We all live through historic moments every day, yet it can be difficult to make that realization at the time. We boomers have lived through so many historic events that it’s difficult for us to NOT see our connection to the history as it was being made. For example, there is probably not a person who was living on the planet at the time who does not remember where they were when the Big Bopper’s plane went down; John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy were shot; or when Neil Armstrong first set foot on the moon.
So it came as a bit of a surprise to Mister Boomer that he was not all that aware of the historical and cultural significance the motion picture industry was making during the 1960s, and especially fifty years ago, in 1966.
The industry has always been subjected to the same laws as any other person or industry, but in addition, has self-regulated in terms of moral values. The Motion Picture Code of 1930 (Hays Code) was put together and adopted by The Association of Motion Picture Producers, Inc. and The Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America, Inc. It detailed what would be deemed acceptable in movies from signing members. It strived to assure movies would not “lower the moral standards of those who see it,” nor would their films ridicule the law, justify revenge (in modern times) or glorify brutality, among other things. Films were already subject to the decency laws of the time.
These standards were in effect until 1966, when they were revised. Instead of explicitly banning certain types of actions, the new code suggested restraint. The pursuit of virtue and rejection of sin was still encouraged. It eliminated the outright prohibition of kissing that could be deemed “lustful,” and ultimately recommended a label of “suggested for mature audiences” be attached to certain films to let parents know a film may not be proper for their children — or for themselves, for that matter.
The first 1966 film tagged with the Mature Audiences label was Georgy Girl, only a month after the new revisions were adopted. Nowadays the film would probably be labelled a PG-13, but at the time the adult story line was considered bold and raised more than a few eyebrows. The plot tells of a young woman living with a promiscuous — and pregnant — friend. Georgy is a bit of a regular type, and doesn’t get much male attention until a friend of her father’s — a much older man than she — offers to set her up in an apartment in exchange for becoming his mistress. At the same time, the young man responsible for impregnating her roommate marries the girl and moves into their apartment. Soon he shows an interest in Georgy, too, since she is more interested in the soon-to-arrive baby than her roommate. Georgy is left with all sorts of moral reckoning. The title song of the film is probably recognizable to most boomers. The movie was nominated for four Academy Awards, and Lynn Redgrave won the Oscar for Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical. The song Georgy Girl was nominated for an Oscar, but lost to Born Free. It was released as a single by The Seekers in 1967.
Another groundbreaking film of 1966 was Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow Up. Industry standard bearers demanded the director make cuts, but Antonioni refused. The film was released by MGM but did not have the industry seal of approval. Consequently, it was the first American film to display full-frontal female nudity.
That same year, Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was the first American film release to contain profane expletives and frank sexual content. Meanwhile, Gulf & Western purchased Paramount Studios, making it the first of many multi-national conglomerates to take over a Hollywood studio.
When Otto Preminger’s Anatomy of a Murder (1959) was purchased for distribution on television in 1966, Preminger sought an injunction against Columbia Pictures Corporation and Screen Gems, Inc. to prevent them from editing the film to inject commercial air time. The court ruled that the producer had the rights to final cut and editing for theatrical releases only, and had therefore no say in the editing of a television airing.
Mister Boomer was an early teen, but nonetheless saw some of these films. His father took the kids to the drive-in movies at least once a month, when his mother had her club meetings. He completely recalls seeing Georgy Girl, but admits that at the time had no idea what was going on.
He went on to see many memorable films of 1966, both in theaters and at the drive-in. Among them:
The Silencers, the first Dean Martin James Bond spy spoof. Mister B went on to see all three of the Matt Helm films with Brother Boomer.
Batman: the Movie, where Adam West took the zaniness of the TV show to the movies. How could a boomer who loved the TV show not see this one?
Fantastic Voyage and One Million Years B.C., where Rachel Welch left an indelible mark on young Mister B’s life.
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, which was directed by the same Richard Lester who had earlier done A Hard Day’s Night. It made Mister B a lifelong fan of Zero Mostel and Jack Gifford.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly with Eli Wallach immediately became among Mister B’s favorite westerns of all time, and still is.
The Sand Pebbles and Nevada Smith, both starring Steve McQueen, became instant classics in Mister B’s mind. He still recalls scenes and dialogue from those movies he saw at the local drive-in.
There were many more memorable films of 1966, including:
A Man for All Seasons
The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming!
What’s Up Tiger Lily?
The Fortune Cookie
The Glass Bottom Boat
Is Paris Burning?
Our Man Flint
… among others
Imagine what movies might be like today were it not for these pioneering films of fifty years ago. What are your favorite movies of 1966, boomers?