Scarecrow Academy: 1959 – The Greatest Year in Film History Semester Two

by Robert Horton

“Scarecrow Academy” Semester Two is upon us. It’s a screening-discussion series, guided by yours truly, the subject of which is my contention that the greatest year in film history was 1959.

For each session, we’ll examine a title from 1959 in depth. We’ll convene on Wednesday evenings (beginning Sept. 11) at 7 p.m. in the Scarecrow Screening Room. We’ll have a new title every other Wednesday this fall, with a special bonus Halloween installment in October.

I know what you’re saying. “But Bob,” you’re saying, “how is it that 1959 is the greatest of film years? What sort of proof can you offer?” Of course, you have to come to Scarecrow Academy to find out. There are a few hints in my blogpost for my Year-by-Year Ten Best rankings, which can be found here.

But there are a bunch of other key films that aren’t listed there. And they run the gamut from the sublime to the even more sublime.

Attendance is free, and there isn’t any homework. (But you can RSVP to let us know you’re coming.) We may prove the case, we may not, but we’ll talk a lot about how films live and breathe, and why the movie moment of 1959 is a pivotal one. See you there?

Robert Horton, the longtime reviewer for the Daily Herald and Seattle Weekly, is a member of the National Society of Film Critics.



September 11: Imitation of Life

Directed by Douglas Sirk

Lana Turner stars in an amazingly complex look at Hollywood and race; we’ll also talk about how 1959 was Sandra Dee’s great year, and why we should take her seriously.

7 p.m.  RSVP HERE


September 25: Pillow Talk

Directed by Michael Gordon

The late Doris Day and Rock Hudson star in the zippy Oscar-winning comedy, which captures a moment in American culture as well as any straight-faced drama.

7 p.m.  RSVP HERE


October 9: Suddenly Last Summer

Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz

This shocking Tennessee Williams adaptation was a box-office hit, fueled by the searing performances from Elizabeth Taylor, Katharine Hepburn, and Montgomery Clift.

7 p.m.  RSVP HERE


October 23: Anatomy of a Murder

Directed by Otto Preminger

The ultimate courtroom drama allowed the iconoclastic Preminger to test the boundaries of Hollywood censorship. With James Stewart, Lee Remick, George C. Scott.

6:30 p.m.  RSVP HERE


October 30: The Black Pit of Dr. M

Directed by Fernando Méndez

A Halloween special, featuring a wild Mexican horror picture full of crazy style and a litany of horror-movie conventions.

7 p.m.  RSVP HERE



November 6: Room At the Top

Directed by Jack Clayton

British film was in its angry man/kitchen sink phase, and this drama with Laurence Harvey as an ambitious cad became a worldwide hit. Simone Signoret won the Best Actress Oscar for her role.

7 p.m.


November 20: Pickpocket

Directed by Robert Bresson

The purified style of French master Bresson was never more focused than in this much-imitated study of a professional thief.

7 p.m.


December 4: The Nun’s Story

Directed by Fred Zinnemann

Audrey Hepburn stars in 1959’s most unlikely box-office smash, a somber look at the life of a nun—perfect subject matter for the meticulous Zinnemann.

6:30 p.m.


December 18: Rio Bravo

Directed by Howard Hawks

One of cinema’s greatest “hang out” pictures by one of Hollywood’s greatest directors, this delicious western stars John Wayne, Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson, and Angie Dickinson.

6:30 p.m.

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