Decade of Change
Senior most Hollywood film critic of India, Ervell E Menezes says that of the last 10 films he has seen only two are worth mentioning; “Red...
Senior most Hollywood film critic of India, Ervell E Menezes says that of the last 10 films he has seen only two are worth mentioning; “Red 2” and “The Lone Ranger.” As Hollywood is scraping the bottom, he revisits the five best classics from 1967 to 1970
With each new development in cinema (beginning with sound) it is the narrative that takes a beating and didn’t E.M.Foster in “Aspects of a Novel” say that it is the story which is the thing.” It is also the cardinal principle in film-making. Well, that is just what has happened with Hollywood today and for that reason it is scraping the bottom of the barrel. Not even two in 10 films are outstanding.
True, Hollywood fare is essentially entertaining in contrast to European cinema which deals with real-life problems like love, greed, envy and other human emotions and are like an essay which makes a point in the end and the closest Hollywood came to this genre was in the ‘Decade of Change’ (1965 to 1975) with moon-landing, flower-power and drugs coming on the scene but after that it is back to Square One, slowly but surely. For that reason let’s go down memory lane to the 1960s, and 1967 to be precise, when I donned the garb of film critic. So, back to my old, tattered scrap-books, hope I locate them all. I shall pick the five best from 1967 to 1970 and since there is a glut of good films the task will not be easy.
So let’s begin with “Barefoot in the Park” a real hit in 1969 and based on a Neil Simon play and directed by Gene Sachs. Corie (Jane Fonda) and Paul (Robert Redford) are newly-weds very much in love and living on a five-storey apartment. Mildred Natwick is Corie’s mother and French icon Charles Boyer is a middle=aged rake living in the attic with an eye on Natwick.
It is the first Simon play made into a film and rather coincidentally I am reading his biography “Neil Simon’s Rewrites.” Others, like “The Odd Couple” and “Out-of-Towners” followed closely and Simon became one of the most prolific playwrites of his time. Expectedly, it is all about love’s little problems which appear king-size and with the elders romance providing dramatic relief it is truly and exhilarating bitter-sweet love story.
It was one of the handsome Robert Redford’s early films but I first saw him in “This Property is Condemned” where he plays Natalie Wood’s lover and the film begins with an enchanting opening song sung by a little girl (Mary Badham) singing “wish me a rainbow, wish me a star..” on the rail track/ There is also an excellent sound-cut, the little girl being the sister of Ms Wood whom she calls the “main attraction.” Rugged Charles Bronson also has a cameo in it.
Then comes “Alfie,” the amorous adventures of a Cockney Casanova (Michael Caine) who loves and leaves his women like a fast train going through tunnels and often coming out richer for his efforts. That is until he meets his match in elderly Ruby (Shelley Winters) who beats him at his own game, with the moral evident but not unduly stressed.
Directed by Lewis Gilbert “Alfie” is a sheer delight and also my first glance at Michael Caine who continued to be one of Hollywood’s big stars and he was adequately supported by the then-evergreen Shelley Winters and Julia Foster in female roles.
The next is “The Night of the Generals” based on a World War II incident and is adeptly handled by director Anatole Litvak who has a star cast headed by Peter O’Toole as the enigmatic Gen. Tanz. A sex killer is on the loose and Major Grau (Omar Sharif) makes it his bounden duty to nab the culprit till her is summarily taken of the case.
With suspicion sprinkled like mustard the narrative is strong with never a dull moment. O’Toole of course steals the show with a compelling performance as the eye-twitching Tanz. Donald Pleasance as Gen,. Karlenberg and Tom Couternay as a corporal Kurt Hartman as Tanz’s driver important cameos in this engrossing war drama embellished by Maurice Jarre’s music score. It also reiterates O’Toole’s superiority over Sharif as it showed earlier in “Lawrence of Arabia.”
Then comes “Up the Down Staircase,” a dramatic high school drama in the best tradition of “To Sir With Love” and “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” Here it is Sandy Dennis who play the new teacher Sylvia Barrett whose unorthodox methods with poor and troubled kids of New York do not exactly endear her to her colleagues. The title is means to convey her unorthodoxy. Ms Dennis was fresh from her Best Supporting Actress Oscar in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf ?”. She later starred in “The Fox” one of the early films on lesbianism.
The fifth and last place goes to “I Love You Alice B. Toklas” by Hy Averbeck and stars Peter Sellers who is to be married to his girl-friend Joyce (Joyce van Patten) but the lip betwixt the cup and the lip as it were is a hippie named Nancy (Leigh Taylor-Young) who weans him around her finger and into the drug world very much like “The Happening” where Anthony Quinn is a millionaire who is kidnapped by hippies for a heavy ransom but who inexplicably converts to their “make love, not war” creed of the hippies.” These two were early Hollywood movies on the advent of drugs and hence came close to European cinema in depicting life and its social problems.
It was a debut film for lovely Leigh Taylor-Young whose performance is just impeccable. It is about making cannabis brownies from a cook-book by Alice B. Toklas. Insightful, revealing and thought-provoking and went on to become a cult film.
As mentioned before this has been no easy choice as one had to leave a good many films that could well have made the grade. They include “Bonny and Clyde,” 2001 : A Space Odyssey,” “Topkapi,” “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.” In the Heat of the Night,” “Grand Prix” and “Fantastic Voyage.” Try and catch them on videos.