It was the year The Beatles held the top five positions in America’s Billboard Top 40. The year of The Rolling Stones first album, The Rolling Stones. Also The Kinks first album, The Kinks. It was the year The Who’s Pete Townshend destroyed his first guitar in the name of auto-destructive art. The year of Robert Moog’s first synthesizer. The year was 1964. Boxer Muhammad Ali was crowned the heavyweight champion of the world. Radio Caroline became England’s first pirate radio station, from a ship anchored just outside UK territorial waters. And the American Surgeon General reported that smoking may be hazardous to one’s health – the first such statement from the US government.
1964 was also the year that saw Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor marry for the first time. The year Terence Conran opened his first Habitat store, on London’s Fulham Road. The year that Roald Dahl wrote Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. We said goodbye to Peter Lorre, Harpo Marx and Bond creator Ian Fleming; hello to Nicolas Cage, Keanu Reeves and Russell Crowe. Plus a lot of classic movies came to be.
A childhood favourite starring Julie Andrews as a magical nanny in Victorian England, pre-McPhee Disney classic Mary Poppins bounds from one fine, familiar toe-tapper to the next. God bless Best Actress Oscar winner Julie Andrews, and of course, Dick Van Dyke’s miraculous cockney accent. Equally popular was the utterly charming, mellifluous musical tale My Fair Lady, which won a whopping eight Academy Awards and, although the Broadway version had starred the aforementioned Andrews, hit cinemas starring Audrey Hepburn instead.
Capitalising on the British musical invasion that they themselves had kicked off with their number one megahit, I Want To Hold Your Hand, The Beatles conquered the big screen with their first movie, A Hard Day’s Night, an influential mockumentary charting a couple of days in the life of the group.
In keeping with the British flavour of the year, Peter Sellers kept audiences laughing, first with his second outing as bumbling Inspector Clouseau in the perfectly hilarious A Shot in the Dark, and later playing a trio of roles in director Stanley Kubrick’s savage anti-war satire, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Rather less sophisticated but equally beloved was cheeky historical caper, Carry On Cleo.
With the Cold War raging at the time, Dr Strangelove was not the only doomsday spectacle in cinemas that year. More downbeat was Fail-Safe, a terrifying, compelling drama in which the American President is forced to order the nuclear destruction of New York City as a peace keeping initiative after US forces accidentally obliterate Moscow.
Less stressful for audiences was Anthony Mann’s The Fall of the Roman Empire, because everyone loves an all-star historical epic, this one featuring the likes of Sophia Loren, Alec Guinness, James Mason, Christopher Plummer and Omar Shariff.
The first in a trio of films that made him an iconic movie legend, snake-eyed Clint Eastwood played the cigar-chomping, quick-shooting, Man With No Name in Sergio Leone’s savage spaghetti western, A Fistful of Dollars.
Last but by no means least, in fact probably the best of all was third Bond adventure Goldfinger, Sean Connery’s best by far, and almost definitely the best of all of 007’s many outings. Gert Frobe’s Goldfinger was, in every way, larger than life, Harold Sakata’s mute, hat-tossing Oddjob won a place in the Henchmen Hall of Fame, and special thanks must also go to Honor Blackman for Pussy Galore. Add the ejector-seated Aston, a belter of a Shirley Bassey theme tune and dialogue to die for and you have yourselves an unbeatable classic. “You don’t expect me to talk?” “No, Mr Bond, I expect you to die!”