It is sometimes easy to forget but 1967 was a great year for movies. A large number of films now regarded as classics were first released in that year.
More importantly, 1967 was a really fun year at the movies with a lot of great entertainment appearing on the big screen for the first time. Here in in no particular order is a list of enjoyable and groundbreaking movies that first appeared a half century ago.
- The Producers – Premiered: November 22, 1967, but released in 1968. One of the funniest movies ever made. It was Mel Brooks’ first and definitely best film. Unlike the 2005 musical remake, this film is absolutely hilarious because it pulls no punches with the humor. It works because everything is funny and there is no attempt to offend the audience’s intelligence with stupid or obvious gags. Strangely enough it was originally titled Springtime for Hitler (which was the Swedish name for the movie), that should give you an idea of Brooks’ sense of humor.
- You Only Live Twice – First released: June 12, 1967. This spectacular James Bond adventure is an electrifying thrill ride that was ahead of its time. The first non-Japanese movie to feature ninjas; it was also the first Bond film to differ dramatically from the plot of Ian Fleming’s original book. Definitely worth watching for the spectacular sets and the action sequences at the end. Sean Connery delivers a good performance but Donald Pleasance steals the film as 007’s archenemy Dr. Blofeld in a performance that’s still widely imitated.
- Bedazzled – First released December 10, 1967. Stanley Donen’s comedy about a loser who sells his soul to a very pathetic devil in 1960s London is one of the funniest movies ever made. This is the movie that put Dudley Moore on the map. Raquel Welch is a riot so is Peter Cook as a rather likeable prince of darkness. One reason why this movie works is that it assumes the audience can think.
- In Cold Blood – First released December 14, 1967. Richard Brooks’ adaptation of Truman Capote’s disturbing nonfiction book was the last great black and white movie made in Hollywood. Particularly scary is the casting of Robert Blake as a murderer, in real life he was accused of killing his wife decades later. This one still sends a chill up my spine.
- The Dirty Dozen – First released June 15, 1967. If any movie can be said to have launched the modern action film, it is Robert Aldrich’s over the top World War II extravaganza. An almost perfect cast, including John Cassavetes, Charles Bronson, Donald Sutherland, and Lee Marvin as the ultimate bad ass soldier make this one work. The mix of light-hearted fun and a very dark plot; convicted murderers recruited for a suicide mission that involves the cold-blooded assassination of Nazi officers, is surprisingly effective.
- To Sir with Love – First released June 14, 1967. 1967 was Sidney Poitier’s year, he starred in three big films, but this one is often overlooked. It deals with many of the same themes; racism, class warfare, as the higher profile and rather boring Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner in a far more effective way. The movie provides a very different view of mod London and it is an almost vehicle for Poitier. The portrayal of the drab poverty of working class English life in the 1960s makes this film utterly shocking.
- In the Heat of the Night – First released August 2, 1967. Rod Steiger owns this film with one of the greatest movie performances ever. Poitier is great, as a no-nonsense Philadelphia police detective who is press-ganged into solving a murder in a racist Southern town. A masterpiece of dark realism that accurately captures the tension of the era without being preachy.
- Cool Hand Luke – First released November 1, 1967. Sure it’s corny and unrealistic; it is set in the only segregated prison in the South, but this chain-gang drama is a lot of fun. Among other things it features Paul Newman’s best performance and some of the best lines in movie history. Like The Dirty Dozen this one is driven by some great supporting performances by Strother Martin and George Kennedy, who’s also in The Dozen.
- Bonnie and Clyde – First released August 13, 1967. Okay it seems a little tame; and very dated, to modern audiences but it’s still a really fun chase picture. Like The Dirty Dozen this movie was groundbreaking because of its antiheroic protagonists and wilingness to show violence. There’s also a really great cast that includes Warren Beatty (who actually acts for a change), Faye Dunaway, and Gene Hackman and Gene Wilder in their big screen debuts.
- The Graduate – First released December 22, 1967. If you don’t take it seriously; or try to figure out the plot, this movie is an absolutely hilarious satire of country club life in the 1960s. It works because of Dustin Hoffman, who makes the perfect straight man for a long series of brilliant gags beautifully disguised as drama. There’s also an unforgettable theme song from Simon and Garfinkel.
- Casino Royale – First released April 28, 1967. 1967 was one of two years with two James Bond films, the other was 1983. This absolutely insane spoof has nothing to do with the official Bond series reboot from 2006. Instead it’s a fast paced over the top satire that works because of a great cast that includes Peter Sellers, David Niven, Ursula Andress, Orson Welles and believe it or not Woody Allen. This movie is also the source of the popular fan theory that James Bond is a code name used by various British secret agents, rather than a specific person.
1967 was a truly groundbreaking year at the movies; it saw the birth of the summer action blockbuster, the last hurrah of the British film industry and the height of the so-called American New Wave. It also gave us two of the funniest movies ever made; The Producers and the original Bedazzled.