What's new, Pussy Ballou? Directors got The Knack and they don't need Help!
Michener on movies
It isn’t every December that you sit down to assess the year’s crop of films and realize that there’s been a revolution in movie-making. Movies today are fun, far-out, “too much,” and above all fashionable. For instance, the star of 1965 was not that tancolored beauty Ursula Andress, or sandy-haired Michael Caine, or any other performer however delectable or talented, but a funny-looking lamp.
Movie for movie, scene for scene, no mere human being can match the number of appearances of that bigshaded kandy - kolored, stained - glass thing — the Tiffany lamp. It turned up everywhere from the dusty contemporary hick town of Billy Wilder’s Kiss Me Stupid to the high-class green baize card caves of Norman Jewison’s Cincinnati Kid. Movie - makers have always tried to show the people what they want to see, and this year they wanted Tiffany’s — the camp lamp.
I liked a lot more of this year’s crop than the traditional 10 a critic is allowed, but I’ve managed to whittle my list of favorites down to a dozen.
HELP! may not be the best movie of the year, but in a way this colored comic-strip Beatles comedy was the most representative. Here gathered into one funny bag is almost everything new in the movies of 1965: the preoccupation with pop culture, the use of sharp advertising gimmicks, the tenderness for far-out spoof.
WHAT’S NEW PUSSYCAT? offers a year’s supply of the only typical 1965 element missing from Help! and that’s a fascination with sex and psychiatrists. I was far from helpless with laughter at the sight of Peter Sellers as a mad head-shrinker in a fright wig chasing a batty bandwagon of beauties who in turn were chasing Peter O’Toole who himself was after professional help from Peter Sellers. But while many pictures I preferred at first sight have faded away, this camped-up version of Pop Goes the Weasel is pretty unforgettable. And that’s a kind of best.
JULIET OF THE SPIRITS is the first color feature of Italy’s most sensational director, Federico Fellini, and also his first attempt to come to terms with the emancipation of the female, Italian-style. Net result: the most eloquent tribute (in spite of itself) to the attractions and mysteries of the feminine principle ever filmed. And come to think of it it’s quite possible that the secret of this success is Fellini’s essential failure to understand women.
THE KNACK-AND HOW TO GET IT ÍS
about three young Englishmen, their
advances, approaches and attitudes to girls in general, and to the evergreen Rita Tushingham in particular. It’s a wacky farce about what my old (outdoors) camp used to call coyly “beegee-arring” (or boy-girl relationships). It takes, in fact, a far more mature look at sex than Pussycat. Richard Lester turns this material into the most enjoyable and significant comedy since Divorce /talian-Style, and certainly deserved his first prize at Cannes this year.
THE PUMPKIN EATER is a convincing picture about the conflicts within the modern woman, and thanks to that explosive actress Anne Bancroft, one of the year’s most powerful dramas. She paints a seering portrait of the wife of a film-maker (Peter, as in the nursery rhyme, Finch) and mother of uncounted children who is trembling on the brink of madness. If you think that I’m exaggerating the importance of the battle of the sexes theme this year, just remember How To Murder Your Wife, Casanova 70, A Very Special Favor, Sex And The Single Girl, or even (shudder) The Sandpiper.
DARLING deserves a pat on the back, while we’re still on the feminine front. In style the picture may be a left-over from the British documentary school, but its cool model heroine (Julie Christie) seems to me the most truly contemporary type in a yearful of females. Eager, charming, obliging, and impulsive, her tragedy is simple: she doesn’t understand who she is, might be, or ought to be.
CAT BALLOU features Jane Fonda as the gun-toting leader of a gang of outlaws. It’s a role that might once have been given to the aggressive Barbara Stanwyck type. But Jane Fonda is guilefully feminine in this delicious spoof of a Western, and somehow that seems perfectly appropriate for a year where career women took to wearing baby-doll dresses. The real star, however, is Lee Marvin as a has-gone gunfighter — in a send-up that’s already considered classic.
MAJOR DUNDEE is the year’s only Western of any consequence, and even this one is badly scarred by one of those baffling private wars between director (Sam Peckinpah) and producer (Harold Hecht). But it is at least a personal triumph for Charlton Heston, who proves again he’s the only saddle-rider under 50 who can embody the old ideals of honor and justice for the cynical 1960s.
ZORBA THE GREEK stumbles over the trip-wire of reverence — in this case reverence for lack of reverence. But here Anthony Quinn as old man lifeforce saves the day.
NOTHING BUT A MAN is one of the year’s few “cause” films that didn’t drown in its own good intentions. The virtue of this rare little film is to take it for granted that the white man is unfair and go on from there to show in strictly human terms how one Negro couple’s marital problems are
complicated by the hostility surrounding them.
KING RAT is another exceptional film. Just when it seemed that nothing more could be said about men in prison camps — the ultimate in hostile societies — along comes Bryan Forbes with this masterful study of men struggling to survive, just to survive, when there is no way to survive without diddling your fellows. King Rat is as shocking as anything turned out by Hitchcock or his admirers, but it goes beyond horror to the haunting implication that man must become a beast in such a hell.
THE IPCRESS FILE is just the picture to see after King Rat since, like all secret agent stories, it’s based on the optimistic viewpoint that rats have their uses. James Bond survives because he is a rat. That, after all, is what he’s paid for. His far-fetched exploits with guns and girls are as reassuring as they are entertaining since we know we’ll win with a grin. The Ipcress File provides a change of face with Michael Caine as a bespectacled secret agent trying to plug the British brain drain. Caine turns out to be an even more reassuring character. He wins for our side despite corrupt bosses, ruthless enemies, and his own basic disinterest. What more could we ask for?
Finally, here’s a short list of the major flops — the big-money movies that somehow missed the technical revolution and forgot to be fashionable. The Agony and the Ecstasy, featuring Charlton Heston playing the artist Michelangelo as a pretentious bore, was the year’s most expensive disaster. Stanley Kramer’s Ship of Fools was the year’s biggest disappointment. Its weakness was that it set out to bury racial prejudice by provoking hatred for all Germans. And in the category of Tonstant Cwitic Fwowing Up, not all the winsomeness of Julie Andrews nor all the scenic glories of the Alps could prevent The Sound of Music from falling flat on its pious face. WENDY MICHENER
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