1961 in movies

Movie reviews for movies released theatrically in 1961.

1. Yojimbo, directed by Akira Kurosawa (10/10)

Among the most influential westerns ever made. Even though it’s a samurai film. Read the review of Yojimbo.

2. Last Year at Marienbad, directed by Alain Renais (9/10)

I wrote this entirely unsatisfying “review” of this movie when I first watched it:

This is certainly a landmark film. It is about as far away from conventional narrative cinema as you can get. It’s beautiful to look at, and one can believe that if you locked on to every repeated phrase, you could spend days lost trying to figure out the meanings. I’m not sure there really is one. I think this is more of an extended dream sequence than anything else. As such it is fascinating, but it definitely won’t resonate with everyone. It’s sort of hard to know what to make of it.

The Malty Tasker is always asking me why I think this movie is great (or near-great) over beer. And because I am drinking I cannot really explain myself. And the above “review” doesn’t really clarify things. So, instead:

“A Defense of Last Year at Marienbad not having seen it in years”

This movie defies conventional movie analysis and probably angers most moviegoers, who want plot. Even now, when movies without conventional narratives are getting more and more common, most viewers probably require something resembling a conventional narrative. As such, this film is certainly unique and also, I would argue, influential (on people like David Lynch, Guy Maddin, etc.).

If this film seems utterly incomprehensible to you, we can at least ask of it, “is it art”? If you answer “no” I would like to know why. I think most of us can agree that it is indeed art, in the way that paintings are art.

So, if we agree that it is art, we can ask “is it good art?” I’m sure there is little agreement on this answer, but if your answer is no and your defense of that answer is “Because it’s boring” or “Because it’s pretentious” or something similarly terse, I think that you are copping out.

I think it is good – near-great – art, and I will tell you why.

  • It is influential: non-narrative and unconventional narrative cinema wouldn’t be where they are today without this film.
  • If you are in the right mood it is mesmerizing: The camera work itself is remarkable to follow. But think of it as a painting, only this painting moves, changes and has sound effects.
  • It destroys your idea of a what a feature film could / should be: see the comment above. What other feature from 1961 or earlier should perhaps be thought of as a living painting?
  • There is an incredible sense of place: I don’t know Marienbad but I know that palace now.
  • Like much abstract art, perhaps the value of the film is in as much as what you bring to it as what it brings to you: If this film made you angry, isn’t discovering why this film made you angry as valuable as watching a film that delights you? But there is obviously way more to it than that, because if you listen to the words, they’re sure to resound at some point.
  • Whether it is about anything or not is beside the point. Certainly part of the “point” of something like this is to challenge your idea of whether or not movies should be “about” things.
  • But I do think it is about something actually, and I can’t think of another movie that handles the subject so deeply, for lack of a better word. The film is about
    • escape, both physical and metaphorical: The rich of France and other European countries traveled to Marienbad year after year to escape their home life and to, they hoped, have experiences better than in their home country
    • dreams: they dreamed of their past trips to Marienbad and what the future trips would bring
    • memory: memory of such trips is incomplete and is confused with the – both conscious and subconscious – dreams of what could be at Marienbad, what could have been at Marienbad, and what might not have been at Marienbad
    • routine: why do these people return year after year to a place not their home when it never actually meets their memories, dreams or plans of escape?

So there you have it. Please remember I haven’t seen this film in years. And these thoughts were way more coherent when I was walking home before I tried to put them “on paper.”

3. Chronique d’un été – Paris 1960, directed by r Morin, Jean Rouch (9/10)

A landmark documentary. Read the review of Chronique d’un été.

4. Judgment at Nuremberg, directed by Stanley Kramer (9/10)

This film suffers from a slight lack of nuance (that’s a relative thing) but beyond that, this is about as good as it gets for 1960s trial films.

5. Il Posto, directed by Ermanno Olmi (8/10)

A pretty good neo realist film that is elevated by its excellent final shot. Read the review of Il Posto.

6. The Human Condition III: A Soldier’s Prayer (8/10)

Parts 5 and 6 of the film. I have reviewed as one movie: Read the review of The Human Condition.

7. The Hustler, directed by Robert Rossen (8/10)

Yet another movie where the review has gone missing. I apologize.

8. Through a Glass Darkly, directed by Ingmar Bergman (8/10)

A pretty good treatment of mental illness in a beautiful setting. Read the review of Through a Glass Darkly.

9. The Misfits, directed by John Huston (8/10)

I was worried about this one for some reason (*cough* Monroe). But I was actually pleasantly surprised. I can’t find the review though.

10. The Pit and the Pendulum, directed by Roger Corman  (8/10)

This is a pretty great film. There are some major issues (John Kerr being far and away the biggest one…wow is he ever terrible) but the production is so neat and creative and atmospheric (as with other Corman Poe films) that you don’t care so much about the bad acting or the drawings (which are at least well done). This is right up there with Corman’s other Poe films in terms of quality. It might be the best, actually.

11. One-Eyed Jacks, directed by Marlon Brando (7/10)

A bizarre and overlong Western that could have benefited from Anthony Mann, I think.

12. The Guns of Navarone, directed by J. Lee Thompson (5/10)

I watched this multiple times at a child. Then, one Family Day weekend, I watched the first third of it while I was waiting for Jenn to get up. I had failed to remember how much of an adventure movie it was, rather than a war movie.

13. The Comancheros, directed by Michael Curtiz (5*/10)

Seen during my John Wayne phase.

14. West-Side Story, directed by Jarome Robbins, Robert Wise (4*/10)

Seen as a teen. Yes, my problem is with the source material itself, and not necessarily the movie. No, that’s not fair.

15. El Cid, directed by Anthony Mann (4/10)

Too long, too big, too dumb, and poorly cast. Yes, I realize I wanted Mann to complete One-Eyed Jacks, but that’s because he made westerns.

16. Bloodlust!, directed by Ralph Brooke (3/10)

One of the endless, terrible variations on “The Most Dangerous Game.”

18. Mysterious Island, directed by Cy Enfield (2/10)

This plot had already been done to death by the 1960s, and this is no improvement on the story.

17. Reptilicus [American Version] (1/10)

I’m sure there are some bad rip-offs of Gojira, but this one has to be the worst. Read the review of Reptilicus.


1. “Sredni Vashtar,” directed by Ron Winston (8/10)

This is actually a TV episode from the show Great Ghost Tales but I watched it as part of a compilation of avant garde short films. No review.

2. “La lutte” aka “Wrestling”, directed by Michel Brault (8*/10)

Because I am an idiot, I did not review this short when I saw it. I will likely never watch it again.

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