With summer movies now in full swing it’s time to take another look back at summer movie releases from a bygone era. For this article we will look at the 20 movies released in the summer of 1966.
1966 was a turbulent time in the world with the war in Vietnam raging on. It seems as if Hollywood stood up and took notice as many of the releases that summer were comedies or lighter fare for the whole family. The summer was not without its serious work either, something audiences showed they were primed for if it was done well.
Of the 20 movies released only 4 would be remembered at Academy Awards time with two of them being recognized for Best Picture. That summer saw movies from Walt Disney, Doris Day, Steve McQueen, Alfred Hitchcock, Bob Hope, Elvis Presley and even The Munsters. You read that right.
Here are the 20 movies released in the summer of 1966. If you were around to see them back then I hope this brings back some nice memories. For the rest I hope a film or two in here will peak your interest enough to seek it out.
ARABESQUE(Universal; Director – Stanley Donen) Gregory Peck stars as a college professor who is drawn into international intrigue thanks to the ever voluptuous Sophia Loren in this very entertaining action/thriller. Critics generally enjoyed the film and it grossed over $5 million at the box office.
ASSAULT ON A QUEEN (Paramount; Director – Jack Donohue) Frank Sinatra stars as the head of a group of men who plan to refloat a German submarine and pull a heist on the Queen Mary. This was a well done, old fashioned adventure that left critics mixed but was a mild hit at the box office.
A BIG HAND FOR THE LITTLE LADY (Warner Bros; Director – Fielder Cook) This is a charming comedy/western starring Henry Fonda as a poker player who comes to town to enter the big game (alongside Burgess Meredith, Jason Robards and Kevin McCarthy among others) much to the dismay of wife Joanne Woodward, who ends up playing a major part in the game. The film doesn’t sound like much on the surface but a charming script and tight direction pull it together into a most entertaining film with a slick twist ending. The film received mixed reviews but did not fare well at the box office.
BORN FREE (Columbia; Director – James Hill) One of the most popular films of the summer was this family film about animal handlers Joy and George Adamson, raising Elsa a lion and preparing her for life in the wilderness. This film struck a chord with families who made it a big hit along with its title song which would also become a huge hit. Critics also enjoyed the film and it would go on to win the two Academy Awards it was nominated for – Best Song and Best Song Score.
BOY, DID I GET A WRONG NUMBER! (United Artists; Director – George Marshall) Bob Hope plays a real estate agent who hides a Hollywood actress at his cabin in the woods and then finds it difficult to keep his secret – even from his wife. This was a lame comedy that critics blasted but still managed to make $4.4 million at the box office.
THE GLASS BOTOM BOAT (MGM; Director – Frank Tashlin) Rod Taylor stars as an aerospace researcher who, through a series of coincidences and misunderstandings, begins to suspect that new girlfriend Doris Day is a Russian spy. This lightweight fare was dismissed by critics but, due to Day’s popularity, was a mild hit.
HOW TO STEAL A MILLION (20 th Century Fox; Director – William Wyler) Audrey Hepburn and Peter O’Toole starred in this delightful comedy about the planning of a robbery at a Paris art museum. Charles Boyer and Eli Wallach co-starred in this well paced action/comedy that received mixed reviews. The film’s budget was estimated at $6 million and was a box office disappointment grossing just over $4 million.
LT. ROBIN CRUSOE U.S.N. (Walt Disney; Director – Byron Paul) Disney’s summer release starred Dick Van Dyke as a navy pilot who bails out of his plane following engine trouble and ends up on an island where he meets a chimp and soon after a native woman who is convinced that Robin wants to marry her. This typical Disney fare was lambasted by the critics (even Van Dyke is said to have been so embarrassed by the film that he urged friends and family not to go see it) but was still a solid hit for the studio.
MODESTY BLAISE (20 th Century Fox; Director – Joseph Losey) One of the many spy spoofs of the era was this comedy about the government bringing in a sexy super spy to prevent a major diamond heist. Soon it becomes apparent to her that the government is double crossing her. This was lightweight but sexy fare for its time and though critics blasted it, the film was a solid hit at the box office.
MORGAN (Cinema V; Director – Karel Reisz) The art house hit of the summer of 1966 starred David Warner as an artist losing his grip on reality, something not helped by his wife (Vanessa Redgrave) who has filed for divorce. To keep himself sane he goes on flights of fancy in his imagination. This was a well received film by critics and a solid hit that would garner two Oscar nominations for Redgrave for Best Actress and Best Costume Design, though it won neither.
MUNSTER, GO HOME (Universal; Director – Earl Bellamy) The family from the (then) hit television series hit the big screen in this yarn about the family inheriting a castle in England their exploits as they sail to England and arriving to find some not to happy people trying to drive them away. This was strictly second run and drive-in theater fare but families made it a mild hit at the box office despite bad reviews. Another movie was announced but once the television series was cancelled those plans were scrapped.
NEVADA SMITH (Paramount; Director – Henry Hathaway) Steve McQueen stars in this Western as an innocent young man who becomes a hardened killer when he seeks to avenge the murders of his parents. This was a typical revenge Western and was dismissed by critics but was a mild hit at the box office.
PARADISE, HAWAIIAN STYLE (Paramount; Director – Michael D. Moore) In the 1960’s Elvis Presley was releasing three movies every year. One in the winter, one for summer and one for the holidays. By the mid 60’s the quality of his films began to dip and this effort, featuring our crooner as a helicopter who opens a charter helicopter service in Hawaii to woo women was one of his weaker efforts. As always critics lambasted the movie and its gross was only $2.5 million with a $2 million budget, showing that even Elvis’ most ardent movie fans were becoming wary of his big screen product.
THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING, THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING (United Artists; Director – Norman Jewison) A small New England community goes into a panic when a Soviet submarine runs aground off their shoreline without any intent of malice. Carl Reiner, Eva Marie Saint, Alan Arkin and Jonathan Winters headed a strong line up in this all star comedy that was a box office hit despite mixed reviews. The film would be nominated for four Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Actor (Arkin), Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Film Editing though it didn’t win any.
STAGECOACH (20 th Century Fox; Director – Gordon Douglas) A group of unlikely travel companions, all with secrets to hide, find themselves on the same stagecoach in the Old West heading for Cheyenne. This remake of the classic 1939 John Wayne/John Ford film is lifeless due to slipshod direction and a weak script. The film was a critical and box office failure.
TORN CURTAIN (Universal; Director – Alfred Hitchcock) Paul Newman starred in Hitchcock’s espionage thriller as a scientist pretending to defect to East Germany for a mission and then trying to get back to the West. Julie Andrews was oddly cast as his love interest but their lack of chemistry was one of the film’s many problems. Following Marnie, this was the second consecutive Hitchcock film that would disappoint critics but still made a respectable $6.5 million at the box office.
WALK, DON’T RUN (Columbia; Director – Charles Walters) This lightweight fare is best remembered today as the final film of screen legend Cary Grant. Grant plays a man who must share an apartment with another young man and woman in Tokyo during a housing shortage for the 1964 Olympic games. Soon Grant is playing Cupid trying to bring the young couple together. As I said it was lightweight fare that left critics mixed but it was a solid box office hit.
WHAT DID YOU DO IN THE WAR, DADDY? (United Artists; Director – Blake Edwards) Edwards’s wacky comedy centers on a group of American soldiers trying to liberate a small Italian town and getting the townspeople to surrender but the plans don’t go as expected. James Coburn, Carroll O’Conner and Dick Shawn headed the cast and with the wacky premise and Edwards’ direction, the film is not without its laughs but ultimately is a disappointment. Critics were lukewarm with their reception but the film was a mild hit at the box office.
WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? (Warner Bros.; Director – Mike Nichols) Based on the hugely popular play be Edward Albee comes this electrifying film adaptation that was Nichols’ directorial debut. The film tells the story of an aging couple (Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor), bitter with life and fueling it with alcohol, that entertain a couple for dinner (George Segal, Sandy Dennis) causing emotional pain to come out at each other through the course of the evening. This was the first major Hollywood motion picture that used bad language in its dialogue frequently and, for its time, was surprisingly shot in black and white. Another oddity is that this is one of the few films that can boast having its entire cast nominated for Academy Awards. This film was a critics darling and became a smash hit making well over $14 million at the box office. It was nominated for an astounding 13 Academy Awards – winning for Best Actress (Taylor), Best Supporting Actress (Dennis), Art Direction, Cinematography and Costume Design. It was also nominated for Best Picture, Director, Actor (Burton), Supporting Actor (Segal), Editing, Score, Adapted Screenplay and Sound.
THE WRONG BOX (Columbia; Director – Bryan Forbes) This black comedy stars John Mills and Ralph Richardson as aging brothers trying to outlive the other as the sole survivor will be entitled to a huge inheritance. Younger brother Mills plans to do in older brother Richardson with the help of some greedy family members but things go terribly wrong. This is an exceptionally funny British comedy with great performances including a hysterical cameo by Peter Sellers. The film was a critical hit but a box office disappointment.