Other films nominated for Oscars in 1964 were Marriage Italian-Style, with Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni, as well as the eventual winner of the Foreign Language Film, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (also with Loren and Mastroianni), the Tennessee Williams film The Night of the Iguana, a Leslie Caron–Cary Grant war-comedy called Father Goose, the Beatles' A Hard Day's Night, the Jacques Demy musical The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, and the classic Japanese horror film Woman in the Dunes.
In other words, 1964 was a good year for the Academy Awards
Two weeks ago I looked at the list of forty films nominated, and I had twenty left, and I thought, well, why not watch the rest of 'em in the next month? So I started doing that. Here are the first three...
Seven Days in May is riveting stuff. And it is beautifully acted. It also stars Ava Gardner as a former lover of Lancaster's. Gardner is superb in this movie, and whenever I see one of her movies I am reminded of just how underrated of an actress she was. She is brilliant in literally everything, as far as I'm concerned.
Another presidential film made in 1964 is The Best Man, written by Gore Vidal and directed by Franklin J. Schaffner. The Best Man's poster makes it look rather like it might be a comedy, and the first few minutes of the film do nothing to disrupt that impression, but The Best Man is quite a serious film about two men in a presidential primary. The candidates are Henry Fonda and Cliff Robertson. Fonda plays a wise old man who quotes Marcus Aurelius, is in favor of racial equality, and has decided always to "do the right thing" (even though he is a bit of a philanderer, apparently). Robertson plays a truly odious politician who will do anything to win, is a complete racist, and seems to have not a sensitive bone in his body. The cast is rounded out by the former president (whose endorsement would crown the victor in the race) and Fonda's wife, who is a no-nonsense, lovely sort of woman who knows her husband doesn't really love her. Robertson's wife is rather an important character, too, but she is not given much of a part.
This is only a so-so sort of picture. It doesn't actually make sense that someone quite so conservative and someone quite so liberal are fighting for power in the same party – one of them could at least have been a centrist of some sort. But also the film just doesn't generate interest in its own questions. Whether or not one man will do the right thing is not really the most fascinating topic. One rather wants to see his favorite character win. Fonda's character does all the right things, but his inability to get down into the mud and do all he can to make sure that this basically evil person doesn't become president really means that he himself is not presidential. And he knows it. He is not willing to get his hands dirty, and so over the course of the picture he comes to realize that he doesn't really have what it takes to be the president. I am not sure why the film is invested in men who are willing to get their hands dirty, but The Best Man sure believes that the office of the presidency needs that.
|Robertson at center, looking shifty|
This is a one-joke picture. Where the joke actually works is when we get to the White House and no one – and I mean no one, including her political opponents – behaves as though it is abnormal for a woman to be the president. The only person who can't seem to quite figure it out is the president's husband.
But Kisses for My President is not a serious movie in the least, and the movie opts for an easy ending when the president becomes pregnant and decides to resign because the doctor says the stress of the presidency will be too much for the baby. I'm rolling my eyes all the way to the back of my head. Kisses for My President is invested in both the absurdity and the impossibility that a woman could be president, and it finally decides that women are unfit for such jobs because they might get pregnant and, well, shouldn't they be taking care of their families in the first place? No thanks.