A number of memorable classic movies are turning 50 this year, which makes 2013 a great time to put them in your viewing queue. Big anniversary years for major films often mean special releases and Blu-ray editions, so be on the lookout for new versions of many of these movies from 1963. Here are a just a few of the most influential films that are celebrating 50th anniversaries this year.
"The Birds" - Alfred Hitchcock's creepy avian thriller stars Tippi Hedren, Rod Taylor, and Suzanne Pleshette as victims of killer flocks of birds in a coastal California town. The bird attacks helped earned the movie an Oscar nomination for Best Effects, and the most thrilling scenes have been copied or parodied in countless later productions. Along with "Psycho" (1960), "The Birds" helped to establish Hitchcock's legacy as a director of horror films as well as more classic era suspense stories like "Rebecca" (1940) and "Notorious" (1946).
"The Pink Panther" - Although today we mostly recognize the Pink Panther as a cartoon cat, it was originally a priceless jewel in this heist comedy from director Blake Edwards. Peter Sellers plays one of his most iconic roles as the bumbling French police inspector Clouseau, and Henry Mancini's Oscar-nominated score includes the irresistibly catchy Pink Panther theme. The movie's popularity led to a whole series of Pink Panther films, most of them starring Sellers reprising his role.
"The Great Escape" - This wartime action story from John Sturges is a true man's movie, with some of the most macho stars of the classic era all appearing together. Steve McQueen, James Garner, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Richard Attenborough, and Donald Pleasance lead the cast as POWs planning their escape from a World War II Nazi camp. The movie earned only one Oscar nomination for Best Film Editing, but for fifty years it has remained a favorite with fans of the war and action genres.
"From Russia with Love" - the second James Bond movie made its debut in 1963, with Sean Connery returning to the role of the suave British spy. Daniela Bianchi costars as the Russian beauty, Tatiana, but Lotte Lenya steals the picture with her scenes as Rosa Klebb.
"8 1/2" - Federico Fellini's Oscar-winning story of a movie director stars Marcelo Mastroianni, Claudia Cardinale, and Anouk Aimee, among others. An enduring favorite with fans of foreign and art house films, the movie won Oscars for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Black-and-White Costume Design and was nominated for five Academy Awards in all, including a nod for Fellini as Best Director.
"Jason and the Argonauts" - 1963 was a big year for fans of the action fantasy with the release of this tale of mythological adventure featuring the special effects work of the legendary Ray Harryhausen. Todd Armstrong and Nancy Kovack lead a cast that also includes Honor Blackman, Nigel Green, Niall MacGinnis, Patrick Troughton, and Jack Gwillim.
"Charade" - Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn star in this stylish thriller from director Stanley Donen. A favorite of Grant fans, "Charade" is so twisty that first-time viewers often mistake it for the work of Alfred Hitchcock, especially because of its dark sense of humor as the corpses pile up. Walter Matthau, James Coburn, and George Kennedy also star in this clever game of cats and mice.
"Cleopatra" - Famous for its difficult stars and disastrous production, this costume epic from Joseph L. Mankiewicz depends on the chemistry between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton for its appeal, although its lavish sets and costumes are also an important part of the show. It won four Oscars in 1964 and was nominated for nine, making it one of the most celebrated films of its year. Look for Rex Harrison, Hume Cronyn, Pamela Brown, Martin Landau, Roddy McDowall, and even Carroll O'Connor in the huge supporting cast.
"The Haunting" - Robert Wise's effective haunted house chiller remains one of the best examples of the genre, with spine-tingling effects that never show too much. Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson, and Russ Tamblyn star as visitors determined to spend the night in forbidding Hill House, but their stay becomes far more terrifying than they expected. Adapted from the novel by Shirley Jackson, "The Haunting" also features Rosalie Crutchley as the unnerving housekeeper, Mrs. Dudley, who warns the guests that no one will come "in the night... in the dark."
"Tom Jones" - The Best Picture winner in 1964 would be this 1963 film from director Tony Richardson, who also won the Academy Award for Best Director thanks to this production. Adapted from the classic novel by Henry Fielding, "Tom Jones" is an 18th-century comic romp with a 1960s sensibility. Albert Finney stars as the roving hero, and the supporting cast includes stars like Susannah York, George Devine, David Warner, Joan Greenwood, and David Tomlinson. "Tom Jones" won four Oscars and was nominated for ten, making it and "Cleopatra" the big contenders in the year's Oscar race.
Other memorable films of 1963 include John Wayne features like "McLintock!" and "Donovan's Reef" and horror classics like "The Raven" and "Black Sabbath," as well as "The Sword in the Stone," "Hud," and "Irma la Douce." Celebrating 75th anniversaries this year are the movies of 1938, including "The Adventures of Robin Hood," "Jezebel," and "Bringing Up Baby."
Jennifer Garlen writes as the Huntsville and National Classic Movies Examiner. Her book, "Beyond Casablanca: 100 Classic Movies Worth Watching," is now available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.com.