet as a fish

We’re Gonna Stick Together

The Wild Bunch marked a significant change in Westerns at the time. It was director Sam Peckinpah’s goal to show the Wild West for what it truly was. The Wild Bunch was very controversial for its honest depiction of violence. Shootouts are realistically bloody, prostitutes are naked, and crude men use profanity. The Wild Bunch was crucial to the New Hollywood movement and arguably made the R rating what it is today. Though influential, the Western was only nominated for Best Original Screenplay and Best Original Score. Editing should’ve been recognized for its innovative use of slow motion and chaotic rapid cuts.

The Wild Bunch is a fitting revision of old Westerns with a gang of aging outlaws dealing with the changing world around them. William Holden leads the posse as the haunted outlaw Pike Bishop. Ernest Borgnine is his no-nonsense friend Dutch and Robert Ryan is former partner Deke Thornton who tirelessly tracks them down. Other notable members include Warren Oates and Ben Johnson as the Gorch brothers and the Mexican Jaime Sรกnchez as Angel. There’s also Edmond O’Brien as the much older Sykes. Their intended last job is a bust that ends in an uncomfortable shootout with several civilian casualties.

Peckinpah meant for the violence to be disturbing, but the opening scene where kids gleefully torture scorpions with fire ants is an accurate metaphor. There are traditional Western motifs like a train robbery or bridge explosion, but the modern world slowly changes the men. Their true final job is bringing ammunition to a warring Mexican general. The conflict in Mexico leads to betrayal and eventual sacrifice when the Wild Bunch have one last stand. Since almost every New Hollywood movie ended in death, it wasn’t surprising to know they didn’t make it in the end. The Wild Bunch united the old with the new.

The Wild Bunch

The Wild Bunch stick together

Attaboy, Luther!

The Ghost and Mr. Chicken gave Don Knotts his first major role since The Andy Griffith Show. The Incredible Mr. Limpet was made during a hiatus, but anything since was made after he left the show. Although I haven’t watched The Andy Griffith Show, I am familiar with Knotts’ charming goofiness. My mom thought I’d enjoy The Ghost and Mr. Chicken since it’s another unconventional horror comedy. The Ghost and Mr. Chicken is not at all what I was expecting.

I was expecting a supernatural buddy comedy where Knotts is haunted by a mischievous ghost, but that isn’t the case at all. Knotts actually plays local laughing stock Luther Heggs. Luther is a typesetter who wants to prove himself as a serious reporter. He gets his chance when asked to stay one night in a haunted house on the anniversary of a murder-suicide. Luther is an entertaining chicken who gets into all sorts of frightened antics.

The haunting is spooky, but the upbeat music keeps things fun. Though it seems like the ghost is real, most of the movie is about Luther trying to prove his story to a courtroom and superstitious citizens of Rachel City, Kansas. There’s also a cute love story between Luther and Joan Staley as his above average love interest Alma. The funniest running gag involves a random off-screen voice shouting “Attaboy, Luther!” every few minutes. The Ghost and Mr. Chicken scares up more than a few laughs.

The Ghost and Mr. Chicken

Luther Heggs gets scared

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 Iโ€™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