Movie Sex in the 60’s
Dean Martin and Kim Novak in Billy Wilder’s unsung sex comedy. Kiss Me. Stupid (1964).
the turn of the gigolo and VD in Sweet Bird of Youth (in the play, the character played by Paul Newman was also castrated, but as far as the cinema was concerned, this was still 1962, not 1972); adultery and nymphomania in The Fugitive Kind (1960), which brought together Marlon Brando, Anna Magnani and Joanne Woodward; ageing promiscuity in The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone (1962), with Vivien Leigh; dormant spinsterish lust in Summer and Smoke (1961), with Geraldine Page; and a veritable anthology of erotic desires in The Night of the Iguana (1964), with Richard Burton as a reprobate ex-minister.
John O’Hara contributed prostitution to the list of steamy subjects in the adaptation of his novel Butterfield 8 (1960), which won an ailing Elizabeth Taylor one of her Academy Awards. The oldest profession was a popular theme in ’sixties films, though the boldness of its treat
ment varied considerably. The World of Suzie Wong (1960), for example, about a Hong Kong tart, and the cop-out version of Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), with a miscast Audrey Hepburn, were hopelessly soft-centred. (A sign of the times and the changing ideals of feminine beauty was Billy Wilder’s comment on Audrey Hepburn’s lack of mammary superabundance: ‘She’s like a salmon swimming upstream. She can do it with very small bazooms. Titism has taken over this country but this girl singlehanded may make bazooms a thing of the past. The director will not have to invent shots where the girl leans way forward for a glass of Scotch and soda!’)
Jules Dassin’s Never on Sunday (1960), on the other hand, was an enjoyably lusty celebration of whoredom, made by the performance of the exuberant Greek actress, Melina Mercouri. Significantly, the Legion condemned it, but it was still a considerable hit at the box-office. Walk on the Wild Side (1962), with Laurence Harvey, broke further new ground by being openly set in a brothel, as did A House is Not a Home (1964) by failing to condemn the central character, a madam. Even Billy Wilder got in on the act with Irma la Douce (1963), another teaming of Lemmon and MacLaine, but the film was accused of dishonesty and sentimentality and did badly.
Contrasting themes were supplied by the glumly seething The Dark at- the Top of the Stairs (1960), in which Dorothy McGuire is frigid, and The Chapman Report (1963), a neo- Kinsey fictionalization about randy, frustrated housewives. The latter had a gang rape scene involving Claire Bloom over which the Legion had some influence, forcing considerable cuts.
The Legion objected (successfully) to a similar scene in Elia Kazan’s Splendour in the Grass (1961), a rare attempt at this time to question the conventional repression of youthful sexual needs, in which Warren Beatty literally falls sick with unconsummated desire for Natalie Wood, who in turn goes mad. The conventions were also questioned in another
Ava Gardner tries to make Richard Burton’s unfrocked priest jealous by frolicking with beach boys in Tennessee Williams’s The Night of the Iguana (John Huston, 1964).