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The Art of EL DORADO

29 Jun

50 years ago today, EL DORADO opened in New York City. It was the next-to-last film directed by Howard Hawks and it starred John Wayne and Robert Mitchum. I didn’t see it in 1967; I had to wait till it came back as part of a double feature with William Wyler’s last movie, THE LIBERATION OF L.B. JONES, in 1970, shown at the Earl Theater on 161st Street in the Bronx, just a block away from Yankee Stadium. It’s something of a follow-up to Hawks’ earlier western, RIO BRAVO (1959), which had a similar situation of a small band of lawmen holding a powerful prisoner and fending off attempts by the prisoner’s army of gunslingers to free him. In both films, one of the lawmen is a drunk and has to sober up fast when all hell breaks loose. I wrote about RIO BRAVO in my Dean Martin Centennial piece and I’ll write more about EL DORADO in my upcoming Robert Mitchum Centennial piece, slated for August 6, and in an upcoming piece on the best films of 1967. RIO BRAVO is arguably the better film, offering more layered characters and focusing less on plot mechanics than on character relationships and interactions. It’s a more complex, serious film while EL DORADO is more light-hearted and entertaining. RIO BRAVO is more demanding and, ultimately, more satisfying, but I’ve seen EL DORADO much more often (about ten times to RIO BRAVO’s four or five). It has more clever scenes and imaginative bits of action and great chemistry among its group of lead actors (Wayne, Mitchum, James Caan, Arthur Hunnicutt, Charlene Holt). It also introduces the drunk character (Mitchum) when he’s sober and in full command of his faculties, so we know what he’s like before he sinks into an alcoholic daze. In RIO BRAVO, we just have to accept Wayne’s word that the drunk (Dean Martin) was once his best man with a gun, since we only see him in his drunk phase for roughly the first half of the movie.

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James Bond in Japan: 50th Anniversary of YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE

13 Jun

50 years ago today, on June 13, 1967, YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (1967), the fifth of the James Bond films starring Sean Connery, was released in the U.S. It’s one of my favorite films and I’ve seen it over 30 times, probably more than any other film in my lifetime, and that includes WEST SIDE STORY (1961), THE WILD BUNCH (1969), KING KONG (1933), CASABLANCA (1943) and the second Bond film, FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1963), all of which I’ve seen close to or more than 30 times. Back then I had to wait to see YOLT until it came to a neighborhood theater in the Bronx in September of that year, but it would be the first Bond film I’d see during its initial release (I’d seen the others in reissues) and I was psyched for it from the beginning of its ad campaign. I remember visiting Times Square sometime that spring and seeing the massive billboard for the film adorning the full block of Broadway from 45th to 46th Streets atop the marquees of the Astor and Victoria theaters. The billboard had three distinct images from the film, all featuring Bond in unlikely poses, but promising action, sex and spectacle. Here’s a shot of that billboard:

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Frank Sinatra Centennial

12 Dec

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Frank Sinatra would have turned 100 today, December 12, 2015. He died at the age of 82 in 1998. For at least the last 55 years of his life, he was an iconic figure in American show business, starting out in the early 1940s as a “crooner” who sang popular tunes with big bands for audiences of wildly enthused teenage girls known as “bobby-soxers.” He starred in film musicals, but branched out in his 30s to dramatic roles (MIRACLE OF THE BELLS) and, after a career slump in the early 1950s, made a remarkable comeback in FROM HERE TO ETERNITY, playing the role of Maggio, a defiant, ill-fated young soldier in the days before Pearl Harbor, and winning an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, launching a film career with renewed vigor that turned him into one of the biggest movie stars in the country in the 1950s and ’60s. During all this time, he made a series of best-selling record albums and cemented his reputation as one of the finest American singers of the 20th century, continually challenging himself and trying new things. His private life kept the gossip columns busy as his love life went through ups and downs and he became renowned for wild antics with a group of show biz buddies known as the Rat Pack, who hung out with him, performed with him and made movies with him. Long after he phased out his movie career, he continued making Top Ten recordings and performing live all over the country and the world.

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1967: Action Cinema’s Greatest Year

23 Sep

45 years ago this month, I went to see the fifth James Bond movie, YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (1967), when it finally came to the Fairmount, one of my neighborhood theaters. It was a single feature, very unusual for this theater, but interest was so high they didn’t have to book a second film (although other theaters in the neighborhood ran it with second features). They’d even raised the prices for this showing so I wound up paying kids’ price even though I was 14 (I was short enough for my age to get away with it) and sat with my 12-year-old sister Claire in the children’s section, presided over by a matron in a white dress and white gloves and wielding a flashlight. This film marked the first time American audiences got to see ninja action in a mainstream studio film. We’d never even heard of ninjas before this film. It was also the first time most kids got to see people fight with samurai swords in an action scene in a big-budget feature film. When the climactic assault by Bond and the ninjas on SPECTRE’s volcano rocket base began, the crowd in the theater went completely nuts. We’d never seen anything like this before and kids were roaring and applauding and cheering and jumping up and down like I’d never seen an audience react before. (Two little wise guys behind me simply exclaimed “Ooooh!” in unison every time something happened.)

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Al Capone – Three Film Versions

7 Apr

Al Capone was a famous gangster who dominated bootlegging in Chicago during much of the Prohibition era in the 1920s, despite a multitude of rivals whose opposition led to open warfare in the streets, culminating in the infamous “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre” in a Clark Street garage in 1929.  I have stills from three different movies about Capone, so I decided to watch all three to compare the portrayals and then consult a book I have on him to see how accurate the movies were. I don’t have DVDs of the films, only VHS copies, so I didn’t get any screen grabs. The films are: AL CAPONE (1959), THE ST. VALENTINE’S DAY MASSACRE (1967), and CAPONE (1975).

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