1966

Main Events

 – Groundbreaking on World Trade Center begins

 – LSD made illegal in California

 – J. Edgar Hoover declares Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone

 – Walt Disney dies

Winner: A Man for All Seasons

Nominees:

– Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

– Alfie

– The Sand Pebbles

– The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming

A Man for All Seasons ***1/2 out of ****

Director: Fred Zinneman

Starring: Paul Scoffield, Wendy Hiller

Wins (6): Picture, Actor (Paul Scoffield), Director, Adapted SP, Cinematography (Color), Costume (Color)

Nominations  (8): Sup Actor (Robert Shaw), Sup Actress (Wendy Hiller)

Rotten Tomatoes: 86%

This is the story of Thomas More, played by Paul Scoffield, the Lord Chancelor of England in the 1500’s, who would not go along with everyone else when king Henry 8 desired to divorce his wife, Queen Catherine, to marry Anne Boylin (Vanessa Redgrave).  The film basically shows the integrity of Thomas who stands strong on his beliefs.  A Man for All Seasons is the adaptation of the play written by Robert Bolt and director Fred Zinneman makes an impressive transition to film in that it sheds that “stage” feel without losing anything in the process.  A Man for All Seasons falls right into the 60’s trend of adapting films from this time period, but it certainly is one of the better of those films.  The script is dialogue-rich, strong and well-written considering that the period and setting of the film usually renders weak dialogue.  The acting is understated, but true, earning 3 nominations including a Best Actor win for Paul Scoffield.  It’s rather difficult to understand the amount of time that has gone by in the film unless you have the Thomas More Wikipedia page up and not until Thomas goes to prison are there obvious time lapse shots.  For a talkie where barely anything happens, I found it quite good and well made and not boring.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?  ****out of ****

Director: Mike Nichols

Starring: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, George Segal, Sandy Dennis

Wins (5): Actress (Elizabeth Taylor), Sup Actress (Sandy Dennis), Cinematography (B&W), Art/Set Direction (B&W), Costume (B&W)

Nominations (13): Picture, Director, Actor (Richard Burton), Sup Actor (George Segal), Adapted SP, Sound Edit, Film Edit, Original Score

Rotten Tomatoes: 97%

This is an intriguing and disturbing film.  It’s based on the 1962 Broadway play by Edward Albee and is directed by Mike Nichols.  This intimate film is comprised of only a 4 member cast: Elizabeth Taylor, Sandy Dennis, Richard Burton and George Segal who each received an acting nomination in each of the acting categories.  Elizabeth Taylor won Best Actress for her demanding role as Martha and Sandy Dennis won Best Supporting Actress for her part as Honey; a tipsy, mousey housewife.  The two couples gather at the home of Martha and George following a staff party.  Nick and Honey, a younger couple, arrive in the midst of a fight between Martha and George, an older couple.  George and Martha proceed on taking us through a wicked labyrinth of humor, drunkenness, nausea, shame and discomfort as their fight only rages deeper as the night goes on.  We find ourselves changing our opinions of these characters far too frequently and we can’t decide if Martha and George are seriously not getting along or if it’s some fantastic production put on in order to deceive Nick and Honey as if a part of their sick game.  It’s incredibly well written, acted and directed.  Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is an emotional rollercoaster of a film and, just like the wildest of theme park rides, leaves you feeling queasy in the end.

Alfie **out of ****

Director: Lewis Gilbert

Starring: Michael Caine, Vivien Merchant

Wins (0):

 Nominations (5): Picture, Actor (Michael Caine), Sup Actress (Vivien Merchant), Original Song, Adapted SP

Rotten Tomatoes: 100%

Alfie is a man-whore and sleeps with many different women and calls them, “it”.  One of his victims is the wife (Vivien Merchant) of a fellow patient in a mental hospital in which he spent time.  Due to some mishap, she becomes pregnant and they decide to abort both the pregnancy and the relationship.  Alfie leaves her alone to suffer half-conscious in his apartment and goes to tell his neighbor what he saw and what he did and how he thinks he murdered this “full-formed being”.  Turns out, Alfie isn’t quite as big a boy as he so pompously pretends to be.  This is just one of Alfie’s many affairs.  Michael Caine is in every scene and I suppose that the Best Actor nomination is earned.  However, his performance and the film itself aren’t really anything special.  I would compare this to the 1965 character study of a loose young person and superior film, Darling.  One grows weary of Michael Caine’s frequent breaking of the 4th wall as he does so often that it becomes more of a narration for the film.  And of course, no one in the scene can hear him when he does this, only the audience.  He’s cocky, rude and insensitive.  Alfie is not prejudiced, he takes the old with the young, but it isn’t until he gets a taste of his own medicine from an older woman (Shelley Winters) that he reconsiders his behavior and, after making eye contact with the viewer, walks away to jazzy music as the camera zooms out and rises skyward showing us a lit-up nighttime London and an all-too familiar closing shot.   I can’t help but think of Austin Powers when I see this film.

The Sand Pebbles   ** out of ****

Director: Robert Wise

Starring: Steve McQueen

Wins (0):

Nominations (8): Picture, Actor (Steve McQueen), Sup Actor (Mako), Cinematography (Color), Art/Set Direction (Color), Sound Edit, Film Edit, Original Score

Rotten Tomatoes: 88%

 A sailor, named Jake Holman, (Steve McQueen) is relocated to another ship, the US San Pablo.  He’s relocated because he has trouble getting along, like a true Steve McQueen character would.  Jake specializes in maintaining the engines of the ship and is very particular about how they are run.  This particular ship becomes stranded in a Chinese port for the winter.  The sailors are allowed certain days to go to land and on one excursion Jake gets accused by the Chinese people of the murder of his friend (Richard Attenborough) and his Chinese wife.  There is a lengthy standoff between smaller Chinese boats and the San Pablo, but Jake refuses to surrender.  The film ends with a rather unique shootout which is the best part of the film by a long shot.  The Sand Pebbles is adapted from the Richard McKenna novel and is directed by Robert Wise.  It’s a big film and from what I understand took a rather long time to make.  However, there’s really nothing to it.  There’s certainly nothing about the film that anyone could ever call compelling.  This is another movie whose running time outweighs its quality, but it does have a fine ending even if it is a bit out of context of the rest of the film.  Also, this is the first I’ve seen of the young Candice Bergin, who was quite lovely, playing a missionary.

The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming

**1/2out of ****

Director: Norman Jewison

Starring: Alan Arkin, Eva Marie Saint, Carl Reiner

Wins (0):

Nominations (4): Picture, Actor (Alan Arkin), Adapted SP, Film Edit

Rotten Tomatoes: 82%

The premise of this film is altogether fascinating.  1966 was just this side of the height of the Cold War.  Nuclear warfare with the Russians was a legitimate fear back then and I can only imagine that the initial reaction to the premise of The Russians Are Coming2 wasn’t very much appreciated.  It’s quite brilliant to make a comedy during the Cold War about a submarine full of lost Russians who accidentally land on an island off of the East Coast.   The reaction seems logical in that some folks might not believe it’s true while others over-react in ways that can only be deemed as laughable because they are all too ready to believe.  These Russians mean no harm. They realize they have the numbers against them and simply want to get back to their submarine, yet the simple murmuring of the townsfolk that Russians are invading gets everyone flustered.   The forming of a militia seems an accurate reaction and the authority shift from the police force to the citizen-populated, make-shift army is funny because it might happen in such a small town.  All in all, it’s an okay film and is sort of funny.  Alan Arkin is hilarious, but unfortunately is under-used.  Also, I can’t help but feel that Sacha Bara Cohen had to be influenced by Arkin’s character when developing Borat.  There’s a brief, yet funny scene where Arkin’s character is looking in a woman’s purse for her car keys.  Been there, fella’.  Oh, and there’s another funny part where a Russian sailor points an automatic weapon directly at a child.  Other than that the film is too long and not funny enough.

FINAL VERDICT

Should Have Won:          Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

 All in all this is not an impressive year for films.  A Man for All Seasons is the true account of a good man.  It’s understandable that it won Best Picture, especially when considering the fact that Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Is extremely dark and not at all a comfort to watch, though it too is a great film.  Alfie is a one-man show for all intents and purposes, but it doesn’t go from funny to dark smoothly at all.  The Russians Are Coming The Russians Are Coming is a fascinating idea, but the film is too long and the comedic material just doesn’t hold up after the first half.  The Sand Pebbles was only nominated because it was directed by Robert Wise, who did The Sound of Music the previous year.  Something very interesting to note is that 1966 is one of those very rare years where only 2 of the Best Picture nominees were nominated for Best Director (A Man for All Seasons and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?).  This has happened 6 times in years where there were 5 nominees for each category (only 9%).  The next time this will happen will be in 1995 where Braveheart and Babe are the only 2 consistent films between categories.  It’s a weak year.  The 1960’s is home to a very interesting shift in the movie industry.  This shift from the epic, big-budget period pieces to films that are more independent and real culminates next year, in 1967.

Other Films To Consider

Blow-Up directed by Michelanglo Antonioni

The Profesionals directed by Richard Brooks

 

Overall Year Score – 70%

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