The Covid 19 pandemic-induced cancellation of the 2020 Cannes Film Festival, the first time in its illustrious 73 year history, provides an opportunity to look back to the festival’s 15th edition in 1962 (May 7-23), which showcased a number of memorable films. Among the 33 official films in competition that year were three American entries (with directorial credit): Otto Preminger’s controversial politico Advise and Consent, John Frankenheimer’s domestic drama All Fall Down, and Sidney Lumet’s faithful adaptation of Eugene O’Neill’s autobiographical play, Long Day’s Journey into Night.
International premieres included an impressive lineup: Agnes Varda’s Cleo From 5 to 7, Satyajit Ray’s Devi, Pietro Germi’s Divorce, Italian Style, Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Eclisse, Michael Cacoyannis’s Electra, Luis Bunuel’s The Exterminating Angel, Li Han Hsiang’s The Magnificent Concubine, Tony Richardson’s A Taste of Honey, Robert Bresson’s The Trial of Joan of Arc, the Italian exploitation documentary, Mondo Cane (a worldwide hit in 1963), and anthology Boccaccio ’70, screening out-of-competition. The coveted Palme D’Or was awarded to a Brazilian film, O Pagador de Promessas, later nominated in the 1962 Oscar foreign-language category as The Keeper of Promises. American audiences would not be able to see it until 1964, however, when it was finally and unceremoniously released with the title The Given Word, and was unsurprisingly overlooked by audiences.
Other award winners at the festival included the entire cast of Long Day’s Journey into Night (Katharine Hepburn, Ralph Richardson, Jason Robards, Dean Stockwell) and the leads from A Taste of Honey, Rita Tushingham and Murray Melvin, who all shared the top acting honors. Divorce Italian Style was named Best Comedy, L’Eclisse and The Trial of Joan of Arc snagged Jury Prizes, and The Exterminating Angel took home the FIPRESCI (International Federation of Film Critics) laurel. In the Short Film category, the winner was a virtually silent film, An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, an adaptation by French filmmaker Robert Enrico of a Civil War-set short story by American writer Ambrose Bierce. It would go on to win the 1963 Academy Award in the live-action short category, and premiere on American television as part of the celebrated The Twilight Zone series in 1964. Baby boomers may recall seeing it there.
The venerable trade paper Variety gave their customary full coverage of the comings and goings of the movie industry glitterati, and in the May 15 issue (the halfway point of the festival) singled out, in the wryly named column, “Doing the Cannes-Cannes,” the following: Directors Otto Preminger, John Frankenheimer, Michelangelo Antonioni, Luchino Visconti (representing, along with stars Sophia Loren and Romy Schneider, Boccaccio ’70). German actor Curt Jurgens, soon to be seen in the all-star The Longest Day, French heartthrob Alain Delon (incidentally the fiancé of Romy Schneider) and Italian siren Monica Vitti, the co-stars of L’Eclisse; also on the scene, Warren Beatty and Eva Marie Saint, both in for All Fall Down, Natalie Wood, director Agnes Varda et al. Out-of-sight were festival jurors actor Mel Ferrer (married to Audrey Hepburn at the time) and Francois Truffaut. Fest jury president was Japanese author Tetsuro Furukaki (jury prexy was to have been Spike Lee in 2020).
Also enjoying the festival was Silent era filmmaker Harold Lloyd, unveiling a compilation of handpicked scenes from his silent flicks, Harold Lloyd’s World of Comedy.” As Variety reported in its characteristic prose, “was a welcome laugh lift from the fairly grim fare of the competing pix. Yocks and applause were loud for Lloyd…” After this acclaim, the film was released commercially and became a modest surprise hit.
The trade paper reported overall that “What always makes or breaks a fortnightly film festival like Cannes, Venice, or Berlin is the quality of the films shown. All else is garnishment. In this respect the results thus far are respectable.” In retrospect that observation was an understatement, considering the superior quality of the films, but we have the gift of hindsight from our 21st-century vantage point.