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Category: 1950s

The Best 10 Films of the 1950s (That I’ve Seen)

Today, we continue the best of the decade feature. Three down, six to go. This week, please accept my picks for the ten best films from the 1950s. Enjoy and feel free to comment with your own picks.

10. Witness for the Prosecution

I’ve always wondered what it would be like if Alfred Hitchcock had adapted an Agatha Christie novel. I don’t know if it would equal some of their own, non-collaborative work, but I’m sure it would have been interesting. However, as you know if you read my last post, I’ll “settle” for Billy Wilder, who directed Witness for the Prosecution. Runner-ups: It Should Happen to You and The Night of the Hunter.

9. East of Eden

Is James Dean one of the all-time greats? No. But he was great in East of Eden. And the Academy didn’t nominate him just because he died, although certain people do get more applause after they’re gone (The Lincoln/Dean/Tupac/Ledger Effect). He earned that nomination by giving a gut-wrenching, authentic performance as a boy who will do anything to please and help his family. Note: He was the first person to be Oscar nominated posthumously, and it would happen to him again the following year (for Giant).

8. Sunset Boulevard

Sunset Boulevard opens with a murder, but who did it is not a mystery. Billy Wilder did it. This is neither the first nor last time he appears on this list.

7. The Red Balloon

Technically, I guess, this is a short film (it clocks in at just over 40 minutes). And if it weren’t one of the best films of the 1950s, I wouldn’t count it as a feature-length film, but fortunately it is incredible. The Red Balloon tells shows lets you feel and live in the optimism of the story of a little boy who finds a balloon, and the magical bond between them. True story: it won Best Original Screenplay at the Oscars back in ’57.

6. A Face in the Crowd

Andy Griffith, best known from his own sitcom, gives a powerful performance in A Face in the Crowd as a Southern man who is thrust into the media spotlight suddenly. A modern companion for A Face in the Crowd would be The Truman Show, seeing as they are two films about the people on our televisions and how we react to them.

5. Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Next week, on my best of the 60s list, I’ll discuss The Manchurian Candidate, a film that has a very literal connection to McCarthyianism. But here’s a fun, tight sci-fi thriller that is also McCarthyian in theme. Why don’t more people love Invasion of the Body Snatchers as I do?

4. Rear Window

Rear Window is one of Hitchcock’s best, even if it isn’t my favorite. In fact, it might just be his best picture. No, it actually is. Yup. It is. This really should be higher on this list, then.

3. Roman Holiday

Call me sappy (I prefer George), but I love this movie. Might it be slightly derivative of Snow White, but with a twist of some awful chick-flick? Sure. That doesn’t matter, though. Roman Holiday is on top of its game, playing tour guide to a city and a relationship that equal each other in beauty. Try not to cry at the final shot… I dare you.

2. North by Northwest

Earlier, I told you Rear Window was Hitchcock’s best work. This is probably what I currently believe. So why, then, is NXNW higher on my list? I like it more? I’ve seen it more times and more recently (just last week it was on TCM)? I dunno. Most of the picks on this list are interchangeable, anyway. Why not add to the air of futility around these sorts of lists? Why don’t I just go ahead of switch my #1 and #10?

1. Some Like it Hot

Oh, wait… this is why. Some Like it Hot is, without a doubt, my favorite movie. I’d also call it the best movie I’ve ever seen. (But not the best movie ever. That’s Citizen Kane.) It is the reason I make this list. It is the reason I love the movies.

Roger Ebert thinks it’s all about sex, by the way, but I disagree. It’s about chaos and insanity. Yes, sex is often the cause/outcome of that chaos and insanity, but the main focus remains on the absurdity of life for most of the movie.

  • Late entrant: Vertigo. I’ll mull this one over, and perhaps issue a correction.
  • Soon, I will issue my final best of 2011 list. So… look forward to that.
  • Don’t expect a post this week, my wonderful readers. I am extremely busy.
  • There are no doubt mistakes in this post. I’m sorry I didn’t proofread.

Sunset Boulevard (1950)

****

The very first shot of Sunset Boulevard is of a curb, and the street name on it, which happens to be the name of the movie. I thought back to that first shot at the end. Sunset Boulevard has an entire boulevard’s worth of houses on it. And there are a lot of boulevards in Hollywood. I wondered how many more stories like this there were to be told.

The film opens with a murder. The man killed was Joe Gillis (William Holden), who appears to be the main character of the film at the beginning, but don’t be fooled. This movie is all about Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson), a disillusioned former silent film star Gillis meets coincidentally, while running from some repossessors. Joe is a heavily in-debt screenwriter who has hit hard times; while Norma is a rich, but lonely woman whose best years are clearly behind her. These people are not currently successful, but they make a good fit because each of them has something the other one needs. (Actually, Joe has more to offer than Norma, but that’s exactly why certain things occur.) Joe is youthful, can fix Norma’s screenplay, and provides company; while Norma has the financial assets Joe needs. After awhile, they begin to care for each other, but Norma finds herself in love with Joe, which Joe sees her more as an aunt.

Sunset Boulevard has a few things in common with Psycho, the famous Hitchcock thriller. You have Joe and Norma, friends in this film, and then you have Norman and his mother, enemies of sorts, in Psycho. But Norma and Norman’s mother do similar things. (Please excuse me if I’m confusing you… it’s not my fault the characters in the two movies I chose to compare have almost the same name.) Their actions, not giving away too much, are set off by similar characters.

I enjoyed both films a lot. I don’t think I’ve ever seen delusion played better than Swanson plays it here. Norma’s ex-husband and current butler, Max (Erich von Stroheim), is also played well. These three characters all care for each other, and that’s what causes the physical death of one character, and the mental death of another. I’m ready for my close up.

Note: Look out for a hilarious Buster Keaton.

(If you see and enjoy Sunset Boulevard, you might also enjoy A Face in the Crowd and The Truman Show, two of my favorite all-time movies.)