Movie Theaters in the 60's were the most splendid places of all. They were dark like arcades with lots of lights and movie posters everywhere. Compared to the airport/warehouse feel of theaters today, the 60's offered us one of the greatest times to be had for less than a buck. In fact, going to a movie theater could have been considered a good night on the town.
Today's culture has the movie theater experience as "get 'em in, and get 'em out fast" ambience. Everything feels "temporary" as if a person is only supposed to be there for the movie and nothing else. There are no double features at the mainstream cineplexes, and the refreshments are completely out the roof cost wise. Back in the 60's, theaters had accommodating prices for their refreshments, and a sturdy confidence in their customers and their products. Sure, you could sneak in a candy bar, or box of jujubes, but the fresh hot popcorn was irresistible. There was no doubt that you were more than likely going to end up in the snack bar, for it was, after all, a big part of the experience. The theaters were comfortable and ultimately inviting. When you left a theater for the evening, you knew you were leaving something great.
Be they good, bad, excellent, or horrible, the 60's gave us a fantastic lineup of classic films that reside in many peoples' hearts today. I find many of these classics unforgettable, and I'm also proud that some of them live on today as favorites among new generations. The on/off screen turbulence of Richard Burton & Elizabeth Taylor was almost a requirement for 60's film viewing. As a kid, their movies bored me to tears, but as I grew older I began to appreciate them more. The comedic antics of the king Jerry Lewis were very popular with me, and I couldn't wait for one of his movies to hit town, or the local TV channel. I remember that when I was young, my two favorites were: "The Delicate Delinquent" and "Visit to a Strange Planet"."Lawrence of Arabia" filled an entire screen with magnificence. Ladies admired the handsome looks of Peter O'Toole" who starred as the character of T.E. Lawrence. Actors come and go, but the heavyweights of the 40's, 50's & 60's era created a timeless legacy.
James Bond films were strictly prohibited for me. I was not permitted to go to the theaters to see them (the lingeried women and references to sex). Therefore, I missed out on the big screen presence of Bond, but with all the toys and promotions, I lived James Bond in other ways. The same misfortune befell me when it came time to see "A Hard Day's Night" as it was billed with "From Russia With Love" so I lost out.
Some of these great movies are now endowed with a unique lexicon of unforgettable phrases that are still popular today. Though Clint Eastwood films would give us unforgettable dialoguing, the reigning champ of movie phrases would probably have to be:
"What we have here is a failure to communicate."
Who could ever forget 1967's "Cool Hand Luke"? Our hero Lucas Jackson was a true rebel without a cause; he sought to defy authority-any authority-and take on the hardest to beat institutions imaginable. Paul Newman scratched his name into the very core of our intellect in the great film period of the 60's. "Cool Hand Luke" pole vaulted the careers of George Kennedy and Strother Martin who would become a mega-superstar character actor. Paul gave us some other masterpieces as well: "Hud", "Hombre", and "Harper" One more "H" movie is a question on the game Trivial Pursuit, so I won't give away the answer by listing it here! "The Miracle Worker" (1962) provided an opportunity for a 15 year old Patty Duke to win an Academy Award.
1960's "Psycho" was probably one of the first life-altering movies with a profound, permanent effect. My Mom had sworn off taking a shower forever after having seen it. It wasn't like something she'd read about people being too afraid in the shower; movie press wasn't as available to us then; the best one could hope for was a newspaper review, or wait for a popular magazine to pick it up. The movie literally terrified her and she has refused to take showers ever since. Alfred Hitchcock proved his genius by offering us a glimpse of pure horror. Certain steps were taken to be sure that the audience was always at the disadvantage, never comfortable, and always guessing. He accomplished this by first killing off his lead star early in the movie! Next, a nail-biting stuttering performance by Anthony Perkins, salted with a brutal soundtrack of the harshest violins imaginable was added. Finally, bring in two more characters whose future we are never certain of (since what happened to Janet Leight), and with an ending that has almost zero resolution, you have a movie that is pure psycho from beginning to end. As a viewer, we trusted Alfred. As a champion director, he pulled the rug right out from under us. The end result: "Psycho".
Gregory Peck once said that on his headstone he'd like it to read: "I played Atticus Finch in 'To Kill a Mockingbird'". It was perhaps his greatest performance among so many. My personal favorite Gregory Peck movie wavers between "The Big Country" and "Roman Holiday".
As a kid, I remember being terrified by the Gorilla hunters in 1968's "Planet of the Apes" Their long hair, black leather and piercing evil stares made me freeze in my tracks. On screen, I think I even stopped breathing while they were on. I loved this movie so much I actually went twice to see it at the local theater. At the time, the theater was not close and required transportation and planning, so seeing it twice was a big statement. My friends and I were equally spellbound by the amazement of the whole thing. We saw it on a double bill with "Fantastic Voyage".
1969 was a year where the film world seemed to have gone mad. A daring, highly-provocative film of unmentionable subject matter appeared on theater marquees. Movie goers were further jolted when the X-rated feature won the Academy Award for best picture! Directed with guts by England's John Schlesinger, the movie made full use of "stolen shots" (the technique of filming from a hidden location, ie a van, to capture everyday scenes without using hordes of 'extras'). Other filming techniques such as roving cameras, shooting from floor-level, and washed out memories of Texas, provided a certain intimacy, while at the same time giving us a feeling of being hopelessly lost in a lost world. New York City has rarely looked grittier, meaner, and winter cold as it has in this movie. "Midnight Cowboy" was, and still is, a masterpiece of character study adapted quite well from the novel by (my favorite author) James Leo Herlihy. The plot is a no-brainer, typical of author Herlihy; it's what happens in between that is fascinating and heartbreaking. In a brief summation in case you're the one who hasn't seen this movie :) , the plot is as follows: A social misfit cowboy from Texas decides to take his handsome looks and body to New York City to "service" rich women. In reality, much, much more transpires instead, and nothing he had planned on came to pass.
Filming a book like "Midnight Cowboy" was indeed a very dangerous and tricky proposition in the 60's, but expert handling pulled it off. The movie benefits from outstanding performances by everybody, a lonely and haunting soundtrack, and late 60's period detail that is almost textbook example of the avant garde-psychedelic New York underground. The good news was that the movie was relieved of its X rating and moved down to an R position.