'Cleopatra,' 'The Great Escape,' and 'The Birds' (Photo: Everett Collection)
"The Birds" (March 28, 1963). Cinephiles have had a run of Alfred Hitchcock homages lately, from Anthony Hopkins's take to the HBO focus on the British director's tortured obsession with his leading lady, Tippi Hedren. She starred in the eco-horror movie, inspired by the 1952 story by Daphne Du Maurier (who also penned the notable "Rebecca") and a real-life incident of suicidal birds at Monterey Bay, California. (Decades later, toxic algae was fingered as the culprit.) Horror films have become far more gruesome these benumbed days, but this chiller still holds up.
"Cleopatra" (June 12, 1963) The epic, starring Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and Rex Harrison, ran 3 hours and 12 minutes (cut from 6 hours) and cost $44 million — a big difference considering the original budget was $2 mil. Adjusted for inflation, that number positioned "Cleopatra" as the most expensive film made until 1995. (It now has fallen to No. 16.) The behind-the-scenes lore — Taylor almost dying of pneumonia, to the married stars falling in love with one another, Fox's near-bankruptcy — may be arguably more enduring than the movie itself. Fox Entertainment in the UK issued an elaborate, all-region Blu-ray anniversary spectacular (the 4-hour cut, among other goodies) back in January 2012, but a U.S. version might be due out.
"The Great Escape" (Aug. 8, 1963). A Nazi prison camp stocked with escape artists sounds like the stuff of Hollywood fiction, but this enduring classic was loosely based on a true story about mostly British and Canadian soldiers. (Archaeologists unearthed the real tunnel in 2011 for a British documentary.) Hollywood though co-opted the tale and stocked it with (largely American) stellar talent like Steve McQueen, James Garner, Richard Attenborough, and James Coburn. The film received only a single Oscar nomination (for film editing), but the lack of contemporary acknowledgement didn't stymie its path to cinematic classic.
"It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" (Nov. 7, 1963). Every so often, marquee names pack themselves into a comedy like frat boys in a telephone booth (or whatever the equivalent is these days). This Cinerama scavenger hunt bundled together the disparate talents of Sid Caesar, Ethel Merman, Mickey Rooney, Spencer Tracy, Jerry Lewis, the Three Stooges and more (though, alas, no Groucho Marx or Stan Laurel). Notable for being a historical comic time vault.
Honorable 2013 golden anniversary mentions
- "Bye Bye Birdie" (April 4, 1963)
- "Flipper" (Aug. 14, 1963)
- "From Russia With Love" (Oct. 11, 1963)
- "How the West Was Won" (Feb. 20, 1963)
- "Hud" (May 29, 1963)
- "Jason and the Argonauts" (June 19, 1963)
- "Lilies of the Field" (Oct. 1, 1963)
- "Love With the Proper Stranger" (Dec. 25, 1963)
- "Tom Jones" (Oct. 6, 1963)