1958-1962: Musicals, comedy, a religious drama plus a spectacular adventure win

Four of the five best picture Oscar winners between 1958-1962 were big picture productions, including two musicals. The fifth was a comedy.

Gigi, 1958, directed by Vincente Minnelli.

Thank heaven for musicals like “Gigi,” the 1958 winner of the Oscar for best  picture.

And for director Vincente Minnelli  it meant another Oscar for best picture.

The story surrounds young a Parisian girl being trained to be a “courtesan,” but finds herself drawn to a man known to be a womanizer.

The New York Times reviewer in 1958 wrote, “There won’t be much point in anybody trying to produce a film of ‘My Fair Lady’ for awhile because  (producer) Arthur Freed has virtually done it with ‘Gigi.'” Actually, “My Fa Lady” became a film and won an Oscar for best picture in 1964. More about that movie in a future post.

Aside from the similarity to “My Fair Lady,” “Gigi” was one of the first MGM films to be shot on location. The film is filled with tributes to the French lifestyle.

The memorable songs for this movie include “Thank Heaven for Little Girls,” “I’m Glad I’m Not Young Anymore” and “I Remember It Well.”

The cast includes Leslie Caron, Maurice Chevalier, Louis Jourdan, Hermione Gingold and Eva Gabor. The screenplay’s music by Frederick Loewe and lyrics and screenplay by Alan Jay Lerner.

Other competitors for the 1958 Oscar included “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and the Defiant Ones.”

Charlton Heston in Ben Hur

Ben Hur, 1959, directed by William Wyler

Though many watch this just for the chariot race or watch it as their Easter weekend tradition, “Ben Hur” also is a powerful, deeply religious, nearly four-hour long movie that is rich enough in detail to merit several viewings.

Although this movie is largely a Christian movie, agnostics, Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, and others can find meaning in this William Wyler-directed extravaganza. It’s about learning to forgive, being loyal to one’s family, the healing power of belief and, of course, about the story of Jesus Christ as viewed by the author, and about the clashes between the Jews and the occupying Romans.

Although based on Civil War Gen. Lew Wallace’s novel, the story had previously been produced on stage (no kidding) and in films. But this version was the most spectacular yet.

For this writer growing up in Louisville, Ky., this move was such a spectacular for our family that we had to see it in one of the fancy downtown movie theaters, not one of the usual drive-ins where we could bring our beverages and homemade popcorn.  If we wanted popcorn, we would have to buy it at the Brown Theater concession stand.

The outstanding cast for this movie included Charlton Heston, Stephen Boyd, Jack Hawkins, Sam Jaffee, Haya Harareet, and Hugh Griffith.

Other 1959 competitors for the honor included “Anatomy of a Murder,” “The Diary of  Anne Frank” and “Room at the Top.”

The Apartment, 1960, directed by Billy Wilder.

“The Apartment,” the 1960 Academy best picture is both a comedy and a morality tale about assisting others’ infidelity.

Under the direction of “all-star” director Billy Wilder, the film involves a bachelor (Jack Lemmon) who turns over the key to his apartment to the hierarchy of his employers,  a situation he doesn’t like. When gives the key to one boss (Fred MacMurray), he finds that the woman (Shirley MacLaine) he brings is someone Lemmon’s character knows and is attracted to.

Lemmon drew high praise for his performance in this part, following his starring role in “Some Like it Hot.” A New York Times critic wrote Lemmon “takes precedence as our top comedian by virtue of his work in this film.”

This was quite a different role for MacMurray, whom some of us were just getting to know as the dad in “My Three Sons.”

Other contenders for best picture in 1960 included “The Alamo,” “Elmer Gantry” and “The Sundowners.”

West Side Story, 1961, directed by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins.

Academy Award winning best picture “West Side Story” is one of the best-loved musicals even by those shaking their heads at ballet-style dancing gang members.


Loosely based on William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” the story is about gang and ethnic conflicts on New York City’s West Side. A ground-breaking musical, the story follows the Jets and the Sharks as they fight for their turf while Maria and Tony fight for love.

The magnificent music is by Leonard Bernstein and  Stephen Sondheim. The cast includes Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Rita Moreno and Russ Tamblyn.

Other films nominated for the 1916 best picture Oscar were “Fanny,” “The Hustler,” and “Judgment at Nuremberg.”

Lawrence of Arabia, 1962, David Lean

While based on a true story, David Lean’s Academy Award best-picture winning “Lawrence of Arabia” is about a descent into madness even though the basic story is a action-filled tale regarding how Brit T. E. Lawrence helped Bedouins in their battle  against the Turks during World. War I.

This spectacular movie needs to be seen on a big screen. The cinematography by David Lean’s crew is spectacular showing the beauty and terrors of the desert. It’s truly one of my favorite movies to watch, an intelligent and visual delight as nearly all of David Lean’s films were.

The descent into madness by Lawrence is exemplified by his increasingly dangerous tactics and even his seeming loss of identity. The movie is loosely based on T. E. Lawrence’s “The Seven Pillars of Wisdom.” Although Lawrence is very heroic, he eventually starts to lose his British identity, takes more and more chances, wears Arab garb and takes on action in the desert that few would chance.

Lawrence is played marvelously by Peter O’Toole in his first major film. Others in this great cast include Alec Guinness, Jack Hawkins, Omar Shariff, Anthony Quinn, Claude Rains

Films competing with this Lean masterpiece for the 1962 best picture honor included “The Longest Day,” “The Music Man” and “To Kill a Mockingbird.”



Coming soon: 1963-1967, the age of “They call me Mr. Tibbs,” “The Rain in Spain” and much more.



Academy Award best picture history preview

Within the next few days, this site will feature brief reviews and descriptions of every winner of the Academy Award for best picture beginning with “Wings” through “How Green Was My Valley, “Gentleman’s Agreement,” “Ben Hur,” “My Fair  Lady,, ” “The Godfather,” “Chariots of Fire,” “The King’s Speech” and ending with “Moonlight,” last year’s winner.Pop corn with soda and movie shows

This include references to some controversies, what made the winners special. It will be  a great way to get ready for this March’s presentation and generate a good bit of conversation.

The writer has collected every movie that has won this top award and is a self proclaimed movie junkie.


Waiting to discover more about new Trek series

Two episodes aren’t enough to determine whether one should continue to buy “Star Trek: Discovery” from CBS All Access for $5.99 per month, but there are several indicators that make watching at the least next few episodes an attractive idea.

The first two episodes show promise, but also raise serious issues for some Trek enthusiasts such as at least one major variance with Star Trek canon.

While the first episode aired on CBS’ broadcast outlets, the second is only available from CBS All Access online service. In addition to Star Trek, nearly the entire catalog of old and new CBS programming is available through the subscription service. This writer didn’t sign up for the service for the other programming, only the exclusive online availability of the new Star Trek.

Probably the first thing that viewers will notice is that they won’t see the Discovery in either of the first two episodes. The action occurs outside the spaceships and  inside the U.S.S. Shenzou and a Klingon ship. You will see a multitude of Federation and Klingon ships in battle scenes, but they are part of the ensemble in support roles for the central antagonists.

From the first,scene, it appears Klingons will play a major if not dominant role in the new series. The new series begins with a fierce speech by a Klingon chieftain trying to rally the other tribes, getting ready to deal with the humans. In his words (translated in subtitles), the most dangerous words are, “We come in peace.”

The Klingon ship is inside Federation territory.

While patrolling Federation space, the Chenzou encounters an object of unknown origin in the same vicinity. Commander Michael Burnham, a human raised by Vulcans, persuades her captain to let her take a space walk to find what the object is.

While on the surface of this object, Burnham encounters a Klingon and the result is a death. That death leads to a violent conflict between the two enemy empires.

Upon her return to Chenzou, Burnham is treated for exposure to massive levels of radiation. She, however, runs from her bed to warn the captain that the Klingons are coming and the Federation ship should attack before it is attacked, employing a strategy referred to as “The Vulcan hello.”

A conflict develops between Burnham and the captain, longtime friends on the starship, and Burnham is sent to the brig.

As the battle ensues, Burnham finds herself in deeper trouble. By the second episode, Burnham is tried and convicted and locked up.

If you haven’t seen the first two episodes, I’ve already given you several spoilers, but I will hold back on sharing other tidbits.


There are other items of note. One is the clear violation of Trek canon by the use of holograph technology. This show takes places before The Original Series and in the Trek timeline follows Star Trek Enterprise. On the timeline, the Next Generation followed the Original Series.

There was no use of holography by the Federation before the Next Generation. If one checks out the relatively new “Star Trek Encyclopedia” by Denise and Michael Okuda, there are lots of listings for various types of holographic imaging.

There are, however, no uses of that technology by the except by the Romulans in two Enterprise episodes. In “Babel One” and “United,” the Romulans used holographic projectors to create skins for ships  that would make them appear of any design. And that’s it until  Next Generation. …

The technical prowess of the new series is undeniable. Yet, many questions remain that need to be answered.

One concern about the new series is the role of Klingons. Michael Dorn, who starred as the Klingon Worf, reportedly had pitched a series idea to CBS about Klingons.

I certainly hope this series isn’t just about the conflicts with the Klingons. There is so much to explore and discover in the universe before the Original Series.

I guess we will start to discover that as we watch the future episodes.




Westworld offers graphic android adventure

The new Westworld series on HBO is an artfully done, but graphic look at a resort where the fun is about robotic shoot ‘em ups and intimate pleasures and then what happens when things start to go wrong.

This 10-part first season follows Michael Crichton’s 1973 “Westworld” and 1976 “Futureworld” movies and the short-lived 1980 “Beyond Futureworld” series.

This new incarnation is just for adults, much more graphically violent and erotic than the previous movies and TV show.

The 10-part, first season series has two big name starts in Ed Harris, who is the mysterious “Man in Black,” and Anthony Hopkins as Dr. Robert Ford, who created the fantasy resort decades ago.westworld-photo-2

The other lead roles, however, are Evan Rachel Wood as android Dolores Abernathy, Thandie Newton as an android Old West “dance hall girl,” Jeffrey Wright as a programmer, and Sidse Babett Knudsen as an executive who has a secret relationship with the programmer.

As usual, HBO’s producers and directors have done a masterful job in putting this series together. There is what we have come to expect in westerns, too, with a rowdy saloon, a dusty main drag, wanted posters and gorgeous scenery outside the town.

The show quickly introduces us to wealthy fun seekers who are either seeking the “thrill” of killing androids and intimate pleasures without facing any consequences, just a big bill. The androids include a farmer, the pure farmer’s daughter, sheriffs, gun slingers, gamblers, and bartenders. The human counterparts are the resort’s executives, programmers and android builder/repair people, and the tourists who have a variety of aspirations while on vacation including being a hero, a murderous villain, having intimate encounters and just enjoying the beautiful wild west vistas.

The twist is, however, that not everything is the way it is supposed to be. Westworld’s co-founder died years earlier, according to Ford. And the androids are behaving oddly in some cases, not the way they were programmed.westworld-photo-3

Of course, the essential truth is no imperfect creature, i.e. any human, can create a perfect being.

The series is a brilliantly done science fiction tale, but if you are turned off by lots of flood and erotic scenes this show isn’t for you. It will be interesting, however, to say what the next six episodes bring.

The fifth episode on HBO will premiere at 9 p.m. Sunday with lots of opportunities to watch it over the next few months on the various HBO channels and elsewhere.westworld-photo-1