This Is A “Picture From A Revolution!”
This scene, when Sidney Poitier slaps a white man who had just slapped him across the face – was incendiary for its time, and it’s one one of the powerful films of 1967, a year of “revolution” in Hollywood.
With the unrest around us today, it’s time to look at the year 1967, when cinema itself was dealing with race with two separate films nominated that year for Best Picture – both starring the most popular black Actor of that time!
“In The Heat Of The Night” was a powerful indictment of racism in the south, culminating in that famous “slap” heard around the world. The older southern gentleman immediately looks at Sheriff Rod Steiger, literal I wanted to look at this year, which was captured in this terrific book:
Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood by Mark Harris
This is a terrific story about Hollywood, Oscars, the end of one era in film, and the launch of a new way of making movies that changed Hollywood forever.
It’s the epic story behind the making of the five movies nominated for Best Picture in 1967 – “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”, “The Graduate”, “In the Heat of the Night”, “Doctor Doolittle”, and “Bonnie and Clyde” – and through them, the larger story of the cultural revolution that transformed Hollywood, and America, forever!
In the mid-1960s, Hollywood released westerns, war movies and blockbuster musicals like “Mary Poppins” and “The Sound of Music”. More controversial topics were avoided.
Even though Sidney Poitier has just made history by becoming the first black Best Actor winner, he was feeling completely cut off from opportunities – other than the same “noble black man” role.
That all changed in 1967 – a year of seismic change in film, as one had the audacity to ask this question:
“Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner”
This provocative film tackled a virtually taboo subject at the time: inter-racial marriage – but Producer Director Stanley Kramer used Poitier as the perfect Actor to take it on:
This was explosive material for the movies, in this case helped by having the parents portrayed by Hollywood legends Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy:
The film is honest – his parents are just as shocked about the couple as her parents are:
The film feels a bit dated now, and certainly they walked gingerly around some aspects of the topic, but this was a “mainstream” Hollywood film tackling the subject of interracial love – very controversial for its time.
And it was a “double bill” year for Poitier, as he also starred in the brilliant film about racism in the south called “In The Heat Of The Night!”
“They Call Me MR. Tibbs!”
Poitier starred as Virgil Tibbs, a Philadelphia cop who finds racism everywhere in a redneck south that refuses to think modern, and as the poster warned “this was adult” stuff! Poitier is confronted by ingrained racism at every turn, not helped by the racist Police Chief played by Rod Steiger – check out the trailer:
Poitier is stalked by white racists as he tries to solve the murder of a Philadelphia businessman in this sleepy southern town. He uncovers racism and so much more…
The film is brilliantly acted and directed, and both Poitier and Steiger were nominated for Best Actor, with Steiger winning that year – the film also won the Best Picture Oscar as well as Best Director:
A “Slap” Heard Around The World!
The film’s most powerful scene takes place when Poitier and Steiger visit a southern mansion owned by wealthy local Eric Endicott. The conversation begins with a discussion of flowers, but quickly becomes strained as Endicott is questioned about the murder by Detective Tibbs.
The wealthy Southerner is not used to being talked back to by a black man. Tibbs speaks calmly, politely until Endicott lunges forward and slaps him across his face for his insolence.
Tibbs immediately laps him back, harder. Endicott, astonished, nearly falls over, then reveals the true nature of his racism.
“There was a time,’ he tells Tibbs, “when I could have had you shot.”
Tibbs, Gillespie and an astonished black servant bearing glasses of lemonade depart the room, leaving Endicott to weep openly. It is a shockingly powerful scene in a film that is filled with them – one of the greatest Best Picture winners ever, but this year was filled with masterpieces that dealt with taboo subjects.
“Are you trying to seduce me, Mrs. Robinson?”
“The Graduate” was another Best Picture nominee in 1967, the story of a young college student who is seduced by his girlfriend’s mother!
Here is the trailer:
Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft and Katherine Ross are brilliant in this provocative film, written by Buck Henry and Directed by Mike Nichols.
The next film nominated for Best Picture that year took onscreen violence to a level never before seen:
This masterpiece stars Warren Beatty as Clyde Barrow, and Faye Dunaway as Bonnie Parker – and together they star in one of the most influential films of all time – here is the trailer for Director Arthur Penn’s 1967 classic “Bonnie & Clyde:
Gene Hackman and Estelle Parson were both oscar-nominated for their roles…as my friend Jamie Klein reminded me, one of Hackman’s best lines is “whatever you do, don’t sell that cow!”
Legendary Actor Gene Wilder made his movie debut in the film as well – here is a look at his role:
“Bonnie & Clyde” is violent, funny at times, emotional, shocking and revolutionary – the film ushered in a new era of screen violence in America.
These four films were culture shocks to Hollywood, which at the time was still trotting out films like the 5th nominee in 1967 for Best Picture: the bloated, out of touch musical fiasco “Dr. Doolittle.”
It was a revolutionary year in Hollywood, with films that tackled racism, adultery, crime and inter-racial dating…making “Doctor Doolitte” seems even more “out of touch” with the times…and the film’s massive box office failure almost sank 20th Century Fox:
This is a terrific book that tells the whole story.
Just a few years later, another film exploded on screens in America to continue the discussion of race – from a very different point of view not heard before:
“Sweet Sweetback’s Badass Song” was an incendiary look at racism in America – an ultra low budget masterwork by Director Melvin Van Peebles – here is the trailer and an in-depth look at this powerful film:
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As the issue of racism in America continues, these films tackle the subject in powerful ways that still resonate today…
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