Five Great Films of the 1960s You Should See

A storming decade for cinema, here are just five favourites to get the ball rolling.
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A storming decade for cinema, here are just five favourites to get the ball rolling.

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Midnight Cowboy – (1969) John Schlesinger.  I’m not a fan of Dustin Hoffman. I hate The Graduate, Rain Man is worse for his performance and Captain Hook, well, the less said about that the better.  He has, however, put in a few decent performances over his career, 1978’s Straight Time is a stand out as is Midnight Cowboy.  The role of “city mouse” Ratso Rizzo lends itself to Hoffman’s talent for the mechanics of acting and he plays it very well against a frankly wooden Jon Voight as “country mouse” Joe Buck, fresh in from the South with the intention of hustling rich randy ladies. John Barry’s music creates an atmosphere that makes your head spin, from the incredible harmonica theme tune, to psychedelic hippy parties via Animal Magic themed Florida fantasies.  The score is probably one of the best ever.  It’s largely a story of desperation and how harsh a city New York can be if you are down on your luck.  It’s also a New York that no longer exists, swept away by Rudi Giuliani forever.  The condemned building where Ratso and Joe squatted is probably a trading office with a Starbucks on the ground floor.

The Games (1969) – Michael Winner.  I admit it I think Michael Winner made some decent films back in the day. He does seem to have morphed into an odious freeloading arsehole in the last three decades, but this along with Chato’s Land, Hannibal Brooks, The Mechanic, The Big Sleep and even the first Death Wish are all decent films.  When you watch The Games (and good luck finding it, as it’s just not available anywhere) you wonder why Michael Crawford didn’t do more films, he’s really good in this.  I mean, he can’t sing for shit but I guess someone was paying him too much for Phantom to bother making the effort.  Anyway, the film follows four marathon runners in training for the Olympics, Crawford is a young milkman trained by Stanley Baker, Ryan O’Neill is an arrogant US college champion, Charles Aznavour plays a former winner coming out of retirement and Sunny Pintubi is a talented Aussie Aboriginal. It’s very much like an understated Chariots of Fire and I bet Colin Welland watched this a few times before they sat down to pen his Oscar winner.

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Kes - (1969) Ken Loach.  When people say about films “oh you should read the book” and “it’s not a patch on the book”, I often think “yeah yeah, whatever, the film took 90 minutes to watch and I enjoyed it. I don’t have two weeks to dedicate to the same story, knackers to the book”. With Kes, the films doesn’t leave too much out, as the book is less than a centimetre thick and would take one or two nights sat in bed to get through so it’s well worth the effort even if books are not your thing.  Barry Hines’ “A Kestrel for a Knave” is a beautifully simple piece of work, it’s almost perfect in every way.  It, and the film, chart the last schooldays of Billy Casper a “weedy twat” (according to his tough older half brother Judd) living on a Barnsley council estate where fish and chips and a night in with a family is his idea of a dream. Billy is unsure as to what he wants to do after leaving school, aside from knowing he has no desire to go down the mine. But when he rescues and trains a Kestrel hatchling, we see a lad with his first real interest in anything at all. If you compare Ken Loach’s use of improvisation with say Shane Meadows, you can see here that Loach takes far more care to match the subject to the performer.  The headmaster, Mr Gryce, was played by Bob Bowes who was a headmaster in Castleford and his lines were his almost entirely. In contrast, Meadows' tend to ask actors to improvise and I think it shows.

The Seven Faces of Dr Lao (1964) – George Pal.  Tony Randall will probably be best remembered for the TV Version of the Odd Couple with Jack Klugman (of Quincy ME fame, you know the lazy bastard coroner who let his assistant Sam do all the work), which was arguably the equal to the Matthau / Lemmon film version.  He might also be remembered for being the voice of the chief Gremlin in Gremlins 2: The New Batch, but his finest hour on film has to be as Dr Lao and his many incarnations. It’s a fairly standard tale of crooked businessmen in the west trying to rip off the townsfolk as the railroad cometh, you get the drift, but instead of a lone gunslinger with a sense of justice or a band of charismatic hired hands we get a strange Chinese circus owner who saves the day.  The scene with Dr Lao’s Pan in particular is quite astonishing.  I think when a film takes you beyond your own imagination that’s when they stand out and this certainly does.

Shenandoah (1965) – Andrew V. McLaglen.   The Anderson family, of which James Stewart’s Charlie is the head, are pretty much the Sweden of the Civil War.  Their farm is smack bang in the middle of it all and as head of the family he feels it is not their war and you can sympathise somewhat as he has seven sons to lose. What is a little odd is that he feels it's not his war mainly because he keeps no slaves, yet his new son-in-law (Doug McClure) fights for the South. This being 1965 aside, how can you warm to a man who is OK with everyone else owning their fellow human beings so long as they don’t bother him about it?  The Anderson’s get dragged into the war as their youngest goes missing, the eldest is murdered and when Jimmy Stewart’s eyes narrow you know some shit is going to go down.   Think The Searchers with a bit of Little House on the Prairie thrown in.  It’s a long film but well made and easy to watch, Stewart is excellent as ever and John Wayne’s lad Patrick appears as one of the sons and disgraces no-one.

Almost made it:  The Ipcress File, Heroes of Telemark & Ring of Bright Water (what can I say, I like cute otters and Scottish Highland scenery).

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