Overview for films in 1960s
(Digital History ID 2964)

The "New" Hollywood

As the 1960s began, few would have guessed that the decade would be one of the most socially conscious and stylistically innovative in Hollywood's history. Among the most popular films at the decade's start were Doris Day romantic comedies like That Touch of Mink (1962) and epic blockbusters like The Longest Day (1962), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), and Cleopatra (1963). Yet, as the decade progressed, Hollywood radically shifted focus and began to produce an increasing number of anti-establishment films, laced with social commentary, directed at the growing youth market.

By the early 1960s, an estimated 80 percent of the film-going population was between the ages of 16 and 25. At first, the major studios largely ignored this audience, leaving it the hands of smaller studios like American International Pictures, which produced a string of cheaply made horror movies, beach blanket movies--like Bikini Beach (1964) and How to Stuff a Wild Bikini (1965)--and motorcycle gang pictures--like The Wild Angels (1966).

Two films released in 1967--Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate--awoke Hollywood to the size and influence of the youth audience. Bonnie and Clyde, the story of two depression era bank robbers, was advertised with the slogan: "They're young, they're in love, they kill people." Inspired by such French New Wave pictures as Breathless (1960), the film aroused intense controversy for romanticizing gangsters and transforming them into social rebels. A celebration of youthful rebellion also appeared in The Graduate, which was the third-highest grossing film up until this time. In this film, a young college graduate rejects a hypocritical society and the traditional values of his parents--and the promise of a career in "plastics"--and finds salvation in love.

A number of most influential films of the late '60s and early '70s sought to revise older film genres--like the war film, the crime film, and the western--and rewrite Hollywood's earlier versions of American history from a more critical perspective. Three major war films--Little Big Man, Patton, and M*A*S*H-- reexamined the nineteenth-century Indian wars, World War II, and the Korean War in light of America's experience in Vietnam. The Wild Bunch (1969) and McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971) offered radical reappraisals of the mythology of the American frontier. Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather (1972) revised and enhanced the gangster genre by transforming it into a critical commentary on an immigrant family's pursuit of the American dream.

Recommended Film

Thirteen Days

This film examines the actions of President John F. Kennedy and his advisers during the thirteen days of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

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