Five Favorite Films of the 50’s

The 1950s was such a rich decade in film that I found myself having a difficult time in selecting what films to eliminate. I could only select five  films according to the blogathon rules of engagement. Once I narrowed my selection down the question or questions became how can you leave a film like Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest off you list? How can you not select Sunset Blvd. or Some like it Hot or Strangers on a Train or The Searchers or High Noon or Paths of Glory or Singin’ in the Rain or Vertigo or On the Waterfront or Rio Bravo or well you get the point. The 1950s was a great decade. Narrow a select down to five favorites was not easy.

One rule I made on my own was to list a film  director no more than once. Otherwise I could have listed five  Alfred Hitchcock films: Vertigo, North by Northwest, Rear Window, Dial M for Murder and I Confess. Or I could have went with five Billy Wilder films: Some Like it Hot, Sunset Blvd, Ace in the Hole, Witness for the Prosecution and Stalag 17. I could also list five John Ford films but you get the point.

With that self set rule in place it became a little easier, however, I made one other rule. List a bunch of runner ups. Like I said the 1950’s was a rich decade. Anyway, here are my five favorite, not necessarily the bests, but favorites with a bit of an explanation followed by my runner ups.

Ace on the Hole

Ace in the Hole3

Manipulation, exploitation, opportunism, and hard-boiled vile, shaken, mixed and slammed into your guts by Billy Wilder. Ace in the Hole (aka The Big Carnival) is a lurid, take no prisoners portrait of the news media delivering a knock down nasty assault on journalism and the morbid character of the blood leeching public. No one is spared. A film made more than fifty years ago, yet more relevant today than ever. Opportunistic journalists pushing the limits of ethics is a recurring trend. The news media, in general has become more bipartisan and show business, making news more than reporting news objectively.  So-called entertainment news shows, making “superstars” out of marginal personalities like Paris Hilton, the Kardasians on television almost ever night. Kirk Douglas’ Charlie Tatum would fit right in with today’s media world.

 

Rear Window

Rear-Window

This is my favorite Hitchcock film, not an easy task in itself to select. It’s also one of my favorite films of all time. A permanent top-fiver on every list I ever made.  It never gets bumped.  Maybe not so surprisingly I have written about Rear Window twice before. Rear Window gets to the roots of movie watching, and still photography, for that matter.  For anyone who is an avid film goer, it is no great revelation that watching movies is an extension of voyeurism; after all, what are we doing but looking into the lives of others. Observing, in a socially acceptable way, as opposed to peeping into the windows of neighbors or strangers. We are all, to an extent, curious to know what other people are doing, it’s human nature. However, most people can keep these voyeuristic tendencies limited to the socially accepted variety. Alfred Hitchcock was well aware of this trait in humans and he suckers us into compliance right from the beginning with the casting of James Stewart. Who better than Mr. Nice Guy, Mr. Straight Lace to lure you into peeping in on your neighbors and making you think there is nothing weird about it. You may not like hearing it but yes, if you like watching movies you are a voyeur! Rear Window is also smart, funny, tense, meticulous and intriguing. Oh yeah, there is the gorgeous looking Grace Kelly too, and the excellent Thelma Ritter.

invasion of the Body Snatchers

Invasion of the Body Snatchers-001

An allegory on the infiltration of communism in America? A metaphor for people turning a blind eye to the McCarthyism hysteria that was sweeping the country in the early 1950’s? An attack on the potential dangers of conformity and the stamping out of individuality? Don Siegel’s 1956 gem of a film, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, has been said to “really be about” any and all of these themes since its debut now more than fifty years ago. Siegel, who should know, never mentions any of this kind of subtext in his autobiography, A Siegel Film, so one can assume, all the reading into this classic SF film is just that, critics and film goers reading their own thoughts and ideas into a work of pop art. After all, isn’t personal interpretation one of the elements and joys of enjoying art?

Invasion of the Body Snatchers is an expertly made science fiction thriller that slowly builds in tension and never lets up. Filled with perfectly composed cinematography, a pulsating music score, by Carmen Dragon, and top notch acting performances from Kevin McCarthy and the lovely Dana Wynters, in a gallant battle to save the human race from dehumanizing pods.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers cautions us on the problem of being complacent with our lives; falling asleep is a danger, we are vulnerable, one loses touch with the world, and pods can quickly take us over. This fear is as relevant today as it was more than fifty years ago, maybe even more so, when the film was made, as pod like ideologues and followers swarm into the political mainstream.

Gun Crazy

gun_crazy_peggy_cummins_still

The original title, Deadly Is The Female, says it all. A lethal woman and a chump of a guy whose life isn’t worth a plug nickel once the sexual sparks ignite and the bullets begin to fly. Gun Crazy is a compact, quick moving, finely tuned, low-budget piece of celluloid art. Brilliant in its minimalist approach, this small quickie accomplishes more visual beauty and excellent pacing than 99% of all high budget products that are excreted from today’s filmmakers. Note how director Joseph H. Lewis focuses entirely on the young lovers making all the other characters and their actions secondary. Even the police, as they close in on the couple in the swamp, are barely on-screen. The stunning bank robbery sequence, shot in one long take, sucks the audience, into the action practically making us all accessories in the crime.

Touch of Evil

45-TouchOfEvil-BFI

The opening is one astounding continuous long running brilliant shot. It’s a spectacular beginning to one of the most interesting film noir’s ever made. Touch of Evil is also my own personal favorite Orson Welles work. It’s low budget film making that cannot be beat. Released on the top half of a twin bill, at least in New York, the film played at theaters around the city for only four days; scaled back to one theater for another three days and then quickly disappeared. Orson Welles as Hank Quinlan is an unkempt, overweight, beastly looking character. Visually, Welles made himself grotesque by placing the camera at a very low angles to emphasizes his character’s bulk. In one scene, we see Quinlan lifts he massive body up and out of a car, getting the full brunt of his size and hideous unkempt clothes right in our face. If there is a weak link in the film, it’s Charlton Heston playing Vargas, the Hispanic detective. Can anyone really believe Heston as Hispanic? Touch of Evil is a dark dirty, gritty noir.

Read more about the Five Favorite Films of the 50’s here!!!

And below are a few Runner Ups. I’m sure I missed a few.

Some Like it Hot

North by Northwest

Rio Bravo

Night of the Hunter

Strangers on a Train

The Asphalt Jungle

Paths of Glory

The Searchers

The Killing

Rio Bravo

Dial M for Murder

High Noon

Sunset Blvd.

Singin’ in the Rain

On the Waterfront

From Here to Eternity

Witness for the Prosecution

Vertigo

Rashomon

A Place in the Sun

Bridge on the Rive Kwai

12 Angry Men

Rififi

Pickup on South Street

28 comments on “Five Favorite Films of the 50’s

  1. Fabulous choices, John–every one a masterpiece. It is fantastically difficult, isn’t it? Almost impossible to narrow it down like that. Gun Crazy and Touch of Evil would probably be in my top 5 too.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Paddy Lee says:

    A most worthy list that had me going “aha” with each selection. The audaciousness of Touch of Evil, the chills with Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the unfortunate timelessness of The Big Carnival (that’s how I first knew it) – the 1950s gave us masterpieces.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Carol says:

    GREAT! Rear Window and Ace in the Hole are personal favourites of mine.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. classicfilmtvcafe says:

    As you know, I’m a huge fan of GUN CRAZY and REAR WINDOW. The big surprise for me on your list is INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS. It’s a superb movie that left a lasting impression when I saw it as a teenager long ago. I know that Don Siegel has stated that no social commentary was intended, but it’s hard to watch INVASION and not think that it’s about the Cold War in the 1950s. As you noted, its universal themes–the elimination of individualism–is timeless. And I agree that TOUCH OF EVIL is brilliant, the last great film made by a master filmmaker whose individualism was often constrained by Hollywood.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. It was really hard to get the list down to 5, wasn’t it? You did a wonderful job. So happy to see Gun Crazy. I saw it for the first time last year and was blown away. What a wild ride!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. The Lady Eve says:

    It was such a challenge to get down to just five favorites, don’t you think? My list of runner ups (not posted) is as long as yours with very many of the same films on it. I actually feel guilty about some of those that didn’t make the cut.

    One that made your top five but not quite mine is Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I made my choices with a particular method, so there was no chance I’d choose it, but I’m so glad it’s on your list, John. I’m not sure what it was “really” intended to imply (if anything) at the time it was released, but, as you say, it’s certainly apropos in the current political environment.

    I also picked Rear Window. This is the first time I’ve blogged about it, believe it or not. For me, It’s a dead-heat between Rear Window, Vertigo and Strangers on a Train when it comes to Hitchcock’s best film of the ’50s. So I went with Rear Window. It is a perfect film and if I live to be 200 I’ll never tire of watching it.

    Great selections and insights, John. Love that you included Gun Crazy.

    Like

    • John Greco says:

      Patty, the three Hitchcock’s you mention all made my short list, but whenever I have to choose a favorite Hitch, it Rear Window. Like all five of these films I forget how many times I have watched them.

      Like

  7. Diandra says:

    Glad to see two of my all-time favorite films — Gun Crazy and Ace in the Hole– on this list! Imagine how nasty you’d feel after watching Ace in the Hole and Sweet Smell of Success back-to-back…

    Liked by 1 person

  8. 4StarFilmFan says:

    Great picks. I’m happy to see a couple smaller/less heralded entries like Gun Crazy, Ace in the Hole, and Body Snatchers. I’m always impressed by films that use their economy so well.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Great list and I agree that choosing is incredibly difficult. Rear Window was another possible choice for me and I agree with your summation regarding Hitchcock’s films but I had to go with Vertigo – it made such an impact on me. I love Ace In The Hole and Gun Crazy, which I only discovered through the Scorsese documentary many years ago. Very tough to pick but a great exercise in looking at films which have moved us and move us still!

    Liked by 1 person

    • John Greco says:

      The Scorsese documentary should be required viewing for all serious film lovers.It’s a class taught by a master. Picking one Hitchcock film to list is always a tough choice.

      Like

  10. These are excellent choices! Ace In the Hole makes me think of something: Jan Sterling deserves much more recognition!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Impressive list, John. I especially like that Ace in the Hole and Touch of Evil made the Top 5.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. John Charet says:

    Great post 🙂 Touch of Evil, Gun Crazy and Invasion of the Body Snatchers are my number one favorites of Orson Welles, Joseph H. Lewis and Don Siegel’s 1950’s films. Vertigo and Some Like It Hot would by number one favorites of Alfred Hitchcock and Billy Wilder’s 1950’s work. Though Ace in the Hole would be my second favorite of the latter. Anyway, keep up the great work as always 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • John Greco says:

      John, picking Ace in the Hole over SLIH was tough. Both are on my list of top films of any decade. In fact, if I were stuck on a desert Island I would pick SLIH because I would need the laughs 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Lawlor Lee says:

    Hey John, loved them all. I particularly liked your inclusion of Invasion of the Body Snatchers which may be my all time favorite sci-phi film. I notices the add had it paired with World Without, another film I much enjoyed. I remember seeing them on a double bill, were they always paired?

    Like

    • John Greco says:

      Thanks for stopping by. Not sure if they were always paired together. Both were released in 1956 within a month of each other, so it’s possible they got paired along the way by Universal.

      Like

  14. armando saez says:

    “Shane” didn’t make your runner-up films?

    Like

    • John Greco says:

      I liked the film but I was not a big fan.

      Like

      • Lawlor Wm. Lee says:

        OMG, one of my top Westerns and one of my top ten, one hundred films. Stevens’ direction was excellent. He got wonderful performances from all the principles who were all pros in the first place. And Griggs’ camera work wonderful, the opening and closing shots particularly. It’s up there with my all time, favourite Westerns, Stagecoach, Red River and High Noon. But, to each their own.

        Liked by 1 person

  15. John Greco says:

    I agree, it’s beautifully shot and the camerawork is superb. Don’t get me wrong, at like the film, but cannot call it a favorite. BTW, the other three westerns are all superb,

    Like

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