1967 was a year of turmoil in America. The US was fighting the unpopular Vietnam War, which lead to many protests. There were race riots in Buffalo, Tampa, Newark, Minneapolis, and Milwaukee. It was the year of the Summer of Love in San Francisco. Thurgood Marshall became the first African American Supreme Court Justice. Society was changing, and the best picture nominees for that year (well, most of them anyway) reflect that change. Two of the movies were about race relations. Two were about sticking it to the man and living your own life. And one was about a man in 19th century England who could talk to animals.
After I watched Doctor Dolittle, I tried to figure out why it had been nominated. I came to the conclusion that maybe only five movies had been made that year, that every person in Hollywood was so busy working on those five that they didn’t have time to make any more. But that turned out not to be true. Lots of movies came out that year. Then I thought that maybe all the other movies that year were terrible, even worse than Doctor Dolittle. But here is a list of movies that also came out in 1967:
Camelot (although I’m grateful it wasn’t nominated, because I saw it once years ago and have no desire to ever see it again).
Cool Hand Luke
The Dirty Dozen
In Cold Blood
The Jungle Book
Thoroughly Modern Millie (see comment to Camelot above)
To Sir, With Love (which also starred Sydney Poitier. How did he have time to be in so many movies?)
Wait Until Dark
I haven’t seen all of them, but I have seen most of them, and even the worst ones from that list are better than Doctor Dolittle. So now the only explanations I can think of are bribery or nepotism, but I have no proof (or foundation, really) for that bit of conjecture. And now I am done with thinking about that anomaly of awfulness and can go on to the movies that were actually good.
It was Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner that started me on this blog journey. It is so amazingly good. When I looked up to see if it had won best picture, I was shocked to see that it hadn’t. But then when I saw the list of nominees, I suddenly wasn’t surprised anymore. I hadn’t seen any of the movies except Doctor Dolittle, which I had seen as a child, but I recognized them all. They have become iconic.
After watching them all, I thought it was interesting that even though the movies were exploring the same themes, they were all so different. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner brought race relations to a simple home setting, while In the Heat of the Night explored bigotry in a southern town. Bonnie and Clyde dealt with people rebelling by going on a crime spree; Ben Braddock in The Graduate chose to rebel by having an affair. But all four of those movies showed people who weren’t going to accept the world they were presented. They were going to do whatever they could to break the chains of tradition that were holding them back from the life they wanted.
Lots of people think that the Academy got it wrong this year. They think that The Graduate should have won. And in some respects, it is a better movie than In the Heat of the Night. It was more innovative in some of its techniques. It played around with editing and cinematography in new and interesting ways. But I think the reason people wish The Graduate had won has more to do with relatability. Lots of people have felt like they wanted something different from life than what their parents expect from them. Many people have been in situations that have made them feel as awkward as Ben. Not as many people have found themselves risking their lives to solve a crime in small-town Mississippi.
But I feel like In the Heat of the Night deserved the win. I partly feel that way because I feel like In the Heat of the Night had a more important message. Don’t get me wrong. I really liked The Graduate and I could sympathize with Ben, but his problems are more first-world problems. He can’t figure out what he wants to do with his life? That’s a problem, but at least he has options. In the Heat of the Night takes place in a town where many people don’t have options. Because of the attitudes of the people around them, they are stuck with the hard lives they are born in to. I don’t know whether something like message is considered when people actually vote for best picture, but it matters to me. In the Heat of the Night has both good technique and an important message. To me, that makes it the best picture of 1967.
How do I rank the nominees?
5. Doctor Dolittle
4. Bonnie and Clyde
2. The Graduate and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (tie, because I really can’t decide between them)
1. In the Heat of the Night
Be sure to join me next week for music, epic heroism, mental illness, and truly terrible plaid pants!