Back in the day Hollywood cranked out movies like a factory. They stuck to formulas and by 1967 the formulas got old. Risks needed to be taken which meant breaching controversial topics like sex, race, and violence. Audiences wanted to see their changing world and values reflected on the screen. Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, for example, was released only months after 17 states’ anti-miscegenation laws were ruled unconstitutional.
Studios also tried giving more control to filmmakers in an attempt to draw in a more artistic-minded audience that had turned to foreign art films (which I might write about separately). I assume those audiences were really insufferable but they happened to be right. Moral uncertainty, heightened realism, ambiguous resolutions, shooting and editing to fit the mood, and soundtracks with popular music brought excitement back to American movies. In a few years this movement known as New Hollywood would hit its stride and take over for good.
In the Heat of the Night
When a wealthy man planning on building a factory in a small Mississippi town is killed, a racist cop picks up a black stranger at the train station as an obvious suspect. When that black man ends up actually being an experienced Philadelphia homicide detective, both men are ordered by their superiors to work together to solve the case.
In the Heat of the Night joined Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and To Sir, With Love to make an insane year for Sidney Poitier. That’s three of the top twelve movies of 1967, although it’s also three of the worst movie titles ever when listed together like that. Here as Detective Tibbs he’s maybe a bit too restrained and perfect, but that allows any viewer to put themselves in his shoes. He’s almost like a neutral mask of slapping the South’s tyranny of racism in the face. That enemy permeates every other locale and character, with most of that stank coming from Rod Steiger’s police Chief Gillespie. Every look is mean and every movement is pure swagger. He practically dares Poitier’s Detective Tibbs to try and solve the case. His indomitable spirit of racism is weirdly hilarious.
This is one of the movies from this year that definitely feels almost 50 years old, but it was made as a message for that time. It feels great to see Tibbs chew out redneck cops and make them look like idiots, so I can’t even imagine how crazy it seemed back then.
The Dirty Dozen
In preparation for D-Day the US military selects twelve ex-soldiers serving long sentences or awaiting execution for a suicide mission. They’ll be sent to a meeting of German generals, and those who survive can receive commuted sentences. Before they can attack they’ll have to learn to follow orders and trust each other.
It’s pretty long, but the time spent getting to know the rascally dozen convicts makes it enjoyable to see them stick it to higher-ups by succeeding and adds some excitement and tension to the mission. Surprising violence and irreverence for the times now seem pretty normal, but then again I had already seen Inglorious Basterds, which copies this pretty hard. It’s not The Dirty Dozen’s fault that it changed culture enough for its shock to have worn off.
Cool Hand Luke
A man tries to keep his rebellious spirit intact while serving a prison sentence in a Florida chain gang. The prison warden, cruel environment, and other prisoners try to beat him down.
I absolutely love Cool Hand Luke. My twitter avatar has been of the poster ever since I first saw it. Paul Newman is the man, and here he’s at his charming, stubborn best. The script explodes with humor, despair, and some of the coolest lines ever. Watch this on a cold day and its cinematography WILL convince you that you’re dying of heat with the prisoners. Cliff from Cheers is right, it’s the sweatiest movie of all time.
It doesn’t totally fit into the New Hollywood thing, but Luke as a character does. Even in helplessness his spirit fights back. He’s an example for youth of that era and anyone with tough problems today. When he convinces his fellow convicts to continue hoping and caring he convinces us too. Plus he tries to eat 50 eggs in an hour on a bet! If you take one thing from this entire post I hope it’s that you should watch Cool Hand Luke.
An aimless recent college graduate is seduced by an older woman (the now infamous Mrs. Robinson), and later falls in love with her daughter.
Whether or not The Graduate fits the New Hollywood style artistically, it content definitely fits, including relaxed views on sex and a soundtrack featuring Simon and Garfunkel. Dustin Hoffman isn’t always easy to root for as the lead, but he’s funny and relatable. Whenever you see a movie about a kind of whiny young adult that doesn’t know what to do with his life and can’t get a girl to love him, they’re probably doing a worse version of The Graduate.
Despite all this, I don’t care about it. Everyone in it kind of sucks. Maybe if I see it again (it’s been several years) I’ll get more out of the technical aspects but I’m not planning to.
Bonnie and Clyde
During the Great Depression a bored small-town waitress is intrigued by a man who tries to steal her mother’s car. They travel the country committing robberies and acts of escalating violence.
Bonnie and Clyde is essentially the birth of New Hollywood. It copied French New Wave’s innovative camera and editing techniques to achieve this but fortunately didn’t steal French New Wave’s trend of focusing on boring losers. Warren Beaty and Faye Dunaway as the leads are fun and detached but still flawed and kind. I can’t imagine who could watch this without being attracted to their beauty and freedom. It surprised audiences with casual depictions of sex and violence which we’re used to now and its rebellious lack of morality changed American movies. It’s worth watching today because it’s enjoyable even if you know none of that.