the magnificent jump in The Great Escape (1963)

My Top 20:

  1. The Great Escape
  2. Stray Dog
  3. Winter Light
  4. High and Low
  5. Tom Jones
  6. Ivan’s Childhood
  7. Knife in the Water
  8. Hud
  9. 8 1/2
  10. The Leopard
  11. The Birds
  12. Love with the Proper Stranger
  13. Sundays with Cybele
  14. The Idiot
  15. Four Days of Naples
  16. Sanjuro
  17. The Music Room
  18. This Sporting Life
  19. Dr. No
  20. Il Diavolo

This is, quite frankly, one of the worst years in film history for American film.  The Academy knew it as they gave Best Picture to a British film.  Only 7 of my top 20 are English language films and three of them – Tom Jones, This Sporting Life and Dr. No – are British.  So my top 5 American films of the year are a war-action film (The Great Escape), a film that somehow missed getting nominated for Best Picture (Hud), a Hitchcock horror film (The Birds), a romance (Love with the Proper Stranger) and a Disney animated film (The Sword in the Stone).

Academy Awards:

  • Best Picture:  Tom Jones
  • Best Director:  Tony Richardson (Tom Jones)
  • Best Actor:  Sidney Poitier  (Lilies of the Field)
  • Best Actress:  Patricia Neal  (Hud)
  • Best Supporting Actor:  Melvyn Douglas  (Hud)
  • Best Supporting Actress:  Margaret Rutherford  (The V.I.P.s)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay:  Tom Jones
  • Best Original Screenplay:  How the West Was Won
  • Best Foreign Film:  8 1/2

Consensus Awards:

  • Best Picture:  Tom Jones
  • Best Director:  Tony Richardson (Tom Jones)
  • Best Actor:  Albert Finney  (Tom Jones)
  • Best Actress:  Patricia Neal  (Hud)
  • Best Supporting Actor:  Melvyn Douglas  (Hud)
  • Best Supporting Actress:  Margaret Rutherford  (The V.I.P.s)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay:  Hud
  • Best Original Screenplay:  How the West Was Won  /  America America
  • Best Foreign Film:  8 1/2

the magnificent traffic jam that opens Fellini's 8 1/2 (1963)

Top 10 Films  (Top 1000):

  1. 8 1/2 –  #5
  2. Contempt –  #56
  3. The Leopard –  #66
  4. Pickpocket –  #80
  5. My Life to Live –  #119
  6. The Music Room –  #192
  7. The Birds –  #211
  8. High and Low –  #310
  9. Muriel –  #424
  10. Ivan’s Childhood –  #538

Top 5 Films  (Consensus 1963 Best Picture Awards):

  1. Tom Jones
  2. America, America
  3. Lilies of the Field
  4. Cleopatra
  5. Hud

Top 10 Films  (1963 Awards Points):

  1. Tom Jones –  1620
  2. Hud –  1016
  3. Cleopatra –  522
  4. Lilies of the Field –  455
  5. America, America –  440
  6. How the West Was Won –  386
  7. The Cardinal –  380
  8. This Sporting Life –  359
  9. 8 1/2 –  338
  10. The L-Shaped Room –  277

For the first time since 1952, a film comes in second place in Awards Points without an Oscar nomination for Best Picture.

Top 5 Films  (Box Office Gross):

  1. Cleopatra –  $48.00 mil
  2. How the West Was Won –  $46.50 mil
  3. It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World –  $46.30 mil
  4. Tom Jones –  $37.60 mil
  5. Irma la Douce –  $25.24 mil

Nighthawk Golden Globes:

One of Toshiro Mifune's (and Akira Kurosawa's) least appreciated roles: as the blackmailed shoe company owner in High and Low (1963)

Drama:

  • Best Picture:  The Great Escape
  • Best Director:  Akira Kurosawa  (Stray Dog)
  • Best Actor:  Gunnar Bjornstrand  (Winter Light)
  • Best Actress:  Patricia Neal  (Hud)
  • Best Supporting Actor:  Toshiro Mifune  (High and Low)
  • Best Supporting Actress:  Margaret Rutherford  (The V.I.P.s)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay:  High and Low
  • Best Original Screenplay:  Winter Light

Comedy:

  • Best Picture:  Tom Jones
  • Best Director:  Tony Richardson  (Tom Jones)
  • Best Actor:  Albert Finney  (Tom Jones)
  • Best Actress:  Shirley MacLaine  (Irma La Douce)
  • Best Supporting Actor:  Hugh Griffith  (Tom Jones)
  • Best Supporting Actress:  Edith Evans  (Tom Jones)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay:  Tom Jones
  • Best Original Screenplay:  8 1/2

Nighthawk and Oscar nominee Paul Newman with Nighthawk and Oscar winner Patricia Neal in Hud (1963)

Nighthawk Awards:

  • Best Picture:  The Great Escape
  • Best Director:  Akira Kurosawa (Stray Dog)
  • Best Actor:  Gunnar Bjornstrand  (Winter Light)
  • Best Actress:  Patricia Neal  (Hud)
  • Best Supporting Actor:  Hugh Griffith  (Tom Jones)
  • Best Supporting Actress:  Edith Evans  (Tom Jones)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay:  Tom Jones
  • Best Original Screenplay:  Winter Light
  • Best Editing:  The Great Escape
  • Best Cinematography:  Stray Dog
  • Best Original Score:  The Great Escape
  • Best Sound:  The Great Escape
  • Best Art Direction:  Tom Jones
  • Best Visual Effects:  Jason and the Argonuats
  • Best Sound Editing:  The Great Escape
  • Best Costume Design:  Tom Jones
  • Best Makeup:  Tom Jones
  • Best Original Song:  “The Ugly Bug Ball”  (Summer Magic)
  • Best Animated Film:  The Sword in the Stone
  • Best Foreign Film:  Winter Light

Yes. Shirley MacLaine used to be quite sexy.

Nighthawk Notables:

  • Best Film to Watch Over and Over:  The Great Escape
  • Best Line:  “Tom had always thought that any woman was better than none, while Molly never felt that one man was quite as good as two.”  (Michael MacLiammor  –  Tom Jones)
  • Best Ending:  The Great Escape
  • Best Scene (dramatic):  Steve McQueen making the jump in The Great Escape
  • Best Scene (comedic):  the food eating scene in Tom Jones
  • Sexiest Performance:  Shirley MacLaine in Irma La Douce
  • Best Sequel:  Sanjuro
  • Worst Film:  Battle of the Worlds

Ebert Great Films

  • Pickpocket
  • The Music Room
  • 8 1/2
  • My Life to Live
  • The Leopard
  • Winter Light

There’s no question this is a low point for American film-making.  It is one of the worst years in history for Best Picture nominees at the Oscars and, as I said above, only 4 of my top 20 are American films.  But Kurosawa films finally started arriving in bulk, we have masterpieces from Bergman, Fellini, Tarkovsky and Visconti as well as the feature debut of Roman Polanski.

Film History: James Bond arrives in the United States with the release of Dr. No.  Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello make the first of their beach films.  The New York Film Festival debuts with Luis Buñel’s The Exterminating Angel as the opening film.  Pier Paolo Pasolini is convicted of blasphemy in Rome.  The Leopard wins the Golden Palm at Cannes.  Cleopatra is finally finished and released.  The NAACP accuses studios of racism, their prime example being the absence of a single black actor in The Longest Day, in spite of the fact that 1700 black soldiers took part in D-Day.  This later results in meetings that develop a quota system.  After requests from the studios, Congressional inquiries are made into the growing number of films made overseas.  Jean Cocteau dies on 11 October and Yasujiro Ozu dies on 12 December.  The Silence is released in Sweden, completing Ingmar Bergman’s trilogy.

Academy Awards: Tom Jones becomes the first film in five years to win Picture, Director and Adapted Screenplay, but only wins 4 Oscars, the fewest for a Best Picture winner since 1955.  It also becomes the first Best Picture winner not to win Best Editing since 1955, and, oddly enough, to first not to win Art Direction since 1957  It is the first Best Picture winner not to get nominated for Best Cinematography since 1952.  Hud sets the record with 320 points for a film not nominated for Best Picture and ties the record for nominations with a Best Picture nomination (7).  It is the first of five films in six years to get 7 nominations without a Best Picture nomination, though it is the only one to earn a nomination for Best Director.  For the fourth consecutive year, a foreign film (this time 8 1/2) is nominated for Director and Screenplay, but not for Picture and for the third straight year that film stars Marcello Mastroianni.  For the first time since 1941, two films are nominated for all 5 major technical categories (Editing, Cinematography, Score, Sound, Art Direction): Cleopatra and How the West Was Won.  A Fellini film wins Best Foreign Film for the third time.

What a dreadful year.  It is one of the worst years in the history of Best Picture because it only has one four star film (Tom Jones) and has one of the worst films ever nominated (Cleopatra).  The Academy would have been much better off nominating the three films they nominated for Best Director (Hud, 8 1/2, The Cardinal) rather than the Best Picture nominees (How the West Was Won, Cleopatra, Lilies of the Field).  Even more mind-boggling were the choices for Best Editing.  I agree with The Great Escape (and it should have won), but look at the others: How the West Was Won, Cleopatra, The Cardinal and It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World?  All of them are way too long and badly put together.  Then there is the issue with Tom Jones.  It is clearly the favorite of the year – it has the most nominations, ties for the most wins, easily has the most points and does what the big winners Ben-Hur, West Side Story and Lawrence of Arabia failed to do – win for its screenplay.  But it fails to get nominated for Editing, Cinematography or, most bizarrely, Costume Design (Really?  The costumes in The Cardinal were better than the ones in Tom Jones?).

  • Worst Oscar:  Best Editing for How the West Was Won
  • Worst Oscar Nomination:  Best Picture for Cleopatra
  • Worst Oscar Omission:  Best Costume Design for Tom Jones
  • Worst Oscar-Nominated Film:  Cleopatra
  • Best Film With No Nominations:  Stray Dog
  • Best English Language Film With No Nominations:  Dr. No
  • Best Foreign Language Film Submitted But Not Nominated:  Ivan’s Childhood
  • Worst Oscar Category:  Best Editing
  • Best Oscar Category:  Best Supporting Actress
  • Oscar / Nighthawk Award Agreements:  Best Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay

Golden Globes: There aren’t as many nominees as the year before, but there are still 8 nominees in most categories.  Tom Jones leads with 6 nominations and a win for Best Picture – Comedy (though its only other win is Best English Language Foreign Film).  Following behind with 5 nominations are The Cardinal (the only other Best Picture – Drama winner aside from East of Eden to fail to earn an Oscar nomination), America America (winner of Best Director) and Hud (which goes winless).

Awards: The critics have no trouble agreeing, with Tom Jones winning Best Picture and Director from both the National Board of Review and the New York Film Critics (with an extra win for Best Actor from the NYFC).  They also agree on Hud, which wins both Best Actress awards for Patricia Neal, with a Supporting Actor win from the NBR and a Screenplay win from New York.  They also both agree on 8 1/2 as the Best Foreign Film.

The guilds split across the boards.  Tom Jones wins at the DGA, but fails to even get nominated by the WGA.  The WGA goes with Hud for Drama and Lilies of the Field for Comedy (though considered a Drama by the Globes).  The Editors Guild give their award to How the West Was Won.  The Sound Editors Guild give out two awards – one to How the West Was Won and the other to The Ugly American.

At the BAFTA awards, Tom Jones is the big winner, becoming the first film since 1957 to win all five major awards, and, because of later added awards, the last film to sweep Best Picture until Schindler’s List.  It wins 3 awards (Picture, British Picture, Screenplay) and becomes (along with The Servant and Billy Liar) the first film to receive 6 nominations since 1958.

the original movie poster for The Great Escape (1963)

#1 Film of 1963

The Great Escape (dir. John Sturges)

There’s a beer commercial running these days.  It mentions a man who “if he punched you in the face, you would have to fight the urge to thank him” and that “sharks devote an entire week to him.”  He is the most interesting man in the world.  Sometime after those commercials started running, I was watching a documentary on TCM and realized, it’s Steve McQueen.  McQueen was, literally, the coolest guy on the planet.  He was never a particularly emotive actor, even in his best acting performances (Love with the Proper Stranger, The Sand Pebbles, The Thomas Crown Affair).  But he projected an essence that over-whelmed everybody.  Hell, they named an entire movie after how cool he was: The Tao of Steve.  In the 1960’s, he was the biggest star around and in film after film, he kept showing the world that he was what every woman wanted and he was who every guy wanted to be: The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape, The Cincinnati Kid, Bullitt.

The Great Escape, while ostensibly an ensemble film, really belongs to McQueen.  That’s not to say the the other actors in it aren’t wonderful.  They are extremely memorable, from Attenborough’s leader to Garner’s clever scrounger, to Donald Pleasance’s tragic forger, to James Coburn and Charles Bronson.  But from the minute McQueen appears, he is the heart and soul of this film.

He is Hilts, the Cooler King, the man who is constantly in the clink for finding ways to escape but getting caught.  While sitting in there, he calmly bounces his baseball up against the wall and catches it while planning his escape.  Then, at one point, after being let out, he is approached by Attenborough and asked to purposefully get caught on his next attempt to find out what is around the camp so that the big escape being planned has an idea what to expect.  Of course he does it, and it earns him the lead place for the actual escape.  It is one of the most dramatic moments in the film, as he discovers they are short of the tree-line and he is the one who has to keep risking himself to help all the others escape.

But once they are all out, all trying to escape across Germany, he manages to steal a motor bike and then he becomes a legend.  This is the perfect McQueen scene, being chased across the green hills of Germany on that bike, ending of course, in the famous leap.  It doesn’t matter that a stunt man performed the actual leap because the insurance wouldn’t allow McQueen to try it.  It seems like him to me.  And it was the kind of thing that McQueen would have done given half a chance.

Then there are the final moments of the film, the way we have been overwhelmed by tragedy.  We are reminded of the human cost of such actions.  But then there is that final scene, and the sound of that ball bouncing and that wonderful score comes up again and we are reminded what a perfect film this is.

Back before Vietnam, Hollywood used to love to put out War-Adventure films, especially about World War II.  From a strict viewpoint, they were war films, but in essence, they were action films about interesting people.  There’s really no better example of the genre than The Great Escape, better even The Guns of Navarone, which managed an Oscar nomination for Best Picture.  It has wonderful crisp editing (it’s over three hours but never feels like it), fantastic cinematography and an instantly memorable score, one of the best of the decades.  It is well-directed by John Sturges, a tried and true action director of such films as Bad Day at Black Rock, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral and The Magnificent Seven.  And it has the coolest performance of the coolest actor of the decade.

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