Movie Notes

Baby Jane

I recently watched Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? – a 1962 film that starred Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, and Victor Buono.  I was mesmerized by the performance of Bette Davis who played a former vaudeville child star who had become an old, bitter, and quite crazy alcoholic.  The things she did to her sister, a paraplegic, were absolutely monstrous.  I kept thinking that she must have won the Academy Award that year for Best Actress.  When I found that she didn’t I was shocked until I saw the list of nominees.  Her competition included Anne Bancroft (who won) in The Miracle Worker (the story of Annie Sullivan and her struggle to bring order into the chaotic world of a deaf/blind girl from rural Alabama named Helen Keller), Katherine Hepburn in Long Day’s Journey into Night (an adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize winning play by Eugene O’Neill), Geraldine Page in Sweet Bird of Youth (a play by Tennessee Williams that was nominated for four Tony Awards; the movie starred many of the actors who had appeared in the play – including Page and Paul Newman), and Lee Remick in Days of Wine and Roses (a film that details a couple’s slow, painful descent into paralyzing alcoholism).

If 1962 had only produced the above-mentioned movies it would have been a banner year, but the list of great movies released in 1962 goes on and on.  In fact, though many movie fans claim that 1939 was the greatest year in film history, I think 1962 could challenge 1939 for the title.

Here are some of the notable films from 1962 along with a few comments about each of them:

Lawrence of Arabia – This movie, based on the middle-eastern exploits of T. E. Lawrence, was one of director David Lean’s best epic films.  The cinematography and the musical score by French movie music composer Maurice Jarre were breathtaking.  The stellar cast included Peter O’Toole, Alec Guiness, Anthony Quinn, José Ferrer, Anthony Quayle, Claude Rains, and a popular actor in the Middle East named Omar Sharif.

To Kill a Mockingbird – The screen adaptation of Harper Lee’s classic novel is one of the few instances where I think the film was as good as the book.  If you’ve seen the movie, try to read the book without thinking of Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch.  You can’t do it.  The film also introduced us to a newcomer named Robert Duvall who played the silent and almost invisible role of Arthur “Boo” Radley.

Cape Fear – And fear was what the theater audience felt as a diabolical ex-convict, played masterfully by Robert Mitchum, set out to destroy the attorney (and his family) who was responsible for his rape conviction.  Gregory Peck, as the stalked attorney, was good, but Mitchum was spectacular.

Mutiny on the Bounty – This was a remake of the 1935 movie about the mutiny on the British ship Bounty.  The mutiny against Captain William Bligh (Trevor Howard) was lead by Fletcher Christian (Marlon Brando.  The $19 million budget for the film was huge at the time, and the film (the sixth highest grossing film of 1962) lost money.  The cinematography was spectacular, and it was the first film to boast that it was filmed in Ultra Panavision 70 Widescreen.

The Longest Day – Cornelius Ryan’s 1959 novel of the same name was the basis for this film about the D-Day invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944.  It told the story of both sides as the invasion unfolded.  While many movies were being filmed in color, The Longest Day was shot in black and white which seems more appropriate for a war film.  It had a run time of almost three hours due to the complexity of the story.  It was nominated for five Academy Awards and won two.  The film score was composed by Maurice Jarre (Dr. Zhivago, Lawrence of Arabia, and Gran Prix).

Birdman of Alcatraz – Burt Lancaster had the lead role in this largely fictional account of the prison life of Robert Stroud.  For instance, Stroud kept birds while in prison in Leavenworth, Kansas (where much of the movie was filmed) but was not allowed to keep them when he was moved to Alcatraz.  Also, Stroud was a vicious killer who spent 54 years in prison including 42 years in solitary confinement.  Nevertheless, the movie is considered to be one of the best – number 76 on the American Film Institute’s “100 years . . . 100 Cheers” list.  The movie was nominated for four Academy Awards (including Best Actor in a Leading Role), but won none.

The Manchurian Candidate – If you only know Angela Lansbury as Jessica Fletcher in the TV series Murder, She Wrote, you’ve got a lot to learn about this versatile and timeless actress.  Watch her as the saucy housemaid in Gaslight (1944), and as the scheming, heartless mother in The Manchurian Candidate to get a feel for the depth and scope of her talent for drama.  Then listen to here in the recordings of the wonderful stage musicals Mame (1966) and Sweeney Todd (1979) to learn about a totally different side of this amazing actress.  The movie, which also starred Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, and Janet Leigh, is a thriller that will, literally, keep you on the edge of your seat.  Released during the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, The Manchurian Candidate became very controversial after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963.

David and Lisa – Who would want to see a movie about two people with deep-seated mental problems?  Apparently a great many people wanted to see David Clemens work through his obsessive-compulsive disorder and Lisa Brandt overcome her multiple personality disorder because the movie returned its production cost five-fold in the first week alone.  Frank Perry directed the movie which had a screenplay written by his wife Eleanor.  Both were nominated for Academy Awards but lost.

Lolita – The film adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov’s steamy 1955 novel about the obsession of an older man for a 12-year-old “nymphet” had to be toned down in order to satisfy film censorship demands.  Director Stanley Kubrick stated that he would never have made the film had he known that it would be so heavily censored.  The cast included a number of notable actors including James Mason, Shelley Winters, Peter Sellers and a 14-year-old newcomer named Sue Lyons.

The Music Man – The film version of Meredith Willson’s wonderful Broadway musical carried over Robert Preston as “Professor” Harold Hill, but replaced the very talented Barbara Cook with Shirley Jones as librarian, Marian Parco.  Willson, who had a long career as a bandleader and music director on many radio shows (sometimes pretending to be a country bumpkin), wrote the music, lyrics, and book for The Music Man.  “Seventy-six Trombones” and “Till There Was You” (also recorded by the Beatles) are well known numbers from The Music Man, but Willson is also remembered for writing the Broadway musical The Unsinkable Molly Brown, and the songs “May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You” and “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas.”

Gypsy – This adaptation of the Broadway musical about the life of the well-known stripper Gypsy Rose Lee had all of the great music of the original Broadway musical, and starred Rosalind Russell as the indomitable Mama Rose, and the beautiful Natalie Wood as Gypsy Rose Lee.  In the 1961 film adaptation of West Side Story, Marni Nixon (The Ghostess with the Mostest) dubbed the singing for Wood, but in Gypsy, Wood did her own singing.

Taras Bulba – This is a film about bloody battles – many, many battles – between Cossacks, Turks and Poles.  Yul Brynner portrayed the warrior Taras Bulba, and Tony Curtis portrayed his son Andrei.  To me, the most interesting aspect of the film is the memorable musical score composed by Franz Waxman (Rebecca and Sunset Boulevard).

Dr. No – This was the movie that introduced the movie-going public to a man named Bond, James Bond.  It also made stars of Sean Connery and Ursula Andress.  Additionally, it introduced us to a plot line that continues to this day in Bond movies.  Dr. No (1958) was Ian Fleming’s seventh James Bond novel.  The first was Casino Royale (1953).  The music for Dr. No (including the James Bond Theme) is credited to Monty Norman though John Barry, who worked with Norman on the musical score, always claimed that he wrote the majority of the music.  Regardless of who wrote the first music, John Barry will always be associated with the memorable theme songs for many of the early Bond movies.

How the West Was Won – This was an “epic” western movie (with a 162 minute run-time) that was filmed in Cinerama, an unusual filming technique that employed three cameras – this was a very wide screen experience for the audience.  It is the story of four generations that steadily move west.  The all-star cast included Henry Fonda, Gregory Peck, James Stewart, Caroll Baker and Debbie Reynolds.  The musical score was composed by Alfred Newman.  It was nominated for eight Academy Awards (including Best Picture), but only won three minor awards.

Jules et Jim – The famous French director François Truffaut directed this film about the love that two men, Jules (Oskar Werner) and Jim (Henri Serre), have for the same woman, Catherine (Jeanne Moreau).  The many plot twists take place over many years, and the ending is quite dramatic.  Jules et Jim ranks number 46 out the 100 best films of world cinema in a 2010 Empire magazine ranking.  The soundtrack by George Delerue (one of my favorite movie music composers) is ranked as one of the ten best soundtracks in Time magazine’s “All Time 100 Movies” list.  Delerue wrote the scores for many of Truffaut’s movies, and his music is definitely worth exploring.

Light in the Piazza – Based on the 1960 novel of the same name by Elizabeth Spencer, this is the story of Meg, a mother (Olivia de Haviland) who takes Clara, her mildly mentally disabled daughter (Yvette Mimieux), to Italy where Fabrizio, a young Italian man (George Hamilton), falls in love with her.  Fabrizio believes that Clara’s simple responses only show that she is naïve and innocent.  When Fabrizio’s father, Signor Naccarelli (Rossano Brazzi) gets involved, things really become complicated.  Much of the movie was shot on location in Rome and Florence.

Requiem for a Heavyweight – A long time ago, in the early days of TV, there was a 90 minute long, live program called Playhouse 90.  That’s right, it was live.  And if the actors made mistakes or forgot their lines, everyone knew it.  In 1956 the great Rod Serling, who is best known for his science fiction TV series The Twilight Zone, wrote a teleplay about a washed up, punch-drunk boxer named Harlan McClintock.  Six years later Requiem for a Heavyweight became a movie starring Anthony Quinn, Jackie Gleason, Mickey Rooney, and Julie Harris.

Tender is the Night – This movie was based on the 1934 novel of the same name by F. Scott Fitzgerald.  The film follows the lives of Dick and Nicole Diver.  Dick, a psychiatrist, marries Nicole who has been his patient.  The results somewhat parallel the chaotic, wasted lives of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.  Scott had learned a lot about mental illness due to Zelda’s problems, and he used it, along with some actual incidents in their lives, in the book.  Producer David O. Selznick chose his wife, Jennifer Jones, for the part of Nicole Diver.

The Trial – Josef K wakes one morning to find that he is accused of a crime and is to be put on trial.  Try as he might, he cannot find out what he is accused of doing, and so he is unable to mount a defense.  It this plot seems a bit “Kafkaesque” it’s because the movie is based on Franz Kafka’s 1925 novel of the same name.  The great but flawed genius Orson Welles wrote the screenplay and directed the movie which starred Anthony Perkins as Josef K.

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