Reflections on Must-See Films From 1962

Reflections on Must-See Films From 1962

1962 was an especially rich year for movies, with powerful films across genres and languages. Out of 75 total titles listed in Peary’s book, I voted “Yes – Must See” on 41 (55%). Many stand out to me as worthy of mentioning, for different reasons – so, here goes!

“I am sane. I am innocent. I have committed no crime!”
  • Numbers-wise, of the 41 must-see films, 10 are in a non-English language — including 6 French titles, 1 Spanish (The Exterminating Angel by Buñuel), 2 Japanese (one of which — Harakiri — I very recently reviewed), and 1 Polish (Roman Polanski’s debut film Knife in the Water, which remains a “surprisingly potent chamber piece” worth watching specifically for “its camera angles, strategic blocking of characters, and highly effective editing.”)
  • Of the six French titles, I want to highlight Sundays and Cybele by director Serge Bourguignon — an especially noteworthy (if challenging) film given how it “tackles the challenging topics of PTSD and cross-age friendships with sensitivity and compassion.”
  • While I’m not a huge fan of politics or political flicks, Otto Preminger’s Advise and Consent is an exception, offering “an unparalleled look at the inner workings of Washington, D.C.” and “a slowly gripping storyline… which takes its time getting to the crux of the drama.” The cast (including Don Murray, Charles Laughton, and Walter Pidgeon) is uniformly excellent.
  • Another must-see political film is John Frankenheimer’s incomparable The Manchurian Candidate, which I appreciate revisiting every so often. (Yes, I saw Jonathan Demme’s decent remake — but no, I don’t remember too much about it.) The original is worth watching for several reasons, including Angela “Lansbury’s Academy Award-nominated performance as Mrs. Iselin — one of cinema’s most memorable sociopath mothers” and the “lengthy, creatively filmed Manchurian ‘garden party’/brainwashing sequence, which effectively puts the audience on edge from the get-go.” (It gives me the chills every single time I view it.)
  • Speaking of films that put you on edge, horror and/or horror-adjacent flicks of all types reigned during this year… One delightful sleeper to revisit is the British cult film Burn, Witch, Burn! (a.k.a. Night of the Eagle), with horror evoked “in seemingly mundane interactions and objects” such that “we come to truly believe that dark forces are ruling the unfortunate household” of the protagonists.
  • Speaking of crazed middle-aged women, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? — about two “broken, tragic women whose jealousy and vanity have forced them both onto an inescapably disastrous trajectory” — is not-to-be missed, and is actually a title I’m due to revisit soon since I reviewed it way back in 2007.
  • Another cult favorite is Herk Harvey’s Carnival of Souls, an unusual low-budget horror-sleeper possessing “a surprising amount of atmosphere and panache, with striking b&w cinematography, creative direction, and a particularly noteworthy organ score by Gene Moore.”
  • An oh-so-powerful horror-adjacent title — though not recommended for repeated viewings — is the original iteration of Cape Fear, featuring Robert Mitchum as “a terrifyingly brutal bastard, an intelligent but deluded and narcissistic sociopath who uses humans as fodder for a sick scenario of vengeance he’s playing out in his head.”
  • I consider nearly all of Orson Welles’s unique directorial outings to be must-see — including his critically contentious adaptation of Franz Kafka’s The Trial, in which “the story plays out exactly like the nightmarish series of random encounters it is” (be forewarned).
  • Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita is another vibrant adaptation, featuring the inimitable James Mason as a man head-over-heels for his underaged stepdaughter. Sue Lyon’s “performance [in the title role] is at the heart of this film’s success — she’s preternaturally able to embody this challenging role and convince us that events are playing out exactly as seen on screen.”
  • I was riveted all over again when revisiting Arthur Penn’s The Miracle Worker, featuring a powerhouse performance by Anne Bancroft as Annie Sullivan (Helen Keller’s real-life teacher), a woman who “consistently and relentlessly stand[s] up for what she believes in, even at risk of losing her job.”
  • A beautifully filmed, crowd-pleasing favorite of 1962 is To Kill a Mockingbird, featuring (as Peary puts it) Gregory Peck as “the man you’d want for your father,” and one of the most memorable scores of all time, by Elmer Bernstein.
  • I’ve written fairly recently about how much I appreciated Sidney Lumet’s adaptation of Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night (co-starring Katharine Hepburn, Ralph Richardson, Dean Stockwell, and Jason Robards, Jr.), but I will put in yet another plug for it as one of the best theatrical adaptations out there.
  • So far, so black-and-white… But let’s not forget that the original James Bond movie — Dr. No — debuted this year in glorious Technicolor, featuring not only stylish Sean Connery but bodacious Ursula Andress in her iconic white bikini.
  • I was also delighted to find that The Music Man has held up really well and remains eminently sing-along-able.

    What can I do, my dear, to catch your ear
    I love you madly, madly Madam Librarian… Marian

  • I’ll leave it at that for now, but suffice it to say that 1962 offered up plenty of creatively diverse and enjoyable must-see titles spanning genres, countries, and budgets. Happy viewing!

    P.S. I just found out that I’m not alone in noticing how many awesome films were released this particular year… I’m curious to check out this book!

One thought on “Reflections on Must-See Films From 1962

  1. It was a great year for films, no doubt. Agree very much re Night of the Eagle. Incidentally, King Kong vs Godzilla is a 1962 film as that was the year the original Japanese version was first released to paying audiences. Thankfully, the poor American bastardisation can be skipped these days due to Criterion releasing the proper Japanese edit in their masterful BD set.

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