LM Film Group Picks Top Films of 1969

By Page H. Gifford

In celebration of Lake Monticello’s 50th Anniversary, some lake film aficionados had a special presentation on Tuesday (Oct. 15), on the top 20 films of 1969.

Scott Mein, Carol Kinsey, and Joe Grubb, talked about those films that were groundbreaking and why.

The list included some off-beat, thought-provoking, and even some X-rated films of that era. Topping the list was “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,”  “Midnight Cowboy,” and “Easy Rider,” and down the list at number seven was “True Grit.” These were the films that were discussed as to why they were so popular as well as original.

Scott Mein talked about the films of 1969 as groundbreaking, mostly for questioning the social norms that had governed society for decades and were now being challenged by a new generation and sub-culture. These films changed for years to come how we looked not only at society but ourselves. 

Many viewed 1969 as having subversive ideas that people saw as anti-establishment but flocked to see these films anyway; making them not only a memorable part of the American culture but making an indelible statement about the era in which they were filmed.

“There were a lot of interesting trends in 1969,” said Mein. “It marked the beginning of violence in films.” He discussed number one on the list which was “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” He cited some interesting facts aside from the fact it won four Oscars; one of them for the award-winning song “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head.” Mein called it a “buddy film” because of the relationship between Butch and Sundance. William Goldman’s humorous dialogue enhanced the bond between them and delighted audiences.

In the film, Etta Place, played by Katherine Ross, was a school teacher; in real life she was a prostitute. He showed highlights from the film and photos of the real Butch Cassidy, Sundance Kid, and Etta Place, adding some historical references.

Following Mein was Carol Kinsey talking about “Midnight Cowboy,” which was X-rated in those days before the rating system was changed and today it would be R-rated. He told the story about how Dustin Hoffman secured the role of Ratso Rizzo.

“He had just finished “The Graduate” and was viewed as a clean-cut boy in that and not the type to play Ratso Rizzo in ‘Midnight Cowboy.’ So, to prove that he could do it, he dressed up as a homeless man and met with the director, who he convinced to give him the role. Hoffman being a method actor, he was able to pull it off,” said Kinsey. “Voight was an unknown but this picture launched his career and in 1978 he won Best Actor for “Coming Home.” He added that both men were very competitive during the filming of the movie but both had onscreen chemistry which worked well for this film about deep connections and friendship. It was viewed by some critics to be raw and gritty for its time but audiences embraced the new concept in film-making. It was the first X-rated film to win Best Picture.

“The word scuzzy originally came from this film,” said Kinsey. A side-note, in 1994, the film was considered to be “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant” by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.

Mein discussed the third top movie of 1969, which continued the buddy theme with Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda touring the U.S. on their motorcycles. A lot of clips showed the two traveling down highways with the wind in their hair but it was struggling actor Jack Nicholson that shined in his 17 minutes onscreen.

“The film was made for $400,000 and another $1million to buy the rights to the music but it made $60 million,” said Mein. “It was one of the first to use soundtracks of popular music.” He added that this film was a reflection of the counter-culture taking place and gaining momentum. This is highlighted in the film’s ending with both of them being killed, perpetuating the theme of violence.

He told one tidbit about Nicholson and Fonda.

“When Nicholson was riding on the back of Peter Fonda’s motorcycle, he was holding Peter so tight he broke his ribs.” He added that Hopper was known to be difficult to work with  and he and Fonda fought constantly during filming.

The last film was discussed by Joe Grubb. “True Grit” was seventh on the list and one of John Wayne’s best performances. Grubb discussed the irony of screenwriter Margurite Roberts, who had been black-listed in the ‘50s working with Wayne, who had been the strongest advocate of black-listing, believing the liberal writers were taking over the film industry.

Rounding out the cast was Kim Darby as Mattie, a role that Sally Field had been looked at as a possible candidate, and Elvis Presley as the Texas Ranger LeBoeuf, which Glen Campbell ended up playing.

‘“True Grit” referred to Wayne’s character Rooster Cogburn but Mattie showed true grit as well,” said Grubb. The dynamics between Rooster and Mattie showed their tenacity knew no limits. “It was revolutionary in movie-making because he got an Oscar for playing the anti-hero.”

There were many other films on the list that were notable, including “They Shoot Horses Don’t They,” with a stellar cast. Anyone who loves classic films as much as these film lovers should revisit some of the top 20 of 1969. They are gems worth watching.

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