The roots of the storied New Hollywood Era can be traced back to 1967, the landmark year when young mavericks and seasoned professionals fired their opening salvos in a groundbreaking, trendsetting revolution that continues to inspire contemporary filmmakers. Movies as diverse as BONNIE AND CLYDE and COOL HAND LUKE boldly challenged the restraints of the increasingly irrelevant Production Code, while even GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER, an old-fashioned concoction starring living legends Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, explicitly acknowledged that times were indeed a-changing.
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of that wonderful year, the 2017 Dallas International Film Festival offers a special 1967 retrospective program, including this panel discussion on the greatest year in cinema history!
CAMELOT chronicles the legend of King Arthur and his tortured love affair with queen Guenevere. Arthur’s bliss at his arranged marriage to the lovely Guenevere prompts him to establish the Knights of the Round Table, a lofty order of chivalry in which all the member knights are bound by a desire to help the oppressed, keeping faith with trust and honor. The dashing and stalwart Sir Lancelot joins the Knights Round Table and soon finds himself enraptured by the lovely Guinevere. When Arthur’s illegitimate son, Mordred, reappears in the kingdom and outs the secret lovers, Arthur finds himself trapped by his own rules into taking action against his wife and closest friend. Joshua Logan directs this lavish version of the successful Broadway musical production.
Paul Newman earned an Academy Award nomination for the playing the title role in COOL HAND LUKE, a charismatic and iconoclastic chain-gang prisoner. And co-star George Kennedy actually brought home the gold, winning the Oscar as Best Supporting Actor for his robust portrayal of Luke’s bellicose rival-turned-acolyte. But character actor Strother Martin, cast as a drawling tyrant of a warden, arguably fared best of all: He effortlessly achieved a special brand of pop-culture immortality with his impactful utterance of a powerful line—“What we’ve got here is failure to communicate!”—that 1967 moviegoers instantly recognized as both a character-defining exertion of condescending authority, and an astute summation of the zeitgeist.
At a time when political divides and generation gaps seemed to expand on a daily basis, even the most unlikely of role models—like, say, a prisoner on a Florida chain gang—might seem heroic to many simply for rebelling against something, anything, everything. Just like the original advertising tagline observed: “Luke just bugs the Establishment.”
Jim McBride’s mockumentary, which appears quite real on the surface, revolves around a young man in the process of making a film about his everyday life, and discovering something important about himself and his reality along the way. Spiritual forebear to the contemporary low-budget American independent film movement, the film is a detailed portrait of the specific time and place geographically known as New York City in the summer of 1967, and psychically felt as that morass of fraught concepts, idealisms, and dogma we call the Sixties.
Made for less than $3000 over 5 days of principal photography, DAVID HOLZMAN’S DIARY manages to be twenty years ahead of its time and perfectly of its time.
Sidney Poitier enjoyed an extraordinarily successful run in 1967 with three back-to-back box-office hits: TO SIR WITH LOVE, IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT, (which picked up the Oscar for Best Picture) and GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER. And yet, even during its original theatrical run, many critics and ticket-buyers dismissed the third feature in that lineup as creakily dated—more than one wag dubbed it The Best New Movie of 1947—and, worse, too timid by half while detailing the romance between an African-American doctor (Poitier) and his conspicuously Caucasian fiancée (Katharine Houghton), and the initially awkward response by the young woman’s putatively liberal parents (Hollywood legends Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn).
If you view director Stanley Kramer’s comedy in the context of 1967, however, you cannot help appreciating the sheer nerviness of the enterprise: At the time it was green-lit, interracial marriage was outlawed 17 states, a fact duly noted by a character in the film. (The Loving v. Virginia ruling actually was handed down by the Supreme Court while Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner was in production.) Another sign of the times: The movie was still in theaters when Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968. Out of respect for the slain civil right leader, Columbia Pictures snipped a joking reference to Dr. King from all prints then in circulation.
Ultimately, GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER was considered a success in the racially volatile year of 1967 and went on to receive 10 Academy Award-nominations, including Best Picture.