Underrated ’65

underrated65

When asked what my favorite film decade is I always mention the sixties. So what is it about the swinging sixties that I find so damn appealing? There are a plethora of reasons including the influx of foreign films that had begun to influence and inspire American filmmakers while avant-garde as well as pop art sensibilities began to flourish around the world. Long-held prejudices were being addressed in American cinema and black, Hispanic and Asian actors were able to find significant starring roles that broke racial barriers. The Hollywood studio system may have been on the decline but many of the best films produced during the decade were directed by old masters such as Alfred Hitchcock, Otto Preminger, Billy Wilder, John Huston, John Ford, John Sturges and Orson Welles who seemed to embrace change and created some of their most challenging and important work during this period.

I mention all this because myself and Millie De Chirico (the lovely TCM Manager of Programming) were recently asked to participate in Brain Saur’s Underrated ’65 project currently ongoing at his blog, Rupert Pupkin Speaks. Brian is an ardent supporter of classic film and you can always find interesting recommendations there as well as regular updates about new and upcoming DVD releases. I was happy to take part because I love sixties cinema and there are plenty of undervalued films from 1965 that deserve more attention and thoughtful consideration. So many that I had a hard time narrowing my list down to a mere Top 10 but that’s what I did and I thought it was worth sharing here.


Before you read any further, I should mention that I created a criteria for myself when I was compiling my list to help narrow down my choices. I decided I wouldn’t include Oscar nominated films or Cannes and Bafta winners even if they were personal favorites so you won’t find THE COLLECTOR, DARLING, KING RAT, THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD, THE IPCRESS FILE, LIFE AT THE TOP, A PATCH OF BLUE, CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT, VIVA MARIA! or THE KNACK… AND HOW TO GET IT on my list although they’re all worth recommending. I also bypassed some 1965 favorites that are available on Criterion DVD including NAKED PREYand PIERROT LE FOU because I like to assume that the high-profile nature of Criterion releases among film fanatics means they are being valued to some extent. Also missing are some cult favorites including VAMPIRE PLANET, THE LOVED ONE, FASTER PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL! and Freddie Francis’s original trend-setting horror anthology DR. TERROR’S HOUSE OF HORRORS because I’m naive enough to believe that they’re held in higher regard than some of the films I listed below. Despite these omissions I was still left with a sizable list of films that I wanted to include but time limitations being what they are, I decided to narrow my picks down to these:

10thv

THE 10TH VICTIM
Richard Connell’s short story The Most Dangerous Game has been adapted for the screen many times since its release in 1929 but my favorite take on this twisted tale is Elio Petri’s LA DECIMA VITTIMA aka THE 10TH VICTIM. Petri’s futuristic pop art inspired extravaganza stars Marcello Mastroianni and Ursula Andress who have rarely looked lovelier, as two participants in the ‘Big Hunt’ where humans are fair game. This incredibly stylish and clever film is an international cult favorite but I am always surprised by the number of people I encounter who haven’t seen it. Backed by an unforgettable score composed by Piero Piccioni, THE 10TH VICTIM makes for one wildly entertaining and eye-opening night at the movies.

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BRAINSTORM
William Conrad is probably best remembered today for his acting talent but he was also a prolific TV director and in 1965 he made three interesting low-budget thrillers back-to-back. The films included TWO ON A GUILLOTINE, MY BLOOD RUNS COLD and BRAINSTORM. All three are worth seeking out but my favorite of the bunch might just be this nifty neo-noir starring Jeffrey Hunter as a scientist named Jim who falls for a dangerous dame (Anne Francis) trapped in an unhappy marriage to a tyrannical business tycoon (Dana Andrews). When her husband refuses to grant her an amicable divorce, Jim comes up with a bizarre murder plan that lands him in a psychiatric hospital with the hope that he’ll eventually be reunited with his ladylove. But is he just pretending to be mad or has Jim really lost his mind along with his heart? Drenched in sixties paranoia and fueled by fear, BRAINSTORM remains a fascinating response to some of decade’s worst crimes including the assassination of an American President.

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BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING
Much like THE NANNY (included below) which was also based on a book by Merriam Modell, Otto Preminger’s gripping film explores many similar themes including the helplessness and deep-seated fear that can occur when figures of authority don’t believe what you’re saying. In this case it is a desperate mother (Carol Lynley) trying to convince a British police Superintendent (Laurence Olivier) that her young daughter ‘Bunny’ (Suky Appleby) has gone missing. With help from her brother (Keir Dullea), Lynley’s character tries to overcome her trauma by solving the mystery of Bunny’s disappearance herself as she makes her way through a strangely sinister London and the results of her search are both shocking and incredibly grim. Preminger’s smart and assured direction is matched by Paul Glass’ sophisticated score and Lynley, Oliver and Dullea are all in top form.

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DEVILS OF DARKNESS
This odd little British horror film directed by B-movie maestro Lance Comfort tends to get lost among the numerous Hammer and Amicus thrillers that were released during this period but it’s well worth seeking out for fans of sixties horror. William Sylvester stars as a hapless American tourist on holiday with a group of friends who find themselves hunted by a cult of witchy vampires led by the malevolent Count Sinistre (Hubert Noël). It’s a great looking low-budget picture with some nice color photography that references Roger Corman and Mario Bava’s work and contains some rather dark plot twists as well as a swinging party scene that was typical of the times.

foolkiller

THE FOOL KILLER
Mexican filmmaker Servando González directed this southern gothic nightmare starring young Edward Albert (Eddie & Margo Alberts’son) who was just 12-years-old when shooting began. Albert plays an abused youngster who leaves home and makes his way across the war-ravaged American south where he befriends a troubled veteran of the Civil War named Milo, played superbly by Anthony Perkins. As the film progresses the young boy becomes obsessed with a folk tale about the Fool Killer who will “kill anyone who perpetrates some particularly monumental piece of foolishness.” Milo has been told he’s foolish so many times that he begins to believe it and fears he will be murdered as a result. Unfortunately, his fears hold some weight when the mythical Fool Killer of his imagination begins to materialize. I strongly suspect that this deeply unsettling and eerie film influenced Jim Jarmusch’s much lauded DEAD MAN (1995).

Gumnaam

GUMNAAM
Agatha Christie adaptations don’t get much looser than this Bollywood production based on And Then There Were None. Many will be familiar with the film’s first show stopping musical number, which played during the opening moments of GHOST WORLD (2001), but GUMNAAM is much more than just a footnote attached to Terry Zwigoff’s popular dramedy. Directed by Raja Nawathe and featuring a lively cast who seem game for just about anything, the film boasts numerous songs composed by Shankar Jaikishan, including a Hindi version of Henry Mancini’s Charade. 50-years later it remains one of the best looking films to emerge from India during the 1960s and it’s got a devoted cult following but more people need to spend time with this amusing, swinging and suspenseful Bollywood delight.

thenanny

THE NANNY
Bette Davis starred in a number of exceptional thrillers throughout the 1960s including WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? (1962) and HUSH… HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE (1964), which were both nominated for Academy Awards. But I think her best and most nuanced performance during this turbulent decade can be found in THE NANNY. This black and white Hammer production is artfully directed by Seth Holt and stars 57-year-old Davies as a deeply troubled caregiver who may or may not be a child killer. Her performance is downright chilling at times but despite this, she manages to earn our sympathies without asking us to sympathize with her crimes. THE NANNY may not be a typical Hammer monster movie but Davies’ character remains one of the saddest and most frightening creatures the studio ever created.

partyso

THE PARTY’S OVER
Many films made during the 1960s explored the down side of recreational drug use and irresponsible alcohol consumption but few are as disturbing as THE PARTY’S OVER. Guy Hamilton directed this taut, dark British drama before he began working on numerous James Bond projects and there’s a roughness about the production that recalls popular Kitchen Sink Dramas of the period. The film stars a menacing Oliver Reed as the de facto leader of a group of shifty-eyed beatniks pining after a posh American bird (Louise Sorel) who wants nothing to do with him. After one particularly wild party, she vanishes and her fiancé (Clifford David) is left to piece the puzzling mystery of her disappearance together. John Barry’s jazzy score adds an element of improvisation to this unusually bleak film that was banned in Britain for two years before it was finally reedited and released.

satanbu

THE SATAN BUG
After directing the hugely successful GREAT ESCAPE (1963), director John Sturges helmed this suspenseful cold war thriller involving a mad doctor (Richard Basehart) who steals a deadly virus known as the ‘Satan Bug’ from a top-secret germ warfare lab and threatens to release it on an unknowing populace. Thankfully, George Maharis, along with Anne Francis and Dana Andrews, are on board to try and put a stop to his evil plan but they’ll have to get past a mob of menacing baddies first that includes TV veterans Ed Asner and Frank Sutton. The plot of THE SATAN BUG might have seemed rather fantastic in 1965 but today it reads like a modern day newspaper headline making the film more relevant than ever. I don’t normally advocate for remakes but if a studio updated this film and released it today with a first-rate cast, I suspect they’d have a major hit on their hands.

theskull

THE SKULL
Peter Cushing stars as Dr. Maitland, a passionate collector of macabre esoterica who begins experiencing strange phenomena after coming in contact with the skull of the infamous Marquis de Sade. This atmospheric and surprisingly adult Amicus horror film was directed by the Academy Award winning cinematographer Freddie Francis and benefits from his inspired camerawork, which includes shooting scenes from the POV of the skull, a particularly imaginative dream sequence and an inventive fatal fall through a stained glass window. Besides Cushing, the rest of the cast reads like a Who’s Who of British horror cinema and includes the recently deceased Christopher Lee along with Patrick Wymark, Nigel Green, Patrick Magee and Michael Gough.

The curious can find my always expanding and changing list of 50 Favorite Films of 1965 here and it includes many more underrated titles that are well worth a look.

13 Responses Underrated ’65
Posted By ziggy : July 2, 2015 9:28 pm

so, can we be looking forward to some of these (that haven’t before) to air on TCM in the near future?

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : July 2, 2015 9:43 pm

Half of them have aired on TCM but not sure about the others. Programming is dependent on a number of factors including licensing arrangements, the quality of the print available, etc. On the bright side, all these titles are available on DVD or video and most can be found in the TCM online shop: http://shop.tcm.com/

Posted By Susan Doll : July 3, 2015 1:40 am

Bette Davis’s work in 60s horror films is underrated. Glad you included THE NANNY.

Posted By raven Thom : July 3, 2015 2:05 am

I have done a top 100 of all time some time ago, and update it every year or 2, interestingly, although none of those yet appear, there are more films from the 60′s on my list than any other decade. Oh I am 71 years old, which makes the 60′s in my 20′s…

Posted By Maddermusic : July 3, 2015 11:02 am

good call on The Satan Bug.. It’s quite a good thriller. By the way, the novel is also excellent. It was written by Alastair McLean, author of The Guns of Navarone, but I believe he wrote it under the pen name Ian Stuart. Get it if you can find it. It’s an excellent read.

Posted By kingrat : July 4, 2015 3:21 am

You mentioned your reasons for not including KING RAT, but I think it’s the best film of 1965 (maybe not a big surprise), closely followed by Sidney Lumet’s THE HILL, one of his best films. THE TRAIN was a ’65 release in the US, though shown in France in 1964. Fortunately, all three turn up from time to time on TCM. For me, these are the top three English-language films of the year.

I’m also a big fan of MIRAGE, a Fox film never shown on TCM, one of the last true noirs in black and white.

A PATCH OF BLUE is much better than one might expect, with first-rate performances by Sidney Poitier and Elizabeth Hartman.

Another sleeper is SANDS OF THE KALAHARI. Granted, Susannah York’s hair and makeup don’t suffer from the desert heat, but if you can overlook that, this is a solid film with great cinematography.

Posted By Gene : July 6, 2015 1:50 pm

Kimberly – Great list! Personally, I love The Nanny and Bunny Lake is Missing. Truly great films that deserve a much broader audience.

Posted By Gamera2000 : July 6, 2015 3:28 pm

I also love the list and you have given me some additonal films to see. I have seen four of them (THE 10 VICTIM, BUNNY LAKE, SATAN BUG, and THE SKULL) with BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING a particular favorite. It has been years since I saw THE SKULL, but I remember it was one of the few films to really scare me as a kid.

Also, THE TENTH VICTIM, is based on a Robert Sheckley short story which I have read. He was an underrated science fiction writer who had a real flair for satire and comedy.

Posted By Ben Martin : July 6, 2015 6:44 pm

In MY circle I am the go-to guy for even the most obscure classic cinema but wow I feel like a movie loser as not only have I never seen THE FOOL KILLER,GUMNAMM or THE PARTYS OVER, I never even HEARD of them. HOW is this possible. I’m tracking them down now!
I love your list but agree with kingrat about SANDS OF THE KALAHARI. I think it might be one of the very best of the year. May I go on record as saying that MORITURI is the best thriller of the 60s. And my “out there” favorites from ’65 are BILLIE, DEAR BRIGITTE, and BEACH BLANKET BINGO.

Posted By swac44 : July 7, 2015 2:19 pm

There’s been at least one occasion where I’ve gone to record Brainstorm off of TCM, and it turns out to be the later Christopher Walken/Natalie Wood feature. An interesting film, to be sure, (I’d get a blu-ray of it in a heartbeat), but not the one I was looking for!

As for Gumnaam, I’ve been wanting to see it for ages, but hadn’t come across a copy. A quick search tells me it’s available on DVD, but caveat emptor: there are two versions, one from Ultra and another from Eros, and it’s the latter one you want, the quality of the Ultra edition is reportedly terrible (washed out and edited). The problem is, you don’t always know which version you’re going to get when you order online.

Posted By swac44 : July 7, 2015 2:32 pm

There’s also a fine blu-ray/DVD of The Party’s Over available from the BFI, I see it listed on the U.S. Amazon as well as the UK site, that’d be the way to go with that title.

Further to Gumnaam, to add to the confusion, some retailers only offer a DVD-R version of it (not the same quality as a regular disc, but in this case it may be fine) and there’s also a later remake of it that some people have wound up with instead of the original version they thought they’d ordered. If only there was a Criterion collection of Bollywood films…they deserve better treatment!

Posted By george : July 7, 2015 10:47 pm

“I’m also a big fan of MIRAGE, a Fox film never shown on TCM, one of the last true noirs in black and white.”

I also love MIRAGE (starring Gregory Peck), although I think it’s a Universal picture. It’s on DVD.

Posted By robbushblog : August 12, 2015 7:02 pm

I’ll go to bat for THE SONS OF KATIE ELDER, SHENANDOAH, THAT DARN CAT!, and THUNDERBALL among my tops of ’65 list.

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