It’s time for my annual look back at movies released over the Christmas holiday in past years. This column will start with the Christmas movies released forty years ago, in 1968.
At the time Roadshow movies, movies that were released on one screen in big cities where tickets were ordered through the mail only, were still popular and taking up screens for months, sometimes a year, at a time. With the huge success of Funny Girl and the not so successful Star!, which was pre-booked to play for months despite less then stellar response, only 8 movies were released for the holidays and the selection is less then stellar. Only one of the films produced a major Academy Award nomination and two others received technical nominations but none of these films produced a single nomination for Best Picture, Director or Screenplay.
Still only two of the films can really be considered box office losers perhaps because the pickings were so slim and Christmas shoppers elected to take a chance on any movie to escape the crowds for just a few hours.
Here are the Christmas release movies from 1968 in alphabetical order. If you were around back then I hope this brings back some good memories and for those not old enough I hope you enjoy seeing the movies that were thought to be the cream of the crop for the studio at holiday time.
BULLITT(Warner Bros.; Director – Peter Yates) The film Steve McQueen is probably best remembered for today. This is thee film where McQueen epitomized the word “cool” and made every young man watching want to be just like him. McQueen plays the title character, a tough cop who is assigned to babysit a witness 48 hours prior to him testifying that soon turns into a blood bath and a mystery that Bullitt vows to solve. The film is needlessly complicated but McQueen carries the movie almost making the viewer forget the plot problems and complications and director Peter Yates serves up one of the greatest car chases in movie history. Jacqueline Bisset and Robert Vaughn co-star and look quick for a young Robert Duvall as a cab driver. The film was the big winner at the box office for the holidays taking in a (then) whopping $19 million and earning two Academy Award nominations for Best Sound and Best Film Editing (which won its richly deserved award).
CANDY (20th Century Fox; Director – Christian Marquand) A comedy/drama about a young Swedish girl that decides to go out into the world and discover all of life’s possibilities only to find a man around every corner coming into her life and wanting only one thing from her. Buck (The Graduate) Henry’s screenplay is a biting look at the sweet and innocent mixed with the lecherous and the results are a mixed big. Still the film had a healthy box office life due to a strong cast of male actors headed by Marlon Brando, Richard Burton, James Coburn, John Huston and Walter Matthau among others. 18-year old Ewa Aulin plays the title role and received some good reviews but by the time she was 23 she decided movie life was not for her and she went to college to be a teacher, settled down to have children, and has not been heard from since. The film made a surprising $7.3 million.
CHITTY, CHITTY BANG BANG(United Artists; Director – Ken Hughes) Dick Van Dyke stars in the film version of James Bond writer Ian Fleming’s novel about an inventor who creates a car that can fly and drive itself and soon has to come to the rescue when the car is kidnapped. The film was ravaged by critics but children then and now seem to love it and the film grossed an impressive $7.1 million. The title song would receive an Academy Award nomination.
THE FIXER (MGM; Director – John Frankenheimer) One of director Frankenheimer’s most underrated films (following another terrific but underrated film, Seconds) stars Alan Bates (in an Academy Award nominated performance as Best Actor) as a Jewish peasant wrongly convicted of the murder of a child and how he suffers in prison as the prisoners attempt to get him to confess. The film was a small art house release but was widely praised by critics and is remembered today as one of Frankenheimer’s best movies.
HELLFIGHTERS (Universal; Director – Andrew V. McLaglen) Was there anything more sure thing then a John Wayne Christmas release back in the 1960’s? Apparently so. In the film Wayne plays a specialist who leads a team of men into oil fields around the world to extinguish punishing fires. Of course along the way comes the romantic sub-plots to help blur the action including Vera Miles as Wayne’s constantly worrying but understanding wife and Jim Hutton as a new man who is soon to marry Wayne’s daughter (played by Katherine Ross in her first film after The Graduate). This seems like an odd film to release at Christmas and not over the summer and the audiences didn’t rush in droves to see it. It was a mild success but far under expectations.
THE KILLING OF SISTER GEORGE (Cinerama Releasing Corp; Director – Robert Aldrich) Director Aldrich’s odd choice of film after his hugely successful The Dirty Dozen is this romantic British drama about a soap opera actress who discovers her character is being killed off and finds her life unraveling when she finds out her female lover has taken on a new female lover. Beryl Reid and Susannah York star as the mismatched lovers with Coral Browne as the new lover. The film received generally strong reviews and did mild box office business, most likely due to the adult subject matter.
SKIDOO (Paramount; Director – Otto Preminger) Possibly a once great director’s (Laura, The Moon is Blue, Anatomy of a Murder) worst film is a comedy starring Jackie Gleason as a former mobster dragged back into the life when his daughter is kidnapped by another mobster after Gleason refuses to do a hit. Anything and everything that could go wrong with a movie did so here and critics lashed out at it while audiences stayed away. This was the biggest flop of the Christmas season.
THREE IN THE ATTIC (American International; Director – Richard Wilson) An odd comedy about a swinging guy whose three love interests each find out about the other and decide to teach him a lesson by locking him in he attic but still taking turns giving their pleasures to him. This mild sex comedy was wildly successful (and even inspired a sequel, 3 In The Cellar) thanks to the story and the appealing performance by lead actor Christopher Jones, whose real life story would make a great movie. Jones was headed for stardom and then co-starred in David Lean’s Ryan’s Daughter but had such a tough time making the movie he decided to drop out and wouldn’t make another movie for 26 years and then dropped out again and hasn’t been heard from since.