a nice shot from the fantastic prologue in West Side Story - the Academy and Nighthawk choice for Best Picture of 1961

My Top 20:

  1. West Side Story
  2. Throne of Blood
  3. The Hustler
  4. Breakfast at Tiffany’s
  5. Yojimbo
  6. The Bridge
  7. Elevator to the Gallows
  8. La Dolce Vita
  9. One, Two, Three
  10. White Nights
  11. L’Avventura
  12. The Guns of Navarone
  13. Splendor in the Grass
  14. A Raisin in the Sun
  15. Zazie in the Subway
  16. The Ballad of a Soldier
  17. Ice-Cold in Alex
  18. 101 Dalmations
  19. A Pocketful of Miracles
  20. The Human Condition Part II

Again, we have a strong mix of Foreign films in the top 10 – fully half of them.  And of those 10, only Yojimbo was actually released in its origin country in 1961.  Yet, all of these films were Oscar eligible in 1961, no matter when they were released originally, so this is where they have ended up.

Academy Awards:

  • Best Picture:  West Side Story
  • Best Director:  Robert Wise / Jerome Robbins  (West Side Story)
  • Best Actor:  Maximilian Schell  (Judgment at Nuremberg)
  • Best Actress:  Sophia Loren  (Two Women)
  • Best Supporting Actor:  George Chakiris  (West Side Story)
  • Best Supporting Actress:  Rita Moreno  (West Side Story)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay:  Judgment at Nuremberg
  • Best Original Screenplay:  Splendor in the Grass
  • Best Foreign Film:  Through a Glass Darkly

Consensus Awards:

  • Best Picture:  West Side Story
  • Best Director:  Robert Wise / Jerome Robbins  (West Side Story)
  • Best Actor:  Maximilian Schell  (Judgment at Nuremberg)
  • Best Actress:  Sophia Loren  (Two Women)
  • Best Supporting Actor:  George Chakiris  (West Side Story)
  • Best Supporting Actress:  Rita Moreno  (West Side Story)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay:  Judgment at Nuremberg
  • Best Original Screenplay:  Splendor in the Grass

Marcello Mastroianni is much, much cooler than you are.

Top Films  (Top 1000):

  1. La Dolce Vita –  #26
  2. Breathless –  #33
  3. L’Avventura –  #38
  4. Ashes and Diamonds –  #118
  5. Rocco and His Brothers –  #185
  6. Throne of Blood –  #227
  7. West Side Story –  #250
  8. The Hustler –  #336
  9. Yojimbo –  #363
  10. Breakfast at Tiffany’s –  #401

Top 5 Films  (Consensus 1961 Best Picture Awards):

  1. West Side Story
  2. The Hustler
  3. Judgment at Nuremberg
  4. The Guns of Navarone
  5. Fanny

Top 10 Films  (1961 Awards Points)

  1. West Side Story –  1153
  2. The Hustler –  989
  3. Judgment at Nuremberg –  930
  4. The Guns of Navarone –  482
  5. Saturday Night and Sunday Morning –  381
  6. Breakfast at Tiffany’s –  346
  7. Fanny –  315
  8. A Taste of Honey –  300
  9. Splendor in the Grass –  246
  10. La Dolce Vita –  225

Top 5 Films  (Box Office Gross):

  1. West Side Story –  $43.65 mil
  2. The Guns of Navarone –  $28.90 mil
  3. El Cid –  $26.60 mil
  4. 101 Dalmations –  $14.00 mil
  5. Splendor in the Grass –  $9.00 mil  (approximate)

AFI Top 100 Films:

  • West Side Story –  #41  (1998)  /  #51  (2007)

Nighthawk Golden Globes:

Natalie Wood in the bath in Splendor in the Grass


  • Best Picture:  Throne of Blood
  • Best Director:  Akira Kurosawa  (Throne of Blood)
  • Best Actor:  Paul Newman  (The Hustler)
  • Best Actress:  Natalie Wood  (Splendor in the Grass)
  • Best Supporting Actor:  George C. Scott  (The Hustler)
  • Best Supporting Actress:  Judy Garland  (Judgment at Nuremberg)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay:  Throne of Blood
  • Best Original Screenplay:  Splendor in the Grass

Comedy / Musical:

  • Best Picture:  West Side Story
  • Best Director:  Robert Wise  /  Jerome Robbins  (West Side Story)
  • Best Actor:  Marcello Mastroianni  (La Dolce Vita)
  • Best Actress:  Audrey Hepburn  (Breakfast at Tiffany’s)
  • Best Supporting Actor:  George Chakiris  (West Side Story)
  • Best Supporting Actress:  Rita Moreno  (West Side Story)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay:  West Side Story
  • Best Original Screenplay:  Yojimbo

Nighthawk winner Audrey Hepburn singing Nighthawk and Oscar winning song "Moon River" in Breakfast at Tiffany's

Nighthawk Awards:

  • Best Picture:  West Side Story
  • Best Director:  Robert Wise  /  Jerome Robbins  (West Side Story)
  • Best Actor:  Paul Newman (The Hustler)
  • Best Actress:  Audrey Hepburn  (Breakfast at Tiffany’s)
  • Best Supporting Actor:  George C. Scott  (The Hustler)
  • Best Supporting Actress:  Rita Moreno  (West Side Story)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay:  West Side Story
  • Best Original Screenplay:  Yojimbo
  • Best Editing:  West Side Story
  • Best Cinematography:  West Side Story
  • Best Original Score:  Breakfast at Tiffany’s
  • Best Sound:  West Side Story
  • Best Art Direction:  West Side Story
  • Best Visual Effects:  Mysterious Island
  • Best Sound Editing:  Yojimbo
  • Best Costume Design:  Throne of Blood
  • Best Makeup:  Throne of Blood
  • Best Original Song:  “Moon River”  (Breakfast at Tiffany’s)
  • Best Animated Film:  101 Dalmations
  • Best Foreign Film:  Through a Glass Darkly

Nighthawk Notables:

  • Best Film to Watch Over and Over:  West Side Story
  • Best Line:  “You will send papers to East Berlin with blond lady in triplicate.”  “You want the papers in triplicate or the blond in triplicate?”  “See what you can do.”  (Leon Askin and James Cagney in One, Two, Three)
  • Best Ending:  One, Two, Three
  • Best Scene:  Audrey Hepburn on the balcony singing “Moon River” in Breakfast at Tiffany’s
  • Sexiest Performance:  Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s
  • Worst Film:  Creature from the Haunted Sea

Ebert Great Films:

  • La Dolce Vita
  • L A’vventura
  • The Hustler
  • Breathless
  • West Side Story
  • Victim
  • Yojimbo
  • Rocco and His Brothers

American films were clearly sliding.  To reach 5 American films you have to go down to my #12 film of the year.  Of Ebert’s Great Films, only two were made in the U.S. and he clearly isn’t actually all that wild about West Side Story.  Only three of the top 10 films from the Top 1000 are American.

Film History: In the United States, the Supreme Court rules that local and state governments can censor films while the Vatican and the government of Spain attack Luis Buñuel’s Viridiana as sacrilegious.  After a long search for an actor to play Ian Fleming’s James Bond, producers settle on little-known Scottish actor Sean Connery.  Carol Reed is fired from Mutiny on the Bounty and replaced by Lewis Milestone while Rouben Mamoulian resigns from Cleopatra and is replaced by Joseph L. Mankiewicz.  Neither film will be completed in time for a 1961 release.  How to Marry a Millionaire is the debut feature on NBC’s “Saturday Night at the Movies”.  On April 18, when Jimmy Stewart accepts an Honorary Oscar for Gary Cooper and breaks down it becomes apparent that Cooper is dying.  He dies of cancer less than a month later.  Elizabeth Taylor slips into a coma and has her life saved by an emergency tracheotomy.  Shirley MacLaine cancels plans to attend the Academy Awards, certain now that Taylor will win (she does).  Fascists attack spectators during the premiere of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s film Accatone in Rome.  The first Tintin film, Tintin and the Golden Fleece, is released in France in December.  The Misfits is released in February, the last film of both Clark Gable (who died just after filming finished in December, 1960) and Marilyn Monroe (who would die the next year).  The MPAA allows “discreet or tasteful treatment” of homosexuality.

Academy Awards: Just two years after Ben-Hur‘s record setting 11 Oscars, West Side Story comes close, winning 10 of its 11.  Ironically, both films fail to win Best Adapted Screenplay.  While 8 Best Picture winners to follow would earn nominations in both supporting categories, West Side Story becomes the second (and last) Best Picture winner to win both.  It is the last Best Picture winner until 1981 to fail to earn any lead acting nominations.  Ingmar Bergman joins Fellini as only the second (and last) director to have his films win back to back Best Foreign Film Oscars.  Fellini earns the first of his four Best Director nominations – a record for someone who has never had a film nominated for Best Picture.  Sophia Loren becomes the first person to win an acting Oscar for a performance in a language other than English.

The Academy does nicely by heaping awards upon West Side Story and for the first time since 1949, all the Best Picture nominees earn at least *** from me.  They do give too much love to Judgment at Nuremberg, awarding it an Oscar for a script that is too muddled and distracted and a nomination for Editing that is badly done.  But for the second year in a row they nominate a great Foreign film for its costumes (Virgin Spring in 1960, Yojimbo in 61).  They also start to notice the importance of Foreign films, with three of the five Original Screenplay nominations going to non-English language films.  Somehow the Academy decides the overwrought performance by Sophie Loren in Two Women is better than Audrey Hepburn’s instantly iconic performance as Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but at least they recognize the greatness of “Moon River”.

  • Worst Oscar:  Best Adapted Screenplay for Judgment at Nuremberg
  • Worst Oscar Nomination:  Best Editing for Judgment at Nuremberg
  • Worst Oscar Omission:  Best Song for “Can’t Help Falling in Love”  (Blue Hawaii)
  • Worst Oscar-Nominated Film:  Two Women
  • Best Film with no Oscar Nominations:  Throne of Blood
  • Best English Language Film with no Oscar Nominations:  A Raisin in the Sun
  • Best Foreign Film Submitted but not Nominated:  Last Year at Marienbad
  • Worst Oscar Category:  Best Cinematography (Color)
  • Best Oscar Category:  Best Supporting Actor
  • Oscar / Nighthawk Award Agreements:  Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actress, Best Editing, Best Cinematography (Color), Best Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedic Picture, Best Sound, Best Art Direction (Color), Best Song, Best Foreign Film

Golden Globes: Things end up split at the Globes.  West Side Story wins Best Picture – Musical as well as both supporting awards.  Yet, Judgment at Nuremberg takes home Best Director over it (as well as winning Best Actor).  But Judgment fails to win Best Picture – Drama, instead losing to Guns of Navarone.  And somehow, A Majority of One manages to win Best Picture – Comedy and, more surprisingly, Best Actress – Comedy over Breakfast at Tiffany’s.  (Well, maybe not that surprisingly in that Rosalind Russell never lost at the Globes.)  El Cid manages to get nominated for Picture and Director, but nothing else, something that hadn’t happened since 1958 and wouldn’t happen again until 1973.  Meanwhile, The Hustler, beat out in the Best Picture race by Splendor in the Grass and Fanny, only manages to score three acting nominations.

Awards: The National Board of Review doesn’t help the at the Oscars, as its choices for Picture (Question 7), Director (The Innocents), Actor (Albert Finny for Saturday Night and Sunday Morning) and Supporting Actress (Ruby Dee for A Raisin in the Sun) all fail to even get nominated.  The New York Film Critics are better predictors as their awards go to eventual Oscar winners West Side Story, Maximilian Schell, Sophia Loren and the screenplay for Judgment at Nuremberg (and their Best Director honoree, Robert Rossen for The Hustler, manages to get nominated).

The Directors Guild goes 4/5 for Picture and Director at the Oscars, with Breakfast at Tiffany’s getting replaced by Fanny in the Picture race and by Fellini in the Director race.  The Writers Guild give their three awards to West Side Story, The Hustler and Breakfast at Tiffany’s, all of which are nominated and lose to WGA nominee Judgment at Nuremberg.  The Editors Guild institutes their own award, nominating The Hustler, Judgment at Nuremberg, Pocketful of Miracles and Fanny as well as surprise winner The Parent Trap while El Cid wins the Sound Editors Guild Award.

A Taste of Honey is a big hit at the BAFTA awards, winning Picture (British), Actress and Screenplay, though the overall Best Picture award is a tie between Ballad of a Soldier and The Hustler.  The other big British film is Whistle Down the Wind, which manages the same four nominations as A Taste of Honey, but loses them all.  The Brits also give their Best Actor (Foreign) award to Paul Newman, the only time he manages to beat Maximilian Schell.

James Cagney takes control of the scene in Billy Wilder's marvelous One, Two, Three (1961)

Over-looked Film of 1961:

One, Two, Three (dir. Billy Wilder)

I’m so glad that this film has had constant showings on cable over the last few years.  When I first began my Directors Project, one of the first that I went through was Billy Wilder.  I had already seen most of Wilder’s films at the time, but I was surprised to discover this film as I had never even heard of it other than its one Oscar nomination.  When I first watched it I couldn’t stop laughing, not from the first minute.

“On Sunday, August 13th, 1961, the eyes of America were on the nation’s capital, where Roger Maris was hitting home runs #44 and 45 against the Senators. On that same day, without any warning, the East German Communists sealed off the border between East and West Berlin. I only mention this to show the kind of people we’re dealing with – REAL SHIFTY!”  Those are the opening lines of the film, delivered in perfect pitch by James Cagney in his most enjoyable performance.  It’s not as great as his performance in Yankee Doodle Dandy, but it is done with breakneck speed and the great lines never stop coming.  That the line was even in the film was a measure of how much they adapted as the film was made.  The Berlin Wall went up in the middle of shooting and Wilder had to move to Munich and rebuild the Brandenburg Gate.  That first line was almost certainly the last one written for the film, yet it makes such a perfect opening line, establishing Cagney’s feelings as a Coca-Cola executive in West Berlin.

Cagney’s troubles (he’s hoping to move up in the company) really begin when the boss’ daughter, Scarlet Hazeltine ends up in Berlin on her European tour.  She ends up in East Berlin and falls in love with a young revolutionary (when she first shows Cagney the picture, her young beau is behind a massive poster for a parade – seeing the poster, Cagney, incredulously remarks “You fell in love with Kruschev?”).  Scarlet is played at perfect pitch by Pamela Tiffin, who is perfect as a young clueless woman, the kind of woman who would say “When he’s 18 he can make his mind up whether he wants to be a capitalist or a rich communist.”, or when pointed out that she has been spreading anti-American propaganda by blowing up Yankee Go Home balloons, says “It’s not anti-American.  It’s anti-Yankee.  And where I’m from everyone is against the Yankees.”  Even better is Horst Buchholz as Otto Piffl, the young German revolutionary determined to get rid of the capitalistic pigs.  There is no one better at playing righteous indignation that Buchholz, and unlike his other well-known films (The Magnificent Seven, Tiger Bay, Fanny), here he is able to play it all for laughs, the kind of man who can say “I’ll pick you up at 6:30 sharp, because the 7:00 train for Moscow leaves promptly at 8:15.” with a complete straight face.

The trouble really develops when Scarlet and Otto get married.  Of course McNamara (Cagney) has a plan to break it up, but this is Billy Wilder and further complications develop that make what was already a breakneck pace speed up around the curves.  All of this is complicated by the marital problems between McNamara and his wife, Phyllis, so elegantly played by Arlene Francis  (when she is warned by her husband that Otto doesn’t wear shorts she wryly notes “No wonder they’re winning the Cold War.”)

The plot in itself is absolutely hilarious, but the way the lines keep coming it’s almost impossible to keep up with all of them.  Look at the moment when McNamara is given a Cuban cigar.  Noting it, he is told by the communists, “We have trade agreement with Cuba. They send us cigars, we send them rockets.”  When McNamara throws away the terrible cigar and tells them they got cheated, that it’s a crummy cigar, he is told “Do not worry. We send them pretty crummy rockets.”  Or how, when told by his wife that their marriages is stale, like a leftover glass of beer, McNamara indignantly replies “Look, Phyllis, can’t we discuss this problem without bringing up a rival beverage?”

Unlike so many of the films that I write about as over-looked, this did receive an Oscar nomination (Cinematography), was nominated by the Writers Guild and nominated for Best Picture – Comedy at the Golden Globes.  But it misses its rightful place as a comedy classic, one that was incredibly timely (the great Cold War lines are so brilliant – when McNamara says “To hell with Kruschev,” Otto replies “The hell with Frank Sinatra.”) and one that is still unbelievably funny, a film that ranks up with Mel Brooks and Monty Python for great comedy classics filled with so many quotable lines.