First Ford Mustang made
Martin Luther King, Jr. receives Nobel Peace Prize
U.S. Surgeon General reports smoking may lead to
Beatles first appearance on Ed Sullivan show
Winner: My Fair Lady
– Mary Poppins
– Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
– Zorba the Greek
My Fair Lady ***1/2 out of ****
Director: George Cukor
Starring: Rex Harrison, Audrey Hepburn, Stanley Holloway, Gladys Cooper
Wins (12): Picture, Director, Actor (Harrison), Adapted Score, Sound Mixing, Art Direction (Color), Cinematography (Color), Costume Design (Color)
Nominations (8): Supporting Actor (Holloway), Supporting Actress (Cooper), Adapted SP, Film Editing
Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
Audrey Hepburn plays Eliza Doolittle, a poor Cockney girl who is the subject of a bet between to two linguistic experts, Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison) and Colonel Pickering (Wilfrid Hyde-White). The challenge is to uproot her from her upbringing in the poverty-stricken streets of London and to transform her appearance, behavior and dialect so that she is unrecognizable. Higgins and Pickering have lots of fun together with the wager and care very little for the feelings of Eliza. The acting is superb, (Rex Harrison won for Lead Actor) and the musical numbers are entertaining. This is an epic film that has a running time close to 3 hours. That doesn’t bother me much this time since the film is entertaining and well done. The costumes are incredible. My Fair Lady has some of the most extravagant movie sets I’ve ever seen. The sets in night-time London are larger than life and intricately designed. My Fair Lady is based on the Broadway musical, which is based on the Broadway play by George Bernard Shaw, Pygmalion. The film really gives off that “play” feel, but it’s not necessarily stagey because the sets are so humungous. Still, one gets the feeling that one is watching a live production. The exchanges between Pickering and Higgins are well played and humorous. I can’t help but notice the close relationship between these two gentlemen. They fawn over Eliza’s for the sake of the bet, but take no interest in her emotionally. On the contrary, they are more impressed with each other. Moreover, Higgins takes great delight in the opinion of his mother. Coupled with the lack of chemistry between Henry & Eliza, I can’t help but come to the conclusion that Higgins and Pickering are in love; a subtle point very much alive in the film, I think. Such a close relationship between two male characters in a non-obvious way is a common theme through the Best Pictures of 1964.
Mary Poppins **** out of ****
Director: Robert Stevenson
Starring: Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke
Wins (5): Actress (Andrews), Original Song, Original Score, Film Editing, Visual Effects
Nominations (13): Picture, Director, Adapted SP, Adapted Score, Sound Mixing, Art Direction (Color), Cinematography (Color) Costume Design (Color)
Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
Watching Mary Poppins takes me back to my childhood. It’s great re-watching a film that I had seen so many times so long ago. Little segments that mean little to the overall production are the very things that I had tucked away in my memory and which soared to the surface on this viewing. Mary Poppins is based on a series of books from the early 30’s by P.L. Travers. It’s impressive that a film which appeals so much to children can also appeal to the Academy in such a way that they would choose to nominate it as one of the best of the year. Like My Fair Lady, Mary Poppins is set in London, but the tone and color palette have a more imaginative and creative element in comparison to the former. From the canons on the roof to jumping into chalk pictures, Mary Poppins takes pleasure in its creativity. The musical numbers are brilliant and the choreography is incredible (i.e. chimney sweeps). Dick Van Dyke was left out in the cold without the nomination for supporting actor. Julie Andrews won Best Actress for her portrayal as Mary Poppins and she is a pure delight on screen. The film showcases one of the first and best uses of live action combined with animation. I can’t help but compare Mary Poppins to the other film starring Julie Andrews, The Sound of Music, where here too she arrives on the scene to remedy the attitudes of unruly children.
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb **** out of ****
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Starring: Peter Sellers, George C. Scott
Nominations (4): Picture, Director, Actor (Sellers), Adapted SP
Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
It may take a few viewings, but once Dr. Strangelove really sinks in it clicks. Dr. Strangelove is cold war, nuclear war-fare satire with some of the best acting I’ve ever seen. Stanley Kubrick was not just a stylistic director. You can tell with Strangelove that he got the most out of his actors. Kubrick’s trademarks are apparent, but they take a backseat to the performances of the actors. The cinematography is a stark black and white (mostly black) and is conducive to its bleak and minimal art direction. Dr. Strangelove is the perfect combination of humor and truth. It’s a humorous, yet real commentary on the cold war and the state of the world at that time. Everything from political mumbo jumbo in the war room discussions to the double-checks of the double-checks of the pilots in the bomber are funny because it’s real. George C. Scott was completely snubbed out of a supporting nomination. He gives one of the best comedic performances in movie history. Not only should he have won, but he should have edged out Van Dyke (not nominated) for the win. Peter Sellers earned his Lead Actor nomination by playing three separate characters. The War Room scenes are solid gold. The absurdity of the laws, bi-laws, policies and procedures combined with the absurdity of the politician’s and the general’s conversations are hilarious, yet eerily real. The finale, of course, is Sellers part as Dr. Strangelove, himself. Bravo to the Academy to nominate this for Best Picture.
Becket **1/2 out of ****
Director: Peter Glenville
Starring: Richard Burton, Peter O’Toole, John Gieglund
Wins (1): Adapted SP
Nominations (12): Picture, Director, Actor (Burton), Actor (O’Toole), S. Actor (Gieglund), Original Score, Sound Mixing, Art Direction (Color), Cinematography (Color), Costume Design (Color), Film Editing
Rotten Tomatoes: 75%
Becket is another one of those long, adapted, medieval films based on real characters. It’s adapted from a Broadway play and T.S. Elliot book, Murder in the Cathedral. Becket is about the complicated relationship of Thomas Becket (Richard Burton) and his good, close friend King Henry II (Peter O’Toole). Henry is increasingly constricted by the power that the clergy holds and makes Becket, his chancellor, Archbishop of Canterbury in an effort to gain some of that power. Of course, his plan backfires and the 2 good friends are split apart. The film is sort of serious at times, but most of the scenes between Henry and Becket are light-hearted, humorous and a little gay. Henry’s womanizing verges on silliness and provides a lot of the “fluff” of the film. His wing man, Becket, looks on as a mother who takes pure delight in her unruly child. However, I wouldn’t say that this film is quite as long-winded as those other period pieces that tend to last forever. Perhaps it is the light nature of the film that helps it move along, but light-heartedness becomes a problem when the tone turns dark. It becomes difficult for the audience to go from light to heavy. However, I can see how this got the Best Picture. It’s got the cast, the sets, the costumes, decent writing and acting. After all, this is Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole we’re talking about. Becket conforms to the gay theme of the year as Henry and Becket are two peas in a pod. Henry as good as says several times how he loves Becket and weeps over his absence. It’s an undertone that shows its true colors perhaps a little more blatantly than was intended.
Zorba the Greek *1/2 out of ****
Director: Mihalis Kakogiannis
Starring: Anthony Quinn, Lila Kedrova
Wins (3): S. Actress (Kedrova)
Nominations (7): Picture, Director, Actor (Quinn), Adapted SP, Art Direction (B&W), Cinematography (B&W)
Rotten Tomatoes: 86%
I may be in the minority here, but that in no way hinders me from disliking this film. Anthony Quinn is Zorba and he follows a young man, Basil, who is moving to Crete to reopen his family’s coal mine. Zorba and Basil have quite the relationship not at all unlike those of Higgins and Pickering or King Henry II and Becket. They live in a small house together. They tinker around in a small town where nothing seems to have anything to do with the story. There are a couple of scenes where Zorba dances. I can only assume this is important or acts as some kind of plot point or bond between the two men since the film ends with Basil asking Zorba to teach him to dance. Verily, the film returns to the rebuilding and repairing of the mine, but it never really devotes itself to this. Like the dancing, the mine subplot is throw-away. Now and then subplots with secondary characters occur, but this only makes the clock tick ever longer. Zorba the Greek can’t seem to focus on what it’s about. It never stays on any concept long enough to mean anything. It’s not about the dancing, the coal mine, or the relationship between the two men. It’s a bad film.
Should Have Won: Mary Poppins
Mary Poppins is the more engaging, whimsical, creative and entertaining film nominated in 1964. It’s the best film and should’ve won. My Fair Lady was just too big of a film to not win. 1964 is an improvement upon the milquetoast year that was 1963. We still have those huge, epic, long films, but they are at least mildly entertaining and engaging in this year. As is not uncommon, all 5 Best Picture nominees were also nominated for Best Director. 4 of the 5 films take place in Europe and the 5th film was directed by and starred 2 Brits. Something interesting to note, all of the Best Picture nominees were adapted from a different source (Becket won for Adapted Screenplay). It feels like the Academy was on an adaptation fix; something that dies out over the next few years. Best enjoy the epics while they last because the film industry undergoes an epic transformation in the late 1960’s. Goodbye the epic dominance and hello indies!
Try the Nashville Public Library for availability of all of the films mentioned in this article.