As is by now traditional (well, it’s the second full year) this isn’t my choice of the top films of the year, but yours, my loyal readers. This is a chart of the films viewed the most times over full calendar year of January 2022 – December 2022.
Jessica(1962). Angie Dickinson plays a young widow who turns so many heads in a small Italian town that their wives seek revenge. The film had debuted at No 30 in the previous year’s chart so showed remarkable staying power.
Once Upon a Time in the West (1969). Sergio Leone’s masterpiece now acclaimed as the greatest western ever made. Top class cast – Claudia Cardinale, Charles Bronson, Henry Fonda and Jason Robards – and one of the greatest scores ever written courtesy of Ennio Morricone.
The Swinger (1966). Ann-Margret sparkles as author reinventing herself by writing a sex novel.
Fraulein Doktor (1969). Suzy Kendall as German spy outwitting the British during World War One.
Can Heironymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humpe and Find True Happiness? (1969). Fellini-esque musical with abundant nudity as writer-director-star Anthony Newley tries to unravel the meaning of life.
Father Stu (2022). Under-rated biopic with Mark Wahlberg as unlikely priest.
Blonde(2022). Andrew Dominik’s controversial reimagining of the life of Marilyn Monroe with Ana de Armas
For a Few Dollars More(1965).Sergio Leone re-teams with Clint Eastwood in the second in the spaghetti western trilogy with Lee Van Cleef as a rival bounty hunter.
A Place for Lovers(1968). Faye Dunaway and Marcello Mastroianni in Vittorio De Sica doomed romance.
Fade In(1968). Burt Reynolds disowned this romance filmed against the backdrop of making the Terence Stamp western Blue but it’s better than he thinks.
The Secret Ways (1961). Richard Widmark in spy thriller set in Hungary during the Cold War and adapted from the Alistair MacLean novel. Senta Berger has a small role. Top film for 2021, so demonstrating the ongoing popularity of films based on the author’s works.
The Sisters (1969). Complicated menage a trois that borders on the semi-incestuous starring Nathalie Delon and Susan Strasberg.
Pharoah (1966). Epic Polish picture about political shenanigans in ancient Egypt. Another film with legs – it was No 3 in the 2021 annual chart.
Water Gate Bridge / Battle at Lake Changjin II (2022). Another epic, non-stop action from the Chinese point-of-view in a sequel to one of the most famous battles of the Korean War.
Harlow (1965). Carroll Baker as the blonde bombshell who rocketed to fame in 1930s Hollywood.
Baby Love (1969). Morality tale as orphaned Linda Hayden tries to fit into an upper-class London household.
Moment to Moment (1966). Hitchockian thriller set in the South of France with adulterous Jean Seberg suspected of killing her lover.
Secret Ceremony (1968). Elizabeth Taylor, Mia Farrow and Robert Mitchum in atmospheric Joseph Losey drama.
Lady in Cement (1969). Gangster’s moll Raquel Welch steals the show in Frank Sinatra’s second outing as private eye Tony Rome.
Subterfuge (1968). Suzanna Leigh steals the show as a sadistic henchwoman trying to prevent Gene Barry uncovering a mole in M.I.5.
P.J. / New Face in Hell (1967). George Peppard taken to the cleaners as down-on-his luck private eye.
The Golden Claws of the Cat Girl (1968). Cult French movie starring Daniele Gaubert as a sexy cat burglar. This was No 6 last year.
The Gray Man (2022). Spectacular Netflix misfire with Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans as rival assassins and Ana de Armas adding some spice.
The Brotherhood (1968). Martin Ritt Mafia drama sees siblings Kirk Douglas and Alex Cord falling out.
Some Girls Do (1969). Richard Johnson returns as Bulldog Drummond battling archvillains Daliah Lavi and Beba Loncar.
Pressure Point (1962). Prison psychiatrist Sidney Poitier treats racist patient Bobby Darin. Very unusual imagery.
The Double Man (1967). C.I.A. operative Yul Brynner battles Russian espionage in Switzerland with Britt Ekland providing the glamor.
Operation Mincemeat (2022). Re-telling of “The Man Who Never Was” World War Two plot that duped Hitler over Sicilian invasion plans.
Orgy for the Dead (1965). Bizarre cult horror tale where most of the female characters appear to be auditioning for a nudie film.
Texas Across the River (1966). Alain Delon acts against type in Dean Martin comedy western.
Outstanding thriller in the paranoia vein with Robert Redford delivering one of his best performances. Never mind the terrific score by Dave Grusin (Tell them Willie Boy Is Here, 1969), the soundtrack to this tale of political chicanery involving the C.I.A. is the chattering of computer printers.
Joe Turner (Robert Redford) is an amiable geek – beanie hat, unfashionable Solex moped – working in an obscure department of the C.I.A. (although one where the receptionist has a gun in her desk drawer) looking for codes in novels. He doesn’t quite conform to type, irritating his rules-conscious colleagues, late for work, illicitly using the back door instead of the front. On returning from collecting lunch, he finds the entire department massacred. His Washington boss Higgins (Cliff Robertson) promises to bring him in but instead arranges an ambush.
On the run, unable to return to his own apartment, his girlfriend Janice (Tina Chen) among those murdered, he kidnaps photographer Kathy (Faye Dunawaye) at first content to find somewhere to hole up but then using her to help him resolve the issues. It’s soon apparent that Turner, in his desk job, has stumbled upon a secret organisation deep within the C.I.A. In a touch of the Hitchcocks, director Sydney Pollack (The Scalphunters, 1968) lets the audience know what Turner does not, that Higgins and his bosses Wabash (John Houseman) and Atwood (Addison Powell) are out for his blood, assassin Joubert (Max von Sydow) the triggerman.
But as Joubert points out, Turner is an amateur and that makes him unpredictable. The killers believe Turner will easily be dealt with. But he’s not as stupid or unresourceful as they might expect. The opening section reveals just how handy he is: fixing a computer, knowledgeable about plants and for some reason the weather, working out an insoluble murder in a book, and most important of all has learned to trust nobody especially his bosses. It turns out he’s got a few of his own tricks up his sleeve, not least how to work a telephone exchange to his advantage and how to flush out his adversaries.
There’s a terrific game of cat-and-mouse and in possibly the only picture in the early cycle of conspiracy pictures the first character capable of harnessing technology.
You often read about character-driven movies but that’s only usually in the sense of dramatic flaws or preferring exploring personality to action. This is character-driven in an entirely different way. Turner’s life depends on him being able to read character, to notice what’s wrong or false in a given situation, to assess the qualities of those around him. For much of the dialogue, Turner is observing as much as listening, watching for behavioural clues.
Even without the presence of Kathy, this would have been a highly satisfactory thriller. But the tentative romance takes it to another level. Unusually, she is a loner, whose photographic metier is loneliness. That they bond at all is surprising, that they do so with such touching emotion brings unexpected intimacy.
There’s a very contemporary feel to the politics, not just American authorities doing what they want but the idea that liberal values will vanish the moment there is genuine threat to loss of the high living standards citizens enjoy or, worse, oil or gas rationing or famine. “Do we have plans to invade the Middle East?” Turner demands of Higgins. And at one point Turner uses unsuspecting people as a human shield.
For such a fast-moving picture, time is taken out to understand the characters involved, Higgins not quite as far up the espionage tree as he should be, Joubert’s hobby the meticulous painting of model soldiers. A peck on the cheek is all the information we are given that Tina, a work colleague, is Turner’s girlfriend.
As Kathy moves from indignant captive to welcome participant, you can see that she represents the desire of many liberals to give the authorities a bloody nose. There is one brilliant moment at the end where Turner’s fears overcome his feelings and the devastation of what she perceives as emotional betrayal is seen on her face.
But this is Robert Redford’s picture. He was on an almighty box office roll – Jeremiah Johnson (1972), The Sting (1973), The Way We Were (1973), The Great Gatsby (1974), The Great Waldo Pepper (1975) and on the horizon All the President’s Men (1976). Every minute of the movie his face or body are working hard, eyes constantly involved in the character observation I mentioned. He goes from being light-hearted and handsome at the start to serious and deadly at the end. And there are some superb bits of business. When the rain stops, for example, he checks his watch to see it has ended when he predicted. When he returns after lunch, he peers down over the steps to see that his moped that earlier some kids had tried to steal was still there.
This is probably the quietest you’ll ever see Faye Dunaway (A Place for Lovers, 1968). She is an enigma, the puzzle only uncovered in her photographs. But as a photographer, she is also an observer, and she soon likes what she sees in Turner. The strong supporting cast includes Cliff Robertson (Masquerade, 1965), Max von Sydow (The Quiller Memorandum, 1966), John Houseman (Seven Days in May, 1964), Tina Chen (Alice’s Restaurant, 1969) and Addison Powell (The Thomas Crown Affair, 1968).
Sydney Pollack does an exceptional job, cutting between the pursuers and the pursued. The opening sequence itself is quite superb as the director sets up the massacre which is carried out in silence, machine guns fitted with suppressors, while providing insight into Turner. Based on the bestseller Six Days of the Condor by James Grady, the intelligent screenplay by Lorenzo Semple Jr.(Fathom, 1967, and The Parallax View, 1974) and David Rayfiel (Castle Keep, 1969) keeps everyone on their toes.
More straightforwardly enjoyable than Coppola’s self-conscious The Conversation (1974) and Pakula’s occasionally opaque The Parallax View (1974) with computer surveillance, giving this another contemporary edge, a key factor in the way the tale that switches between pursued and pursuer
Not quite the Hollywood romance, too much bellyaching from the male for a start, and a couple of years before Love Story (1971) gave terminal illness a box office shot in the arm, but nonetheless very much an adult love affair and far from deserving a place in the top 50 worst films of all time.
For a start director Vittorio De Sica plays around with audience expectations. This always has the feel of a romance that could end at any time, of characters not quite sure of the other person’s feelings, real love or just sex, the sense of not knowing where this could go, and of where, emotionally, they find themselves. And it begins with confusion, a blaring horn in the background, a close-up of Julia (Faye Dunaway), and then she jiggles around with some bricks in a wall before retrieving a key and finding her way inside a grand though modern Italian pallazo. You’ve no idea why she is here and I guess neither does she.
There’s been no meet-cute and there’s no real intimation of how the attraction began except, judging from a brief flashback, they must have bumped into each other at an airport. That’s my conclusion anyway because the details of the actual meeting are never clarified, like a lot of what subsequently goes on. She hides information from him, he does the same, so for a time feelings are not spelled out. It’s clandestine in all the wrong ways. There’s a separation, a distance, characters often seen in very long shot. Sometimes there are physical barriers between them, a high fence in one instance, as if true intimacy is impossible.
Still no sign of the man she has come to visit. She rescues a stray dog from the town dog collector. It’s an exceptionally grand house, classically designed, marble floors, paintings and artistic artefacts all over the place, but no clutter. When Valerio (Marcello Mastroianni) arrives – it’s his house – he checks the labels on her luggage, presumably finding out her full name, possibly her address, possibly accustomed to lovers providing false information on both counts. We learn he’s a safety-conscious racing driver, a man who requires barriers.
They are on a deadline already. She is only in Italy for a further two days. This is a lie. She has 10 days at her disposal but wants to set the pace, heat up the sexual atmosphere. They make love beside a lake. He takes her to dinner with friends where the entertainment is a lecture on sexual positions shown in art. But after someone suggests a game of what we would these days term speed-dating, he calls an end to the affair, jealous that she would consider spending any time in close proximity to another man.
So that’s it. Grand love affair dead and buried after just one day. Except she turns up next day at a practice at a racing circuit. After they reconcile, she watches in a car mirror as he makes a call in a phone box – speaking to his wife or another lover, we never find out, except her reaction explains it must be either.
There’s little of the sparkling dialog found in Hollywood romances, especially for audiences who grew up on the Tracy-Hepburn pictures, but she tells him that “if you put all the houses I have lived in you would make a good little town” and not just that she had lived a peripatetic lifestyle but that she also had six grandfathers so a rather fluid upbringing. She confesses now she has more time to spare, she just wanted him to ask for it, being stricken by her potential absence an indication in her eyes of true love.
So this is a fragile individual, her smile is always hesitant, external confidence hiding vulnerability. Her face is never flush with passion. When he asks why she never revealed her terminal illness, she replies, “I can’t take any more sad eyes.” There’s an ironic ending.
It is of course set against glorious backdrops but instead of letting the audience wallow in the love affair, as would be the Hollywood temptation, De Sica finds some way of undercutting it. Valerio is never quite sure of her and she is never quite sure of him. Their pasts remain hidden. Their lovemaking beside the lake is interrupted by a hunter bagging game. She coos over a baby only to discover it has an ugly father. She drives too fast even with a racing driver in the passenger seat and she clearly has suicidal tendencies, the love affair almost a salve for her despair.
We could have been presented with the suave charming Marcello Mastroianni (La Dolce Vita, 1960) cliché from a dozen Italian films, but instead he is often jealous, annoyed, real. Faye Dunaway (Bonnie and Clyde, 1967) plays a character who never knows where she stands with her emotions, accepting her fate one moment, determined to end her life the next, and yet still time to dally in a love affair that of course can have no future.
Vittorio De Sica (Two Women, 1960) has fashioned a picture that is neither uplifting nor downhearted, a love affair that lives just for the moment, but with implied complications that could at any moment wreck it, a romance always teetering on the edge.
I’ve no idea what compelled Harry Medved to include this in The Fifty Worst Films of All Time, published in 1978, but you might easily question his judgement on discovering that his list includes Sergei Eisenstein epic Ivan the Terrible, Alain Resnais’s hypnotic Last Year at Marienbad, Otto Preminger’s Hurry Sundown, Alfred Hitchcock’s Jamaica Inn and even such passable entertainments as The Omen.
Maybe you’ve been put off giving this a whirl thanks to the Medved seal of disapproval. A Place for Lovers is not the greatest film ever made, but it’s certainly far from the worst, two striking actors and a director who could never make a terrible picture make sure of that.
No DVD available so you will need to check out Ebay or streaming.
Dream Team Number One: Clark Gable and Jean Harlow. This was of course a good 30 years before the movie actually got made. The Horace McCoy novel was purchased in 1935 by MGM as a big-budget project teaming Clark Gable and Jean Harlow. This was despite Variety proclaiming it was “not screen material.” The premature death of Harlow put paid to the idea. Next, actor Wallace Ford (Freaks, 1932) bought it with Broadway in mind. A production was scheduled to open in 1939, but never did.
Dream Team Number Two: Charlie Chaplin and Marilyn Monroe. When the comedian purchased the rights in the early 1950s he intended Marilyn Monroe to play the leading female. Although she was a mere starlet Chaplin had form in building up newcomers. Author McCoy had by that point become an accomplished screenwriter with over 30 credits including Gentleman Jim (1942), film noir Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye (1950) and The Lusty Men (1952) That concept fell by the wayside when Chaplin was effectively banished from America while launching Limelight (1951) in Britain.
It was another 14 years before interest in the novel was revived by screenwriter James Poe, who purchased the rights from the McCoy estate. Although most famous within the trade for being accused of fraudulent behaviour in relation to his screenplay for Around the World in 80 Days (1956). Despite an Oscar for the film he was sued for $250,000. However, he had a sterling body of work including Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), Sanctuary (1960), Lilies of the Field (1963), The Bedford Incident (1965) and Riot (1969) and two other Oscar nominations.
In 1965 he had signed a multi-picture writer-director deal with Columbia. He was either going to make his directorial on The Gambler or They Shoot Horses, Don’t They. It turned out to be the latter. Failing to get the movie off the ground with Columbia or under his own steam, he turned to new studio Palomar, which was a production entity set up by the ABC television network, which bought over his rights as well as his script but kept Poe on as director.
Dream Team Number Three: Faye Dunaway. Yep, one big star, not two. Poe’s screenplay, while not eliminating the male lead, spun on a female star. Dunaway, hot after Bonnie and Clyde (1967), was offered $600,000 to play the role. Mia Farrow was also in contention, for $500,000. The only problem was, the budget could not remotely stretch to that. As helmed by Poe, it was to cost no more than $900,000. The film was scheduled to begin shooting in spring 1968 but a month later the start date shifted to June.
Two relative newcomers Robert Chartoff and Irwin Winkler were brought in as producers to move the project along. Later they would be responsible for such classics as Rocky (1976), The Raging Bull (1980), The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) and The Irishman (2018), but at this point they had just three pictures under their belt, although that included Point Blank (1967), Their first task: persuade Poe to rewrite the script. They felt the third act needed work with restructuring elsewhere to make the pay-off work.
But Poe, believing his position was sacrosanct, refused to discuss a rewrite. He refused to discuss anything, period, treating the producers as his assistants rather than people with some power within the studio. According to Irwin Winkler, “Poe seemed unaware of the of the normal process of preparation, even though he’d been around movie sets for decades.”
Realising that getting a star on their budget was impossible, Chartoff and Winkler changed tack and talked to good actors, but even then few were interested. A less dramatic star than Jane Fonda you could not imagine, her resume filled with light comedies, French films that utilised her sexuality or the extravaganza that went by the name of Barbarella (1968). But the pregnant Fonda was keen on change. The film was delayed until after she had given birth. Michael Sarrazin should have been out of the equation. John Schlesinger had lined him up for the Jon Voigt role in Midnight Cowboy (1969) but Universal, to whom he was under contract, asked too much to send him out on loan.
With no sign of the rewrites, the producers became antsy about the director. However, they showed their true mettle as producers, convincing Palomar there was no way the original budget would cover the ballroom set, huge number of extras, live orchestra and salaries. It would need to at least triple.
In a picture of one predicament following another, there was one crisis the producers had not foreseen. They were going to be fired. Apart from anything else, they were only executives on the picture with any experience, it being not only Poe’s first movie but that of Chartoff and Winkler’s superiors at the studio. The outcome – the guy who had told the pair they were being fired was shown the door instead.
Susannah York was cast after the producers saw a sneak of The Killing of Sister George (1969) at the Robert Aldrich studios. She had committed to Peter O’Toole vehicle Country Dance/Brotherly Love (1970), written by her cousin James Kennaway (Tunes of Glory, 1960). After too many delays on They Shoot Horses she planned to pull out in favour of the other film. Although Sally Kellerman (Mash, 1970) was set as a last-minute replacement, the issue was resolved by asking MGM to delay the start on the rival picture.
Believing Poe was in no position to helm such a big-budget picture enterprise, Chartoff and Winkler began the process of removing him only for Jane Fonda to dig her heels in. She changed her mind after witnessing first-hand Poe’s directorial skills – or lack of them – when she took part in a screen test for Bonnie Bedelia. Winkler recollected, “On the set Jane asked Poe questions about the blocking of the scene, why she moves in one direction rather than another, why in front of a sofa rather than behind it etc. He couldn’t answer her questions and told her to talk to the cameraman.” Exit Poe.
In terms of a replacement, Chartoff and Winkler set their sights of Sydney Pollack (The Scalphunters, 1968) with whom they had previous dealings, and William Friedkin, then being hailed for The Homecoming (1968) – luckily The Night They Raided Minsky’s (1968) had yet to be released. But studio executives had a third director in mind, Jack Smight (No Way to Treat a Lady, 1968). Friedkin should have been in pole position, having only received $75,000 for The Homecoming. His agent, sensing an opportunity, demanded $200,000. Jack Smight’s agent also got greedy and wanted $250,000. Pollack’s agent was happy with the $150,000 on offer.
When Poe was eased out, filming was announced as beginning on February 17, 1969, the budget having now increased to $3.2 million – including $400,000 for extras. However, acoustic issues – seawater had eaten away the bottom of the pier – prevented use of the old Aragon ballroom in Santa Monica. That set was constructed on the Warner lot.
Pollack then turned it down. He had reservations about the script, which had still never been rewritten. When Robert E. Thompson, a television writer but “a Horace McCoy expert,” was mooted, Pollack changed his mind. The new script contained the “flash forward” scenes that prepared audiences for the shock ending. However, the new scenes and delays in starting increased the budget which now ballooned to $4.7 million.
It turned out the director was the best actor of all. “I was impressed with Sydney Pollack’s ease on the set,” recalled Irwin Winkler. “He never seemed to be working hard and yet was able to get marvelous performances out of the actors. Everybody in the company adored him.” Asked by Winkler how he remained so calm dealing with the actors and all the extras and the complicated camera set-ups, he replied, “it was really quite easy.” That same afternoon he collapsed on set and was diagnosed with “nervousness.”
The studio, the stars, the producers, all seemed confident about the picture. All they had to do was convince the audience. But at the first preview in San Francisco the audience roared with laugher at the climactic scene. That shocked the studio to the core until the producers were able to reassure the head honchos that the “fast forwards” would smooth over that problem. Which they did.
It was nominated for nine Oscars – Best Director, Best Screenplay, nods for Jane Fonda, Gig Young and Susannah York among others. Only Gig Young won.
SOURCES: Irwin Winkler, A Life in Movies, (Abrams Press, New York, 2019) p34-47; “Tough Stuff,” Variety, August 7, 1935, p59; “Ford Buys for B’Way,” Variety, September 11, 1939, p42; “Dance Marathon Reprise,” Variety, August 3, 1966, p24; “IT&T In No Way Slowing Down Theatrical Feature Program of ABC,” Variety, January 10, 1968, p4; “Crowded Slate for Palomar,” Variety, February 28, 1968, p18; “Bob Evans Chips-Service To Writers As Stars At Paramount,” Variety, May 1, 1969, p19; “Jane Fonda Gets Top Role in Palomar’s Horses,” Box Office, July 22, 1968, pW1; “Palomar Horses on W7 Space,” Variety, October 23, 1968, p3; “Jan 6 Filming Date for They Shoot Horses,” Box Office, December 16, 1968, pW5; “Cheery Side of Delay on Horses,” Variety, January 15, 1969, p21; “Winkler Wants Films With Social Comment,” Box Office, January 19, 1970, pW1.
The making of The Picasso Summer was an odyssey in itself but what happened to the picture on completion generated a crisis in Hollywood.
Pablo Picasso in the early 1960s had apparently given “an enthusiastic endorsement” to American layout artist Wes Herchendson to animate some of his paintings. Some time afterwards, Hershendson came across sci-fi writer Ray Bradbury’s short story In a Season of Calm Weather about an American tourist meeting Picasso on a beach. Developing the scenario with the author, the pair turned the idea into an American couple attempting to meet the artist in the south of France.
Originally, the project was modest. It would run only an hour and be shown on television, sponsored by an airline company to promote foreign travel. But once the idea attracted the likes of British star Albert Finney (Tom Jones, 1963) , who had recently filmed Two for the Road (1967) in France, and Yvette Mimieux (The Time Machine, 1960), who had a percentage of the picture, it became bigger. It was the first film for a fledgling production company part-owned by Bill Cosby and when Warner Brothers-Seven Arts stumped up $1.6 million – a reasonable budget since a WB picture three years averaged just $1.75 million – it turned into a full-length feature intended for theatrical release. Filming began in November 1967 in San Francisco and France without a finished screenplay, working in almost improvisational style to a sketchy 20-page treatment.
Herchendson took care of the animated sequences with the “live-action” section in the hands of Oscar-winning French director Serge Bourguignon. Although making his name with the French arthouse-oriented Sundays and Cybele (1962) he had also made mainstream western The Reward (1965) starring Mimieux and Max von Sydow and romantic drama Two Weeks in September (1967) with Brigitte Bardot, so his credentials appeared strong enough.
But something went very badly wrong. “The resulting footage was completely unsatisfactory,” went one report. Another claimed it was “incomprehensible.” So WB-7 Arts scrapped the first version and, because the movie, often filmed outdoors, had taken advantage of the seasons, the film was pushed back a year to ensure footage matched. WB hired a new director Robert Sallin to salvage the picture with the principals returning for reshoots.
Initially, that appeared to have done the trick. WB announced it was considering launching the film as part of a big junket aimed at journalists in February 1969, and then screening it “in whole or in part” at a major conference in June with a view to a late 1969 release. A launch date was pencilled in for December 1969 – the original “X”-certificate issued in the same week as Easy Rider by that time had been amended to an “M” – with the intention of “finally getting it on the market.” And there was the signs of some promotional tie-ins with Barbra Streisand recording the theme tune “Summer Me, Winter Me.” But it didn’t appear. Officially, it was on the shelf.
The shelf, at that time, was not necessarily a bad place to be. Many pictures had been held back for a more convenient release spot during the 1960s, even more had been forcibly delayed when successful movies ate up preferential first run movie theatre space. It was nothing, for example, for The Biggest Bundle of Them All (1968) to wait eight months to be released.
But there was waiting and there was waiting. It soon became apparent that The Picasso Summer was not going to find a release date any time soon and that it was, officially, in limbo. Which was an astonishing state of affairs at the end of one troubled decade and the beginning of another. The hundreds of millions lost in big budget roadshows had seen a dramatic cutback in production. Cinemas were crying out for product, anything with a star, rather than being forced to make do with a flood of imports, spaghetti westerns of the here-today-gone-tomorrow variety and sexploitation vehicles featuring unknowns.
Hollywood had been known for routinely throwing stinkers into the marketplace and while exhibitors might complain about poor quality generally they had little option but to screen what was available because there was nothing else. But the harsh financial climate facing studios meant that every dollar spent had to be weighed up. Releasing a bad movie cost as much as releasing a good one with no guarantee that further expenditure in advertising, promotion and prints would generate profit. No point throwing good money after bad.
So Warner Brothers did the unthinkable. Even as Albert Finney recovered his box office status after Scrooge (1970) and Yvette Mimieux starred in hit sex comedy Three in the Attic (1969) and The Delta Factor (1970) the studio kept The Picasso Summer in the vaults. Even throwing it out in a wide release with no premiere or a trial run in an arthouse was considered too risky.
The number of movies that were completely unrelease-able, as opposed to being withdrawn after failing to attract an audience or turning into big flops during their run, was actually very small – Fade In (1967) coming closest to achieving that notoriety even though it had been occasionally shown in cinemas, and it was also low-budget.
But, suddenly, at the end of the 1960s that number started growing. MGM’s The Appointment (1969) was also shelved. And that had more apparent box office cachet with Oscar-nominated director Sidney Lumet (The Pawnbroker, 1964) and featuring Oscar-nominated Omar Sharif (Doctor Zhivago,1965), an even bigger star than Albert Finney, and Anouk Aimee (Justine, 1969) also Oscar-nominated with greater box office clout than Yvette Mimieux. After it was booed at Cannes, MGM cancelled the American release after one U.S. test date .
But the trickle of shelved movies was becoming a flood. Into that category fell John Frankenheimer’s The Extraordinary Seaman (1969) starring Faye Dunaway (Bonnie and Clyde, 1967) and Oscar-winner David Niven fresh from hit comedy The Impossible Years (1968). Courtroom drama Hostile Witness (1969) starring another Oscar-winner Ray Milland (Dial M for Murder, 1954) was denied a release as was comedy western A Talent for Loving (1969) with Richard Widmark, on a career high after Madigan (1968), and Adam’s Woman (1970) with Beau Bridges, who would strike a box office mother lode with Gaily, Gaily (1969) and John Mills (The Family Way, 1967). Swelling out the list was Crooks and Coronets / Sophie’s Place (1969) starring Telly Savalas (The Heroin Gang, 1968) and Hammer sci-fi Moon Zero Two (1969).
At a 1970 press conference, questioned about the shelving of The Picasso Summer, a Warner Brothers executive admitted: “We don’t know what to do with it, but not in the sense marketing is a problem; completion into a releasable form would seem to be the nub.”
By 1971, The Picasso Summer was not alone in failing to meet expectations. Some 80 movies funded by the majors had either still to be screened or had already been yanked off screens after poor test showings or minor playoffs failed to garner an audience. A year later Warner Brothers alone had ten completed movies on its books that would never see the light of theatrical day.
There had been one get-out clause for under-performing movies – television. A sale to the networks could bring in a substantial amount, sometimes enough to balance the books. But television was beginning to look askance at product that, in subject matter and in relation to violence and nudity, did not suit the Big Three channels. It was soon obvious that the networks had “lost their omnivorous feature film appetite.”
But there a light on the horizon. One network was interested in more unconventional fare and pictures that it could present as U.S. “premieres.” The CBS “Late Night Movie” slot airing on a Thursday aimed to attract an adult audience seeking more adult material. The conventions of television would still minimize nudity but the films themselves would have an adult theme. Thus, in 1972 The Picasso Summer, The Appointment, The Extraordinary Seaman and Adam’s Woman were shown on CBS.
The version of The Picasso Summer shown on American television was not the completed version. Herchendson complained to CBS about the “massacre of my film.” The network had deleted the entire bullfight sequence, the entire animated Eroica sequence and “chopped up the War and Peace” section. In fact it was well known in advance that one of the four animated sequences, the one considered “more sensual than erotic,” would go.
But there was one big plus for Warner Brothers. CBS paid $1.6 million for the movie, making it, according to one wag, the most expensive made-for-television movie. That turned a potential loss into break-even.
SOURCES: Quentin Falk, Albert Finney in Character, (Robson Books, 1992) p122-124; “WB Pacts Cosby Company,” Variety, January 17, 1968, p7; “Yvette Mimieux: Many-Phased Career,” Variety, February 5, 1969, p24; “W-7 Bahamas Junket,” Variety, February 26, 1969, p3. “WB-7 Arts First Global Sales Conference in LA June 8-14,” Box Office, April7, 1969, pW1; “Not Just Passing, WB Bets,” Variety, November 5, 1969, p7; “No “X” for Xmas,” Variety, December 3, 1969, p7; “Press Peek at Calley,” Variety, April 22, 1970, p7; “Unsalvageable Cupboard Item Lucky for WB,” Variety, August 19, 1970, p[3; “Pix in the Shortage Era,” Variety, December 22, 1971, p21; “TV-Bearish WB Cupboard,” Variety, March 29, 1972, p3; “Cannes Jeered Pic Recut By MGM,” Variety, July 19, 1972, p7; “Picasso Summer Twice Shelved Will Be Seen AT Last, CBS Aug 4,” Variety, August 2, 1972, p22.
It might have been better if director Elia Kazan had handed over the screenwriting chores for this adaptation of his bestseller about the midlife crisis of advertising man Eddie Anderson (Kirk Douglas). Anderson’s attempts to juggle wife Florence (Deborah Kerr) and mistress Gwen (Faye Dunaway) coupled with growing disgust at selling a new brand of cigarettes, Zephyr (“The Clean One”), in a way that pointedly avoids their cancer potential, leads to a suicide attempt.
During convalescence he determines to quit the advertising world and go back to his first love, writing, but in fact he ends up sabotaging his career. Florence represents impossible seduction and conscience. Slinky, in dark glasses, hot-tempered rather than submissive or demure, she accuses him of self-deception in his job. The picture flits back and forth between his various choices – different job, return to wife, settle down with mistress, or what seems his ideal world, cossetted by both Gwen and Florence.
Gwen is an excellent study of the modern woman (of that fast-changing period, I hasten to add), who needs a man for sex but not necessarily love, and can use the opposite gender as ruthlessly as any man. What she actually requires in her real life is quite different to what she seeks in the fantasy love she enjoyed with Anderson, sex on the beach, the buzz of controlling a high-powered man. Florence could be seen as an old-fashioned portrait of the adoring wife except for capturing so well the bewilderment of betrayal.
Kazan conjures up some wonderful images: the tension before the suicide attempt as Anderson plays chicken between two trucks, Gwen emerging wet from the pool to eat dangling grapes or with her legs up on Anderson’s desk, Anderson’s mother lighting votive candles in her house before using the same match for her cigarette, Kerr’s futile attempts to win back her fallen husband, Anderson flying solo.
In parts well-observed and directorially savvy, quick cuts between the present and the past, however it sinks beneath its own self-indulgence. My guess is that author Kazan could not bear to kill off a single one of the characters he had created for his acclaimed novel and the upshot is a vastly over-populated picture, few of whom cast any real light on Anderson’s predicament. So we are not only introduced to mother, dying father, brother, sister-in-law and analyst but priest and a bucket of clients and guys from the office. And there are some plot oddities – Anderson gets time off apparently to write journalistic pieces – and what is clearly intended as hard-hitting satire of the advertising world does not come off.
Dunaway (Bonnie and Clyde, 1967) is the standout as Gwen, living life according to her own rules, and with an unexpected vision of domesticity but Deborah Kerr (Prudence and the Pill, 1968) does pain like nobody else and is extremely convincing. Strangely enough, I didn’t go much for Douglas (Seven Days in May, 1964). He could have been leading a cavalry charge for all the range of emotions he exhibited. Douglas is no Montgomery Clift (Wild River, 1960), James Dean (East of Eden, 1955) or Marlon Brando (On the Waterfront, 1954) who was Kazan’s first choice. Kazan had not made a picture in six years and it had been eight years since his last hit Splendor in the Grass (1961). Not quite out-of-touch in concept and delivery, nonetheless it was shunned by the Oscar fraternity.
I’ve been writing this Blog now for one year, beginning July 2020, so I thought I’d take a look at which posts proved the most popular (in terms of views) with my readers. So here’s the annual top 30 films, ranked in order of views.
The Secret Ways (1961) – Richard Widmark and Senta Berger – making her Hollywood debut – behind the Iron Curtain in gripping adaptation of the Alistair Maclean thriller.
Ocean’s 11 (1960) – Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and the Rat Pack in entertaining heist movie set in Las Vegas.
It’s Not All Rock’n’Roll (2020) – remarkable documentary about the other side of the music business as ageing rocker Dave Doughman tries to keep his dreams alive.
Age of Consent (1969) – British actress Helen Mirren makes her movie debut as the often naked muse for painter James Mason in touching drama directed by Michael Powell.
The Venetian Affair (1966) – Robert Vaughn shakes off his The Man from Uncle persona in taut Cold War thriller also starring Elke Sommer as his traitorous wife and Boris Karloff in a rare non-horror role.
The Golden Claws of the Cat Girl / La Louve Solitaire (1968) – French cult thriller starring Daniele Gaubert as sexy cat burglar forced to work for the government.
Pharoah / Faron (1966) – visually stunning Polish epic about the struggle for power in ancient Egypt.
The Swimmer (1968) – astonishing performance by Burt Lancaster as a man losing his grip on the American Dream.
Stiletto (1969) – Mafia thriller with hitman Alex Cord and and illegal immigrant girlfriend Britt Ekland hunted by ruthless cop Patrick O’Neal.
The Naked Runner (1967) – after his son is taken hostage businessman Frank Sinatra is called out of retirement to perform an assassination.
Marnie (1964) – Sean Connery tries to reform compulsive thief Tippi Hedren in Alfred Hitchcock thriller.
Our Man in Marrakesh / Bang! Bang! You’re Dead (1966) – Entertaining thriller sees Tony Randall and Senta Berger mixed up in United Nations plot involving the likes of Klaus Kinski and Herbert Lom.
The Happening (1967) – Anthony Quinn locks horns with Faye Dunaway and a bunch of spoiled rich kids in kidnapping yarn.
Dark of the Sun / The Mercenaries (1968) – Rod Taylor and Jim Brown head into the heart of darkness in war-torn Africa with a trainload of diamonds and refugees including Yvette Mimieux.
The Guns of Navarone (1961) – men-on-a-mission Alistair Maclean World War Two epic with all-star cast including Gregory Peck, David Niven, Anthony Quinn, Anthony Quayle, Stanley Baker, Irene Papas, James Darren and Gia Scala.
The Sicilian Clan (1969) – three generations of French tough guys – Jean Gabin, Lino Ventura and Alain Delon – clash in Mafia-led jewel heist.
4 for Texas (1963) – Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin as double-dealing businessmen in highly entertaining Robert Aldrich Rat Pack western starring Ursula Andress and Anita Ekberg.
Five Golden Dragons (1967) – Innocent playboy Robert Cummings becomes enmeshed with international crime syndicate led by Christopher Lee, George Raft and Dan Duryea.
Duel at Diablo (1966) – James Garner and Sidney Poitier team up to protect Bibi Andersson in Ralph Nelson western.
Move Over Darling (1963) – after years marooned on a desert island Doris Day returns to find husband James Garner just married to Polly Bergen.
Pressure Point (1962) – prison psychiatrist Sidney Poitier is forced to treat paranoid racist inmate Bobby Darin.
Wonder Woman 84 (2020) – in one of the few films to get a cinematic screening during lockdown, Gal Gadot returns as mythical superhero to battle supervillain Kristen Wiig.
Genghis Khan (1965) – Omar Sharif as the Mongol warrior who conquered most of the known world, tangling with rival Stephen Boyd and Chinese mandarin James Mason on the way.
A Fever in the Blood (1961) – Warner Bros wannabes Efrem Zimbalist Jr, Angie Dickinson, Jack Kelly and veteran Don Ameche in tough political drama.
The Prize (1963) – Paul Newman and Elke Sommer investigate murder in the middle of the annual Nobel Prize awards in Sweden.
In Search of Gregory (1969) – wayward Julie Christie embarks on pursuit of Michael Sarrazin who may – or may not – be a figment of her imagination.
Justine (1969) – Dirk Bogarde and Michael York become entangled in web woven by Anouk Aimee in corrupt pre-World War Two Middle East.
The Girl on a Motorcycle (1968) – singer Marianne Faithful in a hymn to the open road and sexual freedom.
Blindfold (1965) – psychiatrist Rock Hudson and dancer Claudia Cardinale in highly entertaining mystery thriller about missing scientists.
Hammerhead (1968) – secret agent Vince Edwards and goofy Judy Geeson on the trail of evil mastermind Peter Vaughn.
Poor casting blows a hole in this picture’s great premise and only an excellent turn by Anthony Quinn as an indignant kidnappee prevents it achieving “so-bad-it’s-good” infamy. In fact for the first third of the movie you could pretty much guarantee it’s going to be a stinker, so dire are the performances of the quartet of hippy kidnappers. Only when the camera cuts Quinn a bit more slack and the script skids into a clever reversal does the movie takes flight although still hovering dangerously close to the waterline.
Faye Dunaway (Sandy), all blonde hair and pouting lips, looks for the most part as though she has entered an Ann-Margret Look-A-Like Competition. Michael Parks (Sureshot) resembles a fluffy-haired James Dean. George Maharis is condemned to over-acting in the role as ringleader Taurus while Robert Walker Jr. as Herby does little more than mooch around. None shows the slightest spark and behave virtually all the time as if they are in on the joke.
For no special reason, beyond boredom, they kidnap hotel tycoon Roc (Quinn) hoping to make an easy score with the ransom. Unfortunately for Roc, none of those he is counting on to cough up the dough – wife Monica (Martha Hyers), current business partner Fred (Milton Berle), former business partner Sam (Oscar Homolka) and offscreen mother – will play ball. In fact, Monica and Sam, enjoying an affair, would be delighted if failure to produce a ransom ended in his death.
Eventually, while the movie is almost in the death throes itself, Roc fights back, using blackmail to extort far more than the kidnappers require from his business associates and taking revenge on his wife by setting her up as his murderer. It turns out Roc is a former gangster and well-schooled in the nefarious. So then we are into the intricacies of making the scam work, which turns a movie heading in too many directions for its own good into a well-honed crime picture.
Quinn is the lynchpin, and just as well since the others help not a jot. From a kidnappee only too willing to play the victim in case he endangers wife and son, he achieves a complete turnaround into a mobster with brains to outwit all his enemies. But in between he has to make a transition from a man in control to one realizing he has been duped by all he trusted.
Director Elliott Silverstein, who got away with a lot of diversionary tactics in Cat Ballou (1965) – such as musical interludes featuring Stubby Kaye and Nat King Cole – essays a different kind of interlude here, fast cars speeding across the screen at crazy angles. But that does not work at all. Probably having realized pretty quickly that he can’t trust any of the young actors, he mostly shoots them in a group.
Some scenes are completely out of place – a multiple car crash straight out of It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, for example. But occasionally he hits the mark in ways that will resonate with today’s audience. Sureshot, confronted by a policeman, refuses to lower his hands in case he is shot for resisting arrest. Although drug use is implied rather than shown, Sureshot is so stoned he can’t remember if he has actually made love to Sandy. And like any modern Tinderite, neither knows the other’s name after spending a night together.
The strange thing about the youngsters was that they were not first-timers. Dunaway had made her debut in Hurry Sundown (1967). George Maharis had the lead in The Satan Bug (1965) and A Covenant with Death (1967), Michael Parks the male lead in The Idol (1966) and played Adam in The Bible (1966) and although it marked the debut of Robert Walker Jr. he had several years in television. Oh, and you’ll probably remember a snappy tune, the music more than the lyrics, that became a single by The Supremes.
I’ve got an old DVD copy but I don’t think this is readily available but you can catch it for free on YouTube, although it’s not a good print. Via Google you should be able to see The Supremes performing the title song.