Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

SIZING UP THE SIXTIES Movies Came of Age in a Troubled Decade

Cleveland Press December 26, 1969

It was a wild decade and if the state of the movies in the '60's confused those who made them it was nothing compared to the consternation of those who saw them.

Yesterday's taboos became today's box office. Though many movies lost money a few made enormous sums with nothing in common except that they captured the public's fancy. The material ranged from sweetness and light to sex and sadism.

The decade had its cycles -- the Doris Day films, the James Bond - inspired bosoms-and-bullets espionage flicks and the spaghetti westerns.

There were big budget pictures that could make or break a studio, "Cleopatra" which almost destroyed 20th Century-Fox and "Sound of Music" that made it wealthy again.

FOREIGN FILMS, once part of a limited market, the so-called art house circuit, became a staple on American screens. Their comedies were more biting, their dramas more socially aware. Hollywood looked for the magic ingredient, seized on frankness (mostly sexual) as the thing. It was an answer to television too. to provide something the small screen could not deliver.

With the new frankness came a new revolution -- the end of legal censorship, the scrapping of the old production code, pressures from the public for regulation and finally -- in an attempt to stave off legislation -- a voluntary rating system.

1960 was a milestone year. The striking Writers Guild of America demanded a share in the income from television sales of post-1948 movies. In the settlement they accepted payment for those made from 1960 on.

With that the major studios began unloading post-1948 movies. They made money but theater owners found themselves with empty seats.

While expensive epics were still being gambled on -- "Ben Hur," $15,000,000; "Spartacus" and "The Alamo," $12,000,000 each -- there began a trend toward adult dramas and comedies. It was the year of "Butterfield Eight," "Suddenly Last Summer," "The Apartment," "Psycho."

FROM EUROPE CAME "The Lovers" that was to be instrumental in upsetting censorship laws; also "Never on Sunday," "Virgin Spring," "Hiroshima, Mon Amour." In 1964 the Supreme Court ruled in the "Lovers" case that national, not community standards, prevail.

"La Dolce Vita," commercially successful, was imitated for years to come. But there also was "West Side Story" when everyone said the movie musical was dead. In Pennsylvania the censorship law was ruled unconstitutional.

Foreign films moved out of the art houses, their soundtracks dubbed in English. The urge to make epics continued -- "Lawrence of Arabia" succeeded, a remake of "Mutiny on the Bounty" didn't. Movies turned to TV for material and offered "Miracle Worker" and "Requiem for a Heavyweight."

The Doris Day cycle began ("Lover Come Back," "That Touch of Mink") which with Doris Day or a facsimile told the story of the pursuit of the maiden by the playboy bachelor. Would she or wouldn't she or could she get him to marry her first. Europe was dealing frankly with sex while U.S. moviemakers sniggered about it and pretended innocence.

IN 1963 "CLEOPATRA" opened, costing between $30,000,000 and $40,000,000. Cinerama used a single projection lens on "It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" and got rid of those annoying seams; but it wasn't Cinerama without them.

Movies became more realistic with "Hud," but made money with "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane," the start of a cycle of gory horror films starring aging actresses.

"Tom Jones" set a style for earthy and funny movies in 1963, also the year of "Dr. No," the first of the James Bond films and a host of imitators. "Dr. Strangelove" was a brilliant black comedy about a nuclear holocaust.

In 1964 Sidney Poitier became the first Negro to win an Oscar as best actor. The Beatles made their first movie, surprising everyone, especially the critics. It was the year of "Zorba the Greek," "Sound of Music," "My Fair Lady" and "Mary Poppins." For sheer tastelessness it was hard to beat "The Carpetbaggers," "A House Is Not a Home" and "Kiss Me Stupid."

BY 1965 AUDIENCES started getting bigger. Helping were "Goldfinger," another Beatles movie and "Hush . . . Hush Sweet Charlotte." It was a time for teen-age pictures and Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello. There were two versions of "Harlow," one worse than the other.

U.S. moviemakers began to catch up on social drama ("The Pawnbroker") and added a little satiric bite to comedy ("How to Murder Your Wife"). "Greatest Story Ever Told" turned out to be less than the greatest.

In 1966 "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" shocked and attracted audiences. For a while it lacked a production code seal.

Jack Valetnti, one time presidential assistant, was made head of the Motion Picture Assn. of America. The old code was scrapped along with its taboos and producers began designating certain films as `'Suggested for Mature Audiences."

It was also the year of "Alfie," "A Man and A Woman" and "A Patch of Blue."

VIOLENCE WAS the big thing in 1967. "Dirty Dozen" set the tone and "Bonnie and Clyde" gave it critical acceptance. A bearded Clint Eastwood ambled through the first Italian western and another cycle began.

It was the year of "The Graduate" and social satire was seldom better."Ulysses" caused a furor with its explicit soundtrack and "I, a Woman" from Sweden started another wave of nudity and sexual frankness in bad movies.

"Rosemary's Baby" lent shock value to 1968 and so did the sexually explicit "I am Curious (Yellow)" which began its battles with customs inspectors.

"2001: A Space Odyssey" set a new mark, realistic science fiction with metaphysical overtones.

"Oliver" and "Funny Girl" arrived at the end of the year causing new optimism in musicals, but "Star" with Julie Andrews had little luster. "Odd Couple" made a fortune and so did the pro-war "Green Berets."

"Romeo and Juliet" was made again, this time with really young people and it swung. The under-30 market was being tapped.

THE RATINGS BEGAN and X marked the spot not only for movies a kid couldn't see but where the money was. "Midnight Cowboy" was "X" but artistic; many others were not.

This past year there were even more movies for and about a younger set that provided about 70% of theater admissions. It was a time for "Alice's Restaurant" and "Easy Rider" and more groping for meaning.

The movies were THE art form of the '60's. The experimenting that once was literary was now cinematic.

As films become franker there are rumblings for legal censorship. But before that happens boredom may set in. It's beginning to already. After you've seen everything what else is there. Sex as a spectator sport is limited and the movies may have to go back to worrying about stories and hiring actresses more noted for their acting skills than their nerve.

Hopefully the sizzling '60's may turn into the settled '70's.