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What We Were Watching in 1971

All mentioned films in article
Not released
Not released

There are many reasons why 2021 won't be remembered as a vintage year for movies. Many, but not all, are related to the pandemic. But Cinema Paradiso users can end the year by looking back half a century to 1971, which proved to be one of the most significant years in recent screen history.

Landing between the discarding of the Production Code in 1968 and the start of the blockbuster era in 1975, the year of 1971 proved key to the emergence of New Hollywood. Given greater licence to approach serious subjects in an adult manner by the new certification system, studio and independent film-makers were able to present sex and violence with greater authenticity than they had previously been allowed. Swearing also became more common, as writers were permitted to replicate everyday argot rather than compose sanitised speeches that wouldn't offend conservative elements or corrupt minors.

Yet, while such changes had much to do with artistic choice, they were also hard-nosed commercial decisions, as they reflected the evolving demographic of American cinema. Since the advent of television had coincided with the switch to suburban living in the late 1940s, moviegoing had ceased to be a family pastime. But it had became more of a young person's social activity since the coming of rock'n'roll in the mid-1950s. Rather than try to shape viewer sensibilities, as had been the case in the past, producers felt compelled to respond to the shifts in taste and tolerance that had come about through the social, political and cultural upheavals of the 1960s.

This didn't solely mean pandering to kids with disposable income, as would become the case as the decade developed. Film-makers had to respond to the impact that the Civil Rights, feminist and gay pride movements had exerted on prevailing attitudes, as well as the consequences of the steep decline in deference shown towards the establishment following a decade in which the unpopular war in Vietnam had coincided with an increase in tertiary education and a growing countercultural readiness to hold the country's ruling elite to account. As a result, a rising number of American films ceased to be solely escapist entertainment and became more challenging and provocative.

This need to refocus came at a time when the studios were in the depths of a crisis that saw several become part of multinational conglomerates. As many CEOs had no show business experience, film-makers were able to take advantage of a brief window of opportunity before bosses realised that they could make vast sums by synergising their assets and making movies from the books, magazines, comics and television shows that they already bankrolled.

With ticket sales dropping, budgets and salaries had to be cut, with the result that the old star system (which had been creaking since the 1940s) finally collapsed and agents became Hollywood's leading power brokers, as they assembled talent packages to sell to front offices that spent more time leasing soundstages and brokering distribution deals than actually producing pictures. These new operational procedures coincided with a changing of the creative guard, as the stalwart directors on whom Hollywood had depended since its golden age were succeeded by a younger generation of film school graduates who were more progressive and iconoclastic when it came to both content and style.

The cumulative effect of these wide-ranging changes first came to be felt in 1971, as the redrafted rules of engagement kicked in and Americans started facing up to the new and often harsher realities of what living in the Land of the Free entailed. What followed was an outpouring of bold, edgy and energetic creativity that meant almost every film genre was radically revised.

A Transatlantic Crimewave

A still from The Public Enemy (1931)
A still from The Public Enemy (1931)

Crime films have always had a key role to play in periods of Hollywood transition. During the early talkie era, the Warner Bros gangster cycle thrilled audiences, as the pitiless villainy of James Cagney and Edward G. Robinson was accompanied by machine-gun fire, screeching tyres and police sirens on the soundtrack of enduring classics like William Wellman's The Public Enemy and Mervyn LeRoy's Little Caesar (both 1931).

Reflecting the sombre mood after the Second World War, film noir cast a pall over a troubled society, whether it fell over organised crime in the likes of Robert Siodmak's The Killers or everyday people being lured into danger, as in Joseph L. Mankiewicz's Somewhere in the Night (both 1946). A similar sense of art mirroring life occurred in the early 1970s, as film-makers no longer had to adhere to the old Production Code maxim that crime could never be seen to pay.

In 1971, there were throwbacks to an earlier age, with Robert Aldrich's The Grissom Gang reworking the James Hadley Chase novel that had been filmed in Britain under its original title, No Orchids For Miss Blandish, by St John Legh Clowes in 1948. This was notorious in its day for the level of violence and eyebrows were similarly raised over the content in Jack Hill's women's prison picture, The Big Doll House, which showed how much this sub-genre had changed since such once-considered hard-hitting exposés as John Cromwell's Caged (1950) and J. Lee Thompson's British variation, The Weak and the Wicked (1954).

A still from French Connection (1971) With Fernando Rey
A still from French Connection (1971) With Fernando Rey

Jailbird Sean Connery had spent his time behind bars planning an audacious raid on an entire New York apartment block in Sidney Lumet's The Anderson Tapes. But, while this meticulously made picture put a cynical spin on the conventions of the heist thriller, it didn't break new genre ground in the same way as two pugnacious police procedurals, William Friedkin's The French Connection and Don Siegel's Dirty Harry.

Starring Gene Hackman as NYPD narcotics detective, Jimmy 'Popeye' Doyle, the former won the Oscars for Best Picture, Director, Actor and Adapted Screenplay, for Ernest Tidyman's take on a fact-based Robin Moore tome. Although remembered for its white-knuckle car chase, the film gave crime fighting a gritty gutsiness that it shared with Dirty Harry, which was inspired by the same true-life case that Tom Hanson recreated in The Zodiac Killer. As handy with a sardonic quip as he was with a. 44 Magnum, Clint Eastwood's Harry Callahan would become a cult hero of the American Right during his five-feature spree with the San Francisco Police Department - all of which can be rented on high-quality disc from Cinema Paradiso.

However, Eastwood was also planning a parallel career as a director and he debuted with Play Misty For Me, in which he also played a radio DJ who is stalked by an obsessive fan. Jessica Walter was nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance as Evelyn Draper, but lost out to Jane Fonda, who also scooped the Oscar for Best Actress for her career-changing display as Bree Daniels in Alan J. Pakula's Klute. See our What to Watch Next article for more details.

While Fonda's prostitute refused to play by the rules on the rough streets of New York, Barry Newman's maverick broke the law all the way from Denver to San Francisco while trying to win a wild wager in a white Dodge Challenger in Charles Robert Carnet's Vanishing Point. This really should be available on disc, as it's a counterculture classic in the mould of Dennis Hopper's Easy Rider (1969).

Thankfully, it is possible to see Melvin Van Peebles's ground-breaking picaresque, Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, in which the director also stars as the sex show performer who goes on the run after the Los Angeles police attempt to frame him for a murder that's stirring up tensions within the African American community. Now considered a pioneering work of blaxploitation, this inflammatorily stark depiction of life on the urban margins had a lesser profile among mainstream audiences than Gordon Parks's Shaft, which was boosted in popularity by the Oscar-winning theme by Isaac Hayes.

In stark to Virgil Tibbs, the cop played by Sidney Poitier in Norman Jewison's In the Heat of the Night (1967), Gordon Douglas's They Call Me Mister Tibbs! (1970) and Don Medford's The Organization (1971), Richard Roundtree's John Shaft operated on his own terms, as he strives to steer clear of the Harlem mobster on his tail. He would return in Parks's Shaft's Big Score (1972) and John Guillermin's Shaft in Africa (1973). Moreover, Roundtree would reprise the role to guide son John Shaft II (Samuel L. Jackson) through John Singleton's Shaft (2000) and Tim Story's Shaft (2019).

Yet, perhaps the most uncompromising depiction of the USA at the turn of a new decade was provided by British provocateur Peter Watkins, who sends a documentary team to cover how the National Guard is trained to deal with subversive elements in Punishment Park, a cinéma vérité vision of an alternative reality that remains as shocking (and plausible) today as it did five decades ago.

A still from Singin' in the Rain (1952) With Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds And Donald O'Connor
A still from Singin' in the Rain (1952) With Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds And Donald O'Connor

The same can't quite be said for Stanley Kubrick's controversial adaptation of Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange. Although set in a futuristic Britain, the stylisation Kubrick employed rather dates the action, as Alex DeLarge (Malcolm McDowell) and his droogs indulge in a bit of the old ultra-violence. The unmissable sequence that uses Gene Kelly crooning the title track from Singin' in the Rain (1952) feels like grotesque slapstick. Yet, Kubrick withdrew the film from UK release and it remained out of circulation until his death in 1999 after it was blamed in the press for a handful of copycat outrages.

Equally divisive was Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs, which was based on Gordon M. Williams's novel, The Siege of Trencher's Farm. Pairing Dustin Hoffman and Susan George as a couple newly moved into the Cornish village of Wakely, the narrative contains a rape scene that appalled feminist critics by suggesting that the victim becomes a willing participant in the assault. Others were repelled by the savagery of Hoffman's vigilantism. Yet, Rod Lurie opted to revisit the controversies when directed his 2011 remake.

In truth, the actual crimes perpetrated by John Reginald Christie were no less sickening. But Richard Attenborough's career-best performance as the sinister serial killer in Richard Fleischer's 10 Rillington Place made markedly fewer newspaper headlines. The same was true of Richard Burton's standout turn as sadistic gay gangster Vic Dakin in Michael Tuchner's Villain. Adapted from James Barlow's The Burden of Proof, this vivid account of East End thuggery found a companion in Mike Figgis's Get Carter, as Michael Caine's Jack Carter heads to Newcastle to avenge the death of his brother. Cinema Paradiso has already delved into the background of this landmark crime film in one of its popular What to Watch articles, which also warns users about the gulf in class between the original and Stephen Kay's 2000 remake, in which Caine cameo'd alongside Sylvester Stallone.

A Stab in the Dark

The line between thriller and chiller blurred in 1971, as elements of suspense and horror mingled in such British offerings as Peter Collinson's Fright. Susan George stars as the babysitter confronted by Ian Bannen, as he drops in on ex-wife Honor Blackman and their son. But Kenneth Griffith is a much more reluctant visitor to the pub where James Booth and Joan Collins plan for force him into confessing to the rape and murder of their daughter in Sidney Hayers's Revenge.

The same director followed police inspector Frank Finlay's investigation into a murder at the girls' school where Suzy Kendall teaches in Assault. But, while it may not be possible to see how inexperienced master David Hemmings fares in his new post in John McKenzie's Unman, Wittering and Zigo, Cinema Paradiso users can go back in time to the 1830s to discover what's on the curriculum at Ralph Bates's finishing school in Jimmy Sangster's Lust For a Vampire.

This Hammer horror centres on the Karstein legend. But the focus is firmly on Elizabeth Báthory in Peter Sasdy's Countess Dracula and Harry Kümel's Daughters of Darkness, in which the blood-draining Hungarian aristocrat is respectively played by Ingrid Pitt and Delphine Seyrig.

Sasdy further dabbles with elements of historical fact in Hands of the Ripper, which sees Angharad Rees being troubled by memories of her infamous father. The Victorian trappings are equally essential to Roy Ward Baker's Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde, a variation on Robert Louis Stevenson's cautionary tale that brings out the best (and worst) in Ralph Bates and Martine Beswick.

A mysterious skull changes Linda Hayden's personality in a remote 18th-century village in Piers Haggard's Blood on Satan's Claw, while Egyptologist Andrew Keir starts behaving oddly after opening the tomb of Tera, Queen of Darkness (Valerie Leon) in Seth Holt's Blood From the Mummy's Tomb.

Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing dispute the finer facts of Freudian analysis in Stephen Weeks's I, Monster, while model sisters Ann and Vicki Michelle come to regret signing up with agent Patricia Haines in Ray Austin's Virgin Witch. Similarly, dealer James Bolam begins to wish he had never heard of reclusive Cornish artist Mike Raven in Ted Hooker's Crucible of Terror, even though his creations are very much to die for.

Having been blinded in a riding accident, Mia Farrow finds herself hunting a killer after her entire family is murdered at her uncle's stately home in Richard Fleischer's See No Evil. Nightclub dancer Susan George also finds herself being targeted after she turns 21 and gains access to a Swiss bank account in Pete Walker's Die Screaming, Marianne.

Despite this being a strong year for British horror, one title stands out above all others. Drawing on a non-fiction study by Aldous Huxley and a John Whiting play, Ken Russell's The Devils recreates in audaciously graphic detail the frenzies that overtook the nuns at a 17th-century French convent before Sister Jeanne des Anges (Vanessa Redgrave) accuses Fr Urbain Grandier (Oliver Reed) of practicing witchcraft. Russell won the Best Director prize at the Venice Film Festival, but his vision has never been released in its intended form because cuts were made by the censors in countries that didn't ban the picture outright.

Controversy also surrounded Mario Bava's A Bay of Blood, as critics were divided over the quality of a giallo whose 13 slayings nevertheless had a profound influence on the development of the slasher picture. Relying more on atmosphere than gore, Ted Kotcheff's Wake in Fright also acquired a cult following after becoming a cornerstone of Ozploitation. Based on a Kenneth Cook novel, this account of teacher Gary Bond's eventful stay in the outback township of Tiboonda was rescued from obscurity in 2004, when editor Anthony Buckley produced a restored print that is memorable for many reasons, prime among them an unsettling performance from the ever-compelling Donald Pleasence.

A still from Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1972)
A still from Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1972)

Vincent Price is also on impeccable form as the onetime musician who draws on the biblical plagues of Egypt to avenge himself on the medics who failed to save his ailing wife in Robert Fuerst's The Abominable Dr Phibes. The star and director would reunite on Dr Phibes Rises Again (1972), but Al Adamson's Dracula vs Frankenstein proved to be the end of the horror road for genre stalwart Lon Chaney, Jr., whose Groton silently strives to help wheelchair-bound scientist Dr Durea (J. Carroll Naish) go one better than his famous ancestor, Victor Frankenstein, in creating a life-giving serum.

Pianist Bradford Dillman hits upon a unique way of preserving his genius after he befriends younger musician Alan Alda in Paul Wendkos's disconcerting occult opus, The Mephisto Waltz. Milquetoast Bruce Davison also takes his fate into his own hands, with a little help from a white rodent named Socrates, in Daniel Mann's Willard, a creepily poignant take on Stephan Gilbert's novel, Ratman's Notebooks, which features standout supports from Elsa Lanchester and Ernest Borgnine and not only spawned a sequel, Phil Karlson's Ben (1972), but also a remake, Glen Morgan's Willard (2003), which sees Davison cameo as Crispin Glover's father.

Old School Action

With Hollywood no longer convinced that widescreen epics was the most cost-effective way of enticing audiences back into cinemas, the action genres had enjoyed mixed fortunes during the 1960s. Spectacle was still the name of the game, albeit on a pared-down scale, as the cash-strapped studios became increasingly reluctant to invest in historical blockbusters with all-star casts and thousands of extras. Consequently, 1971 witnessed such polished, if modest actioners as the Michael Caine duo of Delbert Mann's Kidnapped and James Clavell's The Last Valley, in which Caine respectively plays Robert Louis Stevenson's swashbuckling hero, Alan Breck, and the 17th-century mercenary captain threatening Omar Sharif's peaceful southern German haven during the Thirty Years' War.

The world wars continued to provide plentiful inspiration, with Roger Corman revisiting the exploits of the German flying ace known as the Red Baron in Von Richthofen and Brown. The scene shifted to North Africa in the early 1940s for Henry Hathaway's Raid on Rommel, as Richard Burton's intelligence officer tries to formulate a plan to attack the German forces at Tobruk. Also, in a bid to cover a lesser-known aspect of the conflict, Peter Yates ventured to Venezuela to report on how Irish skipper Peter O'Toole responds to the sinking of his merchant ship by a Nazi U-boat in an adaptation of Max Catto's novel, Murphy's War.

Four years after making You Only Live Twice (1967), Sean Connery returned to the role of James Bond that had been filled by Australian George Lazenby in On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969). With its Shirley Bassey theme tune, Guy Hamilton's Diamonds Are Forever set 007 the task of preventing Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Charles Gray) from gathering the stones he needs to aim a giant space laser at Washington, DC. The British secret agent on duty in Étienne Périer's When Eight Bells Toll is Philip Calvert (Anthony Hopkins), who has to thwart the gold bullion pirates operating off the Hebrides in Alistair MacLean's adaptation of his own bestselling thriller.

Three years after showing off his driving skills in Peter Yates's Bullitt (1968), Steve McQueen found himself behind the wheel again for Lee H. Katzin's Le Mans, a personal project whose genesis was recalled in Gabriel Clarke and John McKenna's documentary, Steve McQueen: The Man and Le Mans (2015). Sticking with actuality, Bruce Brown took a break from his trademark surfing movies to capture the thrills and spills of speedway in On Any Sunday.

The surfing connection continues, as Beach Boy Dennis Wilson tried his hand at acting alongside singer-songwriter James Taylor in Monte Hellman's Two-Lane Blacktop, which accompanies street racers named the Mechanic and the Driver in criss-crossing America in a 1955 Chevrolet 150 drag car. The pair need to keep an eye out on the rearview mirror, however, in case they share travelling salesman Dennis Weaver's misfortune in encountering a 40-ton truck intent on mayhem in Duel, the debut feature of a young hopeful named Stephen Spielberg. Whatever happened to him?

A still from Duel (1971)
A still from Duel (1971)

The focus shifts on to a very different form of horse power, as Cinema Paradiso recalls the Westerns that kept aficionados hoping that the genre still had a place in the modern movie world. Things looked promising, as long as veteran stars like John Wayne kept strutting their stuff in solid offerings like George Sherman's Big Jake, which sees Duke reunite with estranged rancher wife Maureen O'Hara to rescue their kidnapped son.

Much trust was also placed in Clint Eastwood, who had helped rejuvenate the oater as the Man With No Name in the mid-1960s. He doesn't seem entirely in control in Don Siegel's The Beguiled, however, as his wounded Civil War soldier finds sanctuary in the girls' school run by Geraldine Page. Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman would assume the roles when Sofia Coppola reworked The Beguiled in 2017.

This was a good year for revisionist Westerns, with the prime example being Robert Altman's McCabe & Mrs Miller, which teamed Warren Beatty and Julie Christie in an adaptation of an Edmund Naughton novel about a couple who encounter opposition when they ride into the mining town of Presbyterian Church in 1902 to open a gambling den and a bordello. Acceptance is also the theme of Peter Fonda's The Hired Hand, in which the director plays Harry Collings, a saddle tramp who has grown tired of life on the plains and has to earn back the trust of his estranged wife, Hannah (Verna Bloom), by working the land and sleeping in the barn.

Raquel Welch also called the shots in Burt Kennedy's Hannie Caulder, as she seeks the help of Robert Culp to acquire some sharpshooting skills to wreak her revenge on rapacious siblings Ernest Borgnine, Jack Elam and Strother Martin. Such vigilantism would become the trademark of director Michael Winner, but he is on the side of rulebook justice in Lawman, as he follows marshal Burt Lancaster into the town of Sabbath to persuade rancher Lee J. Cobb and sheriff Robert Ryan to surrender the cowboys who had accidentally shot an innocent man during a drunken spree.

Lawman Lancaster is in an equally uncompromising mood in Edwin Sherin's Valdez Is Coming, after rancher Jon Cypher dupes him into shooting an innocent man and abandons him in the desert with a cross strapped to his back. The heat is also on for ageing pistol packers Kirk Douglas and Johnny Cash, as they head towards the Mexican border for a winner takes all duel in Lamont Johnson's A Gunfight.

A still from Support Your Local Sheriff (1969)
A still from Support Your Local Sheriff (1969)

The latter word almost seems to demand to be followed by 'At the OK Corral' and Frank Perry's Doc recreates the events leading up to the Tombstone showdown between the Clantons and Wyatt Earp (Harris Yulin) from the perspective of Doc Holliday (Stacy Keach) and Katie Elder (Faye Dunaway). But not every Western took generic convention too seriously in 1971, with frontier con man James Garner falling foul of gunslinger's daughter Susanne Pleshette in Burt Kennedy's Support Your Local Gunfighter, which would form a splendid double bill with the same director's Support Your Local Sheriff (1969), in which Garner lands himself in hot water in a gold rush town.

Despite their Wild West settings, a growing number of Hollywood productions were being staged in Europe following the success of the Spaghetti and Paella Westerns of the 1960s. Spain provided the backdrop for the very American action in Alexander Singer's Captain Apache, as Native American Cavalry officer Lee Van Cleef tries to discover the significance of the words 'April morning' before a calamity occurs. Rickety throughout, this cult favourite has none of the grit of Dan Medford's The Hunting Party, another Almeria runaway that sees rancher Gene Hackman swear to get even with rustler Oliver Reed after he abducts wife Candice Bergen in the mistaken belief that she is a school ma'am who can teach him to read.

Robert Parrish opted to shoot A Town Called Hell in Madrid, as the surrounding countryside resembled the Mexican wilderness into which widow Connie Stevens ventures seeking the man who had murdered her husband. The success of her mission depends on the co-operation of priest Robert Shaw, army officer Martin Landau and bandit Telly Savalas. This was originally known as A Town Called Bastard, but it was decided that the title might prove offensive when the picture was released on disc in 2015.

Another film that has come to be known under an alternative title is Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dynamite. The Italian's last Western was also known as Duck, You Sucker! However, as it formed the central part of a trilogy with Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) and Once Upon a Time in America (1984), it was also dubbed Once Upon a Time...the Revolution. At its heart is the unlikely alliance that forms in 1910 between Mexican outlaw Juan Miranda (Rod Steiger) and Irish revolutionary, John Mallory (James Coburn).

A still from Adios Sabata (1970)
A still from Adios Sabata (1970)

Times change and actors like Rod Steiger would no longer be cast as Mexican peons. Back in 1971, however, producers weren't quite so enlightened. They could be canny, however, with the publicity for Gianfranco Parolini's 'Sabata trilogy' stressing that nobody knows who the gunslinging anti-hero is or where he comes from - which proved convenient when Lee Van Cleef was replaced either side of Sabata (1969) and Return of Sabata (1971) by Yul Brynner in Adios Sabata (1970).

Three years after filming started, director King Hu completed his masterpiece, A Touch of Zen. Set in the 14th century, when China was under the Ming dynasty, the action centred on a haunted mansion defies summation, as is combines history, Zen Buddhism, mythology, feminism and plenty of earthly intrigue and supernatural subterfuge. Much more down to earth is Wei Lo's The Big Boss (aka Fists of Fury), which afforded Bruce Lee his first starring role as the Chinese worker in a Thai ice factory who breaks a vow made to his mother in order to rescue his abducted cousin.

Closing this section is an action film with a difference. Adapted from a 1959 novel by James Vance Marshall, Nicolas Roeg's Walkabout charts the progress of two white children (Jenny Agutter and Luc Roeg) after they survive their father's attempt to kill them and negotiate their way across the outback with the help of an Aboriginal teenager (David Gulpilil), who takes pity on them. Despite bombing at the Australian box office on its initial release, this poignant study of the loss of innocence has become essential viewing, with the striking visuals being best seen on the high-quality DVD and Blu-ray editions that form part of Cinema Paradiso's vast catalogue.

Genres At the Crossroads

Two genres were heading in different directions in 1971. After a relatively quiet decade, science fiction consolidated with Don Taylor's Escape From the Planet of the Apes, which was the third of the five features spun off from Pierre Boule's 1963 novel. All are available to rent from Cinema Paradiso (just type into the Searchline), as are Robert Wise's The Andromeda Strain and Boris Sagal's The Omega Man.

Adapted from a Michael Crichton bestseller, the former chronicles the race against time to defeat a deadly microbe that has been brought to New Mexico by a crashing meteor. Biological calamity also informs the latter reworking of Richard Matheson's I Am Legend (which was refilmed by Francis Lawrence in 2007), as Charlton Heston scavenges by day around a decimated Los Angeles before hiding away at night from the marauding breed of mutants known as The Family.

If this pair hinted at disturbing possibilities to come, George Lucas boldly declared that 'the future is here' in THX 1138. Expanded from his student film, Electronic Labyrinth THX 1138 4EB (1967) - which is available from Cinema Paradiso on the 2004 Director's Cut - this stylistically audacious dystopian parable stars Robert Duvall as a drug-placated worker in a factory producing android cops, who comes to suspect that there must be more to life than government-enforced conformity.

A still from 200 Motels (1971)
A still from 200 Motels (1971)

The fictional town of Centreville took the musical off the straight and narrow in Tony Palmer's 200 Motels, a surreal rockumentary that joins Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention on a zany tour that includes an animated digression and cameos by drummers Ringo Starr and Keith Moon. Equally offbeat was Stanley A. Long's Bread, which can be found on the Blu-ray of the BFI Flipside release of Lindsay Shonteff's Permissive (1970). Following on from Derek Ford's Groupie Girl (1970), this blend of rock and smut marked Long's directorial debut and follows five hippies as they attempt to stage a concert in the grounds of a stately home.

How different this was from the year's other two British musicals, Ken Russell's The Boy Friend nd Reginald Mills's Tales of Beatrix Potter. The former take on Sandy Wilson's stage show is frustratingly unavailable, but the latter balletic encounter with Peter Rabbit and his friends is an absolute delight from the editor of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's The Red Shoes (1948). The BAFTA-nominated costumes were designed by Christine Edzard, who would go on to become a fine director in her own right. Check out her Cinema Paradiso credits and place your orders!

Among her titles is The Children's Midsummer Night's Dream (2001) and younger audiences will also enjoy heading back to 1971 for a double bill of Robert Stevenson's Bedknobs and Broomsticks and Mel Stuart's Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Drawn by Disney from a book by Mary Norton, the former combines Oscar-winning animation and live-action to follow a trio of wartime evacuees to the Dorset village of Pepperinge Eye. Taking its cue from Roald Dahl, the latter was produced by the Quaker Oats company and remains much loved in spite of the competition provided by Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005).

The year's finest musical, however, was Norman Jewison's Fiddler on the Roof, which topped the box-office charts for 1971. Starring Topol as Tevye, the milkman from the Russian shtetl of Anatevka who has to find husbands for his five daughters, this adaptation of Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick's Broadway smash converted three of its eight Oscar nominations, for its song score, sound and cinematography. Still captivating five decades on, this three-hour epic demonstrated that the Hollywood musical could do much more than provide toe-tapping entertainment.

Wave After Wave

European cinema had been a hot bed of innovation in the 1960s, as new waves broke across the continent. The most influential was the nouvelle vague and four of its leading lights released new films in 1971, including François Truffaut, whose Anne and Muriel was based on another novel by Henri-Pierre Roché, the author of Jules et Jim, which Truffaut had directed a decade earlier. The critics might not have been as effusive on this occasion, but there's much to admire in the story of Parisian Jean-Pierre Léaud's complex relationships with sisters Kika Markham and Stacey Tendeter.

Markedly more contentious was Louis Malle's Murmur of the Heart, a semi-autobiographical rite of passage that received an Oscar nomination for a screenplay that examines the bond between 1950s teenager Benoît Ferreux and his Italian mother, Lea Massari. With incest forming part of the youth's sexual education, the film caused a stir. But it couldn't compete with the monumental ambition of Jacques Rivette's Out 1 (aka, Out 1: Noli me tangere), a 773-minute attempt to create a screen equivalent to Honoré de Balzac's La Comédie humaine. Among the recurring characters are Jean-Pierre Léaud's conspiracy theorist, Juliet Berto's con woman, Bulle Ogier's bistro owner and Michel Lonsdale's theatre director.

A still from Just Before Nightfall (1971)
A still from Just Before Nightfall (1971)

Rivette would revisit the themes in a four-hour version known as Out 1: Spectre (1972), which is also available to rent from Cinema Paradiso. So is Claude Chabrol's Just Before Nightfall, an adaptation of Edward Atiyah's novel, The Thin Line, which earned Stéphane Audran the BAFTA for Best Actress for her performance as the wife of advertising executive Michel Bouquet, who is having an affair with his best friend's wife until a sex game goes fatally wrong.

By 1971, the new wavers had become part of the Gallic screen landscape. But there was still room for films by such old guard members as Réné Clément and Jacques Tati. The former worked in English on The Deadly Trap, which sees American expats Faye Dunaway and Frank Langella struggle to convince the Parisian police that their daughter has gone missing. By contrast, the mood is much lighter in Trafic, which accompanies car designer Monsieur Hulot (Tati) and his new-fangled camper car on an eventful journey to a motor show in Amsterdam.

It's a wardrobe that's on the move, as Czech animator Jan Švankmajer conjures up his own interpretation of Lewis Carroll's Jabberwocky. This dazzlingly inventive stop-motion short can be rented from Cinema Paradiso on both on the BFI collection, Jan Švankmajer: The Complete Short Films, and Cinema 16: European Short Films, which also includes works by Krzysztof Kieslowski, Roy Andersen and Lars von Trier.

Having served as Andrzej Wajda's assistant, Pole Andrzej Zulawski made an impressive feature bow with The Third Part of the Night. Set during the Second World War, the unsettling storyline follows a man who strives to protect a woman who resembles the wife who had been murdered by the Nazis. The 1939-45 conflict also provides the setting for Vittorio De Sica's The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, an adaptation of a Giorgio Bassani semi-autobiographical novel about a Jewish family in the Italian city of Ferrara that won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival.

A still from Arabian Nights (1974) With Ninetto Davoli And Tessa Bouché
A still from Arabian Nights (1974) With Ninetto Davoli And Tessa Bouché

Pier Paolo Pasolini went further back in time for his take on Giovanni Boccaccio's The Decameron, which launched the 'Trilogy of Life' that was completed by The Canterbury Tales (1972) and Arabian Nights (1974). Often bawdy and coarse, the tales were designed to critique capitalism and the treatment of southern Italians by their richer northern neighbours.

The upper echelons came under more refined scrutiny in Luchino Visconti's Death in Venice, an adaptation of a Thomas Mann novella that centres on the growing fixation of fin-de-siècle composer Gustav von Aschenbach (Dirk Bogarde) with Tadzio (Björn Andrésen), a 14 year-old Polish boy staying in the same hotel with his mother (Silvana Mangano). For an insight into the making of this acclaimed drama, why not rent Kristina Lindström's The Most Beautiful Boy in the World (2021), which reveals Swedish actor Björn Andrésen's recollections of the shoot that changed his life.

A quote from Thomas Mann ends Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Beware of a Holy Whore, a treatise on the creative process that sees a film unit hole up in a Spanish hotel while waiting for their bisexual alcoholic director to make a start on his picture. Loosely based on Fassbinder's own experiences while shooting Whity (1971), this uncompromising self-portrait gave added momentum to Das Neue Kino, the German New Wave that would witness the emergence of such film-makers as Wim Wenders, Volker Schlöndorff, Edgar Reitz and Margarethe von Trotta.

The prolific Fassbinder (who is the subject of one of Cinema Paradiso's Instant Expert's Guides) also released The Merchant of Four Seasons in 1971. Set in Munich in the 1950s, this melodrama follows the unravelling of a man who returns from service with the French Foreign Legion to work as a greengrocer. Psychological deterioration would become a recurring theme for Werner Herzog, who spent two years in the Sahara Desert amassing the footage for Fata Morgana, an unclassifiable work that the director described as 'a science-fiction elegy of demented colonialism'.

Transatlantic Realism

Cinema reflects the world around it. But it also holds up a mirror to human foibles that have changed little over the centuries. This is why the works of William Shakespeare, for example, continue to speak to us, as he understood the flaws in our make-up. Three notable adaptations of his plays appeared in 1971, with Roman Polanski using Macbeth to explore the evil that he had experienced both during the Nazi occupation of his native Poland and following the murder of his pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, by Charles Manson and his disciples. Jon Finch and Francesca Annis excel as the Scottish nobles who pay the price for seizing power, while Paul Scofield delivers an equally intense performance as the English monarch who recklessly divides his kingdom among his daughters in Peter Brook's King Lear.

A still from Doctor Zhivago (1965) With Omar Sharif And Geraldine Chaplin
A still from Doctor Zhivago (1965) With Omar Sharif And Geraldine Chaplin

Estonian actor Jüri Järvet proved just as effective in Grigori Kozintsev's King Lear, which used a Russian translation of the text by Boris Pasternak (of Doctor Zhivago fame) and boasted a score by Dmitri Shostakovich. This would be Kozintsev's last outing in a career that had dated back to the silent era. Cinema Paradiso users should also check out his 1964 version of Hamlet, with Innokentiy Smoktunovskiy in the title role, as well as a compelling take on Miguel Cervantes's Don Quixote (1957), which stars the great Nikolai Cherkasov.

Sticking with royalty, Glenda Jackson and Oscar nominee Vanessa Redgrave bid for political and religious supremacy as Elizabeth I and her much-married cousin in Charles Jarrott's Mary, Queen of Scots. However, an entire dynasty crumbles in Franklin J. Schaffner's Nicholas and Alexandra, as the tsar (Michael Jayston) and his German wife (the Oscar-nominated Janet Suzman) fail to discern the threats posed to the throne by Rasputin (Tom Baker) and Lenin (Michael Bryant).

An earlier period in Romanov history provides the setting for Ken Russell's The Music Lovers, the most fanciful of his composer profiles that explores the unhappy marriage of Peter Ilych Tchaikovsky (Richard Chamberlain) and his wife, Antonina Miliukova (Glenda Jackson). Melvyn Bragg wrote the screenplay, while Harold Pinter took on the task of adapting an L.P. Hartley novel for Joseph Losey's The Go-Between. Following young Dominic Guard as he comes to stay at a Norfolk country house and delivers love letters for the owner's daughter, Julie Christie, and tenant farmer Alan Bates, this astute study in class and period manners won the Palme d'or at Cannes.

The rustic setting is more idealised in order to heighten the contrast with the iniquities of the city in James Hill's touching adaptation of Anna Sewell's beloved equine classic, Black Beauty. Similar themes emerge in Ralph Nelson's Flight of the Doves, as Finn (Jack Wild) and Derval (Helen Raye) flee their brutal Liverpudlian stepfather (Willie Rushton) in order to find their grandmother in the lush Irish countryside.

Bucolic passions rise in Dulcima, Frank Nesbitt's reworking of an H.E. Bates story in which Gloucestershire farmer John Mills becomes jealous when housekeeper Carol White falls for gamekeeper Stuart Wilson. The Mills family also crop up in Al Viola and Arne Sucksdorff's Mr Forbush and the Penguins, as Hayley Mills proves so immune to the lothario charms of biology student John Hurt that he accepts a post in Antarctica in order to impress her. While staying in explorer Ernest Shackleton's old hut, however, Hurt becomes transfixed by his penguin neighbours.

Music from The Bee Gees adds to the attraction of Waris Hussein's Melody, which sees tweenager Melody (Tracy Hyde) come between best friends Daniel (Mark Lester) and Ornshaw (Jack Wild) after she starts at their London comprehensive. Burt Bacharach and Hal David's 'Long Ago Tomorrow' was nominated for a Golden Globe from Bryan Forbes's The Raging Moon, which teams Nanette Newman and Malcolm McDowell in a love story that made headlines because the couple concerned were both confined to wheelchairs.

The romance between Jewish doctor Peter Finch and artist Murray Head ensured that John Schlesinger's Sunday Bloody Sunday also sent ripples, all the more so because the bisexual Head was also dating divorcée Glenda Jackson. Only Finch and Jackson followed their Oscar nominations with BAFTA wins, however, with Schlesinger adding Best Film to his directing award. He had started out in social realism, but the mantle had passed to a new generation by 1971, with both Ken Loach and the debuting Mike Leigh making their marks with Family Life and Bleak Moments, which respectively centre on an unwanted pregnancy and social isolation.

Novelist Bruce Robinson and receptionist Susan Penhaligon discover that the way to true love isn't always strewn with roses in Barney Platts-Mills's Private Road. Across the pond, however, Mike Nichols took a raunchier approach to relationships in Carnal Knowledge, a censor-baiting drama that follows college buddies Jack Nicholson and Art Garfunkel over the 25 years they are involved with Ann-Margret and Candice Bergen.

Peter Bogdanovich also dipped into the past for his adaptation of Larry McMurtry's The Last Picture Show, a monochrome paean to small-town life that would spawn the 1990 sequel, Texasville. Ben Johnson and Cloris Leachman won the Best Supporting Oscars, but the focus falls primarily on young stars Jeff Bridges, Cybill Shepherd and Timothy Bottoms, as the Anarene high-schoolers trying to make sense of the adult world. Bottoms also impressed in Dalton Trumbo's Johnny Got His Gun, as the seriously wounded Great War soldier who pleads for death after the army refuses his request to be put on show as a warning of the horrors of conflict.

Luis Buñuel reportedly worked on the screenplay with the debuting director whose battle with the House UnAmerican Activities Committee is chronicled in both Peter Askin's 2007 documentary and Jay Roach's 2015 biopic, which are both called Trumbo. While blacklisted, he often allowed other writers to act as a front to ensure that his work was seen. By contrast, artist and photographer James Bidgood opted for complete anonymity when he directed Pink Narcissus, an 8mm account of the fantasies in which male prostitute Bobby Kendall indulges in his Manhattan loft between visits from his patron.

A still from The Godfather: Part 2 (1974) With Al Pacino
A still from The Godfather: Part 2 (1974) With Al Pacino

The Upper West Side also provides the setting for Jerry Schatzberg's The Panic in Needle Park, an adaptation of a James Mills novel that was scripted by Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne to chronicle the romance between New York heroin addicts Kitty Winn and Al Pacino. The latter's performance resulted in him being cast as Michael Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather (1972), while The Godfather, Part II (1974) would bring an Oscar for Robert De Niro, who had impressed as the corrupt cop hustling hairdresser-turned-addict George Segal in Ivan Passer's dark dramedy, Born to Win.

The problems facing New York museum curator Gena Rowlands are nowhere near as fearsome in John Cassavetes's Minnie and Moskowitz. But her life takes a turn for the better after she is befriended by ponytailed car park attendant, Seymour Cassell. In making his directorial debut, Jack Lemmon also focuses on an unlikely liaison in Kotch, as senior citizen Walter Matthau responds to being evicted by his snooty son and daughter-in-law by supporting pregnant teenager, Deborah Winters.

Old and New Hollywood came together with considerable force in Sometimes a Great Notion, an adaptation of a Ken Kesey novel that saw Paul Newman take over the directorial reins after Richard A. Colla had relinquished them. He also plays the son of independent Oregon logger Henry Fonda, whose business is threatened when the union calls a blanket strike against an exploitative conglomerate.

Funny, Funny, Funny

There might not always have been much to laugh at in 1971, but there was a quirky quality to the year's film comedies. Typifying the gallows humour that informed a clutch of Hollywood pictures was Hal Ashby's Harold and Maude, which celebrated the unlikely friendship that develops between death-obsessed teenager Harold Chasen (Bud Cort) and 79 year-old concentration camp survivor Maude Chardin (Ruth Gordon), who sets out to teach the son of a despairing socialite (Vivian Pickles) how to enjoy life.

A dark edge also informed Alan Arkin's Little Murders, an adaptation of a Jules Feiffer play that sees interior designer Marcia Rodd invite photographer Elliott Gould to meet her eccentric family in a New York neighbourhood where crime has become so commonplace that nobody notices it anymore. The age gap element of this satire recurs in Miloš Forman's Taking Off, as New Yorkers Buck Henry and Lynn Carlin receive a crash course in youth culture when they go searching for their missing teenage daughter.

Sex continuously rears its head in this Cannes Grand Prix winner. But it stands left, right and centre in Russ Meyer's The Seven Minutes, an adaptation of an Irving Wallace novel about the corrupting power of erotic literature and the identity of a mysterious author whose bestseller is cited in a rape case.

A still from Night of the Living Dead (1968)
A still from Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Shiftless masculinity also comes under scrutiny in There's Always Vanilla, a romantic comedy that particularly intrigues because it was directed by George A. Romero, who was making only his second feature after Night of the Living Dead (1968). Set in Pittsburgh, the action follows demobbed soldier Raymond Laine, as he spurns the offer of a job in the family baby food business to shack up with model Johanna Lawrence, who only realises she's picked the wrong guy after discovering she's pregnant.

An equally mismatched couple struggle to connect in Elaine May's A New Leaf, as cash-strapped playboy Henry Graham (Walter Matthau) risks losing his estate to a scheming uncle unless he can find a rich bride and pay back a $50,000 loan. Just as he is about to admit defeat, however, Henry meets Henrietta Lowell (May), a botany professor who has a fortune, but absolutely no social graces. Desperate measures also drive the narrative in Woody Allen's Bananas, as the neurotic Fielding Mellish (Allen) seeks to impress social activist Nancy (Louise Lasser) by getting involved with the forces trying to overthrow dictator Emilio Molina Vargas (Ricardo Montalban) in the Latin American republic of San Marcos.

The cowardly Mellish is under no illusion that he is hero material. But judge Justin Playfair (George C. Scott) becomes utterly convinced that he is Sherlock Holmes in Anthony Harvey's They Might Be Giants and psychiatrist Mildred Watson (Joanne Woodward) tries to convince him that he is not on the tail of Professor Moriarty. Sleuthing also becomes an obsession for Eddie Ginley (Albert Finney), a Liverpool bingo caller who finds himself up to his neck in trouble after placing an advert in the local paper in Stephen Frears's Gumshoe.

Much British screen comedy in 1971 started out on television. In addition to Harry Booth's On the Buses, Mark Stuart's Please Sir! and Norman Cohen's Dad's Army, Bob Kellett's Up Pompeii! also derives from a BBC sitcom (1969-70), which starred Frankie Howerd as the Roman servant, Lurcio. Owing much to the Stephen Sondheim musical, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (which was filmed by Richard Lester in 1966), Up Pompeii! was followed by Up the Chastity Belt, which switched the action to 12th- century England and cast Howerd as Lurkalot, a serf in the household of Sir Coward de Custard (Graham Crowden).

A still from Monty Python: And Now for Something Completely Different (1971)
A still from Monty Python: And Now for Something Completely Different (1971)

The Roman series were written by Talbot Rothwell, who returned to the day job of churning out gags for Sidney James, Kenneth Williams and the gang in the Gerald Thomas twosome of Carry On Henry and Carry On At Your Convenience. Future Carry On scribe Dave Freeman features among the writers on Graham Stark's The Magnificent Seven Deadly Sins, an all-star sketch anthology that couldn't have been more different in tone than Ian MacNaughton's And Now For Something Completely Different, which was essentially a greatest hits compilation hived off from the first two series of Monty Python's Flying Circus (1969-74).

All four series are available from Cinema Paradiso and those missing John Cleese from the last can find him alongside fellow Python Graham Chapman in Rod Amateau's comic curio, The Statue. Based on Alec Coppel's play, Chip, Chip, Chip, this rather forgotten feature stars David Niven as a Nobel-winning professor who comes to suspect wife Virna Lisi of cheating on him after a tribute is unveiled in a London square whose appendage bears no resemblance to his own.

Genitalia are also to the fore in another stage transfer, as David Percival's Girlfriend is reworked by director Bob Kellett as Girl Stroke Boy. This variation on the theme explored in Stanley Kramer's Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967) sees straitlaced parents, George (Michael Hordern) and Lettice (Joan Greenwood), react in markedly different ways when son Laurie (Clive Francis) comes to stay with his black trans partner, Jo (Peter Straker). Scripted by Caryl Brahms and Ned Sherrin, this may not always be politically correct, but it was decades ahead of its time in seeking to explore attitudes to gender identity.

A still from Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967)
A still from Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967)
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