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

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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

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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

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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

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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

Hey Abbott!

abbottcostelloshow01Abbott and Costello never received the critical respect they deserved in the comedy world; they were considered too low-brow. Yet, for me back when I was in Junior High School, The Abbott and Costello Show, a mainstay on New York City’s WPIX-TV channel 11, along with The Honeymooners, was must-see TV. It’s lost in my own little file cabinet of mental history how many times I watched those episodes. I do know my mother never understood the repeated viewings as she would ask over and over again, “haven’t you seen this already?” Yes, was my answer, they’re funny. She would walk away shaking her head. Continue reading

Favorite Comedies: The 50’s

For me, the 1950’s can be considered as one of the best decades in film. With films like Sunset Blvd, From Here to Eternity, North by Northwest, Strangers on a Train, All About Eve, Rear Window (Hitchcock again!), On the Waterfront, Touch of Evil, High Noon, and so many others how could it not be? However, with the introduction of television in more and more American homes during this decade comedy seemed to have hit  a bump in the road.  There were not as many comedies, and they generally were not as funny as in the past.   Of course, there were exceptions, Some Like it Hot is one of the greatest sound comedies. One thing that you will notice is  that some of the films on the list are  musical comedies. A style that at this point in time, television still could not emulate.

The previous entries in this series can be found here. Continue reading

Over-Exposed (1956)

Over4As a photographer, I found this film more interesting than it arguably deserves to be. The photography studio, the darkroom, the Rolleiflex camera that Lila Crane’s mentor gives her as a gift is all nicely detailed. As part Columbia’s Bad Girls of Film Noir, the film’s inclusion in volume two is questionable. The first thing to point out this is not a film noir.  Columbia’s long arm of credibility was at work including this in the box set. And compared to Night Editor, another film in the package that stars Janis Carter as one of the most evil femme fatale’s to ever grace the screen, making Lila Crane look like miss goody two shoes. Continue reading

Storm Warning (1951) Stuart Heisler

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Storm Warning is not a perfect film, however, more than 60 years after its release, it still has the power and social significance to resonate with us today. Ronald Reagan reveals shades of the politician he would become later, and both Ginger Rogers and Doris Day in her first dramatic role, are admirable in the roles of sisters caught in a doomed triangle. Continue reading

Murder by Contract (1958) Irving Learner

Murder-by-Contract-1In a 1993 interview with The New York Times, Martin Scorsese talks about the influence Murder by Contract had on the then teenager. “It’s an example of an American B-movie that is 100 times better than the film it played with on a double bill.” He then went on to explain, “The film it was playing with when I saw it was ‘The Journey,’ by Anatole Litvak, with Yul Brynner. That film had nice color, but when ‘Murder by Contract’ came on the screen, it was surprising and lean and purposeful, and not like anything my friends and I had seen. Afterward, we talked about it on the street for days. When I saw it again years later, I was overwhelmed by the severity of the style, which was dictated by the budget.” Scorsese later said in the interview how he put a clip from the film in ‘Mean Streets, ‘ but he had to remove it out of the final cut of the film because it was too long. Continue reading

Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957) John Sturges

gunfight-jpgOne of the earliest films depicting Wyatt Earp, Doc Holiday and the gunfight at the OK Corral was a 1932 work called Law and Order. While the character’s names were changed, the film told the tale, fictitious as it was, of the infamous Tombstone shootout. Since the making of that film there have been numerous others detailing, correctly or incorrectly, generally more the latter, the story of the battle between the Earp Brothers and the Clanton’s’ at the OK Corral. In 1939, there was Frontier Marshal with Randolph Scott as Earp and Cesar Romero as Doc Holiday. According to Jon Tuska in his 1976 tomb on the Western film (The Filming of the West), it was this script that was given to John Ford and was used as the basis for his My Darling Clementine. Continue reading