LSD comes, spies go — but you can depend on classic comedy and good westerns
NOT A GREAT year at the movies, 1966, let's admit it straightaway. There were too many hangovers from last year — like the tail end of the spy series — and not enough new things happening on the way to the fade-out. It was a transitional year: camp passed its peak, and the psychedelic wave is still weak.
But it was a year of exceptionally good acting. There was the magic of Olivier in Othello, the surprise of Charlton Heston in Khartoum, the discovery of Lynn Redgrave in Georgy Girl, and the fine sadness of Rod Steiger in The Pawnbroker. There was also an unexpected revival 'in two time-honored American genres: the comedy and the western. Here’s my list of the year’s best:
□ The Appaloosa, by Canadian expatriate Sidney Furie, was the best of the Westerns (stronger than Texas Across The River, more original than The Professionals). Brando gives his most controlled performance in years as a poor son-of-a-gringo who goes to rescue his horse, and with it the white man’s honor, from a Mexican bandit. Furie is the first to turn the old Canadian hangup between English and American cultures into an advantage: The Appaloosa combines a British feeling for style and manners with that wide-open North American vigor. But the snow scenes are strictly from Canada.
□ The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming is not the best comedy of the year but it stands out in a lean period for good old American
slapstick. Naïve it may be, but it does take a cooler, funnier look at both sides of the cold war than any other Hollywood product, and it also made a star of Alan Arkin. Director Norman Jewison is another Canadian bringing something fresh to the Hollywood scene.
□ The Fortune Cookie is another offensively funny flic from Billy Wilder, who has the best nose in the business for what really smells in American society. Here he scores on marriage, divorce, bugging, racial guilt and the sport of out-conning the insurance companies. Walter Matthau leers into the lens with loathsome brilliance while Jack Lemmon gives him a run for his money, pirouetting behind him in a wheel-chair.
□ Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? is easily the most sensational film of the year. Marriage, the subject of the hour, takes a fantastic no-words-barred beating from playwright Edward Albee, director Mike Nichols, and the world’s most famous married lovers, Burton and Taylor.
□ Morgan! A Suitable Case For Treatment combines three of the year’s most popular themes: divorce, madness and old movies. Karel Reisz’s madcap comedy is so funny it hurts. Vanessa Redgrave plays the upper-class vamp and David Warner the mod Marxist who tries to bring out the beast in her. Trouble is, he thinks he’s King Kong but she doesn’t want to play Fay Wray all her life.
□ What’s Up Tiger Lily? Woody Allen, that’s what. His wild sub-version of a routine Japanese spy picture is the surprise hip hit of the year. Sure, he’s self-indulgent and dirty-minded, but at his best Allen is as oddly right and funny as a Freudian slip.
□ The Wild Angels, a tale of revenge and violent fun in a California motorcycle gang, is one of the first commercial pictures to show the direct influence of U.S. underground movies, most of which are too far-out for general distribution. This is a weaker brew than Scorpio Rising, its underground counterpart, but The Wild Angels is still strong enough meat to have been banned in the new Quebec.
□ Repulsion, enjoyable or not, is a
masterful combination of psychiatric study and horror-suspense. Roman Polanski has succeeded where Hitchcock failed, partly because his blonde leading lady, Catherine Deneuve, can act.
□ The Tenth Victim, Elio Petri’s ingenious combination of science-fiction and spy-adventure, marked the end of a trend. Ursula Andress, spies, and op-art decors have never been the same.
□ Doctor Zhivago should really have been on last year’s list; but, as so often happens, its American distributors didn’t release it in this part of their îo-called "domestic” market until Oscar-time. An adaptation of Pasternak’s novel of the Russian revolution, it was tanned in India for being anti-Comnunist and in Thailand for being pro-, tut it’s still the best epic around.
AS MIGHT be expected, it was a good year for bad movies — especially the kind of movie that fails grandly. There vas The Group, the most talented bitching session ever filmed, The Loved One, a suicidal comedy embalmed in its o/vn sick jokes, A Patch Of Blue, the tear-jerker about blindness, and Madame X, Lana Turner’s stinker to remember.
Foreign fields looked greener — as they always do, since we get only the best of the lot. For me, the best of those were Jean-Luc Godard's Pierrot Le Fou, Agnes Varda's Le Bonheur, Jan Kadar’s The Shop On Main Street, René Allio’s The Shameless Old Lady, and half of A Man And A Woman, by Claude Lelouch.
In Canada the outlook continues cloudy. The government is still trying to figure out what to do about the NFB, the CBC, and a film subsidy. A determined few produced some promising but not very satisfying feature films during 1966. My vote for the best Canadian film goes to all of Wojeck, the first truly popular, truly professional dramatic entertainment ever to cross the blips of the CBC.
Finally, a special award to directorproducer David Secter for the most enterprising self-promotion. Doug Leiterman loses only by default.
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.