Some of us are guilty of sounding the death knell of Hollywood (as a business concept, not a geographic location) ever more loudly as each year pours out its cornucopia of overprocessed, not-very-nourishing entertainment offerings onto our summer picnic blanket. Because we care a lot about the art of film and the experience of going to the movies, most of us take at least a bite or two. Occasionally we find a nice morsel, but more often it's just the same old summer sausage, full of rendered cliches.
Personally, before I let myself roll too far down this hill of despair, I remember that Hollywood has always had its mix of good and bad, and the old philosophy "nothing succeeds like excess" is not new. Hollywood had, by 1965, been taken over by the second generation of moguls, finance men by and large, who had never known the hardscrabble immigrant life experienced by the first generation.
Below are the top 10 box office performers of 1965 for instance. How many of these are really classics that stand the test of time? Not many, if any at all. They are (with one exception) all expensive, star laden and calculated to sell, sell, sell.
Their international appeal has been built in from the start. In the same way that Hollywood blockbusters are pre-sold in China and elsewhere and must contort themselves to suit the populace of other countries, so were big international co-productions like THE SOUND OF MUSIC, DR. ZHIVAGO and THE GREAT RACE designed to knock them dead in the UK and Europe.
The 10 Top Grossing Films of 1965
1. THE SOUND OF MUSIC - A game-changing hit. This relies on the star power and exceptional singing talent of Julie Andrews. It landed like a perfect storm, was a major hit, and helped sow the seeds for a harvest of big-budget family musicals for years after.
2. DOCTOR ZHIVAGO - Certainly a beautifully made film, but not one of Lean's best. Studio marketing departments threw out their backs on this. Its success was as much a function of hardline publicity and cross-marketing as anything else.
3. THUNDERBALL - The fourth in the Sean Connery Bond series. Was this the first real big-budget action/sci-fi franchise? Completely RAGING poster and display artwork for this movie by the way.
4. THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES - Few people have even heard of this film today. An enormous film, especially by British standards. Few name stars. The most strenuous roles are played by aircraft.
5. THAT DARN CAT! - The inevitable and eternal Disney formula picture.
6. THE GREAT RACE - Very similar to (and released two weeks after) THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES. Blake Edwards' film at least has vitality, good humor, terrific actors and a Henry Mancini score. This film was a disappointment at the box office, but only because cost overruns made it a poor candidate to succeed.
7. CAT BALLOU - The least expensive movie on this list. What it lacked in international locations and lavish production values it made up for in what audiences really want anyway - appealing, talented performers. Jane Fonda and Lee Marvin (and his horse) are far more interesting to watch than any number of flying circuses or underwater espionage operations.
8. WHAT'S NEW PUSSYCAT - Big stars like Peter Sellers and Peter O'Toole, eye-popping sets, and a very amusing script by Woody Allen made this a grown-up hit.
9. SHENANDOAH - James Stewart in a western still meant boffo B.O. in 1965. The anti-war stance of the film didn't hurt either.
10. VON RYAN'S EXPRESS - War movies were always popular items with the generations who fought in wars and we have to imagine that the theaters were full of men in their 40s who had themselves served in uniform. The ironically cast (because he dodged the draft and was not loved by many servicemen) Frank Sinatra leads a great escape. The pro-war stance of the film didn't hurt either.