Monday, November 25, 2013

Movie Monday: The November 1963 Edition

If you follow along here at all, you've probably tripped to the fact that I'm a huge "Doctor Who" fan. This means that this past weekend was a big one for me, with the 50th anniversary of the first showing of the first episode of the series in the UK. Along with this came not only a new episode, "The Day of the Doctor", but a made-for-TV movie, "An Adventure in Space and Time", which told the story of the making of that first episode and what came after with the first Doctor. And it is an interesting story, which included having to reshoot the entire episode and having it air for the first time on November 23, 1963, the day after the assassination of US President John F. Kennedy.

It's kind of amazing that the show survived, with all it came up against - immediately, with the world focused on the death of a president and in the longer term with the worsening health of William Hartnell, who portrayed the First Doctor. But, the producer, a woman when very few women were allowed such a powerful position in the entertainment industry, demanded a re-airing the next week, when the show garnered a huge audience. "An Adventure in Space and Time" is a very good movie, and can be viewed enjoyably even if you don't know anything about "Doctor Who", I recommend it. I also recommend "The Day of the Doctor", but you'll enjoy that more if you are a fan.

The thing is, this whole situation with "Doctor Who" debuting the day after such a huge and devastating historical event got me to thinking about what was showing in US theaters in November of 1963, especially those films opening just before or after the assassination of JFK. I did a little digging, and found some interesting information. At least two films that debuted shortly before the assassination, "It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" (which opened on November 7) and "McLintock!" (which opened on November 13, just nine days before the assassination), went on to become the third and eleventh top grossing films, respectively, in the US that year. On the other hand, "Soldier in the Rain", which some critics have said deserves to be a much better-known film, had its box office hurt by its being released on November 27, just a few days after the assassination, when many people were still in shock over the death of JFK.

"It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" was a huge film at the time, with an all-star cast headed by Spencer Tracy and including an ensemble of top comic actors and cameo appearances by a huge list of familiar faces. The story revolved around $350,000 in stolen cash (a lot of money in those days) and the efforts by the group of people who stop to aid a dying victim of a car crash, who also happened to be one of the suspects in the taking of the money. The dying man reveals the location of the money just before kicking the bucket (literally), and they are off to see who can get to "the big W" the quickest and claim the money for themselves. It really is a movie that has to be seen to be appreciated, and it is very, very funny. Here is the original theatrical trailer for the film:

"McLintock!" is one of my favorite John Wayne movies. It starred Wayne and Maureen O'Hara in a loose adaptation of "The Taming of the Shrew". O'Hara is Wayne's estranged wife, who has left him two years earlier over his alleged philandering, but has returned to gain custody of their daughter, who is returning from college in the East, and to get Wayne's character to agree to a divorce. You have to see the rest of this Western comedy, which was directed by Andrew V. McLaglen, who went on to direct several of Wayne's films. Here's a scene from near the beginning of the movie:

And here is the original trailer for the film. It isn't particularly a politically correct film (well, it was 1963 after all), but it's proof of something that I've been trying to convince people of for a long time...that John Wayne was a pretty good comic actor:

"Soldier in the Rain", which starred Steve McQueen and Jackie Gleason as unlikely friends in the Army, was released on November 27 and, as I said, didn't do particularly well at the box office. The screenplay was written by William Goldman, from his own novel of the same name. Goldman went on to write films like "The Princess Bride" (again, from his own novel) as well as to win two Academy Awards, for Best Original Screenplay for "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" and Best Adapted Screenplay for "All the President's Men". The director was Ralph Nelson, who also directed several award-winning films, so the film had a good pedigree - just not a release at a good time. This is the closest I could find to a clip that gave a good flavor of the film:

My recommendation. See all of these movies if you can. Oh, and have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

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