For National Classic Movie Day on 16th May, the Classic Film and TV Cafe are hosting the 6 from the '60s blogathon. Writers and bloggers are asked to pick their six favourite films of the 1960s and say a bit about their choices.
This event is a sequel to the Five Favourites of the Fifties blogathon, one of the most entertaining blogathons that I took part in last year. I think the 1960s choices are going to be more eclectic and harder to guess, so I'm especially interested in seeing what everyone else's picks are this time.
Anyway, these are my six choices. There are at least four films here that I don't expect to see on any other list. But who knows?
Two Way Stretch (1960)
Most Peter Sellers fans will probably tell you that his best films were made earlier in his career, before he got trapped playing Inspector Clouseau over and over again.
One of his best films is Two Way Stretch from 1960. Sellers plays the leader of a trio of imprisoned crooks (with David Lodge and Bernard Cribbins) who cook up a scheme to commit the perfect crime. They will break out of prison, carry out a daring jewel robbery, and then break back in again before anyone notices their absence, giving them a cast iron alibi. It seems like a foolproof scheme, but it gets derailed when a tough new prison warder, played by Lionel Jeffries, takes over.
Two Way Stretch is so funny that it cheers me up just thinking about it. It's brilliantly written and beautifully played by an unusually strong cast. Sellers is more subdued than in many of his more famous roles, giving us an uncharacteristic exercise in underplaying, but this does let some of the supporting actors shine. Wilfrid Hyde White's sly side has never been better employed than as the slippery con man "Soapy" Stevens, and Lionel Jeffries is a hoot as the new prison warder, Mr Crout, inevitably nicknamed "Sauer" by the prisoners. If you think no one could ever upstage Peter Sellers, then Lionel Jeffries is happy to prove you wrong.
School for Scoundrels (1960)
Subtitled "Or How to Win Without Actually Cheating", this droll comedy is inspired by Stephen Potter's "Lifemanship" books. It stars Ian Carmichael as Henry Palfrey, a perennial loser in life, who decides to turn his failing existence around by attending Potter's classes.
With the help of Potter (player by the incomparable Alastair Sim), Palfrey might just get the chance to win the girl he loves, April (Janette Scott), best his arch-rival, the caddish Raymond Delauney (Terry-Thomas, of course) and get his own back on those who have swindled and humiliated him.
School for Scoundrels is pleasingly structured as a series of linked vignettes. Palfrey begins by coming off badly in a series of encounters with Raymond Delauney, including one of the film's highlights, the famous tennis match ("Oh I say, hard cheese!"). He's also upstaged by his unctuous assistant, the wonderfully named Gloatbridge (Edward Chapman), and swindled by two smooth car salesmen (Dennis Price and Peter Jones) who sell him a hopeless old banger.
In the film's mid section, Palfrey attends Potter's course, and the film then returns to its earlier situations in the final section, with Palfrey now able to hoodwink the car salesman into taking his old heap back, get the better of Gloatbridge and turn the tables on Delauney.
Part of the charm of School for Scoundrels is that the characters and story suit the stars to a tee. Carmichael is sympathetic as one of his familiar put upon everyman characters, while Sim is perfect as his wise, avuncular, but also devious, tutor in the dark arts. Terry-Thomas, meanwhile, is wonderful in what is almost his signature role as arch-cad Raymond Delauney.
In this classic war epic, a hundred or so British soldiers at the mission station of Rorke's Drift, find themselves in the way of an advancing Zulu army of thousands.
Royal Engineers officer Lieutenant Chard (Stanley Baker) is in the vicinity and takes command at the mission station for what seems like a hopeless against-the-odds defence. He has slight superiority over the other officer, the aristocratic Lieutenant Bromhead, played by a young Michael Caine. Both stars are essentially cast against type. Baker, so often a screen villain or morally grey hero, is cast in a straightforwardly heroic role, while the working class Caine was catapulted to fame after nearly a decade in bit parts, in an untypical role as the upper class Bromhead.
The film focuses on the two stars, while also developing its supporting characters, including imperturbable Sergeant Bourne (Nigel Green), flawed man of God the Reverend Witt (Jack Hawkins) and incorrigible malingerer Private Hook (James Booth), who might just get the chance to redeem himself.
Zulu is a technical marvel, with beautiful photography, convincingly staged action scenes and an epic and rousing score by John Barry. Stanley Baker's dream project as producer and star, it probably did more for Michael Caine's career than his, but it's a handsome and exciting epic that's testament to Baker's skill as an actor and producer.
Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines (1965)
The sixties was the decade of the all-star knockabout comedy. The king of this genre, for me at least, is Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines.
It's 1910, and assorted intrepid aviators gather from around the world to take part in the first ever London to Paris air race, overseen by its sponsor, a wonderfully snooty Robert Morley. But, as Morley says, "The trouble with these international affairs is that they attract foreigners". And not only foreigners, but assorted national stereotypes as seen from a British POV.
These include an American cowboy (Stuart Whitman), a randy Frenchman (Jean-Pierre Cassel) a voluble Italian (Alberto Sordi) and a German contingent, led by a pompous and officious army officer, played by Mr Goldfinger himself, Gert Frobe.
Among the British are dashing young Guards officer James Fox and the dastardly Sir Percy Ware-Armitage, played by everyone's favourite 1960s comic villain, Terry-Thomas. Ware-Armitage isn't going to bother with any of that dangerous flying over the English Channel nonsense. He might get his feet wet. Much better to sneak over at night with his plane strapped to a boat and pretend that he flew across. The rotter!
Also along for the fun are a gallery of British comedians and comic actors of the time, including Tony Hancock, Benny Hill and Eric Sykes, the latter as Ware-Armitage's put-upon chauffeur, Courtney.
I used to love watching this film on TV as a child, but seeing it now in high definition, it's a revelation. It really is beautifully made with excellent photography and period trappings and topped by an amusing and inventive score by Ron Goodwin. And of course there are those magnificent old aeroplanes too.
Battle of Britain (1969)
I especially like big epic films, historical films, British actors, all-star casts and old aeroplanes. If only there was a film that combined all those unlikely elements. Oh wait, there is!
A clutch of all-star World War II epics appeared in the years after The Longest Day became a big box office success in 1962. One of the best and most underrated is Battle of Britain. This film tells the story of the aerial battle fought in the summer of 1940 between the British and German air forces.
James Bond produced Harry Saltzman enlisted his director on Goldfinger, Guy Hamilton, and rounded up a cast including Laurence Olivier, Christopher Plummer, Robert Shaw, Ian McShane, Michael Redgrave, Michael Caine, Trevor Howard, Susannah York, Curt Jurgens, Edward Fox and (in one scene) Ralph Richardson.
They genuinely don't make 'em like this anymore, because in 1969 the producers had to assemble their own air force out of genuine vintage planes, instead of just creating them all out of pixels as they would now.
Battle of Britain works partly because it's a massive and spectacular production, but also because it manages to cover so much in a not excessive two and a bit hours. Not just the air battles, but the plight of civilians, the randomness of sudden death, the battles over tactics between the RAF commanders, the waxing and waning of the battle, and the effects of combat and loss on the pilots of both sides.
It's also very historically accurate, unlike some other films of this type (I'm looking at you, Battle of the Bulge) and does a surprisingly good job at explaining how the battle was fought, how it developed and the tactics employed by both sides. It's also pretty funny in places and much more entertaining than I've probably made it sound by telling you how historically accurate it is.
The Italian Job (1969)
It wouldn't be the 1960s without some sort of crime caper, and the decade ended with one of the most iconic, The Italian Job.
Michael Caine plays Charlie Croker, newly released from prison and bequeathed the plan for a gold bullion robbery from an old friend who got on the wrong side of the Mafia. Croker just needs to round up some likely accomplices and get the backing of imprisoned crime boss Mr Bridger, memorably played by none other than Noel Coward.
The Italian Job must be the most British film of the sixties, a cheery crime caper with charming Cockney crooks, swanky motors, red, white and blue Minis, a snooty crime boss with a picture of the Queen on the wall of his prison cell, and Michael Caine at his most Michael Cainiest.
The film's highlight is probably the car chase through the streets of Turin, as the gangs' Minis make their getaway from the Italian police. The gold is then transferred to a coach, allowing the film to end with a famous cliffhanger (literally).
As with the 1950s list, I tried not to over-think these choices too much. It's very difficult to narrow it down to just six films, especially as this is one of my favourite film decades, but these films have all been favourites from an early age. The Ipcress File was so very nearly included, but then four Michael Caine films might have seemed excessive, and Charade, The Great Escape, Lawrence of Arabia and 2001 all came very close as well.
You can check out everyone else's choices for the blogathon over at the Classic Film and TV Cafe.