The Rocking Chronicles
by Tim Van Schmidt
The most vivid memories I have of the music of 1963 is of songs with a positive, sing-along quality. That includes the Singing Nun’s surprise hit record “Dominique.” It’s a very melodic song, bright and cheerful, that invites, if not singing along (because it is in French,) at least humming or whistling. The fact that the artist, Jeanine Deckers, actually was a nun from Belgium, gave this record a stamp of approval unlike any other recording artist at the time- it was a very successful recording by someone outside the music industry. It was music from the heart, apparently, as opposed to commercially manufactured songs.
The other catchy sing-along tune from 1963 that I distinctly remember was Rolf Harris’s “Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport.” Now, up to that point, I don’t think I had ever heard of or thought about Australia before. But this infectious, funny and upbeat tune not only put some kind of picture of Australia in my head, but Australians too. I liked the sound of the guy who gregariously asks that his hide gets tanned when he dies. The rhyming of the lyrics goes along with the fresh attitude to make a friendly and memorable record. The song itself had been kicking around for several years- having been a hit in Australia- but became internationally recognized when re-recorded in England with producer George Martin.
My other distinct 1963 music memory wasn’t so much a song as a comedy sketch. Here, I’m talking about Allan Sherman’s hilarious letter-from-camp song, “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah. I must have gotten familiar with the song through television because I remember Sherman’s nerdy image as he performed the piece tongue in cheek.
I could only find one 1963 album in my dusty stack of records- Bob Dylan’s “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan”- but what an album it is.
It’s no wonder that Dylan was celebrated as a powerful new artist after his debut album was released in 1962. This was a guy who had a LOT to say and it wasn’t all about the birds and bees.
On “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan,” it was about society. It was about war. It was about mature relationships. And it was all presented with a kind of crooked smile. Dylan’s voice was not picture perfect and his songs sounded like they came from a different era, rather than the teenage-based culture of the early 1960s.
The different era was in the future, though. Even though Dylan’s music was strongly related to the traditions of folk music and blues, the upfront manner with which he grappled with social issues- speaking directly about what was on his mind as opposed to what would make a good pop song- was new to most listeners. That he did so often with tongue in cheek and with outright humor made him even more cool.
The Civil Rights struggle that was going on in America at this time may have fueled a lot of the condemning observations Dylan made about the contemporary culture, but on “Freewheelin'” his scope was much wider than just the Civil Rights movement. Dylan especially barked at the military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned of when he passed the Presidency over to John F Kennedy. Dylan’s song, “Masters of War,” does not blink in its serious confrontation with warmongers.
But Dylan also addresses the war issue in a humorous way in “Talking World War III Blues.” It’s an imaginative piece about a fellow who goes to the doctor with a troubling dream about the aftermath of a nuclear war- something that was on everybody’s mind in 1963. The song has one of my favorite lines of folk music. The guy in the song approaches a bomb shelter, calling in to the people hiding there to “Give me a string bean, I’m a hungry man!”
Dylan’s humor also goes out on a limb in “I Shall Be Free” which ends with a confession that he wouldn’t mind making it with Elizabeth Taylor, but would probably “catch hell” from Richard Burton for it. This was “freewheelin'” alright.
The song that ties all of Dylan’s concerns into one neat package is the opening song on “Freewheelin’,” “Blowin’ in the Wind.” Every point he makes here is couched in simple, but far-reaching questions. There’s an impatience here- something like “will we ever get this stuff right?” That Dylan asks the questions means his listeners are kind of forced to answer them to themselves as they listen- and the answers point to a new day of understanding. That new day- or at least the promise of it- is what would blossom in the coming years.
There are other Dylan classics on “Freewheelin'” including “Girl from the North Country,” “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall” and “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright.” This makes “Freewheelin'” a strong chunk of work from an artist gleefully bucking contemporary music trends.
Peter, Paul and Mary
Nearly the polar opposite of Dylan, at least in the folk music world, was the gentle, deliberate music of folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary. The comparison is not unfair because Peter, Paul and Mary scored a big hit in 1963 with a cover of Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind.”
Now, I have liked Peter, Paul and Mary’s music over the years- it’s sincere music and easy to listen to. But that same easygoing sincerity takes some of the blood out of “Blowin’ in the Wind,” replacing it with a little fluff. The focus ends up being on the vocal harmonies and the melody as opposed to the lyrics. It’s understandable that people reacted favorably to Peter, Paul and Mary’s version of “Blowin’ in the Wind”- after all, their voices were so much more pleasant than Dylan’s.
Peter, Paul and Mary’s more gentle, civilized approach works much better on their other 1963 hit, “Puff the Magic Dragon.” It’s pretty much of a kiddy song, but Peter, Paul and Mary apply their careful three-part harmonies to the song along with a complete lack of irony to make it accessible to all ages.
More of the Real Stuff
Bob Dylan’s music sounded incredibly authentic, or “real,” compared with most of the rest of the stuff the pop music world was producing. But there were some pop records that approached being as “real” as Dylan in their own way.
One of those “real” records is the Kingsmen’s 1963 hit “Louie Louie.” The Kingsmen weren’t the only group to record the song- an early version had been recorded by a group called the Wailers- but the Kingsmen version is the one that cracked open the controversy that would insanely surround the song.
The controversy around the song had to do with the lyrics. The song was heavily scrutinized because it was said that the lyrics contained obscenities, or at least overtly sexual connotations. Parents listened intently because they were scandalized by the possibility of sexual content. The government listened because all the parents were listening. And the kids listened because it really seemed to bug all the adults- plus they wanted to hear the dirty stuff themselves.
But the kids also listened because this was a rough, raw record that worked. And, really, that’s what created the controversy. The Kingsmen, compared to many of the hit makers of the time, were kind of sloppy. The song starts chugging along with an organ riff and the rest of the band follows but rather than a clean, sparkling studio mix, the Kingsmen achieved a rather muddy sound. In the middle of the instrumental work, then, were vocals that lazily slid all around the words, leaving details like annunciation and clarity to the wind. The song was so heavily scrutinized because you can hardly make out the words- the Kingsmen could have been singing just about anything in between the choruses.
To me, this makes for authentic music. I don’t think there was anyone in the studio telling them what to do to make the next big hit record. I think they just went in to record the song their own way- as they played it in their stage show- without much regard for the music industry in general.
Another “real” release in 1963 was Stevie Wonder’s exciting record “Fingertips- Pt 2.” It’s a live recording showcasing in a very dramatic fashion just how much musical power there was in the 12-year-old blind boy who played harmonica and sang with plenty of soul.
Here, Wonder is being backed by what sounds like a big stage band and the youngster puts plenty into his vocals and his harmonica solos. But the element here that sends this record up to a higher level is the sound of the audience reacting to the music. You can hear them clapping, yelping and getting involved throughout the progress of the tune. Nothing tells a listener to get involved more than the sound of other people getting involved and “Fingertips- Pt 2” benefits from exactly that.
The Big Stuff
More in style in 1963 than such efforts as “Louie Louie” and “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” were standard big studio productions. That’s where just about everything about the record was created by studio musicians, except the lead vocals of the starring act that is.
That’s what Elvis Presley has going in his 1963 release “(You’re the) Devil in Disguise.” There’s a rock and roll rhythm in there somewhere, but thoroughly refined compared to Presley’s initial releases in the mid-1950s. The rock and roll is further buried beneath the heavy backing vocals and band tracks that support Presley’s voice. It’s an upbeat recording all right, but Presley is drowned by all that sound.
The Four Seasons fared better with their big productions of 1963. Recordings like “Walk Like A Man” and “Candy Girl” have a big sound alright, but because the Four Seasons were primarily a vocal group, they had a better time being heard over all that busyness than Presley. Of course, the most distinctive thing about the Four Seasons was Frankie Valli’s incredibly powerful falsetto singing. He could not only hit the high parts, but he could also rough up the delivery like an R & B singer. There was no mistaking a Four Seasons record because of that alone.
The relative success of the Four Seasons records compared to Presley’s hit could very well indicate what was coming down the pike for the music industry. That is, a new era of group music as opposed to solo artists.
Girls, Girls, Girls
There was a bumper crop of great records by female artists in 1963, from solo artists such as Lesley Gore and Dusty Springfield to “girl groups” such as the Crystals and the Angels. Just about every one of these records could be considered “big stuff” studio recordings playing off the charm of a youthful mix of girls’ voices.
The best of the girl group records from 1963 is the Crystals’ great recording “Da Doo Ron Ron.” It’s a fun, busy production with plenty of handclapping and an upfront sax solo. It doesn’t make much sense, but it swings. Martha and the Vandellas’ “(Love is Like a) Heat Wave” is the same sort of recording complete with a prominent sax solo and handclapping- a very urban sound. Let’s also throw in The Angels’s upbeat 1963 hit “My Boyfriend’s Back.” Here, you can almost hear the bubble gum smack on the lips of some teenage girl.
Both The Chiffons’ “He’s So Fine” and Ruby and the Romantics’ “Our Day Will Come” are more moderate tempo-wise, but maintain a full sound nonetheless. In the case of “Our Day Will Come,” the instrumental work is very cool with the sound of a skating-rink organ and what sound like vibes. “He’s So Fine” manages to do something the other recordings do not do so well and that is to mix the vocals on TOP of the backing tracks, not buried in the middle somewhere. The song figured prominently in an infringement case against George Harrison years later, claiming that Harrison’s hit “My Sweet Lord” was a copy of “He’s So Fine.” The similarity is striking, especially on the chorus.
The Ronettes’ 1963 hit “Be My Baby” is another more medium tempo hit, with the prominent sounds of castanets spicing up the arrangement. Skeeter Davis’s “The End of the World” asks some big questions while comparing them to the pain of heartache. A little bit of steel guitar in this production adds some country syrup and a spoken word verse is thrown in at the end for questionably dramatic effect.
The biggest studio productions of all in 1963, though, were reserved for Lesley Gore and Dusty Springfield. Gore’s “It’s My Party” is just jammed with backing singers and horns. While upbeat, the song reveals the deep concerns of American youth at the time- the girl’s party just isn’t going the way she hoped. Springfield’s “I Only Want to Be With You” isn’t much different than Gore’s hit production-wise but is less revealing- just another big sounding record that doesn’t really go anywhere.
At the top of the list of other great hits from 1963 is “Cry Baby” by Garnet Mimms and the Enchanters. The tune has a slow deliberate tempo on top of which Mimms lays down some strong vocals- so strong that the song would inspire singer Janis Joplin to record it years later. Mimms’ recording is a classic combination of blues structure and gospel delivery- the stuff that the “soul music” of the 1960s was based on. “Cry Baby” also features some spoken word too- apparently to prove sincerity.
Johnny Cash’s 1963 “Ring of Fire” has also traveled well through the years, inspiring numerous cover recordings. Cash’s original recording features the rich sound of Mariachi horns punctuating a nice, even shuffle. The backing vocals here are kept in the background- unlike many of the other studio productions of the time- while Cash’s vocals are treated heavily with a deep echo effect, emphasizing his distinctive, lower register delivery.
Roy Orbison also had a distinctive vocal style- a strong tenor that could soar. In 1963, Orbison released “Blue Bayou,” which, like “Ring of Fire,” features heavy echo effects on the vocals. The keyboard sound here seems out of place to me, but Orbison’s voice makes up for it. I was actually introduced to the song through Linda Ronstadt’s recording in the 1970s- another indication that 1963 produced some time-worthy tunes. Orbison also released “Mean Woman Blues” in 1963, a very clean studio production with a strong nod to roots rock and roll.
One of my personal favorite songs from 1963 is the Drifters’ “Up on the Roof.” It has a very irresistible mellowness that ably expresses the get-away-from-it-all sentiment of the song perfectly. One of my least favorite tunes is “Hey Paula” by Paul and Paula. I can only shake my head at these kids being so ready to commit their lives away and yet the process described here, “planning a life for two,” is probably exactly what 1960s parents wanted to hear.
And don’t count out the crooners in 1963. Tony Bennett’s hit “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” is more wistful than show band dynamic. Of course, after hearing the similarity between the Chiffons’ “He’s So Fine” and George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord,” my ears pricked up when I recognized the distinctive piano riff in “San Francisco” as being VERY similar to the one that peppers Johnny Mathis’s 1957 recording “It’s Not for Me to Say.” Bennett’s vocal skills achieved a long lasting reputation, though, that would last for decades.
Finally, 1963 offered a pretty classy novelty record in Lou Monte’s funny hit “Pepino the Italian Mouse.” The recording features, besides Monte’s vocals, an effected voice that is supposed to be the mouse in the song. That’s OK- I get it- David Seville did it for chipmunks in his Chipmunks records. Pat Boone did it in his “Speedy Gonzales” record. The cool thing with Monte’s recording is that despite the novelty flavor of the piece, the record could very well be good for dancing too with its flavorful, upbeat arrangement.
1963 also saw something new coming out of California, which had lots of sun, lots of surfing and the epicenter of the West Coast recording industry. These things converged when a vocal group called the Beach Boys fused carefully arranged, fully harmonized vocal music with Chuck Berry-style rock and roll. Also add in some language unique to the surfing world and you have something just distinctive enough to stand out from the rest of the hits of the day. Their music kick started a national surfing craze, or, to be more specific, a national surf MUSIC craze.
In 1963, the Beach Boys stormed onto the charts with three big hits- “Surfin USA,” “Surfer Girl” and “Little Deuce Coupe.” There you had it- “Surfin USA” was fast, “Little Deuce Coupe” maintained a medium tempo and “Surfer Girl” was a slow tune- perfect music for all occasions.
The Beach Boys’ mastermind and songwriter Brian Wilson also wrote the big 1963 hit by Jan and Dean, “Surf City.” Teenage boys in particular could not argue with the opening line of the song: “Two girls for every boy.” The rest of the song sounds just like a Beach Boys record- full harmonies and some upbeat rock and roll.
But vocal music wasn’t all there was to surf music. A band called the Surfaris released one of the seminal works of surf music in 1963 with their strong instrumental hit “Wipe Out,” a surfing term
referring to getting knocked off your board. “Wipe Out” had an upfront rock and roll guitar part, but the main attraction here was the drumming. Several times throughout the tune, the band breaks and allows the drummer to cut loose. All across the country, young drummers and non drummers alike would furiously beat out that drum part with satisfaction- it wasn’t particularly tricky in terms of time signature, but it was fast and dynamic.
And last and perhaps least among the 1963 surf hits was the Trashmen’s goofy hit “Surfin Bird.” The vocal part is decidedly artless, kooky, tongue in cheek and even annoying. But the persistent beat and just the personal moxie it took to put this out makes it a bold, fun record.
While the surf craze was in full swing in California in 1963, a big storm was gathering across the ocean in England. The Beatles began their recording career in Europe in 1961 as the backup band for singer Tony Sheridan, playing on two songs- “My Bonnie” and “The Saints.” By 1962, the group was making headway on their own in England with the double-backed hit “Love Me Do” and “P.S. I Love You.” But 1963 became their breakout year in the United Kingdom, releasing a staggering number of great singles- including “Please Please Me,” “From Me to You,” “She Loves You,” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand”- as well as two full albums of material.
Despite the Beatles’ success abroad, the United States was slow to get on board this crazy, runaway train. The double-sided hit record “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “I Saw Her Standing There” was not released in America until the last week of December in 1963. 1964 would then become the year of total international domination by the Beatles.
Another British group that would end up far outliving the Beatles as a group- and give the band a run for their money for music fans’ attention- was the Rolling Stones. The Stones were just a little bit behind the Beatles as far as recording goes. Their first two singles- “Come On” and “I Wanna Be Your Man”- were both released in 1963.
“Come On,” the world’s first introduction to the Rolling Stones, doesn’t really give much of a clue to the power the Rolling Stones would eventually wield musically. It sounds pretty much like a standard 1963 pop record. Except for one thing, that is. “Come On” features a bluesy harmonica in the mix- NOT a standard instrument of the day. You don’t get much of a feel for vocalist Mick Jagger’s distinctive delivery, but you sure get the idea that this music is steeped in something other than the music trends of the day.
Patsy Cline, along with country performers Hawkshaw Hawkins and Cowboy Copas, was killed in a plane crash after a show in Tennessee on March 5.
More 1963 Records
The Shadows- Shindig
Roy Orbison- In Dreams
Gerry and the Pacemakers- How Do You Do It?
Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas- Do You Want to Know a Secret?
Gerry and the Pacemakers- I Like It
The Searchers- Sweets for My Sweet
The Searchers- Sugar and Spice
Gerry and the Pacemakers- You’ll Never Walk Alone
Buddy Holly- Bo Diddley
Buddy Holly- Brown Eyed Handsome Man
Patsy Cline- Sweet Dreams
Gene Pitney- Twenty-Four Hours From Tulsa
Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gormé- I Want To Stay Here
Trini Lopez- If I Had A Hammer
The Chantays- Pipeline
Skeeter Davis- I Can’t Stay Mad At You
Jay & the Americans- Only In America
Tommy Roe- The Folk Singer
Bobby Vee- The Night Has a Thousand Eyes
Brook Benton- Hotel Happiness
Johnny Thunder- Loop De Loop
Dion- Ruby Baby
Cascades- Rhythm of the Rain
Bobby Darin- You’re the Reason I’m Living
Orlons- South Street
Andy Williams- Can’t Get Used to Losing You
Jackie Wilson- Baby Workout
Jimmy Soul- If You Want to Be Happy
Shirelles- Foolish Little Girl
Lesley Gore- She’s a Fool
Jimmy Reed- If You Wanna Be Happy
Dovells- You Can’t Sit Down
Essex- Easier Said Than Done
Bobby Vinton- Blue on Blue; Blue Velvet
Tymes- So Much in Love
Lonnie Mack- Memphis
Nino Tempo and April Stevens- Deep Purple
Village Stompers- Washington Square
Impressions- It’s All Right
Tommy Roe- Everybody
Sammy Davis, Jr.- As Long as She Needs Me
Charles Mingus- The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady
Johnny Cash- Blood, Sweat and Tears
Bo Diddley- Bo Diddley’s Beach Party
Chuck Berry- Chuck Berry on Stage
Frank Sinatra- The Concert Sinatra
Bill Evans- Conversations With Myself
Julie London- The End of the World
Connie Francis- Follow the Boys
Ricky Nelson- For Your Sweet Love
Stan Getz and João Gilberto- Getz/Gilberto
Nancy Wilson- Hollywood – My Way
Roy Orbison- In Dreams
Elvis Presley- It Happened at the World’s Fair
Joan Baez- Joan Baez in Concert, Part 2
Aretha Franklin- Laughing on the Outside
Julie London- Latin in a Satin Mood
James Brown- Live at the Apollo
John Coltrane- Live at Birdland
Julie London- Love on the Rocks
Charles Mingus- Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus
Charles Mingus- Mingus Plays Piano
Sam Cooke- Night Beat
Patsy Cline- The Patsy Cline Story
Miles Davis- Seven Steps to Heaven
Frank Sinatra- Sinatra’s Sinatra
Perry Como- The Songs I Love
Bo Diddley- Surfin’ With Bo Diddley
Julie London- The Wonderful World of Julie London
Again, my main movie memories for 1963 come from those big trips into Chicago- or elsewhere- to see the latest holiday movie. At 7 years old, I was still susceptible to the friendly magic of the 1963 animated hit “Sword in the Stone,” a fanciful take on the King Arthur legend. The movie played right into the hopes and fears of young boys who hadn’t ever done great things, but maybe could if given the chance.
Also, 1963 yielded a memorable drive-in movie experience with “The Incredible Journey,” the story of a cat and two dogs who struggle to return home after being “lost” from their owners on vacation. The animals get into some tough situations and while the focus is on the pets, they are not presented as cartoon characters who talk and crack wise. This movie is more about a story that could- and has- happened, with happy results.
But again, I would mostly be exposed to 1963 movies through television broadcasts. And there were some good ones too, starting with Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds.” The genius of “The Birds” is taking an element of everyday life- our fine feathered friends- and turning it into a source of terror. The most frightening scene in the movie for me was when the schoolchildren and the teachers make a run for it and get dive-bombed mercilessly by the birds. The ending is certainly creepy- as the little band of survivors gingerly make their way out of the house they were hiding in.
Another great 1963 movie became a big event when it hit television- “The Great Escape.” With a big cast, a big story and lots of action, “The Great Escape” had me and my buddies talking at school.
Just like our interest in the television show “Combat!,” we were fascinated with World War II stories and this one was grand- prisoners of war band together in a clever plot to escape. They do, but get hunted down by the relentless Nazis. The great climax of the movie comes when actor Steve McQueen gets cornered and he tries to jump a barbed wire fence on a motorcycle. Later, as a teenager, one of the posters that would decorate my wall would be an image of McQueen on the motorcycle- some kind of symbol of defiance.
The cast of “The Great Escape” is worth mentioning- a kind of who’s who of male actors: Steve McQueen, James Garner, Richard Attenborough, Charles Bronson, Donald Pleasence, James Coburn and David McCallum.
Other 1963 movies that seemed to appear frequently on TV: “Jason and the Argonauts”- featuring very cool special effects by Ray Harryhausen- and “The Pink Panther,” featuring David Niven, Peter Sellers and Robert Wagner.
Historical- and legendary- figures make for high drama in this epic-length production. Everything about this movie is big- the sets, the actors, the story. “Cleopatra” roughly follows the historical events that take place when Rome was at its peak and Egypt was in flux. Then mix in cinematic majesty and performance might for a surprisingly compelling four hours of viewing.
First and foremost, Elizabeth Taylor is a bewitching figure as Cleopatra. Her milky white skin is in full view throughout most of the movie, a little less so as the Egyptian Queen ages. But her screen sex appeal is undeniably a major element to the story and the success of the movie. It’s doubtful the real Cleopatra looked like Taylor, but Taylor looks good as an exotic ancient queen.
That is, until you get a clearer idea of Cleopatra’s true nature. Yes, her guile is effective, but her campaigns to ensnare Roman interests eventually reveal her true intentions- to secure power in her homeland and beyond, for herself and her son. She feigns passionate love, perhaps even convinces herself it is real for a time, but her selfishness drives her like a runaway chariot.
But Taylor is most certainly not the only attraction here. Richard Burton plays Mark Antony with a harsh boiling angst and delivers one of the most riveting monologues in the entire production after hitting bottom. Rex Harrison plays Julius Caesar with a natural regal flair- he convinces as a nearly god-like leader. But also throw in a strong performance by Roddy McDowall as Caesar’s weaselly successor.
While nearly every scene in this movie comes with another big, cool set with glittering golden statues, sweeping steps, blazing fires and rich looking furniture, nothing beats the sequence in which Cleopatra arrives in Rome with Julius Caesar’s son. It is a magnificent piece of entertainment above and beyond the movie itself- great theater. It made me immediately think of the show business flair of a contemporary artist- Madonna- who regularly uses giant props and busy stage action to make a bigger than life image. If indeed, Cleopatra had such a flair for the big and dramatic, then Madonna comes from a long line of powerful females who know how to make an impression.
Directed by Joseph L Mankiewicz…1963…192 min…featuring Elizabeth Taylor (as Cleopatra), Richard Burton (as Mark Antony), Rex Harrison (as Julius Caesar), Pamela Brown, Hume Cronyn, Martin Landau, Roddy McDowall, Carroll O’Connor.
Lilies of the Field ****
“Lilies of the Field” surprised me. I laughed out loud often as well as recognized the human warmth that flows through the story. In short, I enjoyed the production from beginning to end without much heed to the fact that the movie was nearly 50 years old. This is quality work that has aged well.
It was certainly a pleasure to see an actor with the intensity of Sidney Poitier play in a comedic role. The comedy here is based on the idea that everything turns out for the best in the end, but it’s a funny and curious road getting there. This is not silly, slapstick comedy, however, but lightness steeped in human compassion.
The set-up sounds simple enough- a drifter who happens to be a black man stops at a remote desert farm to ask for water for his over-heated car and he gets caught up in the lives of the owners, a group of five European nuns. They want to build a chapel on the land and he happens to be an experienced construction worker, so by hook or by crook, the group gets the job done with the help of local community members.
But there are complications to overcome in terms of money, materials, religious beliefs and even language- the nuns speak German and the community members speak Spanish.
The movie on occasion introduces racial problems, mostly by Poitier’s character, who makes several jokes about it. There’s a moment when a local construction company owner calls the black construction worker “boy,” but then Poitier’s character calls him “boy” right back without much ado. To the movie’s credit, especially considering that Civil Rights clashes were at their height at the time, this dangerous and serious element is underplayed by what really happens here- people of a diversity of cultures coming together to accomplish something. Instead of exposing severe human weaknesses, “Lilies of the Field” works towards a position of strength.
It’s interesting that there is a lot of singing in the movie. Singing nuns seemed to be in style in 1963. But here again, cultures mix when Poitier’s character teaches the nuns a song of faith in the Baptist tradition. The western-flavored music of the soundtrack also helps keep the ambiance of the movie light and positive.
Directed by Ralph Nelson…1963…94 min…featuring Sidney Poitier, Lilia Skala, Lisa Mann, Pamela Branch, Stanley Adams, Dan Frazer, Ralph Nelson.
This stolen money caper takes several twists. All the while, aging but suave Cary Grant and precocious to the point of recklessness Audrey Hepburn glibly trade jokes about their situation.
That situation is complicated- a young woman returns from a holiday to find her apartment empty and her husband dead. Not only that, but he left behind a mystery about stolen wartime gold that is being pursued by several other people- all of which are greedy. Murders start occurring among the players and it becomes a game of survival to see who really has the money. Or is it money? It’s an engaging plot even if the glib jokes mostly fall flat.
Directed by Stanley Donen…1963…113 min…featuring Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, Walter Matthau, James Coburn, George Kennedy.
Who’s Minding the Store? ***
This is little more than a situation comedy vehicle for funnyman Jerry Lewis’ brand of cockeyed, goofy humor. Lewis’s character here is a poor working guy set to marry a pretty, rich girl (Jill St John) who has concealed her real identity as an heiress of a department store empire. Of course, the girl’s mother (a haughty and arrogant Agnes Moorehead) doesn’t like what her investigators dug up on the young man and she conspires with a store manager (Ray Walston) to drive the fellow away.
Of course, everything Lewis’s character attempts as an employee of the department store where his girlfriend has taken a job ends up in disaster. And the disasters are over the top- things crash, spill, blow up, slide, fly and generally fall apart at an alarming rate. All the while, Lewis applies his rubber face and flexible body language to every situation. It’s hard to feature a pretty woman like actress Jill St John’s character falling in love with such a loser, but that’s the Lewis movie mold- putting this dumb, ugly cluck in the arms of a beautiful woman.
There are a couple of details worth mentioning. Near the beginning of the movie, Lewis’s character is watching TV with a dog he is babysitting. When the show is finished, Lewis raises a TV remote control to turn it off. The remote control device was only introduced in 1963, so the film is in step with the times. In another scene, Agnes Moorehead is seen talking on the phone while driving- there weren’t many mobile phones around in 1963 either.
Directed by Frank Tashlin…1963…90 min…featuring Jerry Lewis, Jill St. John, Ray Walston, John McGiver, Agnes Moorehead, Nancy Kulp, John Abbott.
Johnny Cool **
An exiled American gangster in Rome picks and grooms an outstanding Italian thug to return to the States to exact revenge on his enemies. This is a movie that has not aged particularly well due to a weak script, pedestrian filming and questionable acting.
Henry Silva plays the Italian hit man with a kind of vacancy that might say “cool” to some, but might also be a function of not having much to work with. Elizabeth Montgomery plays Silva’s love interest but to be honest, she just seems too educated to be believable in the role.
The rest of the movie is filled with tough, mean mobster types played by a pretty impressive collection of actors including Telly Savales, Jim Backus, Sammy Davis Jr and Joey Bishop. Unfortunately, everyone is just going through the motions here.
Directed by William Asher…1963…103 min…featuring Henry Silva, Elizabeth Montgomery, Richard Anderson, Jim Backus, Joey Bishop, John McGiver, Mort Sahl, Telly Savales, Sammy Davis Jr.
Who’s Been Sleeping in My Bed? **
A TV doctor, played by Dean Martin, has a hard time convincing the women around him that he is not the wise, cool figure he plays on television. In fact, he’s not all that cool about women to begin with. The actor is set to get married to a pretty, smart young woman (Elizabeth Montgomery) and he’s not so sure he’s cut out for marriage, especially when all his poker buddies complain about their marriages.
This is a light adult comedy and Elizabeth Montgomery fits in much better here than in “Johnny Cool.” Her buddy in this movie is Carol Burnett, whose distinctive way of speaking, brusque, aggressive attitude and active facial expressions make her stand out in every scene she’s in.
Directed by Daniel Mann…1963…103 min…featuring Dean Martin, Elizabeth Montgomery, Martin Balsam, Jill St John, Richard Conti, Jack Soo, Johnny Silver, Carol Burnett.
The Raven **
While this movie starts promisingly enough with a voice over by actor Vincent Price reading Edgar Allen Poe’s poem “The Raven,” along with strange oil artwork, the production soon degenerates into a juvenile comedy, over exaggerated and silly. Actor Boris Karloff adds some veteran acting ease once introduced and a young Jack Nicholson convincingly plays a young bumpkin.
Directed by Roger Corman…1963…86 min…featuring Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff, Hazel Court, Olive Sturgess, Jack Nicholson.
More 1963 Movies
55 Days at Peking
Bye Bye Birdie
Captain Newman, M.D.
A Child Is Waiting
Contempt, (Le Mépris)
The Executioner (El Verdugo)
The Fire Within
From Russia with Love
Fun in Acapulco
A Gathering of Eagles
Gidget Goes to Rome
Irma la Douce
It Happened at the World’s Fair
It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
Ladies Who Do
Lord of the Flies
Love With the Proper Stranger
Move Over, Darling
A New Kind of Love
The Nutty Professor
The Ransom (Tengoku to jigoku)
The Running Man
The Silence (Tystnaden)
Son of Flubber
This Sporting Lifes
The Thrill of It All
Toys in the Attic
The Ugly American
Winter Light (Nattvardsgästerna)
X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes
Several major science fiction series debuted in 1963 in several places throughout the world. In Japan, it was “Astro Boy,” or “Mighty Atom.” In the United Kingdom, it was “Doctor Who.” In the United States, it was “The Outer Limits.”
“The Outer Limits” would work the same ground as “The Twilight Zone” pioneered- science fiction flavored short stories, but perhaps glossing over the stage acting quality of its predecessor. Still, the stories were plenty creepy and the beginning was a little chilling- the TV program was “in control” of your set, so don’t bother adjusting it.
My favorite episode from the first season was “The Sixth Finger,” about a scientist who manages to increase the size of his brain. His head actually grows in size to accommodate the brain and the scientist grows an extra finger besides. Years later, I would find out that the lead actor was David McCallum- otherwise known to me as Illya Kuryakin from the Man from UNCLE, a series that would debut in 1964.
Though I would watch “Outer Limits”- after all, I had two older brothers who liked such stuff- my speed in 1963 television was more like “My Favorite Martian,” a friendly new comedy in 1963 about an alien (Ray Walston) stuck on Earth. A young bachelor human (Bill Bixby) finds the alien, dubs him “Uncle Martin” and the two try to keep their secret safe- ostensibly so that the Martian can either repair his ship or get some help getting home. The comedy centered around problems with Uncle Martin’s powers on a strange planet and the snooping of the bachelor’s landlady.
Another silly comedy that seemed to work for me- at least I remember the show being on in our house often- was “Petticoat Junction.” Maybe there was a slight crush going on for the girls- I mean that scene in the intro where they’re up taking a dip in the water tank is a little provocative to begin with- but in general it was just harmless, funny stuff about this mythical town called Hooterville, a very rural settlement that would later figure prominently in a spin-off series, “Green Acres.”
The main characters in Petticoat Junction included a widow (Kate played by Bea Benaderet,) her three daughters, Betty Jo, Bobbie Jo and Billie Jo, and their Uncle Joe (played by Edgar Buchanan,) all of which helped run a hotel. Other characters included the storekeeper (Sam played by Frank Cady) and the engineers of the local steam train, the Cannonball. But perhaps the most memorable thing about the show was the theme song with the immortal line “There’s Uncle Joe, he’s movin’ kind of slow- at the Junction- Petticoat Junction.”
Now, maybe at age 7, I was a little young to have crushes on the Bradley girls in “Petticoat Junction.” And that might also be said for another 1963 debut, “The Patty Duke Show,” but still, some kind of basic attraction was going on there. The show featured young actress Patty Duke in two roles- one as a typical American teenager and the other as a cousin from Scotland who is sent to live with the relatives in New York to complete her schooling. Both girls Duke played were interesting in their own way.
The American girl was active and precocious- and not a particularly good student. The girl from Scotland, on the other hand, was sophisticated and mature in comparison. I think what I liked about the Scottish cousin was the way she talked. What I liked about the American girl was that she had some definite energy, if not applied in the proper direction all the time. They both looked pretty good.
The good news is that despite their differences, the girls managed to develop a close relationship as they navigate their way through various misadventures. The relationship between the girls and the American’s mother and father (played by Jean Byron and William Schallert) also becomes important as life lessons are meted out in each episode. I’m not sure the stories were all that compelling, but the show did offer me and my brothers a close look at creatures that were completely foreign to us in our household- teenage girls.
Another 1963 debut show that also received some generous air time in our house was “Wild Kingdom,” especially if there was nothing else on. The host was a kindly old guy (Marlin Perkins) with a young, beefy assistant (Jim Fowler) and nowhere else could you see real footage of the stuff they sought out in the wild- the habits of various animals, their relationships to each other along with the relationships between animals and people. This was educational TV very much unlike the usual comedies and adventure series on the air, therefore unique.
“The Fugitive” also debuted in 1963, a crime thriller that even attracted my parents on occasion. David Janssen played a doctor- Dr. Richard Kimble- falsely accused of murdering his wife. Just before his execution, he escapes and we’re off to the races. The series followed his adventures- with the cops always just a half a step behind him- as he looked for the real murderer- a one-armed man- and helped other people he met along the way.