By The Decade: Six Great Films From The Sixties

Another week, another By The Decade post to help expand my cinematic horizons and discover your recommendations from eras I might not be that familiar with.

Following the previous 3 From The 30s, 4 From The 40s and 5 From The 50s posts, and the brilliant suggestions from readers for their favourite films from the 1930s, the 1940s and the 1950s, there are loads of great suggestions for you to check out too in the By The Decades section.

As always, I’ll post an updated piece with reader recommendations later, but for now here are six of my favourites from the swinging sixties…

Psycho (1960)

If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you’ll be aware that I love a bit of vintage horror, and while I’m still torn as to whether Psycho should be described as that, it’s still one of the main films from the sixties that I’ll happily and regularly revisit.

Even after all this time, the story is gripping from the outset, the midpoint twist is shocking, the second half switch in perspective is fascinating (as is Anthony Perkins’ performance), and the final act is a thrill… right up until the slightly unnecessary exposition dump by the psychologist in the final few minutes.

Is it Hitchcock’s finest work? Probably not. But reading about the background to the film’s production, how daring it was and the legacy that this film has created (it’s still being homaged/ripped off/spoofed many decades after its release, and I think we’re born knowing Bernard Herrmann’s strings from the shower sequence), I’d say it’s easily one of his most important works.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

I’ll be honest, I was this close to choosing one of the Connery Bonds from this decade instead of OHMSS (as I understand the cool kids call it), and on any other day, I probably would have.

But what OHMSS represents is a turning point for the franchise just after the filmmakers have really found their feet. The introduction of a brand new Bond, one who has an actual character arc, is a ballsy move, even if Lazenby himself isn’t the most electrifying performer in the world. That being said, his final scene is superb, and shows a level of effort that certain Bonds stopped putting in once the paycheck cleared.

Throw in some unforgettable shots and franchise-defining moments, Louis Armstrong’s We Have All The Time In The World, that beautiful score and Diana Rigg, and today, I’d choose OHMSS over From Russia With Love or Goldfinger.

Ask me tomorrow, though.

Night Of The Living Dead (1968)

Of course this is in my list, how could it not be? George A Romero wrote the book on how modern zombies are portrayed, but he had a hell of a lot more to say about society, even if he had to disguise it as a cheapie horror flick.

Whether you choose to read Night Of The Living Dead as an allegory of the war in Vietnam or racial tensions in the US, the evidence is there to back you up. If you choose to just watch it as a straightforward zombie film, that’s fine too, but despite being filmed in black and white and featuring some overly theatrical performances in places, the film has hardly dated and still packs a real punch.

I think I actually prefer it to any of Romero’s later Dead movies (sacrilege, I know), and even thought the 1990 remake by Tom Savini had its merits (further sacrilege, I know!). If you’re looking to experience it in a new light, I’d highly recommend seeking out Imitating The Dog’s stage version of it, which is a fascinating mix of live filming, projection, miniature work and just a hugely imaginative interpretation of the excellent source material. I saw it on stage before All This happened, but it was also made available online during the pandemic and I think it might still be up to view.

The Italian Job (1969)

I blame my affection for this film partly on growing up in the nineties and partly on having a bit of a soft spot for Michael Caine.

Yes, it’s a big, loud, daft caper. Yes, it’s title and theme song have been hijacked by lazy pundits, papers and noisy football fans for certain international fixtures, and yes, it’s at least partly the fault of Chris Evans (not that one).

But there’s a swagger to the film that speaks volumes about the type of country Britain thought it was back in the day, the type of characters it wanted to produce, and the attitudes it thought was acceptable that make it a fascinating time capsule to the late 1960s.

Of course, the shenanigans with the Minis are incredible and iconic and Caine is on sparkling form, whether he’s blowing the bloody doors off or having an idea while dangling over the side of a mountain.

Do I think it’s a great film? Probably not. But it’s a fun and memorable ride, and another example of a film being completely ingrained in British culture.

The Jungle Book (1967)

Yeah, I’m going for a good old-fashioned Disney cartoon, and I’m not going to apologise for that.

I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve seen this, mainly as I remember being taken to see it umpteen times during school holidays as a kid – it always seemed to be getting rereleased round our way. Well, there was always some Disney film being rereleased for the holidays, and I’m sure I’ve seen this more than most.

The story’s solid, the animation holds up after all this time (and I think it stood up well enough to be cannibalised to make Disney’s Robin Hood a few years later), Phil Harris as Baloo is an unforgettable and lovable mentor, the songs are insanely catchy and there’s even a daft Beatles reference in there to boot (though in fairness, I reckon it’s probably one of the more annoying bits).

Plus, having revisited it with Junior Late Reviewer, I am delighted to announce it still works for kids in 2021 as well.

Bullitt (1968)

I honestly can’t remember the first time I saw Bullitt, but I suspect it wasn’t the film I thought it was going in.

I would have expected shootouts and chases and a thrill a minute, but it’s far more than that. When I went back to it a year or two ago, I was surprised that Steve McQueen only drew his gun once in the entire movie.

Sure, everyone’s knowledge of the film is built around the car chase, and in its defence, it’s an incredible piece of filmmaking. Watching McQueen throw that Mustang around San Francisco is never less than thrilling, but the chase shouldn’t define the film.

His Bullitt is an intelligent and capable officer, hampered by authority, and McQueen doesn’t overplay the role – it would be easy to go for the showy outbursts, but it’s to his credit that he doesn’t.

I stumbled across a copy of the book it’s based on – Mute Witness – which I’d definitely recommend too. It paints the hero in a slightly different, schlubbier light, but is no less interesting for it.

What it doesn’t have though, is Lalo Schifrin’s amazing score of course, which is definitely another selling point for the movie.

What else?

If I’m being honest, I think I could’ve easily chosen another few for this post as I had to whittle them down. That being said, I expect I’ll see them when you guys start sending in your own recommendations – so please start sending them!

UPDATE: The full list of recommendations from Late Reviewer readers is now online here.

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