A Golden Anniversary Look Back at the Best of 1963

1963 Movies: Explore all the movies from 19631939 is considered by many film fans to be the greatest in film history.

When you take a look at the movies of that particular year, it’s no wonder ’39 has that reputation.

Gone With the Wind…The Wizard of Oz…Mr. Smith Goes to Washington…Gunga Din…Ninotchka…Stagecoach…Dark Victory…The Rules of the Game…Of Mice and Men…The Women…and the list goes on.

There’s no doubt that 1939 was indeed a great one—perhaps the finest in movie history.

But being born in the baby boomer year of 1957, one year sticks out to me while growing up. And it was 1963. That was when an impressionable seven-year-old became totally absorbed and utterly fascinated by movies.

In fact, as I peruse the offerings of 1963, I am astonished how many of these I saw in the theaters, whether they be neighborhood bijous, drive-in theaters or the grand movie palaces of downtown Philadelphia.    

If you go by awards and chitchat, 1963 was the year of the randy Oscar-winner Tom Jones with Albert Finney and Liz and Dick in the elephantine epic Cleopatra, a film that, to this day, I have not seen in its entirety.  

But if you go by a movie-obsessed kid growing up in Northeast Philly, other movies released back then made even bigger impacts.            

What a year! Alfred Hitchcock scared the bejesus out of us with The Birds, turning our fine, feathery friends into our flesh-plucking enemies. What youngster isn’t traumatized by the infamous “schoolyard” scene in which the flying monsters attack the kids? Or the haunting, up-in-air ending? Did they get out…or not?

Speaking of birds—of a different feather—there’s Bye Bye Birdie, the energetic film version of the Broadway hit with Dick Van Dyke, Janet Leigh, Maureen Stapleton and Paul Lynde, putting on a happy face amidst the music, and 22-year-old Ann-Margret’s kittenish teenager Kim making sure that certain members of the audience put on a happy face, no matter what age.   

Another entry from the animal factory: Flipper, with rugged Rifleman Chuck Connors as the fisherman who learns to love and trust his son’s highly intelligent pet dolphin. Everyone loved the king of the sea–especially me!

From Russia With Love Movie Poster (1963)

From Russia With Love Movie Poster (1963)

Sean Connery returned in the guise of James Bond in From Russia with Love, a film that I couldn’t follow at the time, but still appreciated the villainy of Robert Shaw and Lotta Lenya (but not “old Lucy Brown”) nonetheless. Down the road, my older self got the storyline, and admired the early series entry’s stab at going for a more serious, espionage-oriented approach.  

Epics came in no short supply in 1963 and, when shown on the gigantic single screen of Northeast Philadelphia’s recently opened Orleans Theater (“Parking for thousands!”), they truly were something special and often spectacular.  

There was How the West Was Won, a sonic boom of a movie, with interlocking sequences depicting cattle drives, Civil War battles, the building of the railroad, runaway white water rafting, an incredible all-star cast, and expansive visuals painting the spectacle of American history.  While the Orleans was not equipped to present the film in true Cinerama, it was nonetheless incredibly impressive.

Also in the historical mold is 55 Days in Peking, a look at the Boxer Rebellion in 1900 China, a spectacle with no shortage of star power: Charlton Heston, Ava Gardner, David Niven and a host of great British character actors. It’s the sort of movie that can enthrall you and teach you something about the past at the same time, courtesy of producer Samuel Bronston, who specialized in this sort of thing (El Cid, The Fall of the Roman Empire).   

Meanwhile, The Great Escape was the sort of war spectacle that made the boys in the audience feel like men. After all, it boasted “Cooler King” Steve McQueen’s iconic motorcycle leap, meta-male actors James Coburn, Charles Bronson and James Garner as POWS trying to dig their way out of a Nazi camp with help from Brits Richard Attenborough and Donald Pleasance, and Elmer Bernstein’s triumphant march-oriented score.  

Even the comedies were being grown big in ’63. Witness the biggest comedy of them all—Stanley Kramer’s It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, a massive chase film with loads of stars (Sid Caesar! Milton Berle! Spencer Tracy! Ethel Merman! Dick Shawn! Phil Silvers! Dorothy Provine! Buddy Hackett! Mickey Rooney! Edie Adams!). Of course, I wanted to see more of the Three Stooges and Jerry Lewis.  But the rest of the amazing, cameo-heavy cast—Arnold Stang, Jesse White, Joe E. Brown—was akin to a Friar’s Club meeting on the big, big, big screen.   

Not all comedies were filmed on such a grand scale. Some of the others which still resonate: Come Blow Your Horn, with Frank Sinatra showing brother Tony Bill how to be cool; Jerry Lewis teaching himself how to be cool in his masterpiece, The Nutty Professor, and playing a dog walker who takes on various jobs at a department store—badly—in Who’s Minding the Store; Danny Kaye played The Man from the Diner’s Club; and Frankie and Annette and motorcycle gang leader Eric Von Zipper (SNAP!) got sand in their feet during their Beach Party.

Countless matinees at the Orleans, as well as Castor Avenue’s Castor, Tyson and Benner Theaters, brought me up close to horror, sci-fi and fantasy for the first time.  

My first impressions:

Black Sabbath: Boris Karloff in “The Wudrulak” freaked me out.

The Haunted Palace: Karloff + Lon Chaney, Jr.+ Edgar Allan Poe + Roger Corman=Awesome!   

The Haunting: Still one of the scariest films ever made. Now I get the lesbian subtext.

Jason and the Argonauts (1963)

Jason and the Argonauts (1963)

Jason and the Argonauts: Must’ve seen it at least seven times in theaters, and still watch whenever it’s shown on TV. Those damn harpies!

The Raven: Vincent Price + Peter Lorre + Boris Karloff+ Edgar Allan Poe + Roger Corman=Awesome.

X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes: Ray Milland is the scientist with the peek-a-boo powers, looking through women’s dresses, cheating at gambling and working at a circus. With Don Rickles and the great Dick Miller, directed by Roger Corman. Tremendous.

As I go through the list of 1963 releases, I see plenty more, from classic westerns to groundbreaking foreign films, from Elvis romps to Doris Day rom-coms.

Let us know your favorite films from 50 years ago– 1963, to be precise.        

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=713983697 Gordon S. Jackson

    Off the top-of-my-head (in other words, without really thinking about it), my favourite would have to be HOW THE WEST WAS WON which I saw in full Cinerama at the Eglington Theatre in Toronto. That I truly did find AWESOME!

  • Richard

    Yes 1963 was a vintage year for films and here are a few of my all time favorites…
    “Charade” is my favorite film from this list. With bad guys Walter Matthau, James Coburn and George Kennedy chasing the beautiful Audrey Hepburn and willing to kill her for something they are looking for and believe she has, while she falls in love with Cary Grant in Paris. What more can you ask for? Well there is also the wonderful soundtrack by Henry Mancini and I’ll never lick another postage stamp without thinking of this fantastic fun film directed by Stanley Donen.
    “Kings of the Sun” Yul Brynner struts around looking great in buckskin as the Indian Chief Black Eagle fighting Mayans who have migrated from Mexico to a pre-white mans America. With the great music of Elmer Bernstein (The Magnificent Seven) to bring the action even more to life. This movie is just plain old fun.
    “The List of Adrian Messenger” Try to recognize the BIG name stars behind the heavy make-up in this wonderful mystery directed by the great John Huston.
    “Murder at the Gallop” My all time favorite Miss Marple as played by Margaret Rutherford. No one could do it better. With a great supporting cast. Agatha Christie even dedicated one of her best books, The Mirror Crack’d to Margaret Rutherford.
    “The Pink Panther” Who can ever forget the first appearance of Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau, Henry Mancini’s wonderful music and the animated opening titles. One of Blake Edwards best.
    “The Prize” Paul Newman’s wonderful performance in this Hitchcockian thriller plus the beautiful Elke Sommer and always great Edward G. Robinson make this fun.
    “Stop Train 349″ An interesting little film in Black and White based on fact dealing with the Cold War and starring Errol Flynn’s son, Sean.
    “The Ugly American” The talent of Brando as fantastic as always and he looks great. Plus a look into the future of politics as they are now in the 21st century.

    • KarenG958

      Excellent list there. The Great Escape is one of my top 10 favorite movies. Charade is a great one too, as are Murder at the Gallop, and The Pink Panther.

  • Jim Chadwick

    One of my favorite Kurosawa films and his next to last with Mifune–”High and Low”–was released in 1963.

  • Wayne P.

    Great article, Irv and thanks for the memories…but as someone a year older than yourself, having been born in 1956, I think it best you stand (or sit) corrected on your age, possibly. We may have to peg you for 6 sometime during that year of 1963 based on your birth year given…but hey, I really say this because I want to feel at least a year younger, not older! ;)

  • Glenn Keys

    I can not believe this list did not include The Wheeler Dealers with James Garner and Lee Remick. Still one of my favorites to this day.

  • Tony B

    How well I recall ALL those movies out that year. I was 11. BUT the one that stands out the most that year, the most anticipated blockbuster that months before flooded the magazine racks with publicity and my family reserved seats at The Rivoli for: CLEOPATRA, with The huge image of Liz Taylor reclined garbed in Egyptian regalia on a chaise longe with Rex Harrison’s Caesar to one side and Richard Burton’s Marc Antony to the other dominating Times Square.

  • kc1959

    How the West Was Won was the first movie I ever saw when I was four years old. It’s still one of my favorites. What a cast! Fonda, Stewart, Peck, Peppard, Brennan, Wallach, Malden, Wayne, Morgan, Preston, Cobb plus of course, the wonderful Debbie Reynolds, Carolyn Jones, and Carroll Baker. There was even a star narrator, Spencer Tracy. How the West Was Won and the Great Escape still both rank in my all-time top 10 movies that I love to watch. I have to agree that High and Low was an excellent film. I just recently saw it for the first time and was very impressed. Charade ranks up there as one of my favorite Audrey Hepburn movies. And speaking of John Wayne, I believe McLintock! was also from 1963. Other movies from that year I believe include 8 1/2, Irma la Douce, Hud, Lord of the Flies, Lilies of the Field, and the cult horror film, Dementia 13.

  • Hub P.

    Any chance for a restored full version(195-210minutes) of It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad,Mad world?

    • Glenn53

      My understanding is that it’s being worked on.

  • Jerry

    Golly, no one has mentioned the film that I’ve watched more times, both in theater and at home, and my favorite film of all time. MCLINTOCK with the Duke, Maureen O’Hara, Jerry Van Dyke, Yvonne de Carlo and a stellar cast of other “Characters” – what else could you call them?? – a hilarious western about as well cast as the later British comedy series Fawlty Towers. The public spanking probably wouldn’t be politicaly correct in 2013, but who cares??
    I know, I know – what a strange choice of all time favorite…….

  • tsschall

    Definitely The Great Escape for me, But the best comedy of 1963 has to be Captain Newman MD. Wasn’t until I joined the service in ’71 that I really appreciated the accuracy of the scrounging shenanigans in that movie.

  • norman gillen

    “The Running Man,” directed by Carol Reed, with Laurence Harvey as a free-lance pilot who swindles insurance companies. Lee Remick is his wife, and Alan Bates plays an insurance investigator who accidentally stumbles upon the pair while on vacation in Spain. Highly suspenseful affair, with some irony thrown in. A beardless Fernando Rey (who years later would appear as Charnier in “The French Connection”) shows up in the small role of a Spanish police officer.

  • john h

    i have been looking for ” The Wheeler Dealers ” on DVD for years .

  • Kai Ferano

    “Tom Jones’ get my vote. Who could resist Albert Finney and Susannah York as a zany romantic couple? I still Finney, despite his weight gain.

  • Sharon

    Soldier in the Rain -A little known comedy but a fav of mine – pretty sure it was 1963- with Jackie Gleason and Steve McQueen paired as a couple of regular army buddies in an offbeat comedy with Tuesday Weld doing her best as Steve’s very immature romantic interest . Very poignant ending…I named my new puppy Bobby-Joe after Tuesday’s character just cause of the way Steve said her name.

    • StevenWells

      Excellent choice! I’ve always loved this charming and touching film.

      Until that time…

    • mike

      Caught that on the tube last week at about 3am. With a head cold you get to see some rare movies seemingly only broadcast in the the predawn hours.

  • Lynn

    Love with the Proper Stranger – Steve McQueen, Natalie Wood, Edie Adams, Tom Bosley – Surely the best movie of 1963 that is not available on DVD. (I guard my VHS with my life!) Also agree with Soldier in the Rain, the others listed by commenters

  • Denmaniacs4

    I never met a year in movies that I didn’t like. For 1963, a stellar year, I have to go with The Birds. It never fails to entertain me. And, sixty years later, I still watch the skies and keep an eye on birds when they gather in groups.

  • Gemini09

    Being a devoted Hitchcock fan I would have to go with The Birds as my favourite film of 63. Like the writer I was also born in 57 so didn’t get to see most of these films on the big screen. I do remember being enthralled by Jason and the Argonauts as at the time the special effects by the master Ray Harryhausen were amazing.

  • daffy

    my favorite ’60′s movie is jimmy cagney in “the gallent hours”.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100004488580416 John Patterson

    My faves from’63:”The Great Escape”;”McClintock”;”PT 109″;”How the West Was Won”and”Hud”.

  • http://www.facebook.com/david.wagner.9212 David Wagner

    As for THE HAUNTED PALACE, it was Vincent Price, not Mr. Karloff, who starred.

  • Jim H

    The Wheeler Dealers is now out on DVD. I got a copy through Amazon. One of my favorites also.
    Louis Nye as the artist…priceless.

  • Luke750

    What a great list of movies! I have enjoyed many of them over the years. The list of the start in them brings back some good memories also. Thanks.

  • http://twitter.com/burlivespipe daniel martino

    Comedy? It’s a mad….. world would be king in my world, but Irma la douce was right up there — wilder and lemmon were still at their peak.

  • Doug

    I was born in 1954 and 1963 was about the time I started going to movies by myself – seeing such films as Mad Mad World, Bye Bye Birdie, The Incredible Journey, The Nutty Professor. I didn’t see The Birds until it was shown on public broadcasting during a week of Hitchcock films, in 1969.
    And when I saw How the West was Won, it was on a regular screen, not a cinerama screen, and it looked weird. Saint Louis had only one Cinerama screen, called The Translux Cinerama, near where our Fox theater now still sits.
    Disney had an incredible influence on kids back then. Not only was there a Sunday night Disney World show at 6pm, they also churned out a lot of great films back then (The Incredible Journey, The Castaways, The Moonspinners, The Sword in the Stone, The Shaggy Dog, The Absent-Minded Professor, Swiss Family Robinson, etc,) The eraly 60′s was a kid’s paradise.
    Doris Day and Elvis were also big back then, as were the first James Bond movies with Sean Connery. I did see Goldfinger in the theater.
    Movies that came a couple years later, Sound of Music, Born Free were also great films for kids.
    And The Great Race, Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines,…just a lot of great entertaining films in the last years of the studio system era.

  • Admar

    HUD a truly adult experience for a 10 year boy. I was mesmerized

  • Bernard McNair

    A great selection of movies. We had one Cinerama screen in Sydney (Australia) and “How The West Was Won” still stands strong in my memory as a truly amazing and wondorous experience. “The Great Escape” remains a personal favourite that I revisit each year. McClintock never fails to bring a smile to my face. I loved all of the early Bonds and first saw “From Russia With Love” as a double feature with “Goldfinger”- and returned to see them again the next day. The Samuel Bronston epics were always entertaining; I still that “Circue World” was vastly under-rated.
    Thnaks for this great artricle and the chance to reiminsce on these movies and to remember family I attended them with.

  • Rob in L.A.

    My favorite movie from 1963: Stan Brakhage’s “Mothlight.”

  • rex yarbor

    one that I have fallen in love with through the years is Rock Hudson and Paula Prentiss in Mans favorite sport?

    • http://www.facebook.com/davidbrucepatterson David Bruce Patterson

      I thought it was hilarious too. Paula Prentiss is one of the most under-rated comic actresses ever! Willoughby! Willoughby!

    • Lorraine M.

      A great movie–and I loved the Hudson-Prentiss teaming also–but that was a 1964 release, not ’63.

  • http://twitter.com/Bryankr Bryan Ruffin

    I loved all the films on your list, except Jason and the Argonauts. Sorry! I watched it when I was younger, and really enjoyed it…..then. I guess I just got older and my tastes changed. I loved the idea of the skeletons coming to life! That was classic! The movie itself, I have to say, it was a bit campy.
    The Haunting! What a horror movie!! That thing scared me half out of my mind….I loved it! Didn’t they remake that? I think they did once in the 90′s.

  • http://www.facebook.com/davidbrucepatterson David Bruce Patterson

    From Russia With Love was my favourite all-time Bond flick. Loved Tatiana!

  • http://www.facebook.com/davidbrucepatterson David Bruce Patterson

    I would have to say Shock Corridor was my favourite film of 1963.

  • William Sommerwerck

    Several years ago I saw “How the West Was Won” at the Seattle Cinerama. It’s quite a spectacular picture, but the Blu-ray is many times better, in every respect but size. It appears to be transferred from the camera negatives, and was processed to remove the seams between the panels. If you like this film, get the Blu-ray.

    I’ve never understood the popularity of “The Birds”. The script is way too long and talky, to no point. Had the film run 100 minutes (tops), it could have been a “crisp little shocker”.

  • Classic Movie Lover

    I guess I would have to say that “The Birds” was my favorite movie of 1963. I thought Tippi Hedren was the consummate cool blond and I also liked her in “Marnie”. Don’t know if that was a 1963 movie but I know that I liked her very much in both movies. I have “The Birds” on DVD and it still scares the you-know-what out of me.

  • Mike in Oz (down under)

    1963 was good but 1962 was better: TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, THE MIRACLE WORKER, THE MUSIC MAN, GYPSY, MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY,THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?,EXPERIMENT IN TERROR,THAT TOUCH OF MINK,THE LONGEST DAY, BILLY BUDD,THE BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ,ADVISE AND CONSENT,CAPE FEAR,HATARI!, DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES,RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY, THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE, TERM OF TRIAL,LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT etc.

  • Bruce Reber

    Some other honorable mentions-”Lady In A Cage” with Olivia DeHavilland, “Fun In Acapulco” with Elvis Presley, “Under The Yum Yum Tree” with Jack Lemmon, “The Prize” with Edward G. Robinson and Paul Newman, “Palm Springs Weekend” with Troy Donahue and Connie Stevens and “Charade” with Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn.

  • Talos21

    I love the beautiful black and white shadows of The Hauntng. Talos and the harpies in Harryhausens Jason and.the Argonauts. The awesome Albert Finney and Susannah York in Tom Jones. Hitchcocks The Birds and the Hitchcock like Charade.
    Great Year.