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The old masters

12.01.2011

The 1960s also saw the final films of many of the classical Hollywood directors who had worked in the industry since its infancy. Alfred Hitchcock’s last films were among his best, including the European-influenced horror picture The Birds (1963), in which large groups of birds attack a small California town without explanation, and Marnie (1964), a psychological study of a kleptomaniac that was unjustly dismissed when first released. Torn Curtain (1966) and Topaz (1969), both political thrillers, were perhaps less successful, but Hitchcock returned to form with the murder mystery Frenzy (1972), shot on location in England, before ending his career with the gently comic caper Family Plot (1976).


John Ford’s epic work came to a graceful close with the racial drama Sergeant Rutledge (1960); the elegiac western Two Rode Together (1961); the remarkable “chamber western” The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), a film shot almost entirely on interior sound stages for precise control of camera movement and lighting; the knockabout comedy Donovans Reef (1963); Cheyenne Autumn (1964), one of Ford’s most sympa-Tippi Hedren is attacked by The Birds in Alfred    thetic films on the plight of Native Americans in the early western United States; and 7 Women (1966), a tragic and intimate drama superbly played by Anne Bancroft, Anna Lee, Woody Strode, and Mildred Dunnock.


Howard Hawks, Hollywood’s most reliable multigenre director, ended his career with an African big-game safari film, Hatari! (1962), followed by the comedy Mans Favorite Sport? (1964), the stock-car racing drama Red Line 7000 (1965), and two economical westerns, El Dorado (1966), one of his finest films in any genre, and Rio Lobo (1970).


Fritz Lang, who had worked in America since 1936’s Fury, returned to Germany to make his final films, the two-part Das Indische Grabmal (The Indian Tomb) and its companion, the epic costume drama Der Tiger von Esch-napur (Tiger of Bengal) in 1959, as well as the prescient crime picture Die Tausend Augen des Dr. Mabuse (The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse, 1960), in which Lang’s arch criminal now uses a deluxe hotel for his base of operations, in which every room is under constant surveillance.


Orson Welles, the aging enfant terrible of the American cinema, wandered through Europe in the 1950s and early 1960s making Othello (a k a The Tragedy of Othello: The Moor of Venice, 1952 ), Mr. Arkadin (1955), The Trial (Le Procès, 1962), and Chimes at Midnight, a k a Falstaff(Campandas a medi-anoche, 1965), with whatever materials came to hand. Although all show flashes of brilliance, they are to some extent compromised by the lack of sufficient financing and inferior production facilities. Welles’s virtuoso 1958 picture Touch of Evil turned out to be his last American film; in 1968 he directed the slight romance The Immortal Story (Une Histoire immortelle) in France, and in 1974 the semidocumentary F for Fake (Vérités et mensonges), with additional footage by François Reichenbach.


George Cukor, the supreme Hollywood stylist, continued his long career in the cinema in the 1960s with the romantic comedy Let’s Make Love (1960); the rather sensationalistic The Chapman Report (1962), which was recut by censors before receiving a desultory release; My Fair Lady (1964), which was one of the late triumphs of the classic musical and Cukor’s career; the U.S./Soviet Union cultural exchange project The Blue Bird (Sinyaya ptitsa, 1976), which failed to ignite despite an all-star cast; and his last movie, in 1981, Rich and Famous, a remake of Vincent Sherman’s 1943 drama Old Acquaintance.


Samuel Fuller shocked audiences with his independent, low-budget thriller Underworld U.S.A. (1961), one of the most brutal crime films ever made, as well as the psychiatric hospital drama Shock Corridor (1963), the bizarre sex tragedy The Naked Kiss (1964), and his last major film, the deeply personal World War II drama The Big Red One (1980), which was finally restored to its director’s original cut on DVD.



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