Robert Redford in The Sting 1973
Film historian Max Alvarez hosts a multimedia online celebration honoring a fantastic year at the movies: 1973. It was, to put it mildly, a very dramatic 12 months.
President Richard M. Nixon was sworn in for a second term. LBJ and Picasso died. The Watergate hearings aired live on network television. Federal Express began its operations. Billy Jean King defeated Bobby Riggs in a legendary tennis match. The Yom Kippur War between Israel and Egypt took place in October. Gerald Ford replaced Spiro T. Agnew as vice president. And the world of show business lost Edward G. Robinson, Robert Ryan, Bobby Darin, Veronica Lake, John Ford, and Bruce Lee.
Amid all the social change and political crises, from the perspective of 50 years 1973 was a remarkable year of filmmaking throughout the world. Hollywood was luring huge numbers of moviegoers back to the cinemas with such massive grossers as George Roy Hill’s whimsical Paul Newman and Robert Redford comedy caper The Sting; William Friedkin’s horrific The Exorcist; Sydney Pollack’s Redford–Streisand romance The Way We Were; George Lucas’s nostalgic American Graffiti, and Peter Bogdanovich’s timeless black-and-white comedy Paper Moon.
Hollywood studios also released extremely risky, highly personal, director-driven projects that never would have received studio deals five years later during the Star Wars era: Robert Altman’s Philip Marlowe deconstruction The Long Goodbye; Martin Scorsese’s groundbreaking Mean Streets; Terrence Malick’s lyrical neo-noir Badlands; Lindsay Anderson’s subversive British satire O Lucky Man!; Bernardo Bertolucci’s grim “romance” Last Tango in Paris; Sam Peckinpah’s brutal male weepie Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid; and Jerry Schatzberg’s Al Pacino–Gene Hackman character study Scarecrow.
Robert Mitchum reinvented himself as a 1970s anti-hero in Peter Yates’s The Friends of Eddie Coyle, and director Fred Zinnemann made an electrifying comeback with The Day of the Jackal. Meanwhile in Europe, Federico Fellini immortalized his childhood in Amarcord while François Truffaut paid loving homage to the cinema in Day for Night.