…1968! On the eve of Oscar’s 90th anniversary, Scott Huver recalls a cinematic earthquake of epic proportions.
Oscar Wild! Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty stylishly exit the premiere of Oscar-buzzed Bonnie & Clyde in Paris, France, in January 1968.
Fifty years ago, the bedrock of the film industry began a seismic upheaval, and the first major temblors were on display during the 40th annual Academy Awards, held at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium April 8, 1968.
The prior year had been a spectacular watershed moment in cinema, perfectly reflected in the crop of Best Picture nominees: Doctor Dolittle represented the bloated, overproduced musical fare dominating studio output of the era; In the Heat of the Night and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner reflected the social consciousness that had begun to pervade the culture; and The Graduate and Bonnie & Clyde signified a major shift in cinematic style, tone and audience taste. Box-office smashes with counterculture sensibilities would profoundly influence the next decade of film. Minus Dolittle, the nominees endure as classics that still resonate with modern audiences. In fact, the night was primed for a classic conflict between the Old Guard of Hollywood and the new Young Turks of Tinseltown.
Although The Graduate and Bonnie & Clyde were sexed-up cultural sensations, Julie Andrews handed the Best Picture Oscar to In the Heat of the Night’s producer, Walter Mirisch—one of five trophies the film took home that night. It was a victory for a new, progressive breed of filmmaking that was burning up Hollywood. But the Industry establishment still came out swinging: Katharine Hepburn, then 60, won her second of a career four Best Actress Oscars for Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner—and she didn’t even show up. She later quipped in a telegram to the Academy: “They don’t usually give these things to old girls, you know.” How times have changed.