Tag Archives: 1963 Movie reviews

The Great Escape-1963

The Great Escape-1963

Director-John Sturges

Starring-Steve McQueen, James Garner, Richard Attenborough

Scott’s Review #1,053

Reviewed August 17, 2020

Grade: B

Often heralded as one of the great World War II action films of all time, there is little great about the first half of the interminable two hour and fifty-three-minute running time. With enough military silliness to make television’s Hogan’s Heroes seem like high drama, the first half of The Great Escape (1963) would be graded a mediocre C or a C- and that’s being generous.

The final hour is an entirely different matter and when the actual “great escape” is launched the film kicks into high gear. Not only does the action kick-off, but the characters become more layered, emotional, and compelling. There are also killer location shots of Germany and Switzerland occurring at a zooming pace and the comedy soon turns to tragedy. Why the decision to save all the goodies for the final act instead of dispersing them around is beyond me, but I am glad this film took off like it did.

Directed by John Sturges, known for creating a similarly masculine and muscular offering from 1960, The Magnificent Seven,  he once again is lucky to cast several of Hollywood’s then hot, young stars like Steve McQueen and James Garner, and more relatable character actors like Donald Pleasence and Richard Attenborough who provide the acting grit. While not on my list of great World War II films-Schindler’s List (1993) gets top honors, the film is recommended for the gutsy and enthralling finale alone.

The film is based on Paul Brickhill’s 1950 nonfiction book of the same name, a firsthand account of the mass escape by British Commonwealth prisoners of war from German POW camp Stalag Luft III in Nazi Germany. Unsurprisingly, and rather shockingly, the real events are significantly modified from the historical record, depicting a starkly fictionalized version of the escape, including Americans among the escapees.

Let’s discuss both portions, warts and all. The changes are most irritating and done to make it more “Americanized” and therefore more appealing to mainstream audiences. This manipulation gnawed at me during most of the film since it’s factually incorrect. To be fair, there is a brief disclaimer at the beginning of the film with a note basically saying the story is a work of fiction save for the escape portion, but this will inevitably be unnoticed or forgotten by the casual viewer.

Most of the first arc action is spent within the confinement of a massive, high-security, prisoner-of-war camp where the group of men are huddled, having escaped other camps or prisons. You would think the camp would be the equivalent of Alcatraz but besides some barbed wire and not so threatening German soldiers with guns they rarely use, it’s not so intimidating. Nonetheless, shortly upon arrival the group begins to plot their elaborate, mostly underground escape.

Whoever composed the musical score for the first section was going for a campy, situation comedy style tone with brassy, patriotic tunes worthy of Gilligan’s Island. This does nothing to create tension or danger nor do the Nazi soldiers. The men would be terrifying and rely on torture, but there is none of that to be found. Safe, but trying to be stern, this does not work as the German soldiers are played more like foils than those to be feared.

When the “great escape” is upon us, The Great Escape gets an A plus for its thrills, action, and emotion. A harrowing plane ride taken by Robert Hendley (Garner) and Colin Blythe (Pleasence) is juicy with tension and atmosphere. As the duo flies low across the German terrain heading over the Swiss Alps for safety the plane exhibits trouble. Meanwhile, Hilts (McQueen) steals a motorcycle and traverses the Germany/Switzerland border in a frantic chase scene while the Germans are in hot pursuit. In a third sequence, other men flee via train in a cat and mouse pursuit.

Seventy-six POW’s flee the camp and a startling fifty are killed. Twenty-three are returned to the camp and only three successfully escape. If Sturges had built around the final hour and reduced the silly comedy style, probably attempting a contrasting theme to make the drama more imbalanced, he might have had a masterpiece on hand. Instead, The Great Escape (1963) is a twofold experience. A comedy that develops into a nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat thriller, but suffers from too much historical inaccuracy to reach the depths of cinematic greatness.

Oscar Nominations: Best Film Editing

The Leopard-1963

The Leopard-1963

Director-Luchino Visconti

Starring-Burt Lancaster, Claudia Cardinale

Scott’s Review #991

Reviewed February 18, 2020

Grade: A

One of the great works in cinematic history, I preface this review by stating that I viewed the English dubbed version of the brilliant The Leopard (1963) starring Burt Lancaster and Claudia Cardinale. This version is considerably shorter, at two hours and forty-one minutes, than the Italian version, which is three hours and five minutes. As grand as the former is, my hunch is that something is lost in translation put side by side with the latter. The English version has no subtitles and is available only on DVD, so the film is difficult to follow, but is still rich with texture.

An interesting tidbit is that the film surgery was performed without director Luchino Visconti’s input – the director was unhappy with the editing and the dubbing. This point is valid since some of the voices are Italian and French, sounding too American and unauthentic. Admittedly inferior, the English version is nonetheless extravagant and lovely by its own merits, though I am dying to see the original version, if available.

The time-period is during the 1860’s as the tumultuous era effects the country of Italy and more specifically, Sicily. Prince Don Fabrizio Salina (Lancaster) is at a crossroads, torn between holding onto glory he once knew, and accepting the changing times, welcoming a more modern unity within the country. He is surrounded by a new mayor, Don Calogero Sedara (Paolo Stoppa) who has a gorgeous daughter, Angelica (Cardinale), who intends to marry Fabrizio’s French nephew, Tancredi Falconeri (Alain Delon). The film dissects the changing times in Italy.

The visual treats that await the viewer are astounding and by far the best part of the film. The lovely and palatial estates are gorgeous with decorative sets, bright and zesty colors, and ravishing meals displayed during parties to make any audience member salivate with joy. The costumes are state of the art, as each frame can easily be a painting on a canvas. A tip is to periodically pause the film and study and immerse oneself in its style.

Many film comparisons, both past and yet to come, can easily be made when thought about. An Italian Gone with the Wind (1939), if you will, with Angelica as Scarlett and Tancredi as Rhett (okay, the chemistry is not quite the same, but similarities do exist), and Concetta as the long-suffering Melanie, the characters can be compared. The great ball, the costumes, and the ravaged country are more prominent comparisons.

Nine years post The Leopard, a little film entitled The Godfather (1972) would change the cinematic landscape forever. Director, Frances Ford Coppola must have studied this film, as the plentiful scenes of Italian landscape and the Italian culture are immersed in both films. Even snippets of the musical score mirror each other. What a grand film to borrow and cultivate from!

Despite all the beautiful trimmings that make The Leopard a masterpiece, the film belongs to Lancaster, in his best role of his career. The hunk in 1953’s From Here to Eternity, as the Prince, he is aged to perfection, distinguished looking with graying sideburns. The film is an epic extravaganza and the actor leads the charge, carrying the film. He is a stoic man, but not without fault and emotion, wearing his heart on his sleeve, realizing that he must adapt to the changing times. We feel his quandary and embrace the character as a human being.

Attention paying fans must be forewarned that the plot is basic and while difficult to follow because of the absence of sub-titles, at the same time there is not a highly complex story to follow. The story is about how the Prince maneuvers his family through troubled (and changing) times to a more secure position. This is the overlying theme of the film.

Suffering from dubbing and quality control issues can do nothing to ruin a spectacular offering that is obviously a cinematic gem and testament to the power of The Leopard’s (1963) staying power. I eagerly await the day when the traditional Italian version can be located, and discovered, as this will assuredly be a treat to sink my teeth into. Until then, the film is a historical epic that can be appreciated for the dynamics and importance it so richly deserves.

Oscar Nominations: Best Costume Design, Color

8 1/2-1963

8 1/2-1963

Director-Federico Fellini

Starring-Marcelo Mastroianni, Claudia Cardinale

Scott’s Review #973

Reviewed December 27, 2019

Grade: A-

For fans of acclaimed and experimental Italian film director, Federico Fellini, a clear plot is rarely the recipe of the day with his projects. With 8 1/2 (1963) he creates a personal and autobiographical story of a movie director pressured into another project but lacking creative ideas and inspiration to fulfill the task. We can all relate to this in one way or another.

The film is confusing, beautiful, elegant, and dreamlike, exactly what one would expect of a Fellini production. His film also hints at a deeper message and complexities. The recommendation is to experience the film rather than analyze or worse yet, over-analyze it, simply letting it marinate over time and relish in the offerings.

Guido Anselmi (Marcello Mastroianni) is a famous Italian film director suffering from director’s block after he is tasked with, and attempts to direct, an epic science fiction film. Experiencing marital difficulties, he decides to spend time at a luxurious spa where he has strange reoccurring visions of a beautiful woman (Claudia Cardinale), is visited by his mistress Carla (Sandra Milo), and is berated by a temperamental film critic.

When Guido’s film crew arrives at his hotel in the hopes of starting production, he becomes overwhelmed by the mounting pressures and escapes into a world of memories. He visits his grandmother, dances with a prostitute, and relives his time at a strict Catholic school. Attempts to add these memories to his new film are dismissed by the film critic. The rest of the film is a mish mash of odd occurrences as Guido attempts to make his film.

Fans of Fellini’s other works will undoubtedly fall in love with 8 1/2, and since the film is about film this scores points in my book. His other famous works like Roma (1972) and Amarcord (1973) are similarly semi-auto biographical but differ in that they are more straightforward stories- as much as can be said about a Fellini film. Usually lacking much plot 8 1/2 resembles Juliet and the Spirits (1965) more than the others for comparisons sake. Fantasy and reality are interspersed, making the film tough to follow.

It appears to be about a man on the brink of a nervous breakdown and is a complex and personal study. As Guido spirals out of control and teetering towards insanity, he also muses about his situation. These highs and lows told in a comical fashion make 8 1/2 even more difficult to figure out and react to.

My previous suggestion to simply experience 8 1/2 achieves credibility as the film rolls along. Viewers may be unsure of what is happening, if not downright perplexed by the whole thing, but there is an energy that pulls one into its clutches with masterful sequences and potent embraces of life, loves, and culture. This must be attributed to the look and style of the film.

8 1/2 won the Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Costume Design (black-and-white) and is considered a highly respected and influential work of art by most film critics. Appreciated mostly for its beautiful cinematography, it also delves into the meaning of life with a live and let live approach.

Lovers of avant-garde works of interpretation and expressionism will be giddy with delight while experiencing ruminating thoughts following 8 1/2 (1963). Having only seen the film once and embraced it wholly as a work of art, but frustrated by the lack of tangible meaning, my own advice is to see the film a second, a third, or even a fourth time for a deeper appreciation and understanding. I plan to heed my own suggestion.

Oscar Nominations: Best Director-Federico Fellini, Best Story and Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen, Best Foreign Language Film (won), Best Art Direction, Black-and-White, Best Costume Design, Black-and-White

The Sword in the Stone-1963

The Sword in the Stone-1963

Director-Wolfgang Reitherman

Voices-Sebastian Cabot, Karl Swenson

Scott’s Review #896

Reviewed May 10, 2019

Grade: B

The 1960’s, while not known as the very best of decades for Walt Disney productions, offers a small gem of a film in The Sword in the Stone (1963). The film, flying marginally under the radar, is not typically well-remembered but is a solid offering, mixing elements of magic and royalty within a cute story. The production holds the dubious honor of being the final Disney animated film to be released before Walt Disney’s death.

While the film is not great, neither is it bad. Engaging and innocent it does not offer the ravaging tragedy of Bambi (1942), the emotion of Dumbo (1941) nor the beauty of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). What the Sword in the Stone does offer is an adventure with an appealing lead character, mildly entertaining supporting characters and a whole host of fun antics enshrouded around education.

Set during ancient times, the King of England has died, leaving no heir to the throne. This elicits peril and worry since with no successor in place, the country is doomed for war. One day a miracle occurs and an odd “Sword in the Stone” appears inside a sturdy anvil in London, with an inscription proclaiming that whoever removes it will be the new king.

Despite a myriad of attempts none of the strong townsmen succeed and England is reduced to the Dark Ages, leaving the sword and the stone forgotten. When one day a twelve-year-old lad named Arthur appears, he teams up with his tutor, Merlin the wizard, and the adventures commence. Inevitably Arthur can remove the sword from the stone and will go on to lead the Knights of the Round Table, accomplishing many amazing feats and becoming one of the most famous figures in history- King Arthur.

The Sword in the Stone entertains and pleases the eyes in many regards with vibrant colors and an array of bells and whistles creatively interspersed throughout a myriad of scenes. The main villain of the story, Madam Mim, is Merlin’s main nemesis. Haggard and dripping with black magic powers, she can turn from a pink elephant into a queen with the flick of her wrist as she giggles and prances about. Despite being dastardly she is also fun and zany and delights in her brief screen time.

The whimsical antics of Merlin are the best aspects of The Sword in the Stone as the senior gentleman bursts and bumbles from one oddity to another in earnest attempts to aid Arthur. Thanks to clever writing an educational angle is a robust incorporation to the story. Merlin can see into the future, at least in glimpses, such as knowing that the world is round not flat. What a great learning tool the film provides for young kids to discover.

The story risks playing too amateurish in some parts where I can see children under the age of twelve enthralled but adults finding the film too childish to take seriously. Despite my best efforts to stay tuned I noticed tidbits of the film that seem too cute for me. When Merlin and Arthur are turned into squirrels and strike the fancy of adorable but clueless female squirrels, the scene seems best catered to very young audiences.

What would give the film some bombast would be a good solid theme song or a powerful love story. Both aspects, able to solidify a hit for Disney, are glaringly missing. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs contains the lovely “Someday My Price Will Come” while Snow White and the Prince offer a rich love story. While good, The Sword in the Stone can reach only second tier of Disney classics, missing the upper echelon with only so-so musical offerings.

A slight miss is the way Arthur’s voice changes back and forth from child to teenager going through puberty and this is drastically noticeable. The reason, rather perplexing when analyzed, is that three different actors were used to play Arthur resulting in some consistency issues. Why not just use one actor or age the character slowly and gradually deepen his voice? The back and forth feels sloppy.

At the end of the day the criticisms targeted at The Sword in the Stone (1963) are minor and forgivable as the film plays above average graded on its own terms. The film has a nice message for children about the importance of education and is a wonderful delight best served to the whole family.

Oscar Nominations: Best Scoring of Music-Adaptation or Treatment

From Russia with Love-1963

From Russia with Love-1963

Director-Terence Young

Starring-Sean Connery, Daniela Bianchi

Scott’s Review #615

Reviewed February 5, 2017

Grade: A

From Russia with Love (1963), only the second in the storied James Bond film franchise, is a sequel to the debut installment, Dr. No, and received twice the budget that its predecessor did. This is evident as the cinematography and the look of the film are exquisite with chase and battle scenes galore. The film is lavish and grand and what a Bond film ought to be- consisting of adventures through countries, gorgeous location sequences, and a nice romance between Bond (Sean Connery) and Bond girl, Tatiana (Daniela Bianchi), though she is not in my top Bond girls of all time. Terence Young returned to direct the film with successful results.

Vowing revenge on James Bond for killing villainous Dr. No, SPECTRE’s Number 1 (seen only speaking and holding a cat) recruits evil Number 3, Rosa Klebb, a Russian director and defector, and Kronsteen, SPECTRE’s expert planner, to devise a plot to steal a Lektor cryptographic device from the Soviets and kill Bond in the process.  Klebb recruits expert killer Donald “Red” Grant, and manipulates Tatiana into assisting. The story takes Bond mostly through Istanbul, Turkey, into a gypsy camp, and via the Orient Express through Yugoslavia to the ultimate climax.

The villains in From Russia with Love are outstanding and a major draw to the film. Both Klebb (Lotte Lenya) and Grant (Robert Shaw) are perfectly cast. Klebb, militant and severe with her short cropped red hair, has a penchant for deadly footwear (she has a spike that shoots out from her boot containing venom that kills in seconds) and casually flaunts her lesbianism in front of Tatiana. I admire this level of diversity in early Bond films from a sexuality perspective- it was 1963 and this was extremely rare to see in film.

Grant, on the other hand, is handsome and charismatic and has a chest of steel. With his good looks and beached blonde hair he is a perfect opponent for Bond as the final battle between he and Bond aboard the Orient Express is a spectacular fight scene and a satisfactory conclusion to the film.

The action sequences are aplenty and compelling especially the aforementioned, and lengthy Orient Express train sequence finale, which is grand. As Bond and Tatiana, along with their ally Ali Kerim Bey, a British Intelligence chief from Istanbul, embark on a journey, they are stalked by Grant, who waits for an opportunity to pounce on his foes. This sequence is the best part of the film for me- Grant, posing as a sophisticated British agent, has a cat and mouse style conversation with Bond and Tatiana over a delicious dinner of sole. Grant drugs Tatiana by placing capsules in her white wine- the fact that he orders Chianti with sole- a culinary faux pas- gives him away.

Other notable aspects of From Russia with Love are the soon to be familiar cohorts of Bond who will be featured in Bond films for years to come: M, Q, and Miss Moneypenny become treasured supporting characters that audiences know and love. Mere novices in this film, it is fun to see their scenes- especially lovelorn Moneypenny.

An odd scene of sparring female gypsies is both erotic and comical as the two women wrestle and fight over a gypsy chief, only to soon forget their rivalry and both bed Bond- falling madly in love with him as the two women suddenly become the best of friends.

The chemistry between Connery and Bianchi is good, but nothing spectacular and not the real highlight of this Bond entry. Don’t get me wrong- they make a gorgeous couple- his dark, suave looks, and her statuesque blonde figure look great, but I found the pairing just decent rather than spectacular.

The action sequences, especially the Orient Express scenes are a spectacle and the many locations shots in and around Istanbul are ravishing. From Russia with Love is a top entry in the Bond series and a film that really got the ball rolling with fantastic Bond features- it is an expensively produced film and this shows.

The Birds-1963

The Birds-1963

Director-Alfred Hitchcock

Starring-Tippi Hedren, Rod Taylor

Top 100 Films-#2     Top 20 Horror Films-#2     

Scott’s Review #173

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Reviewed September 22, 2014

Grade: A

The Birds is one of Director Alfred Hitchcock’s finest works. Made in 1963, following Psycho, it continues Hitchcock’s run of successes, both commercially and critically. Set in northern California (in both San Francisco and Bodega Bay) it tells the story of unexplained bird attacks in a peaceful small bay town.

Tippi Hedren plays Melanie Daniels, a wealthy socialite from San Francisco, who drives to Bodega Bay to romantically pursue a love interest, Mitch Brenner. Mitch, played by Rod Taylor, is a successful attorney who meets and shares a flirtation with Melanie the day before at a San Francisco pet store. He regularly visits his mother (Jessica Tandy) and sister (Veronica Cartwright) in Bodega Bay. Once Melanie arrives in town birds begin periodically attacking the locals living in the sleepy community.

The Birds is a film that holds up incredibly well and is as exciting and horrifying today at it has ever been in the past. One intriguing aspect of the film is that it offers no rhyme or reason for the bird attacks, which keeps the viewer guessing from the moment a gull swoops down and attacks innocent Melanie- It is completely mysterious and open to interpretation- are birds fed up with being caged? Are the love birds that Melanie purchased the cause of the attacks? Do the birds hate humans? Why do they attack the children? Why do they peck the eyes of their victims out? One could spend hours debating these questions. A major creative success of the film is its elimination of a musical score. The eerie silence mixed in with the loud sounds of the birds attacking is a haunting dynamic.

My favorite scene of The Birds features Melanie sitting on a wooden bench in the schoolyard enjoying a cigarette. Behind her is a deserted jungle gym. She barely notices a tiny bird innocently fly past her and land on the jungle gym. She continues smoking her cigarette. The viewer sees what Melanie cannot- as slowly hundreds of birds land on the jungle gym behind her. Without music this scene is deadly silent and very dramatic as it switches from close-ups of Melanie to long shots of the birds gravitating behind her. Another interesting aspect of The Birds is the character relationships- Mitch’s mother Lydia is afraid of losing her son so she initially despises Melanie; Mitch’s ex-girlfriend, schoolteacher Annie Hayworth strikes up a close friendship with Melanie- one might expect them to be rivals. A hysterical mother lashes out at Melanie, calling her evil, blaming her for the attacks. One wonders, amid the long periods of calm, when the next attack will occur- and we know it will. We look for clues as to what triggers the attacks and we find none. This makes for brilliant and suspenseful film making. They hardly come better than the masterpiece that is The Birds.

Oscar Nominations: Best Special Effects

Blood Feast-1963

Blood Feast-1963

Director-H.G.Lewis

Starring-Thomas Wood, Connie Mason

Scott’s Review #100

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Reviewed July 10, 2014

Grade: B-

Blood Feast is the debut film by horror master H.G. Lewis, who invented the gore genre. The film is simplistic and makes his later films almost seem big budget. This film is clearly not meant to be taken seriously and anyone who does is completely missing the point. It is exploitation, but completely over-the-top, with wooden performances for laughs, specifically by Connie Mason who stinks.

The story involves a demented caterer who is hired by a mother to cater an Egyptian themed dinner party. He, of course, uses real body parts to complete the meal and is obsessed with some silly curse and owns a female Egyptian statue who talks to him. The kills are laugh out loud in their basic shock value and all the victims are women. One victims tongue is torn out, as another is whipped to death, which, in a more modern film like Saw would be horrific. But the kills are so comedic, and the gore blood so amateurish, that the audience cannot help but chuckle.

The highlight for me was the intentionally (let’s hope) horrendous acting by all involved. I much preferred H.G. Lewis’s later films, but this blueprint is a nice introduction.