The ‘new Hollywood’ era began in the mid 1960’s and lasted until the era of the ‘blockbuster’ took over in the late 1970’s. During these years, films were made by directors with unknown track records, often featuring stars and roles that didn’t fit into the traditional Hollywood mold. Here are 15 films that were made during the ‘new Hollywood’ period which, for one reason or another, are less well known than some of the other films of the period but are definitely worth seeing. The films are listed chronologically.
1. Mickey One (Arthur Penn, 1965)
Warren Beatty and director Arthur Penn teamed up for one of the iconic films of the era, Bonnie and Clyde (1967), but two years earlier they made Mickey One, a surrealist drama about a stand up comic on the run from the mob. Influenced by the non-linear style of filmmaking of the French new wave, Mickey One confused audiences at the time and despite some critical praise, died a quick death at the box office.
In hindsight, it is easy to see that this might have been the film that started the entire era of ‘new Hollywood’. Hard to find for years on home video, the movie has achieved a cult reputation and now airs occasionally on classic movie channels.
2. The Trip (Roger Corman, 1967)
In the late 1960’s, an entire sub genre of films about the counter culture youth generation sprung up, and one of the most notable of these was Roger Corman’s The Trip. Starring Peter Fonda as Paul Groves, a TV commercial director who seeks out the help of a guru played by Bruce Dern after his wife leaves him. Desiring to open his mind, Paul and the guru end up at the pad of Max (Dennis Hopper) where they take a mind blowing acid trip.
Written by Jack Nicholson, Fonda and Hopper would, of course, team up with Jack two years later for the counter culture smash Easy Rider, but this film remains a lesser known but highly significant entry into the world of youthful drug oriented alienation films. The film is only available on region 2 DVD, meaning it will only play on computers, not U.S. home DVD players.
3. Brewster McCloud (Robert Altman, 1970)
After Robert Altman had a bit hit with MASH, he directed this tale about a young man (Bud Cort) living under the Houston Astrodome who is building a pair of wings in an effort to learn how to fly. Brewster is helped by Louise (Sally Kellerman) but comes to the attention of the police after a series of murders in the area appear to have been committed by him. Betrayed to the police by Astrodome usher Suzanne (Shelly Duvall) with whom he has had a romance, Brewster eventually achieves his goal of flight despite the obstacles.
While the film failed at the box office, Brewster McCloud was the first film produced under the banner of Lions’ Gate films, Altman’s new production company. Brewster McCloud remains typical of the ‘new Hollywood’ era as an oddball film with a strange storyline and unconventional characters that had difficulty connecting with an audience. The film pops up occasionally as an example of Altman’s offbeat work; it has not seen a major release on DVD but is available from Amazon as a one off DVD-R.
4. The Landlord (Hal Ashby, 1970)
Norman Jewison had The Landlord in production at United Artists, but decided to move to Europe instead and turned over the reigns to his editor Hal Ashby, who produced a memorable film. The Landlord is the story of Elgar Enders (Jeff Bridges), a wealthy young man who buys a building in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn despite his family’s vehement objections. Instead of evicting the African-American residents of the building as he intends, Elgar ends up living among them with many complications resulting.
With great performances by Beau Bridges, Lee Grant, Diana Sands, Pearl Bailey and Louis Gossett, Jr., The Landlord is a brilliant and audacious directorial debut for Ashby, a satirical and biting take on race relations in America and an all around funny film. Ashby went on to a stellar career as a director, making some of the best films of the ‘new Hollywood’ era in the 1970’s before succumbing to cancer in 1988. Released on VHS in the 1990’s, the film was given a belated DVD release in 2010.
5. The Ballad of Cable Hogue (Sam Peckinpah, 1970)
After his huge success with The Wild Bunch, director Sam Peckinpah made this film, another revisionist western but with considerably less violence. Jason Robards is Cable Hogue, a hobo left to die in the desert without water, who manages to survive and stumble upon a spring that is the only source of water for a stagecoach line that passes through. The film is a good natured story about the days when the wild west was coming to a close, featuring Stella Stevens as Hogue’s love interest, a prostitute named Hildy, and character actor David Warner as Joshua, Hogue’s eventual ally.
Like most of Peckinpah’s films, this one encountered delays and budget overruns during production, plus a massive bar bill that Warner Brothers was none to happy to pay, especially when the film underperformed at the box office. The Ballad of Cable Hogue was released on DVD in 2006 and is an interesting excursion into the soft side of one of ‘new Hollywood’s’ most enigmatic directors: Sam Peckinpah.
6. Two Lane Blacktop (Monte Hellman, 1971)
After the success of Easy Rider in 1969, road films became a staple of the new Hollywood period, and one of the best examples is Two Lane Blacktop. Directed by Monte Hellman from a script by Rudy Werlitzer, Two Lane Blacktop follows The Driver (played by musician James Taylor in his film debut) and The Mechanic (Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson) as they go on the road to race their 1955 Chevy. Along the way they pick up The Girl (played by Laurie Bird, also in her screen debut) and meet braggart G.T.O., played by veteran character actor Warren Oates. They all head off to Washington D.C. to race each other for ‘pinks’ (the winner gets the loser’s car).
Although some critics liked the film, it did not catch fire at the box office, and James Taylor went back to his recording career where he found much more success. Bird was the longtime girlfriend of Art Garfunkel who, after only two other film roles, ended up committing suicide tragically in 1979. Two Lane Blacktop was long unavailable on home video, but was finally released to DVD in 1999 and is now out on blu-ray.
7. The King of Marvin Gardens (Bob Raphelson, 1972)
Jack Nicholson caught fire after his highly acclaimed supporting role in Easy Rider, hitting it big with Five Easy Pieces ( 1970) and Carnal Knowledge (1971). He re-teamed with director Bob Raphelson for this offbeat film that failed at the box office. Nicholson is David Staebler, a late night radio talk show host, who is estranged from his brother Jason (Bruce Dern), a front for the mob in Atlantic City who has always had big dreams but has little to show for it. When Jason hatches a plan to make it big with a real estate scam, he drags his brother and aging beauty queen girlfriend Sally (pre-Exorcist Ellen Burstyn) into it with him, and the results end up being disaster.
The King of Marvin Gardens was shot largely on location in Atlantic City, New Jersey and many of the buildings depicted in the film were soon torn down to make way for new casinos after gambling was legalized there in the late 1970’s. All of the stars of this film went on to bigger and better things soon after, but The King of Marvin Gardens, released on DVD in 2000, remains an interesting ‘new Hollywood’ character study and a film that could only have been made in the early 1970’s.