Friday, October 12, 2012

Top 10 Best Movies of the 1950s

  Some of the best movies of all time of any genre were in the 1950s.  The War was over and all the troops came home to righteously bang make sweet love to their wives (or their sisters if their wives were unfaithful, or their wives caught them being unfaithful or what-not).  So many troops came home and America was thriving from the manufacturing success for the War-Effort that an enormous population explosion happened.  This is known as the Great Baby Boom of the late 1940s to 1950s.  During this time, population went from an average of 0.5% per year to a full 5% or more per year!  Ten TIMES the population growth!  Because of this, a lot of kid-related things occurred, such as an explosion of kid-friendly breakfast cereals, comic books, toys of all kinds!  It'd be great to be a kid back then.  America was happening and intensely defining all at once!

  It's when Poodle skirts were fashion, and it's what the TV show Happy Days was about, as well as the iconic movie, Grease.  Motorcycles were cool.  People loved cars.  It's when the '57 Chevy was born.  People took their cars to Drive-In Theaters and drove up to Drive-In burger stands where roller-skating girls would serve you chocolate malted shakes.  People started buying televisions and radio was popular.  Great music came from this era, such as Fats Domino and Chubby Checker.  People went to sock-hops where they'd dance in socks-only doing The Twist and other dances.  STYLE was EVERYWHERE and it's easily recognizable.  Motels were for motorists driving Route 66 and were the fast-food of hotels.  Electric guitars became popular.  Everybody Liked Ike.  People watched American Bandstand for the latest dances. AMAZING TIMES and HUGE fashion changes from the drab 30s and 40s.  Kids pegged their jeans and greased their hair back.  Teen gangs ran the streets as in the movie Streets of Fire.  Wow.  PURE CULTURE SHOCK TO THE SYSTEM!

  Hollywood took note and made a LOT of kids' movies.  Indeed, a huge-ass amount of Disney flicks came out during this time to cater to the masses; and indeed, Mr. Walt Disney did fantastically.  This list does not have any animation in the list, as that's for another time in the future, my Top 10 of each era of animated films.  Rest assured, Disney dominates the 1950s.

Betty Page dared the world to be.. gasp.. sexy?!!

  This was a joyous time for the World at-large (except for Germany, which majorly sucked for them; and Japan got their chinginy-chow arses handed to them as well.. [sadly: ching-choooow, round-eye!]). Though I'd like to make note that a fabulous director rose from the ashes (literally) named Akira Kurosawa who made the famous film, Seven Samurai which later inspired the 1960 film The Magnificent Seven which was a cowboy movie of the same theme. Remember at the beginning I promised not to bring up any foreign films as such, but Seven Samurai gets honorable mention.

  Families ate together for dinner and prayed before a meal.  America was going into space and the Russians launched Sputnik to the horror of the US and yeah, that was a freakin' BIG deal and a HUGE blow to America, "You better wake up, buddy, or the COMMIES are gonna GETCHYA!"  Communist fear was rampant and the Russian menace was looming.

  Kids watched Leave it to Beaver and Gunsmoke.  The American Dad was iconified with the smoking jacket and pipe with sock garters.  The American Wife was iconified by Blondie comics and stayed at-home and made meals for the family and did all the housework.  Kids would get into scraps (fights) and get a black-eye solved by a steak pressed against the bruise.  Westerns were the main course meal and there was usually one Western film per week, often really not that great and typical cliche, a few exceptions got the gold in my book.

  Alfred Hitchcock gets his groove-on around this time and makes some fantastical horror and suspense films during this time.  It's arguable his best work is around this time and the films still hold-up in the same way John Carpenter's best efforts are still relevant today.  Mr. Hitchcock also had a great sense of humor, occasionally letting the viewer off-the-hook with a wry grin: a clever man throughout, and gets two films here in my top 10.

  Interestingly, there were almost no movies looking at the cultural explosion that was happening and the style adopted by the masses.  A lot of Hollywood was reeling (pun intended) from the culture change and stuck with 1940s concepts and style.  America didn't even touch on 1950s style much except for James Dean a bit in East of Eden and the famous Rebel Without a Cause (now a catch-phrase, which I give truly honorable mention as it defines the teens of the 1950s but is not in this list).  Only until the 1980s did America's Hollywood catch-up and look back to this amazing time.  With that, I give you...

Top 10 Best Movies of the 1950s

 1. Rear Window (1954)

  Based on a short story from the '40s, Alfred Hitchcock concocts Rear Window starring James Stewart and the Princess of Monaco (for reals) Grace Kelly.  Ranked #42 of IMDB's greatest movies of all-time and cinephiles as Hitchock's best work the story is about a professional international photographer (who's seen some grimy parts of Life and the World) breaks his leg in an assignment.  Stuck in his apartment he never actually stayed at for very long (due to several assignments) his girlfriend (Miss Kelly) visits him while he whittles the time watching the goings-on across the courtyard of several floors of the opposing apartment. 

  You're awarded life in the city from several life points, elderly, young, boring and intense.  Within you get pure silent-film treatment, acted out 1920s-style by pantomime as he cannot hear what they're saying.  Intrigue leads to danger, both for the neighbors and himself being caught spying. 

  What's interesting is he's a cripple and cannot move around well, or at all.  Grace Kelly does some footwork, equipped with the danger of being female in those days with that style of defencelessness he helplessly watches lives in foretelling jeopardy.

  In one instance, a widow starts dating again and the young male forces himself on her.  The result can go either-way.  Here, we all are helpless ourselves, unable to warn or protect, just.. observe.. in high-definition of a camera lens, making all of us on the same playing field.

  Rarely do movies inspire such suspense or intrigue, and you just can't turn away, until it's too late!  Great film!!!

2. High Noon (1952)

  If you have to watch one Western genre movie in your life, watch The Good the Bad, and the Ugly.  If you have to watch two of them, watch that one and also High Noon.  The music is by the insanely legendary Ennio Morricone who makes westerns western in every way.  Beyond awesome.

  Though the public did not originally like this film at first because it wasn't your standard bang-bang shoot-em'-up western kiddie flick John Wayne is now known for, it still 10 TIMES'ed it's money in the box office.  That's pretty insane! 

  Movie has the Princess of Monaco, Grace Kelly again.  She was also in the film Breakfast at Tiffany's and also Roman Holiday which get honorable mention but not on this list. She plays an innocent extreme-pacifist Quaker who marries Gary Cooper who becomes the local sheriff.  Story tells in REAL TIME of a gang coming to town to seize it and the town is so cowardly they refuse to help the sheriff whatsoever.  Grace Kelly doesn't help either and urges him to leave town.  He's on his own for justice because the townsfolk have no faith in him and won't help an ounce.

  The movie's hero isn't all true-grit and tough.  He's not awesome.  He's just a regular guy, and that makes it not so cliche and typical and makes it stand-out for its realism.  Everyone's a regular guy in the film, except the gang: they're a notch tougher and they know it.  No one in the town gives a shite for this sheriff and he has to decide whether or not the cowardly town is even worth saving at all! 
  I love films where morality gets in the way of what's wrong or right, because hey, that's real life, ya know?  Not so cut n' dry.  This western is edgy and western-noir if-you-will.  Enjoy it twice.

3. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)

  A group of British soldiers were captured during the fall of Singapore during World War II and marched to Thailand where the Japanese captors insist they build a bridge to Burma so they can further their Axis War Machine there.

  Alec Guinness portrays the Lt. Col. Nicholson as the highest-ranking prisoner and leads the soldiers into a rebellion despite cruel punishment.  The movie is amazing for it's portrayal of Japanese prison camps almost a little "too soon" from WWII not 10 years prior.  It also 10x it's money at the box office.  A very memorable whistle-march cadence can be heard here:

  If you can recognize this song from a movie made an astounding 55 years ago, yeah, you should probably freakin' watch this film.  Good war flick.

4. The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)

  Alfred Hitchcock again.  I could have put a lot of Doris Day flicks due to that I'm an avid fan, but I put her best work here.  In my own opinion, Alfred's best film ever, and actually a remake of his own 1934 film staring Peter Lorre.  Neet to remake your own film 23 years later and it's actually better than the original (are you listening, George Lucas?)

  American tourist family with son in tow gets involved in international espionage despite their best efforts.  Wife is more clever than the husband and the boy is captured for ransom in Monaco with no help from the government, the family has to try to take justice in their own hands. 

  There's a rather impressive scene Doris sobs during her being drugged by her pharmaceutical husband who hides the fact the son is missing, the narcotic kicking-in stops her from being able to try to find her son, now betrayed by her own husband who foolishly thought it'd be best "for her nerves" now tears of frustration as the drug knocks her out losing precious time.  Very good.  I dare anyone to find a more convincing scene of desperation and genuine betrayal in any other film, ever.

5. 12 Angry Men (1957)

    Amazingly, the entire film (save 3 minutes) takes place in the deliberation room.  Story's about a jury deciding the fate of a young Mexican boy (age 18) being tried for murder by switchblade.  There's a few bigots in the room and the sentence is death.  Because of the severity of the sentencing, there's a US requirement that it be a unanimous vote one way or the other.  Henry Fonda and a very popular cast dig-in for a great ride.

  The tension of the film is amazing, and a few remakes have been attempted.  Cleverly adapted in black-and-white, it brings up edgy topics of illegal immigrants very early in America's life.  Sure, some people's gut-reaction is "Kill Him" right-off-the-bat as do some of the jury member's decree.  This movie stands up ONLY on acting ability as there's ZERO special effects or scenes to enjoy AND it's in grayscale JUST to focus on acting so you're not distracted.  Good luck JJ.Abrams trying THAT (which is the exact opposite of his style).

  A bit of an interesting point: I challenged a younger worker who shrugged-off all movies before 2005 to give it a go.  Reluctantly he watched it.. and he was gripped.  Shows there might be hope for the upcoming human race. 



6. The Ten Commandments (1956)


  You want special effects?  You want epic?  This is it.  Even if you're not religious, it's amazing a film for its grandeur.  Story tells of Moses' life up to the finding of the Ten Commandments tomes. 

  It's amazing in scope staring Yul Brynner as Ramses and Charlton Heston as Moses.

  The movie ranked-in as the 6th highest grossing movie of all time, making 100 TIMES it's budget (which was still insanely huge).  The story is intriguing and there's a lot going on and gives a factual account of the Old Testament's story, Exodus (to a point) during biblical times.  Hundreds of extra actors makes this film HUGE.  There are a few theaters in the US that have played this film for the last 55 years non-stop, every day, meaning it's STILL making money right NOW.

But Mr. Brynner, the movie is THIS huge!
  Pretty much the Matrix movie of its time; if you want a BIG movie, this is it.  Epic on ALL levels.

7. Scrooge (1951)

  This is THE Christmas movie to see (next to A Charlie Brown Christmas and The Grinch Who Stole Christmas and Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer).  I recommend it with a cup of cocoa late at night during a blizzard. This is not the only version of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol"; for indeed, there are hundreds of versions, but this one is the original... and when I say that, I mean it's the best remake ever done on film.  Fourth remake for that matter.  I've seen two of the others that came out earlier.  Sure, there's like 20 (literally) film-attempts at it after the 1951 version, but this one has Alastair Sim!!!  He was (in my opinion) BORN to be Ebenezer Scrooge in the same way Max von Sydow was born to be Ming the Merciless or James Earl Jones was born to be the voice of Darth Vader.  There are no other substitutions! 

  This is arguably an excellent adaptation of the book.  It's been since colorized in 1989 but I don't recommend that.  Enjoy the grimness of it in black-and-white.  It's really a horror story if you think about it, about one's fate balancing-out against three incantations of Christmas past, present, and future.  On Christmas Eve he's visited by these ghosts who show him the path he's leading to.

  Now, the Muppet's Christmas Carol film is nice too, and a lot of them are upbeat.  Not this one.  It's downright scary (as it should be).  The acting is solid and fun, and you love to hate and pity the "Scrooge" character.
  This movie has been copied and repeated a thousand times or more over the years but none are better than this, before or since.

7. Forbidden Planet (1956)

  Science fiction up until this point was a bit cheesy, then Forbidden Planet came out and changed the genre forever.  Not only did you get a good plot but AMAZING special effects.  This movie is the Star Wars of the Baby-Boomers Generation.  There were no other as-good sci-fi movies at the time.  Special effects were ground-breaking, and the story plot is legit.  If you're a science fiction movie fan, this is a mandatory top 10 to-watch, no questions asked.  All sci-fi fans have seen it, but there's a few hold-outs I hear.  Still, it's been transfered to a 50th Anniversary Edition on HD-DVD and BluRay (yeah, one of the last HD-DVD transfers out there, sorry Toshiba and XBox owners.. Sony wins round two... FIGHT!)

  How can you pass-up a young Leslie Nielsen in a serious role?!  That's right, before comedies such as Naked Gun and Dracula: Dead and Loving It (Mel Brooks' very last film) Leslie was doing serious roles, and rather well, actually!

  Planetary exploration leads to ancient alien super-powers playing on the power-corrupts theme nicely.  You won't roll your eyes on this one.  This movie inspired Star Trek and Star Wars both.  This is the roots of science fiction. 

  No more are the cheesy saucers on strings and overdone acting ad nausea.  "Robby the Robot" is later used in several other sci-fi films to lesser effect, including Lost in Space, The Twilight Zone, The Invisible Boy, and Gremlins.  Robby is pretty badass and later inspired the creation of "Maximilian" from the Disney flick, The Black Hole.  This movie is awesome!

8.  Old Yeller (1957)

  I know I was loathe to put any Disney flicks in the list, but this one's not at all animated.  One of the very few flicks I actually cried at, next to Homeward Bound and Ginger on the Rocks, this story tells of a boy and his dog in post Civil War, Texas based on the book of the same name.  "Yeller" is an antiquitous, colloquial term of the South, meaning "Yellow" and not one who "howls" or "yells".

  A poor family struggling with Confederate worthless dollars, the boy and his dog get by until tragedy strikes.  This film is culturally significant for Baby Boomers at the time.  Even now, those in their early 50s remember the tearful scene of that tragedy forever, and has been cited as one of the best, if not the best boy-and-his-dog movies of all history, and yeah, the dog saves the boy's life selflessly.  Dare you not to bawl in tears.  If you don't, you might want to do an alignment check and verify you have a soul at all.

9. Ben-Hur (1959)

  I wasn't going to put Ben-Hur in this list, but it's such a huge scope of movie, I cannot avoid it, especially since it won 11 Academy Awards.  The Ten Commandments follows Moses through the exodus of Egypt where Ben Hur continues it as a bystander in the days of Ioshua (Jesus for the unintelligent).  The movie poster is immediately recognizable by anyone who sees it, and a trillion parodies have ensued, but truly like I had said earlier in these lists that a parody is the highest form of flattery.  No boring film is parodied (usually) and the greatness delivers to a larger audience if done for frame-of-reference.

  Story is of a Jewish prince who gets framed and gets revenge.  This all occurs during Ioshua's happenings as cameos at the same time.  It's big, it's good, it's epic.  Watch it once for sure.

 There's huge, panning scenes, lots of gladiator fights (which the film Gladiator was later based off of).  There's tales of love and betrayal, and did I mentioned chariot battles?  Oh baby.  This is the GranDaddy of 'em all.  No joke.  People got REALLY hurt during it, and there's a ton of urban-legends about it.  No CGI here, it was the real-dealio and dangerous as all-frack.

 The film is done in super-widescreen so get that version if you can of an almost 3:1 ratio.  Wow.

Oh, and did I mention Charlton Heston is the main character?  You know, the one from all those awesome movies of all-time?  Yeah.  Yeah, you should watch it.  .. Yeah.  Does all his own stunts pretty much and is super badass.  I'd say Charlton Heston is Chuck Norris' dad.  Did I mention this movie 10x it's money in the box office?  Yeah, that's a good take.  Good job, Chuck.  Loved you in Planet of the Apes.  Still a badass.

9. The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

  Okay, this one is a black-and-whiter.  Sure, it's got a cheesy robot "Gort" in it, and yeah, there was a really really bad remake a few years back with wooden-plank-actor Keneau Reeves.  This sci-fi is culturally significant however, as it's one of the first to take a serious role and be a lot more grim than the other really really bad sci-fi movies before it.  From this movie comes the famous line, "If anything should happen to me, you must go to Gort.  You must say these three words: Klaatu Barada Nickto."  This line is hella famous.  It's considered the most important one-line command in all history of film.  It's used in Hollywood as an insider-nod since then and used in tons of movies.  Ash from the third installment of the Evil Dead trilogy must use the words to obtain the Necronomicon but botches it.  It's used in several movies since the 1951 usage as a Hollywood "magic" phrase.  Just for that line alone the movie should be watched.

  Story is of an alien with a guardian robot that comes to Earth in peace and issues an ultimatum for all humans to obey or be obliterated.  The alien, "Klaatu", shows his power by stopping all electricity on Earth for a brief time yielding dramatic effects.

  Peace with an ultimatum makes a good, tense sci-fi.  The drama is intense and you can fall into the film despite a few very-early 1950s special effects, unlike eponymous film in 2008 which only yielded groans from bad acting and equally low-budget special effects.  The special effects in this film somehow work and it's a treat. 

  This film caused a huge amount of sci-fi toys to be produced.  You may notice cartoons of the 1950s played on it with kids in fishbowl helmets and ray-guns in the 1950s?  Yep, it had that big an impact.  The fact that it inspired an entire brand-new type of toy-genre for an entire generation is incredibly culturally significant.  Rotten-Tomatoes still gives it a 94% "fresh" rating which is very good indeed!  This film gives you an idea of sci-fi of the 1950s without making you suffer.  Watch it.

10. Singin' in the Rain (1952)

  Boo you say?  But wait!  Ah, to end a list.  It's tough.  SOOOoo many good films of the 1950s.  Some so epic it's hard to fathom by today's standards.  It was truly a golden-age for film.  So many choices.  I end the list with a musical.  There were a LOT of musicals in the 1950s as it was popular and fun, moving into the early 1960s.  I could list a bunch of them easily and they'd all have value, but none had the impact as the great Singin' in the Rain with Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds who is hot-as-fu***. (fudge).

  The movie takes a warm-but-sad smile at the transformation of the failings of those that couldn't deal with the transition from silent-films to "talkies".  So many actors of great note could not compete in the new audio-genre.  Some actresses had horse-like-voices from the Bronx that just were, well, too "rough" on the ears in the same way Fran Drescher of the TV show The Nanny over-exaggerates, and it killed them.  Many committed suicide because of it, or dropped into heavy drug use such as Bella Lugosi who were brilliant silent-film-actors.  Charlie Chapman mostly survived it, some, not so lucky.

  Gene Kelly is one of the top 5 dancers of all-time (making the TV show Dancing with the Stars seem like a bunch of drunk orangutans flop about in comparison).  Of note, I give a nod to the great Fred Astaire and also the amazing Vera-Ellen as #2 and #3 respectively of ALL time as well as Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gregory Heins for the #4 and #5 spots.  (I secretly prefer Fred's work over Gene's because at least Fred was humble.. Gene was the David Lee Roth of dancers respondent with attitude and painfully hard to work with and for).

  The film has the famous song "Singin' in the Rain" that just about everybody knows.  The routine for the song was tricky due to the actual wet surfaces required to dance upon making it rather hazardous.  Gene had a fever of 103 during the scene as well and he may have died during it's production!  It was also difficult to film due to the water getting on the lenses.
  The movie becomes a metaphor for itself, and a concept of smiling when the chips are down, the movie did lackluster at first but over the years became an American iconic film.  It's a good watch, and I bet you know the tune 60 years later, eh?

 I'm more than certain people were singing this tune to themselves on the way out of the theater.  One of those songs that sticks with you and you can't shake it off, it's that memorable.

11. White Christmas (1954)

  What's THIS?  An 11th film in a top-10 list?!  For SHAME!  Well, it's my list and I'll add an eleventh I tell you!  I almost forgot it, honestly.  I was going to give it honorable-mention only, such as: On the Waterfront, Vertigo, The Seventh Seal, Some Like it Hot, North by Northwest (hated the ending on that one, so sudden).  Man, there's TONS of GREAT movies of the 1950s.  They're all fantastic.  I encourage everyone to jump on this top 100 list:

  Still, I couldn't leave Vera-Ellen and Bing Crosby out of the picture, nor could I ignore the brilliant work of Danny Kaye.  I ignored his film, The Inspector General of the 1940s and I didn't even include him in the 1956 film, and a personal favorite, The Court Jester which was absolutely hilarious and fun a parody at Robin Hood.  One of the first parody films of all time and really, really good.   Really, watch The Court Jester PLEASE!  I loved it.  Here's a little taste:

  Aside from the jocularity, I give you White Christmas.  It's an American staple.  I nearly forgot it, like I said, and it's got some great songs.  Know the song, ".. I've been dreaming.. of a white.. Christmas..."  Yeah, that song originally comes from THIS movie. 
  It's a fun ride and it's light-hearted and worthy of a full watch.  Good songs.  Not too cheesy.  Honest, American goodness and historically significant in cinematography.  If you're a US officer, this movie is a wet-dream because all the enlisted come to help their general from WW-II because they loved him so much that after the war he needs their help with his failing hotel in Vermont.

  Now I don't know about you but officers I knew were rather a pain-in-the-butt and no one ever liked a general of my knowledge or an officer whatsoever. Not always though.  Again, once in a while you got a good egg.

  Enough of my rant.  The film has Bing freakin' Crosby in it and he can sing like nobody's business.  Danny Kaye and Rosmary Clooney are great singers as well, and Vera-Ellen is probably the best female dancer of all-time, period.  Irving Berlin directed it and he's just plain brilliant.  Just sheer amazing quality of vocal singing in this musical even a guy can choke-down (on Christmas anyway).

  Anyway, watch the film, it's good and fun.  I think it cost like $30 to make and it made $12 million that year.  By inflation I think that's the entire US deficit times 4 at $48 Trillion (thanks Obama who 16x the deficit btw in 4 years).  So yeah, it's good a film.

Notice the rather fashionistic edginess of Danny Kaye's shoes and socks matching the pants

  So, this is my Top 10 11 Best Movies of the 1950s.  Soon, the 1960s and that's a wild ride let me tell you.  Trippiness and crazy antics with drugs and chaos.  America changed then and never looked back, and the Beatles changed everything.  Before we leave the 1950s and it's honesty, its sweet, sweet innocence, it's victories and it's triumphs, its film renewal and film revival, I give you one last, appropriate farewell song of this decade.. enjoy..

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