Armchair Oscars – 1965

Best Picture

The Sound of Music (Directed by Robert Wise)
The Nominees: Darling, Doctor Zhivago, Ship of Fools, A Thousand Clowns

Repulsion (Directed by Roman Polanski)
My Nominees: 
Juliet of the Spirits (Federico Fellini), The Pawnbroker (Sydney Lumet), The Sound of Music (Robert Wise), Thunderball (Terence Young)


If I were given an assignment to spend an evening watching any of the Best Picture nominees of 1965, I would probably spend it with The Sound of Music. Not that The Sound of Music is the best musical I have ever seen but it was better than any of the nominees for Best Picture of this year. I admired this musical adaptation of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical about Maria (Julie Andrews), a novice nun who takes her passion for life and music out of the convent into the home of a widower and his seven children. The music is bouncy and fun, the performance by Julie Andrews gives the film its wonderful center and the supporting cast gives the film some nice color.

Yet, as much as I enjoy this production, I can only complain about the running time. After a beautiful first half, the film sags at about the point when Maria leaves the family to return to the convent and after being told to “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” there are no new songs. In fact, the songs that are sung after that point are repeats of what we’ve heard before and it becomes repetitive.

1965 was not a great year for movies (finding the best was a chore) and my favorite is a film that the high-minded academy would not have even considered – Roman Polanski’s odd, bone-chilling horror story Repulsion.

Filmed in gorgeous black and white, Repulsion enters into the frightening world of Carole Ledoux (Catherine Denueve), a painfully shy Belgian woman whose sexual confusion leads to a psychotic meltdown. The first time we meet Carole, there is something missing from her personality, she seems distanced from those around her. Her life seems tragically empty. She shares an apartment in London with her sister Hélène (Yvonne Furneaux), and this arrangement seems to indicate that she has no social life of her own. Neighbors and co-workers make attempts to be friendly but there’s something odd about Carol – her eyes suggest a woman who is afraid of the world around her. She rarely speaks.  She never smiles and there are moments when she simply stares off into space.

There is a way Carole has of simply being at odds with the world. She has moments when she sits on a bench and stares at an ugly crack in the sidewalk. She has a way of dealing with her fellow human being by remaining at a distance. Working a job as a manicurist, she seems unable to look anyone in the eye. Men, to her, are like alien beings. She is locked in a deep sexual repression, both obsessed and repulsed with the idea of physical contact. In fact, every man she meets makes a pass at her in one way or another. Not least is Colin (John Fraser), a sweet guy who would like to be with her and wastes no time making his intentions known. Driving her home one night she stares blankly ahead and is repulsed when he tries to kiss her. Her reaction is surprising: she runs upstairs and vigorously brushes her teeth, like a rape victim who showers to remove the grime of her attacker.

Especially volatile to Carole is her sister’s relationship with a married man, Michael (Ian Hendry). She makes her opinion known to Hélène and is politely told to butt out. She is especially irritated that the relationship has become so close that Michael now has a toothbrush in their bathroom. Night after night, she lies in her bed in agony as she hears Hélène and Michael having sex in the next room.

For a while, it seems that Carole is just odd but when Michael and Hélène take a trip to Italy we are taken on a journey into her madness. Left alone in the tiny apartment, she begins to go mad. She imagines cracks forming in the walls and thinks she sees light around her closed bedroom doors. She has increasingly violent fantasies about men breaking in and raping her. She walks through the hall and thinks that hands are reaching through the walls and grabbing at her. She is driven insane by the continuous ticking of the clock and a phone that won’t stop ringing. Soon she has lost all concept of time, and her employer informs her that she’s been gone for three days. Her mental deterioration is symbolized by some potatoes and a cooked rabbit that lie rotting on a dinner plate.

I am not a person who is generally frightened by horror films but this one had several moments that did scare me. There are point of view shots here that are nerve-wracking especially a shot in which we see Carole’s point of view as she sits in bed – we see the footboard of her bed with the closed bedroom door behind it. Nothing happens but up to that point we’ve come to expect anything. The single most frightening image in the entire film comes when Carole inspects a wardrobe and as she closes the door the mirror quickly passes over a man standing behind her. She turns and sees nothing. Then there are repeated moments when she stares at the ceiling and sees cracks forming.

All of these events take place from Carole’s point of view, especially from the men who surround her. Every man in the entire film has sex on the brain and practically smacks their chops at the sight of this woman. When Colin comes by to check on her, he pours his heart out, but he isn’t aware that her mind has snapped. She kills him by hitting him on the head with a candlestick. Later, when the repulsive landlord comes by to collect the overdue rent, he takes one look at Carole and suggests that they could waive the rent in favor of a sexual arrangement. She kills him with Michael’s razor.

What is most amazing is that we never get a clear glimpse into the reasons for Carole’s madness. The movie never really explains her background, but only suggests what has happened to her. Polanski saves that jewel for the end as his camera tracks around the trashed apartment to a photo. We see a smiling man and a girl standing a few feet to his right. The camera pulls ever closer to the young girl and we see a pained expression on her face. The girl, we suspect, is a very young Carol and the man is her father and we don’t have to guess that some form of sexual abuse has taken place. In our minds we connect the images we’ve just seen with that photograph. What must he have done to her to destroy her mind in this manner? What horrors must she have had to suppress? And what tragedy when they finally come to a head.

Best Actor

Lee Marvin (Cat Ballou)
The Nominees: Richard Burton (The Spy Who Came in from the Cold), Laurence Olivier (Othello), Rod Steiger (The Pawnbroker), Osker Werner (Ship of Fools)

Rod Steiger (The Pawnbroker
My Nominees:
Sean Connery (Thunderball), Zbigniew Cybulski (The Saragossa Manuscript), Laurence Olivier (Othello)


Far be it from me to complain when the academy gives one of their top honors to a comedy. I have complained for years that serious, sober dramas get all the credit while comedy goes unrewarded. I am sure Lee Marvin wasn’t complaining. As a veteran who was wounded in World War II, he found an outlet in acting and spent 15 years playing bit parts and supporting roles mostly cast (thanks to his hard looks) as the mean killer. He told Life magazine that when the audience sees his face on the screen, two things are certain: “First, I’m not going to get the girl and second, I’ll get a cheap funeral.”

Then came Eliot Silversteen’s western comedy Cat Ballou, based on a serious novel by Roy Chanslor, where he got the chance to try a comedy in a double role as both the hero and the villain, neither gets the girl but one gets a cheap funeral. First was the evil Tim Strawn, a noseless bully who murders Jane Fonda’s father (no, not Henry) and the other was Eli “Kid” Shelleen, a drunken gunfighter she hires to avenge him.

It was Shelleen that got Marvin the Oscar. With his drunk act he had three great scenes, one in which he literally can’t hit the broad side of a barn, one in which he interrupts a funeral and mistakes the candles at the foot of the casket for birthday candles and the other in a montage in which he tries to sober himself up for a showdown. I liked Lee Marvin in Cat Ballou, but the movie itself is a struggle. As a movie that is suppose to be a rip-snorting western comedy, it creeps along at a snail’s pace, especially in the early passages before we get to Shelleen. Marvin has great moments but when he is gone from the screen, the movie is deadly dull. If I am looking for a faster-paced western comedy, I usually turn to Blazing Saddles, The Villain and the forgotten Richard Pryor comedy Adios Amigo. Cat Ballou just doesn’t do it for me.

I am happy to see that the academy gave the Best Actor prize to Lee Marvin for a slapstick comedy, but I think if more people had seen my choice, the selection might have been different. The Pawnbroker by Sydney Lumet was an independent film released through American International Pictures (home of all those biker flicks) that not many got to see. Enough academy voters saw the film to get Steiger a nomination but most of the focus was on the controversy over a scene in which a prostitute strips naked (well, topless) in front the main character in order to make him an offer. That’s too bad because The Pawnbroker stands as an example of Rod Steiger’s best work on film. Here he lays aside all conventions of his technique and simply creates one of the greatest examples of pure acting. He keeps himself in check and doesn’t allow himself to overact.

He plays Sol Nazerman, a holocaust survivor who now works in a pawnshop in Harlem where he pushes himself through his daily routine and seems completely devoid of all color and life and personality. As the movie opens we see a younger, happier man who was a professor in Germany with a beautiful wife who loved him and children who adored him. But it isn’t long before the Nazi death machine comes steamrolling in and takes his family away. We see very little of Sol’s experiences in the camps, only fleeting glances, flashes of memory and suggestions of what he has experienced.

We meet him years later working in his Harlem pawnshop, offering a cold and impersonal manner as customers bring in their trinkets to pawn, “Two dollars” he says to nearly everyone without making eye contact. He has no interest in other human beings, no interest in those who are lonely and come by his shop to pawn their goods or just for a friendly chat. His stature is of a man drained of all humanity, drained of all personality. His hair is white, his skin is pale and his approach to his fellow man comes in the form of cold, impersonal detachment. He is a living ghost, drained of, all the things that make life worth living. When the movie is over, we understand very little about his experience except that we have only scratched the surface of the horror he has experienced.

This is one of the best films ever made about the connective power of memory. There are moments when Sol will see something and a flash of a memory will occur. He sees a man being beaten by a fence and he remembers a fellow prisoner in the camp who was killed when trying to escape. A woman attempts to pawn her wedding ring and he remembers the women of the camp with their hands up as the camp commandant takes their rings. A prostitute comes by and strips down in order to offer him sex and he remembers horribly what became of his wife. As he walks home, we see an incredible series of images that are similar to the camps, the fences, stacks of shoes in a store front, all daily reminders of his past as he keeps his eyes to the ground.

Sol’s only remaining relative is his sister Bertha (Nancy Pollock). She is married to a man who detests her Jewish son but loves her American daughter. At the same time, he cares for Tessie, the widow of his best friend and her father Mendel who is on his deathbed. All of these people are supported by the money from the pawnshop. Distancing himself from the world is not as easy as he had hoped. The people who come in and out of his pawnshop are of little significance to Sol, but he deals with them, sometimes absently, sometimes with a buried frustration. He deals with old people who are lonely and looking for someone their own age to chat with. He deals with a junkie who comes in twitching and nervous as he tries to pawn a radio. He deals with charity cases who come by asking for donations. He cannot escape being a victim, as he deals with a street gang led by a slick huckster who brings items that are most likely stolen. Plus he is the victim of the local mobster (Brock Peters) who uses his place as a front. But out of this cold indifference, there are those who try to pierce his unfeeling skin.

First is Jesus (Jaime Sánchez), a Latino street kid who promises his mother that he is finished with his life of petty crime and finds Sol through a newspaper ad. His demeanor likely represents the joy, rapture and optimism that Sol once exhibited. He is young, exuberant and sees a future as an entrepreneur. He becomes an eager student of Nazerman, wanting to learn from his elder but finding that the old man has no interest in him or his desire to learn. Asking the old man about his beliefs, he receives a cold and indifferent answer: “Money.”

The other soul who tries to reach him is the sweet Marilyn Birchfield (Geraldine Fitzgerald) who commits the sin of asking him to lunch. This turns out to be the humanitarian gesture that he cannot refuse, though he doesn’t go with good graces. In the park, she talks to him and attempts to break through his cold indifference but he isn’t interested in her care.

What Sol represents, I think, are the years of pent up rage, brought on by the years spent in the concentration camp enduring the inability to deal emotionally with what happened. He chooses to dehumanize himself so that the pain won’t consume him. He is wracked with guilt that he survived while millions perished, including those closest to him. He maintains his life, spending eight hours a day in his shop behind a cage, spaced away from the world that constantly intrudes upon him. There is an extraordinary moment when he receives a phone call that Mendel has died and he coldly informs Tessie, “Bury him, when someone dies you bury them.” Contrast that with another death that occurs at the film’s end, one that breaks Sol’s cold demeanor. He blames himself, not just for this but for so much blood on his hands. This is where we arrive at Steiger’s famous “Silent Scream” in which he wants to cry out but cannot. There’s something dead in Sol that will never be revived. I am so glad the movie doesn’t end with a conventional happy ending, it ends on a note that reminds us that his pain will go on but just for a moment because the emotional confinement has been broken.

Best Actress

Julie Christie (Darling)
The Nominees: Julie Andrews (The Sound of Music), Samantha Eggar (The Collector), Elizabeth Hartman (A Patch of Blue), Simone Signoret (Ship of Fools)

Julie Andrews (The Sound of Music)
y Nominees: Samantha Eggar (The Collector), Geraldine Fitzgerald (The Pawnbroker)


Julie Andrews received 1964’s Best Actress prize for playing the title role in Mary Poppins, a virginal nanny who cares for two mischievous children being raised by a stern father they hardly know. A year later she played the lead in The Sound of Music, as Maria, a virginal nun-in-training who cares for seven mischievous children also being raised by a stern father they hardly know. The latter was actually the better performance, Maria is far more complex and conflicted than the “practically perfect” Mary Poppins and is, therefore, a little easier to care about.

Yet, the academy didn’t reward Andrews a second time. Instead they chose another English Julie, this one the newcomer Julie Christie. In John Schlesinger’s Darling, she plays Diana Scott, a model in London who works her way up the social ladder by jumping in and out of various beds. Julie Christie had sex appeal and it is easy to think that she might have spent the rest of her career using her body to make her fame.

Yet she chose to be an ingénue rather than a starlet and the rest of her career would consist of strong, intelligent work in films like Far From the Madding Crowd, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Heaven Can Wait, Afterglow and Away From Her. When you consider these films and then think back on the dated Darling, it is easy to think that her Oscar may have been a bit premature.

I wouldn’t have been terribly upset if Julie Andrews had won a second Oscar. Her performance in The Sound of Music was an improvement over her work in Mary Poppins because here she got to play a more complex character. She plays Maria, a nun in training who has yet to take her vows but doesn’t seem to take her disciplines seriously as she should. The older nuns complain to The Mother Superior (supporting actress nominee Peggy Wood) that Maria is muddle-headed, that her attentions are swept away on mindless frivolity. They are right, Maria has such a lust for life, such a passion for music that she feels compelled by the beauty of a spring day to sing about it, which unfortunately takes her away from her studies.

Called into Mother Abbess’ office, Maria explains, “I can’t seem to stop singing wherever I am. And what’s worse, I can’t seem to stop saying things – anything and everything I think and feel.” Mother Abbess understands but also sees that with such a passion, Maria will never find the discipline to be a nun and suggests that she might be better suited as a governess. The Mother Superior thinks she should experience more of the real world and sends her to the home of Captain Georg Von Trapp (Christopher Plummer), a widower with seven children who have sent fourteen previous nannies packing.

Von Trapp is not a man of great humor. He is stern, disciplined man with a cold demeanor and a demand for absolute order. Since the death of his wife, he has forbidden music into his home and chooses to raise his children by means of strict military order. Maria doesn’t buy it, she’s stunned by the fact that the Captain gets the children in line by the use of a whistle. “Oh, no, sir. I’m sorry, sir. I could never answer to a whistle,” she tells him. “Whistles are for dogs and cats and other animals, but not for children and definitely not for me. It would be too . . . humiliating.” When he demonstrates the children’s individual whistle signals, she inquires, “Excuse me, sir. I don’t know your signal.”

She is also stunned by his refusal to allow his children playtime, a problem she quickly remedies by making play clothes out of the drapes. What she demonstrates is her stubbornness and her refusal to be locked down or allow the children to have their individuality pulled away. Her heart is too full of life and energy to allow this. She has a heart full of music and a grand desire to share it. She has a song for every occasion, a song for every mood. Lacking confidence that she can be a governess she lifts her spirits by singing “I Have Confidence”. When she realizes that the children don’t know any songs she starts them off by teaching them “Do-Re-Mi”. When the children are frightened by the storm, she teaches them to calm themselves by singing about “My Favorite Things.” And, of course, when she is swept along by the beauty of the day, she sings of the hills being alive with the sound of music.

Yet, as confident as Maria is, she can’t overcome the reality that her passion for life is overwhelming her desire to become a nun. She also realizes that she is causing the Captain’s heart to melt but after he announces his engagement to a baroness, she quietly leaves his home to return to the convent. Confused, she talks with Mother Abbess about her decision, the good mother tells her “Maria, these walls were not meant to shut out problems. You have to face them. You have to live the life you were born to live.” She understands Maria, she understands what is in her heart and convinces her that she has more to give out in the real world than she would behind the walls of the convent. Later, when the Captain breaks off his engagement to The Baroness and he and Maria fall in love, even to the point that they are discussing marriage.

I don’t think The Sound of Music would work without Julie Andrews, it is her vibrant spirit and happy soul that brings the film to life. There is a light in her eyes that is unmistakable. What she brings to the film is the rare talent of being able to convincingly sell the song lyrics instead of just singing. Like Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand, she can act while singing, so that when she sings that “The hills fill my heart with the sound of music. My heart wants to sing every song it hears”, there is a lilt in her voice that lets us know that she believes what she is singing.

Julie Andrews is at her best early in this film. Later, when she falls in love with the Captain, then goes on the run with the family to get away from the Nazis, her performance kind of loses some momentum. Yet up to that point, her work is so original and so good that one could hardly complain. I wish she had won the Oscar for The Sound of Music, instead of Mary Poppins, because this film would signal the end of her greatness as a film actress. In years to come she would star in a string of mostly bad comedies with her husband Blake Edwards, (The exception is her overlooked performance in That’s Life.) Lately, her career has been in family pictures like Shrek 2 and The Princess Diaries. She may not have been able to rise to that she hit in the sixties but even now, in her seventies, she still maintains that vibrant spirit that she had when she sang about the sound of music.

Home | What is all this? | Contact Me

2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006 | 2005 | 2004 | 2003 | 2002 | 2001 | 2000 | 1999 | 1998 | 1997 | 1996 | 1995 | 1994 | 1993 | 1992 | 1991 | 1990 | 1989 | 1988 | 1987 | 1986 | 1985 | 1984 | 1983 | 1982 | 1981 | 1980 | 1979 | 1978 | 1977 | 1976 | 1975 | 1974 | 1973 | 1972 | 1971 | 1970 | 1969 | 1968 | 1967 | 1966 | 1965 | 1964 | 1963 | 1962 | 1961 | 1960 | 1959 | 1958 | 1957 | 1956 | 1955 | 1954 | 1953 | 1952 | 1951 | 1950 | 1949 | 1948 | 1947 | 1946 | 1945 | 1944 | 1943 | 1942 | 1941 | 1940 | 1939 | 1938 | 1937 | 1936 | 1935 | 1934 | 1932-33 | 1931-32 | 1930-31 | 1929-30 | 1928-29 | 1927-28 |

Contact me @