1960 in Movies

Movie reviews written for movies released theatrically in 1960.

1. Psycho, directed by Alfred Hitchcock (10/10*)

This is an iconic film, with one of the great plot twists in history, that is marred by the denouement (only slightly). The older I get, the less I love it, though.

2. The Bad Sleep Well, directed by Akira Kurosawa (9/10)

This is one of the greatest loose (I stress ‘loose’) adaptations of Hamlet you will ever see. At this remove I cannot remember the thing that put me off about the ending.

3. Breathless, directed by Jean Luc Godard (9/10)

I didn’t write down my thoughts at the time. This is a landmark film that has been perhaps slightly overrated given that it was more shocking in its unconventionality than it was truly great. I prefer the later, crazier Godard, but I recognize how world-changing this must have been for so many (particularly American) audiences.

4. The Iceman Cometh, directed by Sidney Lumet (9/10)

The best film version I have seen of one of the great plays of the 20th century.

5. The Entertainer, directed by Tony Richardson (9/10)

I have to say that I have been somewhat of an Olivier sceptic most of my film-viewing life. I feel like his Shakespeare performances are all very fine but pretty traditional and most of his work I am familiar with – from the tail end of his career – never really made me feel like he was a great actor. I feel like I was more into his direction of Henry V than I was into his performance.

Anyway, this film changed my mind. This has to be one of the performances of the decade; his character is so foreign to my conception of “Laurence Olivier” that he was virtually unrecognizable to me. And the film around him is also very strong; it features all sorts of relationships that likely would have never appeared in a contemporary American film: a daughter who has to look after her father, a husband and wife who are barely married, a whole family who addresses each other by their first names. And there is a real, healthy dose of reality that would be missing from such a film too: this film doesn’t want to make us happy – despite its title – rather it wants to show us the perils of ambition and of getting one’s career mixed up with one’s family life.

6. L’Avventura, directed by Michelangelo Antonioni (8/10)

It kills me that I have lost my review of this. I feel like it was actually eloquent. Not having seen the film in a few years, I don’t believe I can do it justice right now.

7. Classe tous riques, directed by Claude Sautet (8/10)

A unique take on the gangster film. Read the review of Classe tous risques.

8. La Dolce Vita, directed by Federico Fellini (8/10)

Ok, so I understand (I think) why La Dolce Vita is important. But a masterpiece? This film could have been half as long and could have had the same effect.

In the end, I listen to and read all the glowing commentary. And then I watch Fellini’s films and I’m almost dumbfounded. It’s amazing what these Fellini-lovers think of as great imagery: ooh, there’s a giant stone hand and it’s holding a torch. Wow, my mind was just blown… Or, wow, it’s a helicopter carrying a statue of Jesus. That’s just crazy! Seriously, what’s with that? I don’t get it.

And then there’s the “humour.”

Now, I understand why the film is respected. There’s the “frank” sexuality, there’s the neat shots (though not as many as I thought I would see), there’s the standard 1960s Italian art film fascination with shallow people (and standard Italian whacked out music), there’s the structure of the film, there’s the sets (I have a feeling if I were obsessed with set design I’d love this film, and many Fellini films, but alas, I am not), and there are lots of interesting things to make it “important” but not amazing.

And there are little things here and there that I just think wreck it (aside from the 3 hour length…yes, I really really really want to spend three hours with a gossip columnist…). For example: some casting. The guy who’s supposedly playing the “obnoxious American” character is perhaps the most Greek looking man I’ve ever seen. He seriously looks like one of those busts of Plato. What the fuck were they thinking when they made that decision? Also, though I know the technology wasn’t what it is today, the paintings that pose for vistas are just brutal. I mean, you’re Fellini and you’re from Italy, couldn’t you get some clout to actually shoot in those locations Maybe it’s just part of that imagery…Who knows? I could go on and on, but I’ll stop.

Anyway, I have a feeling this film is very much of it’s time and I might have appreciated it more had I been watching it in the early 1960s. But yes, it keeps me thinking that Fellini is perhaps the most critically overrated director ever. And yet I keep getting convinced to watch his films…what’s wrong with me?

9. The Magnificent Seven, directed by John Sturges (7/*10)

This is more of an iconic film than a great one. It’s lacking in ambiguity and I can’t help but think I wouldn’t like it so much if I watched it now.

10. Village of the Damned, directed by Wolf Rilla (7/10)

Well, it’s dated, but it’s still better than most of the horror films of the era. Read the review. of Village of the Damned.

11. Inherit the Wind, directed by Stanley Kramer (7/10)

This is almost a great movie, but it was made by a populist who just couldn’t help himself. Not wanting to piss people off, the ending offers a ridiculous, vague “Just because I’m on the side of reason doesn’t mean I’m not a Christian!” cop-out so that liberal America isn’t too offended.

12. The Apartment, directed by Billy Wilder (6*/10)

This is a funny movie, and I think 6 is too harsh, but I really don’t understand how it’s a masterpiece.

13. The House of Usher, directed by Roger Corman (6/10)

This is not as good as the original feature-length film, but it is still unique and an interesting viewing experience, like other Corman movies of this era.

14. Black Sunday aka The Mask of Satan, directed by Mario Bava (6/10)

I’m sad to say I saw the American version of this, which was cut of its most extreme horror, apparently. Even so, it’s still got some pretty gruesome effects for 1960 (to my knowledge) and that’s the attraction here. The story itself is pretty rote – doctors stumble upon a creepy, cursed castle – and though everything is pretty strongly gothic, I feel like the Corman Poe films of the era handled this stuff a little better.

But it’s atmospheric and even the tamer American version is relatively daring, so that’s something.

15. Spartacus, directed by Stanley Kubrick (6*/10)

I saw this movie prior to my Stanley Kubrick phase, which means a really long time ago.

16. The Time Machine, directed by George Pal (5/10)

Okay for what it is.

17. The Alamo, directed by John Wayne (3*/10)

Watched during my John Wayne phase, I retroactively changed the rating because I have caught bits and pieces of it again over the years and the casting is terrible. Still probably not fair.

18. The Loves of Hercules, directed by Carlo Ludovico Bragalia (3/10)

I watched this through Mystery Science Theater 3000. It’s an incomprehensible mix of various things from the Greek myths, with an absolutely terrible lead performance by Mickey Hargitay, who is like a far worse proto-Arnold.

As you’d expect, the production values are pretty bad, though they are certainly better than some movies with “All Time Bad” reputations. (There clearly was a budget, just not a particularly big one.)

A pretty bad movie, but certainly not among the absolute worst movies I’ve ever seen.

18. Ein Toter hing im Netz (Horrors of Spider Island), directed by Fritz Bottger (1/10)

Horrors of Spider Island is comparatively better than some terrible movies if only because the dialogue is less ridiculous. But that’s probably the only reason. Otherwise, there’s no excuse for this movie either.

This is one of those movies made to titillate back in the day (i.e. they tried to show as much flesh as possibly allowed). There are lots of scantily clad women (who probably weren’t English speakers, judging by the bad dubbing). They run and dance a lot – there’s a party sequence that goes on for ages where you wonder what happened to the “horror” of the island.

Now, there’s a general rule in insect movies: go big or go home. The giant spider of Spider Island is the size of a small dog. I mean, come on. And the “horror” that results is super lame (though it’s really funny to see him up against a plain black background in some sound-stage somewhere). Spoiler alert!!!

One other quibble: at least in Mesa of Lost Women there was a terrible fake explosion to the defeat the baddie, in Horrors of Spider Island the bad guy just drowns in a marsh. Incidentally, to illustrate the lack of quality of this movie, Yugoslavia was posing as the south Pacific or the Indian Ocean.