While 1939 is often regarded as the greatest movie year of all time, Hollywood wasn’t too shabby in 1962. Many classic movies were released that year, while one on this list featured one of the most beloved performances ever seen. Here are just a few classics films from 1962, a year that could be argued as the second greatest of Hollywood’s Golden Age.
David Lean’s classic epic won the Academy Award for Best Picture for 1962, but that alone doesn’t make it the top film from that year. A landmark picture in more ways than one, Lawrence of Arabia turned Peter O’Toole into a major star and was one of the last to be shot in 70mm – a technique put to brilliant use by Lean all throughout, but nowhere better than the iconic image of Omar Sharif emerging from the heat of the Arabian desert. Lean also won the Oscar for Best Director, while Lawrence of Arabia went down in history as one of the greatest movies ever made.
As the Cold War reached its height in 1962, Hollywood responded by turning out a number of spy and espionage movies that would dominate the rest of the decade. None was more brilliant than John Frankenheimer’s masterpiece, The Manchurian Candidate, a tense political thriller starring Laurence Harvey as a U.S. war hero returned home from the Korean War programmed by the Communists to be an assassin. Stealing the show, of course, was Angela Lansbury as his deviously ambitious mother, while Frank Sinatra played a haunted fellow soldier who discovers a plot to assassinate a presidential candidate. The Manchurian Candidate was filled with amazing performances, particularly from Lansbury, who received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress.
In To Kill a Mockingbird, Gregory Peck delivered a career-defining performance as the noble-minded Atticus Finch, a small town lawyer who defends an innocent black man (Brock Peters) against charges of rape while trying to protect his children (Mary Badham and Phillip Alford) from the specter of racism. Not only was To Kill a Mockingbird one of the best of 1962 – it was nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture – it was also one of Hollywood’s most beloved films ever made. While Robert Mulligan’s adaptation of Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is worthy of every praise, the film stands atop the shoulders of Peck's brilliant, Oscar-winning performance as Finch, one of the greatest screen heroes of all time.
James Stewart and John Wayne starred in this John Ford classic, which told the tale of a young lawyer (Stewart) who tries to take down a gang of outlaws lead by Lee Marvin after they rob and terrorize him. With the aid of a local cowboy (Wayne), he learns how to fight back in the ways of the Old West, only to later become a champion of a newly civilized world as a U.S. senator. Shot in glorious black and white, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance was a wonderful throwback to the days of Westerns past, though it was touched with a slight degree of pessimism. It remained a popular movie with fans, and ranked as one of the best collaborations between Ford and Wayne.
Based on William Gibson’s Broadway play, The Miracle Worker was a stunningly acted drama from director Arthur Penn that focused on real-life Helen Keller (Patty Duke), a young Alabama girl struck blind and mute from an infant battle with Scarlet Fever who engages in a battle of wills with a partially blind teacher (Anne Bancroft) determined to teach her to communicate and ultimately be independent. Both Bancroft and Duke won Oscars for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress respectively, while critics raved about its inspiring, but honest approach.
Epic in every way imaginable, The Longest Day had a huge all-star cast, three directors and the mighty Darryl F. Zanuck as producer in this multifaceted telling of the Allied invasion of Normandy during World War II. The cast list contains too many stars to list them all here, but of note were Richard Burton, Robert Mitchum, Henry Fonda, John Wayne, Sean Connery, Rod Steiger and Red Buttons. Of course, having about four dozen international stars to follow leads to not getting to know or care about any of them. But then again that’s not the point, as The Longest Day manages to pull you in through the sheer scope of events. This classic war epic went on to earn five Academy Award nominations that year, and won for Best Cinematography and Best Special Effects.
7. ‘Dr. No’
It all started with Dr. No, the first of seven movies to feature Sean Connery as James Bond, a British secret agent with a devil-may-care attitude and license to kill. In this classic from 1962, Bond is sent to Jamaica to investigate the death of a fellow British agent, only to encounter deadly assassins, a sexy femme fatale (Ursula Andress), a poisonous tarantula, and of course, the titular mad scientist (Joseph Wiseman) bent on world domination. Though made on a low budget, Dr. No was a huge box office hit and laid the cornerstone for the most successful film franchise in history, while spawning countless secret agent movies throughout the decade.
Adapted from Vladimir Nabokov's controversial novel, Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita starred James Mason as the middle-aged Humbert Humbert, who becomes infatuated with a promiscuous 14-year-old girl (Sue Lyon). Due the taboo subject matter and a degree of Hollywood censorship still in place, Kubrick was forced to greatly limit the amount of sexuality between Humbert and Lolita, and later regretted his decision in making the film at all. Despite the personal feeling of its director, Lolita was stunning for its varied performances by Peter Sellers, who donned several disguises in the greatly expanded role of Clare Quilty. Nabokov wrote the screenplay, which Kubrick greatly revised, and earned his only Academy Award nomination.
This musical comedy starring Robert Preston and Shirley Jones was one of the biggest hits in 1962, and was near universally praised by critics as well. Adapted from Meredith Willson’s 1957 Tony Award-winning smash, The Music Man featured Preston as a fast-talking conman who masquerades as a music professor and convinces a small town to form a brass band, which he uses as a means to bilk the townspeople out their money. But he runs into trouble when a local music teacher (Jones) starts to fall for him, and the boys in the band starting coming out of their shells and into their own thanks to his guidance. Director Morton DaCosta’s larger-than-life spectacle earned six Academy Award nominations, but only took home one for Best Musical Score.