National Classic Movie Day Blogathon: 6 Favorite Films of the 1960s

Thank you to the Classic Film and TV Cafe for having me!

Following-up last year’s ode to the 1950s, I secretly relished the addition of another film to make already tough decisions even a little bit easier. But let’s be honest…

All my intellectual posturing and punditry must go out the window. This is not about the best movies alone. It is about the favorites — the movies we could watch again and again for that certain je ne sais quoi — because they stay with us. They always and forever will be based on highly subjective gut reactions, informed by personal preferences and private affections. As it should be.

Drum roll please as I unfurl my picks. Each choice says as much about me as the decade they come out of. Here we go:

charade_2

1. Charade (1963)

Charade has always been a highly accessible film and not simply because it’s fallen into the public domain. Its elements are frothy and light calling on the talents of two of Hollywood’s great romantic charmers: Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant. Their rapport is lovely, and the spy thrills are surprisingly cogent for a romantic comedy thanks to Peter Stone’s script.

Last year I acknowledged the loss of Stanley Donen, but this picture reflected his range as a director, taking him beyond the scope of musicals. By this point, it’s positively twee to acknowledge his movie verged on a Hitchcock thriller like To Catch a Thief. I am also always taken by the supporting cast. Walter Matthau, James Coburn, and George Kennedy all had more prominent performances throughout the 1960s, but they supply a lot of color to the story.

Likewise, as amiable as the chemistry is to go with the blissful French streetcorners and Henry Mancini’s scoring, there is a sense Charade represented the dawn of a new age. It came out mere days after John F. Kennedy was assassinated. The happier times were snuffed out, and we could never go back. The decade would be forever changed in its wake.

a hard days night

2. A Hard Day’s Night (1964)

The Beatles were the first band I could name at 4-years-old. A Hard Day’s Night was probably the first album I could sing along to. So already I have such a significant connection with it, recalling bumpy roads in the British Isles on summer vacations. And that has little to nothing to do with this film. It only serves to evoke what the Germans might aptly call sehnsucht. Warm, wistful longings for the exuberance of youth. At least that’s what I take it to mean. But we must get to “Komm gib mir deine Hand!”

Because, all levity aside, A Hard Day’s Night is the best Beatles “documentary” any fan could ever ask for. Not only does it showcase some of their greatest music, but Richard Lester’s style also keeps the story feeling fresh and free. Even as the schedule and hysteria of Beatlemania look to suffocate the boys in their own stardom, the film is the complete antithesis of this rigid mentality. It goes a long way to showcase their individual personalities, real or mythologized.

What’s more, it’s simply loads of fun, packed with Liverpoolian wit, shenanigans indebted to the Marx Brothers, and a certain lovable cheekiness helping to make the Beatles into international sensations. Again, it’s a film on the cusp of something new. They would kick off the British takeover of American music and usher in a cultural revolution up until the end of the decade. When they disbanded in 1970, the world had changed, and they were arguably 4 of the most influential cultural catalysts.

girls of rochefort

3. The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967)

Jacques Demy began as a revelation for me and quickly evolved into one of my most treasured directors. What makes his film’s magical is how they truly are incubated in their own self-contained reality influenced by near-Providential fate and unabashed romanticism. They too can be wistful and heartbreaking, but equally spry and joyful — maintaining a firm, even naive belief in humanity and love.

The Young Girls of Rochefort is no different. In fact, it might be the great summation of all his themes. Umbrellas of Cherbourg shows the tragedy, but Rochefort is merry and light in a way that’s lovely and intoxicating. The palette is a carnival of color, and real-life sisters Catherine Deneuve and Francoise Dorleac are incomparable in their title roles.

As someone who appreciates contextualization, Demy populates his films with footnotes to film history among them Gene Kelly, who was a beloved figure in France, then Michel Piccoli and Danielle Darreux who might as well be considered national institutions for the substantial bodies of work they contributed both domestically and abroad. Even his wife, 21st-century celebrity Agnes Varda, helped choreograph the movie’s action from behind the scenes. It’s a positive delight.

le samourai

4. Le Samourai (1967)

If I have a deep affection for Jacques Demy, my affinity for Jean-Pierre Melville runs deep for entirely different reasons. Like his fellow countryman, he had an appreciation for a subset of American culture — in his case, the pulp crime genre — so it’s a fitting act of reciprocation for me to enjoy his filmography.

Le Samourai is without question his magnum opus, at least when his noir-inspired crime pictures are considered. Like Demy, his images are distinct and particular in their look and appeal. Cool grays and blues match the clothes, cars, and demeanors of most of his characters.

Alain Delon (along with Jean-Paul Belmondo) was one of the great conduits of his methodical style, clothed in his iconic hat and trenchcoat. Anything he does immediately feels noteworthy. While it’s never what you would call flashy, there’s a self-assured preoccupation about Le Samourai.

You can’t help but invest in both the world and the story of the characters — in this case a bushido-inspired assassin: Jef Costello. With hitmen, gunmen, and gangsters given a new lease on life in the 1960s, Delon’s characterization still might be one of the most memorable.

odd couple

5. The Odd Couple (1968)

Here is one that’s stayed with me since the days of VHS. I’ve watched it countless times and always return to it gladly like time away with old friends. It just happens to be that one friend is fastidious neat freak Felix Ungar (F.U. for short) and the other a slobbish couch potato Oscar Madison.

Despite being one of the great onscreen friendships across a plethora of films, The Odd Couple is Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau’s most enduring film together from purely a comedic standpoint. They bring out the worst in each other, which subsequently supplies the conflict in Neil Simon’s smartly constructed tale, as well as the laughs.

I must admit I also have a private fascination with cinematic poker games. The Odd Couple has some of the best, bringing a group of buddies around a table, with all their foibles and eccentricities thrown into a room together to coalesce. John Fiedler and Herb Edelman are great favorites of mine and The Odd Couple has a lot to do with it. That Neal Hefti score is also just such an infectious earworm. I can’t get it out of my head, and I hardly mind. What better way to spend an evening than with Felix, Oscar, and oh yes, the Pigeon sisters…

butch cassidy and sundance

6. Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid

You can tell a lot about a person depending on what western they pick from 1969. There’s True Grit for the traditionalists. Then The Wild Bunch for the revolutionaries. And Butch Cassidy and Sundance for those who want something a bit different.

Because out of all the westerns ever made, it doesn’t quite gel with any of them. William Goldman writes it in such a way that it feels like an anti-western in a sense. His heroes are outlaws, yes, but they are also two of the most likable anti-heroes Hollywood had ever instated. Whether he knew it or not, Goldman probably helped birth the buddy comedy genre while the partnership of Paul Newman and Robert Redford fast became one for the ages.

My analysis of the film has waxed and waned over the years and not everything has aged immaculately. However, at the end of the day, it’s one of the most quotable, rib-tickling good times you can manage with a western. I’ll stand by it, and when we talk about endings, Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid is as good a place to end as any: immortalized on tintypes for all posterity. What a way to go.

Thank you for reading and happy national classic movie day!

22 thoughts on “National Classic Movie Day Blogathon: 6 Favorite Films of the 1960s

  1. Lovely selection there! I might have gone for the Umbrellas of Cherbourg instead of Les Demoiselles (but in the current frame of mind, lighter is certainly better)), and for Bullitt or Thomas Crown Affair (the original) instead of A Hard Day’s Night. But I could watch Le Samourai over and over, as well as Charade and the Newman/Redford combo is just irresistible.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! I went back and forth with Cherbourg and Rochefort. But you might be right. It has something to do with the lighter tone that draws me in. Bullitt is a personal favorite as well.

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  2. This is a great list and I’m adding the three I haven’t seen yet to my list. Thank you for such thoughtful writing here.

    I read that you have a fascination with cinematic poker scenes, how do you feel about The Cincinnati Kid?

    I hadn’t heard of Le Samourai until now, it looks SO interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for reading! Please do check out Le Samourai if you have a chance. I did enjoy The Cincinnati Kid (similarly to The Hustler). I think I like the pretense of poker because it can bring a lot of people together in a communal way fostering lots of interesting interchanges.

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      • I just wrote about The Hustler last week, and did not realize until then The Cincinnati Kid was a remake. Duh to me.

        Oh yes, I agree 100% on that poker pretense. Both Cincinnati Kid and The Odd Couple did provide interesting conversations around that table. Very good point.

        I’m looking for Le Samourai literally as we speak. And “San Diego, I Love You” from your earlier blog post….

        Thank you for the reply 😊

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      • Awesome, I will check it out. I don’t think Cincinnati Kid was actually remake (sorry for the confusion!), but it feels similar to The Hustler in my head. Yes, “San Diego, I Love You” was a strange find for me. I used to live in San Diego so I was drawn to watch it. Take care!

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      • No, no, In my research for The Hustler I found that The Cincinnati Kid has been called a remake of it in more than one place….it’s just poker instead of pool. RogerEbert.com was the first place I saw that, then when I thought about it, yesssss, of course! I was so distracted by Edward G. Robinson in The Cincinnati Kid I guess, lol…

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  3. Oh gosh – what can I say? I’m flooded with so many joyous memories! It was hard to narrow choices down to 6. How could I have overlooked The Odd Couple? So glad you included it! Of course, we are in total agreement about A Hard Day’s Night. As for Charade – that might have to go in my choices of all time favorites, no matter the decade.

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  4. I haven’t seen The Young Girls of Rochefort in ever so long. It seems that stations seems to show The Umbrellas of Cherbourg instead, so I definitely seek out Rochefort for a new viewing. Since I adore both Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, how can I not like The Old Couple? As for Le Samourai, Alain Delon was the epitome of European cool in the 1960s!

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    • Yes, Umbrellas of Cherbourg is wonderful. For some reason, I have a soft spot for Rochefort. I even like Demy’s Model Shop! I tried to stay true to movies I could go back to time and time again. Thanks for having me!

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  5. Some exquisite choices. One of my own is included – Hard Day’s Night – and several that nearly were: Charade, Le Samourai and Butch Cassidy. Wonderful takes on all. To choose between Cherbourg and Rochefort would be difficult for me. I prefer Cherbourg as a film, but the pairing of Deneuve and her sister in Rochefort is so special. It is fortunate the two had the chance to co-star in this classic before Francoise’s untimely death.

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    • Yes, Cherbourg is wonderful and arguably the better film. I have a soft spot for Rochefort. There’s so much about it — including the pairing of the sisters — making it a sentimental favorite of mine. Thank you for reading and stay safe!

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    • Haha. That’s okay. The great thing about movies is their ability to affect us differently. You’ve seen it and can move onto something else 😉 Have you see Umbrellas of Cherbourg and if so, do you like it more or about the same? Take care.

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      • I have seen “Umbrellas”, a few years back now. and in my review I concluded it was “A sugary but bittersweet treat.” 🙂

        Looking at my ratings on Letterboxd, I gave it *** 1/2 which is 1/2 more than I gave “Rochefort”. Maybe I was spoiled from growing up with the Hollywood musicals Demy was paying homage to, but he was certainly onto something with them! 😛

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  6. I still haven’t seen The Young Girls of Rochefort, but not for lack of trying.

    I agree a list like this is not what about may be “the best” films, but those films that truly speak to us. I enjoyed your choices and your insights.

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    • Thank you for reading. Umbrellas of Cherbourg is probably “better,” but the inclusion of Gene Kelly and the tone of Rochefort is always so delightful for me. Also, thank you for your post. Watching the Hand, in particular, was impactful for me. Take care.

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  7. You can’t go wrong with any of these. An impressive selection of big hitters. Unsurprisingly, I’m seeing Charade and A Hard Days Night on quite a few people’s lists.

    For 1969 westerns, I have to give the edge to The Wild Bunch, but Newman and Redford are such an entertaining pairing that they always draw you back.

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