Sunday, January 05, 2014

Movie Monday: The "1968 Was a Good Year in Film" Edition

1968 was a really good year for movies. A really, really good year.

It was the year of "2001: A Space Odyssey", "Funny Girl", "Bullitt" and "The Thomas Crown Affair", the Zeffirelli version of "Romeo and Juliet", "The Lion in Winter", "Rosemary's Baby", "Planet of the Apes". And those were just some of the big money makers. There was also "Hell in the Pacific", "Monterey Pop", "Will Penny", "Yellow Submarine", "Paper Lion", "Hellfighters". Among the kids' movies, there was "The Love Bug", "Blackbeard's Ghost", "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang".

It was also, by the way, the year that the MPAA's movie rating system was put into use, although not until November 1. The original ratings were G (for general audiences), M (for mature audiences, R (Restricted), and X - which meant that no one under 18 was allowed to see the movie at all. I'll have to do a post about my thoughts concerning the rating system one of these days. But today is not that day.

But I digress...

I turned 12 in 1968, but I saw a good selection of these films when they first were released and then finally came to my local theater, which could take a few months in those days, when we didn't have multiplexes and there were only so many prints of a film that made their way from theater to theater, one week at a time rather than opening in multiple theaters in a town and sometimes staying on for weeks and weeks and weeks. In fact, it was a Really Big Deal the next year, when "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" came out and was held over at the (one and only) theater in the town where I lived for a second week.

I did get to see "2001: A Space Odyssey" before it went into general release and was only on at a few select theaters. My father, as I've written about here before, as a big science fiction geek and we went on a family outing to the closest theater where it was playing (that was about a 30 mile drive) in limited release. That never happened, so it means that my father really wanted to see it badly.

That was an interesting experience. By that time, I'd seen a lot of science fiction movies, but I'd never seen anything like that before. This is one of the trailers that was in theaters as "2001" started to get around to theaters:

1968 was also the year of "Planet of the Apes". That wasn't nearly as innovative a film, but still, it got my attention as something that was deeper than just a story on the screen. Something else got my attention that night at the movies, though, and that was the second feature, "Five Million Miles to Earth". It had come out the year before in the UK, where it was made, under the title "Quatermass and the Pit" and even then was the theatrical remake of a UK television serial that had been shown on the BBC at the end of 1958 and the beginning of 1959. In 1968, though, it started making the rounds of American theaters; seeing it on a double bill with "Planet of the Apes" was the beginning of my love of British science fiction:

Not that "Planet of the Apes" was a bad movie. It was very, very good and, for my money, much superior to the 2001 remake. As I said, it was more than just a sci-fi action film; it was an allegory addressing the racial tensions that the United States was then experiencing. That's one of the cool things about science fiction - it can address touchy issues that would be difficult to talk about in other formats. Here is one of the original trailers for the film:

"Planet of the Apes" starred Charlton Heston. It was not the only film Heston had in release that year. He also starred in "Will Penny", a western. It is a stark, realistic film in which he portrays an aging cowboy who hires on to ride the boundaries of a ranch over the winter but instead finds love with a woman he is supposed to have evicted from the cabin she and her son are living in on a remote part of the ranch. Also starring Joan Hackett and Donald Pleasance, "Will Penny" is a wonderful film, one of the first Westerns I ever saw that I really liked. Here's the trailer:

Steve McQueen also had two films out in 1968. The first out was "The Thomas Crown Affair", a bank heist film that starred McQueen and Faye Dunaway. McQueen plays a rich man who plans and hires a crew to carry out a bank robbery just for the fun of it, to see if he can do it - and if he can get away with it. Dunaway is the insurance investigator who goes after him - in more ways than one. Here is a scene from the middle of the movie, after Dunaway's character has started playing both sides of the street, so to speak:

Later in the year came "Bullitt", the movie with what I consider the best car chase scene in the history of film. In this film, McQueen is on the right side of the law, playing a police detective who has gotten caught up in a political game that he isn't altogether sure he wants to be involved in. For a lot of people, "Bullitt" is all about the big chase scene. Here is the scene after the chase:

And then there was "Romeo and Juliet". Another good film. This is the Franco Zeffirelli version, the first time the Shakespeare tragedy had been filmed with actors playing the title roles who were near the ages the characters were actually supposed to be. I was twelve at the time, so of course I cried through the whole movie the first time I saw it. Which, of course, meant that I had to go see it again so that I could actually see the thing. I've seen it many times since, and it hasn't lost its appeal. Here is the first meeting between Romeo and Juliet:

There just isn't enough room to show clips and/or trailers from all the good movies that came out in 1968. And that is a good thing, really - it's nice to know that there's just one year of movies that could take awhile to explore fully. So, my advice to you on the first Movie Monday of 2014 is to go find a movie from 1968 to watch...and then another one...and then another one. There's enough there to keep you busy for quite a while.

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