The U. S. film industry has experienced various crises: silent to sound beginning in 1927; the breaking of the standard 7-year star contract in 1945 led by actress Olivia de Havilland and briefly covered in the February 3, 1945 issue of The New York Times: “The State supreme court today ruled that Olivia De Havilland, actress, does not have to work an additional twenty-five weeks for Warner Brothers Pictures, Inc. The actress had a seven-year contract with Warners during which she was suspended at various times for a total of twenty-five weeks in disputes about types of films. Upon expiration of the contract, Warners insisted Miss De Havilland work twenty-five weeks,”; the “Paramount Decree” of 1948 that divested the major studios of their monopolistic hold on theater chains; the competition from TV; and the blacklisting of suspected communists in the 1950s. There was another crisis in the early 1960s that nobody seemed to notice: the making and release of dramatic or, for the most part, melodramatic movies that were “out of time,” many of them as some critics back in the day were wont to say, “turgid” melodramas. These were carryovers from the 1950s.
Many soap operas of the fifties, even good ones like 1957’s Peyton Place, would soon be irrelevant and fall by the wayside. Esteemed director Douglas Sirk had created his own oeuvre via a half dozen and today critically-admired soap operas/melodramas/women’s pictures: Magnificent Obsession (1954), All That Heaven Allows (1955), Written on the Wind (1956), The Tarnished Angels (1957), Interlude (1957), and Imitation of Life (1959). Sirk did not make any ‘60s films. The movies that followed in his vein lacked the undercurrent of societal criticism or a compelling subtext and strike us now as positively antiquated, even, as some reviewers used to say, “antediluvian.” They were “out of time.”
Curiously, Academy Award-winner Susan Hayward (1958’s I Want to Live!) starred in four 60s movies that inhabit this bailiwick. Back Street (1961) was a remake of the 1932 and 1941 films about a “kept woman” (a term trending into oblivion). I Thank a Fool (1962) concerned a doctor who served time for a mercy killing and was henceforth hired to attend Peter Finch’s mentally disturbed wife. Stolen Hours (1963) was a remake of the 1939 Bette Davis tearjerker Dark Victory. Where Love Has Gone (1964) seemed a disguised take on the Lana Turner-Johnny Stompanato affair in which Turner’s daughter killed her mother’s mobster boyfriend. At the time and certainly in retrospect, these movies were rather dull, and in Hayward’s and some of her co-stars’ cases, beneath their abilities. (At least Where Love Has Gone featured Hayward’s immortal line, “I never considered carpentry an art form.”) Also observe that the leading men in these films were for the most part lesser stars than their female counterparts. What does that signify?
By decade’s end such movies would disappear. Also exiting the scene by the second half of the 60s were cheaply made but successful “beach” and monster movies targeting the young. The new teens were inheritors of Marlon Brando in The Wild One (1953) and Blackboard Jungle’s (1955) classroom of delinquents including Sidney Poitier and Vic Morrow. Like James Dean in that same year’s Rebel Without a Cause, they were aimless and blamed their parents for ennui. Their sixties counterparts came of age influenced by war in Vietnam, increased sexual freedom, racial tensions, heightened drug use, and the rise of feminism. Think The Wild Angels (1966) with Peter Fonda, The Fox (1967) with Keir Dullea, Anne Heywood and Sandy Dennis, Wild in the Streets (1968) with Christopher Jones, and Angel, Angel, Down We Go, aka Cult of the Damned (1969). There may be significant subtext regarding Angel as classic era film actress and Academy Award winner Jennifer Jones was the ostensible star, seduced by young Jordan Christopher.
Violence, profanity, and nudity were let loose into the mainstream after the 1934 Production Code was supplanted in 1968 by the Motion Picture Association of America’s G, M, R and X rating system. Partly this was to combat the freedom of expression provided by international films. In the U.S., Love Has Many Faces, Kitten with a Whip, and Harlow were out, The Graduate, Reflections in a Golden Eye and Midnight Cowboy were in.
By contrast, comedy was slightly immune, and as the decade came to an end attempted to be “where it’s at” with the likes of the Bob Hope-Jackie Gleason starrer How to Commit Marriage (1969) and The Impossible Years (1968) with David Niven as a dad attempting to deal with his unruly flower children daughters. A few took pot shots at the anything goes youth culture. See 1968’s Yours, Mine and Ours. Attempting to bridge the gap was the same year’s Where Angels Go…Trouble Follows. Rosalind Russell reprised her role from The Trouble with Angels as the conservative Mother Superior while blonde bombshell Stella Stevens played the liberal Sister George. (How can one not mention that coincidentally but not companionably it was released in December as was the lesbian-angled The Killing of Sister George!)
“Portmanteau” dramatic films were still viable in the 60s. They traced their heritage to Grand Hotel, the Best Picture Academy Award-winning film of 1932. The V.I.P.s (1963) used the London Airport where the various characters crossed paths with one another as they waited for the fog to lift. This film was good and a financial success partly because it teamed Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, soon to be seen in the much anticipated Cleopatra. The Yellow Rolls-Royce (1965) was also of this ilk, a “composite” film whose characters were tied to each other via the title car.
Certainly out of time was Cleopatra’s director Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s The Honey Pot (1967). At one time this would have been termed a “drawing room” comedy-drama. Befitting Mankiewicz but not the younger audience, this was too intelligent for its own good and its decade.
A few turgid but glossy soap operas hit the screen late in the decade, notably Valley of the Dolls (1967), in which, incredibly, Susan Hayward again surfaced, replacing Judy Garland. This actually made money, a lot of money, as had Jacqueline Susann’s novel, a publishing phenomenon. Nevertheless, Valley was a rather boring movie that might have benefited if it had been filmed and released in 1968. Hayward gave it some pizzazz, however, in her ladies room cat fight with Patty Duke.
Perhaps the most incongruous movies of the decade had been at the beginning: Desire in the Dust (1960) was a black and white, steamy potboiler set in the south land with classic film star Joan Bennett, younger Hollywood veteran Martha Hyer, “And Introducing Anne Helm.” Again, the leading men were of a lesser breed: Ken Scott, “And Introducing Jack Ging,” plus, apparently because his hit TV series was on summer hiatus, Raymond Burr, aka Perry Mason. You would be correct to label Desire a poor man’s God’s Little Acre or Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. At least as inappropriate was the underfunded Madison Avenue, (1961) a pre-Mad Men tale of ad men, or in this instance, ad man Clint Lorimer (Dana Andrews) who responds to his firing by successfully promoting a dairy farmer’s (Eddie Albert) business. So what’s wrong with the film, what makes it incongruous? Like Desire in the Dust, it’s in black and white, is only one hour and 34 minutes long, and doesn’t deserve the cast, including the former girl next door become a beautiful and voluptuous woman, Jeanne Crain, multi-Academy Award-nominated Eleanor Parker (the Baroness in The Sound of Music) and 40s mainstay Andrews, like Crain a Fox contract player whose resume includes 4 films in which the duo were paired. Their last would be Hot Rods to Hell (1967), symbolic perhaps of their career trajectory and sixties dramas that were out of time.