The 60s Official Site

 

Magical Movie Moments 

by  David Soulsby, author of "Somewhere in the Distance" 

 

If you were a regular moviegoer in the Sixties you would have had a wonderful choice of magical silver screen moments to savour. There were moments that played with your feelings, creating laughter, tension, tears or excitement, sometimes all at the same time. There was something for everyone. Cinema had always been capable of stirring these reactions but with the Sixties came new kinds of movies and innovative ways of illustrating action and human interaction and emotions. Here are just some of my Sixties special movie memories, in no particular order of preference or importance. 

I’VE always been a fan of Anthony Quinn. He was one of those actors who in his biggest roles could command the screen with raw power. No more so than in Zorba The Greek as the rascally peasant teaching staid Englishman Alan Bates to lose his inhibitions and surrender to the sheer life-affirming rhythm of the iconic dance on the beach. I recall dancing to the theme music at many a party! It was so infectious. Quinn should have won the Best Actor Oscar. Rather surprisingly, he lost out to Britain’s Rex Harrison, reprising his stage role as Henry Higgins in the lavish My Fair Lady. Now, I have to admit that I enjoyed the musical immensely but for me Quinn’s loud, flamboyant, larger than life Zorba was robbed of the top accolade. Zorba’s zest for living was electric, his free spirit something to admire.  

WHO wouldn’t be saddened as the final curtain descends on Midnight Cowboy? The dying Dustin Hoffman cradled in Jon Voigt’s arms in the rear of the bus headed for the sunshine and warm of Florida, played out poignantly to Everybody’s Talking by Harry Nilsson. It’s certainly one of the best buddy-buddy movies albeit an odd combination. The other scene that lingers in the mind is when Hoffman crosses a busy New York street and proceeds to thump on the bonnet of an encroaching vehicle and declares vociferously ‘I’m walking here!’ You just have to laugh at a light interlude in an otherwise grim and gritty drama that emerged just as the Sixties was coming to an end. 

IT WAS quite a shock at the time to see the jerky slow-motion death dance of Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway as a crescendo of bullets riddle their bodies in Bonnie And Clyde. It was a controversial piece of cinema when it first appeared. We weren’t used to glorifying criminals, putting them on a pedestal and depicting them as attractive and admirable. But here we were in 1967 bedazzled by the duo and their outlaw ways. The times were indeed changing. The film’s violence was often sudden and dramatic and without question set new standards.  

CHARISMATIC Paul Newman as the rebellious prisoner in Cool Hand Luke is sublime. He’s good throughout the whole film, but when he eats 50 hard-boiled eggs in an hour for a bet is my favourite. And I ‘ll always remember him uttering the final line “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate’ as the chasing lawmen catch up with him after his escape, and a shot rings out, hitting him in the neck. As he’s dragged away, we, the audience, are not sure whether he’s dead or not. We’re hoping he’ll survive but the odds don’t look good. I recall at the time thinking that Luke was a goner, but now I’m too sure! I’d like to think that he beat the system and went on to be a successful movie star … 

A HERO who is out for revenge has long been a popular cinematic theme. There have been some superb ones over the years but the leather-faced Lee Marvin is among the very best. His greatest tough guy role has to be in Point Blank, the first US film by English director John Boorman. Marvin and Boorman hit it off straight away and you can see that in the top-notch quality of the venture. My special moment is seeing Marvin stomping along a hotel corridor, the noise of his heavy steps resounding like gunshots. His portrayal of a man hell bent on getting his own back on the friend who stole his share of ill-gotten gains and shot and left him for dead on the bleak Alcatraz island is a humdinger. It’s among the outstanding performances of the Sixties. Indeed, a hard man not to be messed around, and a far cry from his Oscar-winning dual characters in the comedy western Cat Ballou, which gained Marvin his one and only Oscar. 

I’M A BIG admirer of the final scene in Easy Rider. The shooting of hippies Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper by hostile locals was truly shocking. Hopper’s character is severely wounded and Fonda’s bike ends in an exploding fireball. We presume they’re both dead, victims of bigotry and hatred. It’s the only film I’ve attended where the whole audience left the theatre in total silence, shocked by the finale. It was also a film that took some of the best music of the period as it's soundtrack and captured the social and cultural changes that were so indicative of the times. Perhaps not always a comfortable story to watch but I would suggest that it remains one of the best-ever movies, inspiring a whole new generation of actors and directors to experiment and tackle important and controversial issues as never before.  

SOME actors have to work hard to be funny while a select few make it look so easy. The bemused-looking Gene Wilder does easy brilliantly. Take his role in The Producers as a prime example. Black comedy served up with relish. I just love it when he clutches his comfort blanket in times of stress. He’s a joy to behold. Although the film’s Hitler musical scenario was certainly not a comfortable subject for humour, there’s no doubt that director Mel Brooks pulled it off with aplomb. Another plus is Kenneth Mars as a manic fan of the Fuhrer. His classic, glazed-eyed proclamation that Hitler was a better painter than Churchill always raises a smile. He says with pride that Hitler could paint an apartment in an afternoon. Two coats, to boot! Sheer magic. I know the film didn’t do that well at the time of its release, but the years have been kind to it. 

IT’S uncomfortable watching talking computer HAL being dismantled by Keir Dullea’s astronaut Dave in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Pleading for its life as Dave methodically pulls all the plugs, the machine’s voice becomes slower and slower until silence ensues. HAL might be just a machine, but we’ve just witnessed a cold-blooded murder. It was something that had to be done, but we’re sent off balance all the same. It’s a powerful scene in a near perfect movie that is full of bold imagery and challenging ideas. I first saw it on the giant Cinerama screen in London’s West End and was knocked out by its vivid colours and immense scope. It doesn’t look quite so good on the television screen but it never fails to enthral and entertain. It’s an undeniable masterpiece from Stanley Kubrick. 

FASTER, faster! Put the foot down on the gas. Watch out for that parked vehicle. Just hope that no pedestrians get caught up in the mayhem. It’s Steve McQueen’s edge-of-the-seat car chase in Bullitt. Brit director Peter Yates had staged a similar chase in Robbery, his accomplished film about the 1963 Great Train Robbery in Britain. In Bullitt, he takes the frenzied chase to new heights. What gave it an extra shot of adrenalin was the spectacular use of the hilly streets of San Francisco. The tension is tuned up several notches. It’s been copied many times in subsequent movies but in my opinion never bettered.  

WE didn’t trust the Russians in the mid-Sixties not to spark a nuclear conflagration, and Stanley Kubrick’s satirical Dr Strangelove gave a mesmerising take on our paranoia. George C. Scott is chilling as he makes a case for dropping a bomb, mind-bogglingly making light of the predicted body count. And the multi-talented Peter Sellers steals scene after scene as three different characters. He’s ably abetted by crazy military oddball Sterling Hayden and an hilarious Slim Pickens as Major Kong, riding a nuclear warhead like a rodeo horse as he plummets from the plane gung-ho and deliriously happy to personally deliver the deadly payload.  

ROD STEIGER is another of my top actors. He gave several notable performances in the Sixties but his moving portrayal of the bigoted policeman Bill Gillespie in the ground breaking In The Heat Of The Night tops the bill. We don’t like him at the start but by the finish we’re on his side. It was uplifting to witness his character slowly learn to overcome his prejudice and trust and become friends with visiting big city cop Virgil Tibbs, played by Sidney Potier. A worthy best actor Oscar for Steiger and an equally well-deserved best film Oscar too. Oh, and it’s all played out to the edgy music score of the maestro Quincy Jones.  

HERE’S ANOTHER mention for Dustin Hoffman. This time it’s for his role as Benjamin in The Graduate. It’s a movie to remember for many reasons, not least the music of Simon and Garfunkel. Two scenes jump out for me. The first is the distraught graduate Benjamin hammering on the glass panes at the church where his true love is about to be married to a stick–in-the-mud uncharismatic sap. You can’t help but feel his pain. You just want him to win the day and after all he’s been through to spend the rest of his life with the woman of his dreams. The other scene is earlier in the movie when our hero jumps into the family swimming pool to escape the unwanted attentions of his parents and their party guests. As he drifts to the bottom of the pool the camera lingers on him and we know exactly what he’s going through. He has no time for the hypocrisy and shallowness of the throng just above the water’s surface. It’s a key moment in Sixties filmmaking. 

TWO rival gangs click their way along the streets of Manhattan. We see them full on, heading towards the camera, strutting their stuff and we’re mesmerised. It’s the opening dance sequence in West Side Story. It gets the New York-set movie off to a pulsating start and the exhilaration doesn’t let up. Later, we tap our feet to the wonderful rooftop dance, the joyous rapture of the Puerto Rican youngsters extolling life in America. It ranks among the very best choreography captured on film. It was a truly great film with which to get the Sixties rolling. 

I’M A sucker for a lighter moment in The Dirty Dozen when Donald Sutherland has to pretend to be a visiting army general reviewing the troops. You just know that he’s not going to do the expected. Quite the opposite!  As he stops to speak to one of the soldiers, he leans forward and asks him where’s he’s from. When the reply comes, Sutherland utters the withering ‘Never heard of it.’ And with that, Sutherland produces that famous grin and carries on down the line. It’s a gem of a jokey aside in a war film that bustles with action and sharp dialogue. It made bundles of cash at the box office in 1967, and rightly so.

David Soulsby lives in Romford, Essex,David Soulsby England, and is now retired after 46 years as a journalist. During his career, he worked on local and national newspapers and magazines, and in the Sixties met many of his musical heroes, including Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, Sonny Boy Williamson, James Brown and Mel Torme. He’s now freelancing as a writer and proof-reader, working from home. He’s the author of Somewhere In The Distance, a novel about four friends growing up in the Sixties.

 

Somewhere in the Distance