THE GOOD OLD SIXTIES

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I was a ‘baby-boomer’, born in 1947, and grew up in Fremantle, Western Australia, in an era when drive-in movies were the big thing during the 1960s. My mates and my brothers and I would zoom off to the drive-in, two or three times a week during the summer and spring, clad in shorts and t-shirts, with a five-gallon keg of beer on the back seat and a carton of Marlboro cigarettes in the glove box. Those were the days of booze and cigarettes; of not treating one’s body like a shrine; days when spending hours in the gym improving one’s health was about as alien as spending a similar number of hours inside a church improving one’s character. These were also the days when whistling at a pretty girl would, more often than not, be acknowledged with a smug smile instead of a law suit, when abusing a football umpire was expected and accepted as part of the game and not liable to get you fined or suspended. Today, life seems to be determined by lawyers whose main interest appears to be getting as many persons litigated against as is humanly possible, so they can make as much money as is humanly possible.

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Jim Garner in Support Your Local Sheriff (1969)

If it was a really hot evening at the drive-in, we would sit on the bonnet or the roof of the car, sucking on a beer with the speakers turned up as loud as possible. And what an era for good movies the sixties was! All-time classics such as Zulu (1964), Dr No (1962), Cat Ballou (1965), The Good, the Bad & the Ugly (1966), The Dirty Dozen (1967), Bullitt (1968), Charade (1963), Hombre (1967), Planet of the Apes (1968), Tom Jones (1963), The Great Escape (1963), Support Your Local Sheriff (1969) and The Blue Max (1966), were just some of the films we went to see more than once. If we really liked a picture we might go to see it three or four nights in a row! For instance, Lee Marvin’s sensational performance in Cat Ballou was reason enough for us to watch that particular picture repeatedly. Charade and The Dirty Dozen were two more shows we saw several times running.

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Planet of the Apes (1968)

Sometimes we simply loved the musical score. Ennio Morricone’s iconic theme music in The Good, the Bad & the Ugly, (not to mention the terrific ‘Ecstasy of Gold), drew us back time and again. Elmer Bernstein’s score for The Magnificent Seven (1960) transformed a good western into a timeless classic. Much of the appeal of the James Bond films surely came from the marvellous themes. Goldfinger (1964), for example, was a thoroughly stupid movie, but John Barry’s score was one of the more memorable motion picture scores of all time, so we saw the dopey movie more than once. Barry’s stirring score for Zulu suited the spectacle to perfection and added a level of dramatic license not often present in similar films. I often wonder if, in the entire English-speaking world, there was a single teenaged boy who did not rave about Zulu. Probably not.

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Lee Marvin playing dual Oscar-winning roles in Cat Ballou (1965)

As a group of like-minded movie fans we held certain likes and dislikes. Our number one ‘dislike’ was Elvis Presley. We did not like his singing and we especially did not like his acting. In fact, we just did not like him. Australians cannot abide a prima donna and can spot one in an instant. Elvis was (to use an old Aussie expression) so far up himself, only his sandshoes were sticking out!’ His movies were unwatchable. We also could not stomach Jerry Lewis. Not since he split from Dean Martin, anyway. Dino was cool, but Jerry was an imposter who believed he was God’s gift to comedy. He wasn’t.

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Steve McQueen (L) & Robert Vaughn in Bullitt (1968)

As far as western stars were concerned we were unanimous. Gary Cooper and Randolph Scott were simply too old to play heroes. We were particularly averse to movies in which these two ‘over the hill’ old geezers were being drooled over by pretty young actresses. So annoying. Audie Murphy, Paul Newman, James Garner and Steve McQueen, on the other hand, were cool and pretty much guaranteed to choose good films to appear in. If we were pressed to name our three favourite westerns of the sixties, Hombre, Support Your Local Sheriff and Cat Ballou would almost certainly get the nod.

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Paul Newman in Hombre (1967)

We were not really into science fiction until Planet of the Apes came along in 1968. It starred Charlton Heston, a guy we could not stand because he was in too many biblical movies and did too much sermonising, but the time-travel concept intrigued us. And that final scene with the Statue of Liberty was one of the major movie talking points of the sixties. But just when we thought this picture might usher in a rash of interesting sci-fi tales, Stanley Kubrick bushwhacked us with his snail-like, overlong and completely confusing so-called ‘classic’, 2001: A Space Odyssey, also in 1968. That put the kibosh on science fiction for us once and for all. We liked our movies to have a beginning, a middle and an end. Kubrick, clearly a Meatloaf fan, embraced the concept that ‘two out of three ain’t bad’.

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Christopher Plummer in The Sound of Music (1965)

I have always enjoyed movie musicals, a legacy of my folks bringing home a soundtrack album every two or three weeks and then playing the thing until my siblings and I had been fully indoctrinated. Rodgers & Hammerstein, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Lerner & Loewe and others were all introduced to us at an early age. We loved them. Well, most of them. As far as I was concerned, the universally adored The Sound of Music was the exception. I have always felt its songs were not up to Rodgers & Hammerstein’s usual lofty standards, almost as if they were a collection of ‘left-overs’ from South Pacific, Carousel, Oklahoma!, and the rest, tunes that did not quite cut it. The general public would probably disagree, I’m sure. After all, millions and millions of album purchasers and cinema-goers cannot be wrong. Or can they? For the record, I have always thought the 1965 movie sucked as well. Oops! I have always found Elvis and Heston to be the two most nauseating ‘posers’ in movies – until along came Christopher Plummer as Baron Von Trapp! God, what a performance! Even though he is supposed to be in love with Maria, everybody and his dog can plainly see he is entirely in love with someone else. Himself. For some reason, women warmed to him in the role, evidently willing to ignore his posturing. Or did they just not notice it? Surely not.

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The sixties were a wonderful decade for both movies and music. The advent of the British Invasion in the pop music business saw the best decade in pop music history. Unfortunately, the movies this brought about were not memorable, not even those made by the Beatles. A Hard Day’s Night (1964), Help! (1965), Magical Mystery Tour (1967) and the animated Yellow Submarine (1968) appeared to be tossed together to clean up on the group’s phenomenal popularity. A few critics waxed lyrical about them but they really were ordinary at best. We went along to see them because we were into the music. But once was enough. Better than Elvis though.

2 Comments

    • It seems that just about everyone who worked with Heston found him to be difficult and overbearing, Cat. Of course, his NRA buddy Tom Selleck thought he was wonderful, but I don’t think they ever acted together.

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