Greatest Films of the 1960s
Greatest Films of the 1960s


Greatest Films of the 1960s
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1960

Title Screen Film Genre(s), Title, Year, (Country), Length, Director, Description

The Apartment (1960), 125 minutes, D: Billy Wilder
A Best Picture-winner - a classic, caustically-witty, satirically cynical, melodramatic comedy about corporate politics - and a bitter-sweet romance. In a bid to get ahead, an ambitious, lowly, misguided and young insurance clerk C. C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon) generously lent out the keys to his NYC apartment to his company's higher-up, philandering executives for romantic, adulterous, extra-marital trysts, including to his callous married boss J. D. Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray). Baxter's own budding crush toward his building's elevator operator - melancholy, and vulnerable Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine) turned ugly when he discovered he had been outsmarted - she was the latest conquest of his boss - and had attempted suicide in his apartment. Baxter's next-door, philosophizing doctor/neighbor Dr. Dreyfuss (Jack Kruschen) convinced Baxter to confront the craven ethics of his superiors - and he won the affections of Fran.

L'Avventura (1960, It./Fr.) (aka The Adventure), 145 minutes, D: Michelangelo Antonioni
The first part of a trilogy, followed by La Notte (1961, It./Fr.) (aka The Night) and L'Eclisse (1962, It./Fr.) (aka The Eclipse).

Black Sunday (1960, It.) (aka La Maschera del Demonio, or The Mask of Satan), 87 minutes, D: Mario Bava

Les Bonnes Femmes (1960, Fr./It.) (aka The Good Time Girls), 100 minutes, D: Claude Chabrol
Chabrol's film was o
ne of the French New Wave (Nouvelle Vague) films of its time (although never released in the US), and set in Paris (although photographed as drab and dingy). The dark and cynical melodrama followed the exploits of four "good time girls," all shop-girl clerks in an electrical appliance store, as they sought love, excitement, freedom, and escape at nighttime. However, each one had very different aspirations in life. The four included carefree party-girl Jane (Bernadette Lafont), aspiring night-club singer Ginette (Stéphane Audran), and marriage-fixated/engaged and social-climbing Rita (Lucille Saint-Simon). The main protagonist, sweet, shy, demure and sensitive Jacqueline (Clotilde Joano), a hopeless and vulnerable romantic, was tragically drawn to a mysterious, black-leathered motorcyclist Andre (Mario David), who was stalking her. He was mistaken as her long-awaited Prince Charming and turned out to be her executioner.

A Bout De Souffle (1960, Fr.) (aka Breathless), 90 minutes, D: Jean-Luc Godard

BUtterfield 8 (1960), 109 minutes, D: Daniel Mann

La Dolce Vita (1960, It./Fr.) (aka The Sweet Life), 174 minutes, D: Federico Fellini

Elmer Gantry (1960), 146 minutes, D: Richard Brooks

Eyes Without a Face (1960, Fr./It.) (aka Les Yeux Sans Visage), 88 minutes, D: Georges Franju

Inherit the Wind (1960), 127 minutes, D: Stanley Kramer
This absorbing liberal "message" film portrayed the famous and dramatic courtroom Scopes "Monkey Trial" battle (in the sultry summer of 1925 in Dayton, Tennessee) between two famous lawyers (Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan), who heatedly argued both sides of the case. The film starred two major Oscar-winning giants and veterans of the cinema with remarkable career-high performances - Spencer Tracy (as Darrow- Henry Drummond) and Fredric March (as Bryan - Matthew Harrison Brady) - who had never before acted together in a film. Film-maker Stanley Kramer both produced and directed this film that modified and disguised the historical event by changing the names of the prototypical characters and making them fictional figures, and placing the action in fictional Hillsboro, Tennessee. Its story centered around the issue of evolution vs. creationism and the prosecution of 24 year-old Tennessee teacher John T. Scopes (in the film, Bert Cates played by Dick York) for violating state law by teaching the theory of evolution in a public school. [In fact, Scopes deliberately volunteered to challenge the Tennessee legislature's statutes and become the test case for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) by teaching theories that denied the Biblical story of the divine creation of man.] The film's title was taken from the Biblical book of Proverbs 11:29: "He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind." Kramer's film was also designed as a protest against the repressive thinking of the 50s McCarthy era. Much of the film's story (and dialogue), written into a screenplay by Nathan E. Douglas (Nedrick Young was the blacklisted screenwriter's real name) and Harold Jacob Smith, was based on the successful Broadway play (by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee) that first starred Paul Muni and Ed Begley. In the Tennessee town of Hillsboro, high school teacher Bertram Cates tested a state criminal statute that forbade the teaching of the theory of evolution. Three-time Presidential candidate and literal-fundamentalist Matthew Brady volunteered to prosecute the case. A media hoopla and hysterical frenzy was whipped up in the sweltering hot town by opposing forces during the 12-day trial. Cynical and sarcastic newspaper reporter E.K. Hornbeck (Gene Kelly cast against type) (portraying acid-penned writer/reporter H.L. Mencken for the Baltimore newspaper) was behind the selection of notorious agnostic Henry Drummond to defend the schoolteacher. At first, Drummond was frustrated by the bias implicit in the trial, so he summoned Brady to the stand to interrogate him about his literal interpretations of the Bible. Through intense questioning, Brady was forced to admit that the Bible could be interpreted non-literally. Brady's admission opened the door to the idea that evolution was consistent with Biblical teaching. In the end, the conservative jury convicted Cates (Drummond had requested that the plea be changed to "guilty"), while the Judge (Henry Morgan) (to avoid further controversy) leniently fined Cates only $100. As Brady desperately gave one final religious defense as everyone dispersed, he had a stroke, collapsed and died.

The Magnificent Seven (1960), 126 minutes, D: John Sturges
Director John Sturges' very popular, shoot-em-up western, with a memorable, Oscar-nominated score by Elmer Bernstein, was a westernized, 'updated' remake and adaptation of Akira Kurosawa's Japanese film epic The Seven Samurai (1954) about Samurai warrior-swordsmen that defended a 14th century village. The box-office "feel-good" hit inspired three sequels (1966, 1969, 1972) and a remake in 2016, and a late 1990s TV series. The ensemble film was mostly a character study of the seven demythologized gunslingers, all basically drifters who came together to serve as a vigilante force to protect a terrorized Mexican town and its oppressed peasant villagers from invading and pillaging bandits, led by gold-toothed Calvera (Eli Wallach). There was a mixed bag of motives for each of the gunfighters to accept the job - greed or fortune seeking (thoughts of a possible treasure), a chance at employment, to seek sanctuary or protection from the law, moral and social conscience issues, and just plain adventurism. The film made stars of many of its macho actors - members of a gun-slinging American outlaw band known as the 'magnificent seven.' The low-paid group of misfit, mercenary gunmen included Yul Brynner (as sensitive and reluctant black-clad Cajun leader Chris Adams concerned about social injustice), Steve McQueen (as easy-going gambler/drifter Vin Tanner), Charles Bronson (as Irish-Mexican wood-chopper Bernardo O'Reilly), James Coburn (as enigmatic, knife-throwing, enigmatic loner and cowpuncher Britt), Robert Vaughn (as dapper, fugitive gunman Lee), Horst Buchholz (as young, vulnerable and hot-tempered Chico from a peasant family who idolized Chris) and Brad Dexter (as greedy and cynical Harry Luck). During preparations for the showdown with the outlaws, the 'Seven" trained the villagers to defend themselves (by building a fortifications-wall and an entrapping drop-net), and also befriended the children - especially O'Reilly who became a beloved father figure. Even Chico fell in love with local peasant girl Petra (Rosenda Monteros). There were two initial deadly skirmishes with members of Calvera's marauding gang before the final confrontational shoot-out. The first to be fatally shot was Harry, followed by Lee, O'Reilly (who died in the arms of children), and finally Britt. Afterwards, only three of the seven were left -- Chico (who decided to remain in the village to marry Petra), Chris, and Vin, and the film concluded with Chris' pessimistic words to Vin as they passed the gravesite of their fallen companions: "The Old Man was right. Only the farmers won. We lost. We always lose."

Never on Sunday (1960, Greece/US) (aka Pote tin Kyriaki), 91 minutes, D: Jules Dassin

Peeping Tom (1960, UK), 109 minutes, D: Michael Powell

Psycho (1960), 109 minutes, D: Alfred Hitchcock
The greatest, most influential Hitchcock horror/thriller ever made and the progenitor of the modern Hollywood horror film, based on Robert Bloch's novel. A classic, low budget, manipulative, black and white tale that includes the most celebrated shower sequence ever made. Worried about marital prospects after a lunch tryst with her divorced lover (John Gavin), blonde real estate office secretary Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) embezzles $40,000 and flees, stopping at the secluded off-road Bates Motel, managed by a nervous, amateur taxidermist son named Norman (Anthony Perkins). The psychotic, disturbed "mother's boy" is dominated by his jealous 'mother', rumored to be in the Gothic house on the hillside behind the dilapidated, remote motel. The story includes the untimely, violent murder of the main protagonist early in the film, a cross-dressing transvestite murderer, insanity, a stuffed corpse, and Oedipal Freudian motivations.

Rocco and His Brothers (1960, It./Fr.) (aka Rocco e i Suoi Fratelli), 177 minutes, D: Luchino Visconti

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960, UK), 90 minutes D: Karel Reisz

Shoot the Piano Player (1960, Fr.) (aka Tirez Sur le Pianiste, or Shoot the Pianist), 80 minutes, D: François Truffaut

Sons and Lovers (1960, UK), 103 minutes, D: Jack Cardiff

Spartacus (1960), 185 minutes, D: Stanley Kubrick
Director Stanley Kubrick's somewhat dated, uneven yet magnificent historical costume (and sword and sandal) epic was adapted by openly-credited, blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (thereby breaking the abhorrent system) from left-leaning Howard Fast's 1952 fictionalized novel about a slave revolt in Rome between 73-71 BC. During the wide-screen Technicolored film's production, there was a change of directors early on (from Anthony Mann (famous for El Cid (1961)) to the young Stanley Kubrick, who wasn't permitted his usual directorial freedom, resulting in a decidedly un-Kubrick-like film) and rampant ego clashes amongst the actors. Although anachronistic in costuming and accents, and overly long with some 'wooden' acting, Spartacus remains one of the more beloved and intelligent gladiator films (and a model for Ridley Scott's Gladiator (2000)). At the time, with a budget of $12 million dollars, it was considered the most expensive Hollywood production, while ending up grossing only $1.84 million. In its story of Spartacus (Kirk Douglas), the title character was first introduced as a third-generation Thracian slave in the Libyan mines who was sold to slave trader Lentulus Batiatus (Best Supporting Actor award winning Peter Ustinov), and became under his training a skilled gladiator at Capua. He was forced, for pure entertainment's sake, to fight to the death and kill fellow gladiator/friend Draba (Woody Strode), a giant black man. Growing resentment forced Spartacus to kill his captor-owner and instigate a bold revolt among his fellow slaves. He was joined by his slave wife Varinia (Jean Simmons). He moved from town to town in the countryside and recruited freedom-fighting slaves along the way, threatening Rome itself and fueling a power struggle and in-fighting between two influential figures in the ruling class: the philosophical political leader and Roman Senator Lentulus Gracchus (Charles Laughton) and the power-hungry, cruel Roman general Marcus Licinius Crassus (Laurence Olivier). [Note: During production, the restrictive Hayes Code removed, among other things, homosexual innuendo and various depictions of gore (such as severed limbs). The 1991 re-release of Spartacus restored much of what was cut from the film, including the notorious bathhouse scene featuring the sexual advances of Crassus toward his attractive slave servant-poet Antoninus (Tony Curtis), with dialogue dubbed by Anthony Hopkins for the deceased Olivier: "Do you consider the eating of oysters to be moral and the eating of snails to be immoral?... My taste includes both snails and oysters." Antoninus was able to escape and join Spartacus' army.] Eventually, Spartacus' forces of 60,000 slaves were overwhelmed by the three armies of Crassus. Memorably powerful scenes included large scale battles with thousands of extras, and the very moving "I am Spartacus!" scene when captured slave Spartacus was protected from being exposed by other slaves claiming his identity. (Meanwhile, Varinia bore Spartacus' baby son, and was taken into Crassus' household as a slave, where he became desirous of her sexual favors. However, she remained steadfastly loyal.) The remaining 6,000 defeated slaves were marched to Rome under Crassus' orders, and crucified along the way on both sides of the 132 mile-long Appian Way between Capua and Rome. Following Crassus' forced duel-to-the-death between Antoninus and Spartacus that ended with Antoninus' mercy-killing, the victor was crucified outside of Rome. The disguised Varinia risked capture to show Spartacus his infant son before he perished.

The Sundowners (1960), 133 minutes, D: Fred Zinnemann

The Time Machine (1960), 103 minutes, D: George Pal

Two Women (1960, It./Fr.) (aka La Ciociara), 93/100 minutes, D: Vittorio De Sica

The Virgin Spring (1960, Swe.) (aka Jungfrukällan), 89 minutes, D: Ingmar Bergman
Set in medieval, 14th century Sweden. Wealthy and religious land-owning farmers Tore (Max von Sydow) and Märeta (Birgitta Valberg) have only one surviving child - innocent, vain, naive and virginal daughter Karin (Birgitta Pettersson). Her jealous step-sister, pregnant maid-servant Ingeri (Gunnel Lindblom), invokes a pagan curse upon Karin after praying to the Norse deity Odin. During a journey to the nearest village's church on the celebrated day of Our Lady of Virgins, Karin is assaulted by a group of goatherd brothers, two adults and an adolescent, and is ultimately raped and murdered. The crime is witnessed by Ingeri. The three find refuge at Tore's farm for food and shelter, where he learns of their deadly assault and avenges his daughter's murder. The same plot served as the basis for Wes Craven's horror film The Last House on the Left (1972).


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