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Top 25 Movies of the 1950s: Part 2 (15-1)

Just in case you missed it: Part 1

15. Roman Holiday (1953)

Why? The first American film to be made in its entirety in Italy, Roman Holiday made a star out of the great Audrey Hepburn, and is widely considered one of the best romantic comedies of all time. Gregory Peck and Hepburn have perfect chemistry, and the story takes unexpected twists and turns that will leave you intrigued until the very end.

Fun Fact: Paramount originally wanted to shoot this movie in Hollywood. William Wyler refused, insisting it must be shot on location. They finally agreed, but with a much lower budget. This meant the movie would be in black and white, not the expected Technicolor, and he would need to cast an unknown actress as the Princess, Audrey Hepburn.

14. Night of the Hunter (1955)

Why? One of the best shot films ever made. Every frame is like a painting in this Charles Laughton masterpiece. His one and only film. Robert Mitchum gives a career best performance as the creepy and corrupt Rev. Harry Powell.

Fun Fact: The sequence with Powell riding a horse in the distance was actually a little person on a pony. It was filmed in false perspective.

13. The Searchers (1956)

Why? Just like Night of the Hunter, one of the best shot films ever made. I love John Ford westerns, and this is one of the most epic and gorgeous films he ever made. It doesn’t hold up as well today with the racism, depiction of women, and overly melodramatic acting, but you can’t ignore how incredible the directing, cinematography, and beautiful Monument Valley scenery are. It’s also one of the most influential American films of all time. Here are ways in which The Searchers influenced American cinema:
-the main plot line of a group of people on a quest to rescue a kidnapped girl ex. Star Wars
-the opening and closing shots ex. lots of movies have borrowed this
-portrait of a man’s obsession ex. Taxi Driver
-an early example of an anti-hero front and center ex. The Godfather
-directing influenced great New-Hollywood filmmakers like Spielberg and Scorsese

Fun Fact: Considering the part of Ethan Edwards to be the best character that he ever portrayed on-screen and The Searchers (1956) to be his favorite film role, John Wayne named his youngest son Ethan Wayne in homage.

12. Rebel Without a Cause (1955)

Why? The film that made James Dean a star, no, a legend. Rebel Without a Cause is a fascinating coming of age story that depicts the young lives of three teenagers, all growing up in their own dysfunctional dystopia. Great performances, fantastic directing, and a tight script make this a 50s film that one cannot miss.

Fun Fact: The opening scene in the movie with Jim Stark and the toy monkey was improvised by James Dean after the production had been shooting for nearly 24 hours straight. He asked Nicholas Ray to roll the camera, that he wanted to do something. Ray obliged and the improvisation went on to become the famous opening scene.

11. Tokyo Story (1953)

Why? A story about an old couple who visit their children and grandchildren in Tokyo, but the children have little time to keep them company. Very similar to Leo McCarey’s Make Way for Tomorrow, Yasujirô Ozu was inspired to make this film after seeing the American classic. In both films, the adult children of the elderly couples avoid sympathizing and speaking about how they really feel, and even try to move them out of their busy lives. Where McCarey focused more on the relationship and bond of the elderly couple in his film, Ozu explores more of the family in its entirety and the relationship each one of the elderly couple’s children, and children-in-law have on them. Just like the great Ozu films, everything dreadful happens under the surface. The characters are very polite and grounded, but you know that they are deeply suffering. It’s a very simple story, but extremely powerful at the same time.

Fun Fact: For a film that sides with the parents, it’s not so surprising to learn that Ozu never married and lived dutifully with his mother all his life.

10. Some Like it Hot (1959)

Why?  Great comedy about two male musicians (Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis) who witness a mob hit, and flee in an all-female band disguised as women. You can really pay attention to it and admire it for how well written and directed it is. So many plants and payoffs comedically. It also says a lot about the human condition: desire to connect, find love, follow your dreams, and break out of your shell and go on an adventure. Also it’s just very entertaining and funny and you can enjoy it for that as well.

Fun Fact: Marilyn Monroe required 47 takes to get “It’s me, Sugar” correct, instead saying either “Sugar, it’s me” or “It’s Sugar, me”. After take 30, Billy Wilder had the line written on a blackboard. Another scene required Monroe to rummage through some drawers and say “Where’s the bourbon?” After 40 takes of her saying “Where’s the whiskey?”, ‘Where’s the bottle?”, or “Where’s the bonbon?”, Wilder pasted the correct line in one of the drawers. After Monroe became confused about which drawer contained the line, Wilder had it pasted in every drawer. Fifty-nine takes were required for this scene and when she finally does say it, she has her back to the camera, leading some to wonder if Wilder finally gave up and had it dubbed.

9. Rio Bravo (1959)

Why? A classic western directed by the great Howard Hawks. Quentin Tarantino referred to this as one of the great “hang out” films of all time. Most of the time the characters are just minding their own business, roaming around, and interacting with one another. There is action at times and it’s always very unexpecting and thrilling. However, most of the time, the characters are just hanging out, fighting, laughing, flirting, and even singing. By the end, they all feel like friends we have known our whole lives. This movie is High Noon meets Dazed and Confused, and I love it for that.

Fun Fact: The last movie in which John Wayne wore the hat he had worn since Stagecoach (1939).

8. Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

Why? Arguably the greatest musical ever made. A pinnacle in the golden age of MGM musicals in the early 50s and probably Gene Kelly’s career. He never was able to make a film after 1952 as successful as Singin’ in the Rain. Great musical numbers, costumes, set designs and pitch perfect performances from Kelly, Donald O’Connor, and Debbie Reynolds make this a film that never will age and will always be one of the joyous and pure fun movies ever made.

Fun Fact: After they finished the “Good Morning” number, Debbie Reynolds had to be carried to her dressing room because she had burst some blood vessels in her feet. Debbie Reynolds remarked many years later that making this movie and surviving childbirth were the two hardest things she’s ever had to do.

7. Sunset Boulevard (1950)

Why? Classic Billy Wilder flick about a screenwriter (William Holden) who is hired to rework a faded silent film star’s script only to find himself developing a dangerous relationship. A film about loneliness, abandonment, betrayal, living in the past, and so much more. Wilder managed to craft another masterpiece that still holds up so well today. One of those films that opens and closes perfectly. Gloria Swanson is hypnotizing as former Hollywood silent star, Norma Desmond. Also Buster Keaton has a cameo!

Fun Fact: Gloria Swanson had a very similar path that Desmond did. She was a huge silent film star, whose career suffered during the sound age. Erich von Stroheim, who plays Norma’s butler, Max, was a huge silent film director, who directed Gloria Swanson in her heyday, and had a similar career turn post-silent age in Hollywood and his career as a director suffered as well.

6. On the Waterfront (1954)

Why? One of the most successful and influential films of the 1950s. Marlon Brando is a powerhouse in his role as former boxer, turned thug, Terry Malloy. It won 8 Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Cinematography.The entire ensemble cast, a long with Marlon Brando, is phenomenal. The music and editing is also amazing. I can list so many other great things, but it’s best if you just watch it for yourself!

Fun Fact: The Terry Malloy line, “You don’t understand. I could’ve had class. I could’ve been a contender. I could’ve been somebody instead of a bum, which I am.” was selected at No. 3 on American Film Institute’s (AFI) 100 YEARS..100 QUOTES.

5. North by Northwest (1959)

Why? The James Bond movie before there was James Bond. Ernest Lehman wrote this original script particularly so Alfred Hitchcock could direct it, and it ended up being one of the Master of Suspense’s most iconic films. The crop duster scene alone is one of the best scenes in film history. Combine that with a perfect cast, an iconic Bernard Herrmann score, and a story that moves like a snake, and you have the recipe for a classic American film from a director at the top of his game.

Fun Fact: Cary Grant was initially reluctant to accept the role of Roger Thornhill since at 55 he was much older than the character.

4. Ikiru (1952)

Why? Akira Kurosawa is usually known for his big set pieces, action, violence, and actor Toshiro Mifune. However, back in 1952, he went against type and made this extremely touching mediation of life about a middle-aged man who finds out he is dying of cancer. It’s ultimately about what it means to live. It is the closest thing he made to something Ozu would have made. Of course it wouldn’t be Kurosawa without a non-linear story structure and some extraordinary wide shots here and there, but this is a beautifully told and acted film that has a universal message that anyone can relate to and most importantly inspires hope, makes you want to be a better person, and live life to the fullest.

Fun Fact: When Takashi Shimura rehearsed his singing of “Song of the Gondola,” director Akira Kurosawa instructed him to “sing the song as if you are a stranger in a world where nobody believes you exist.”

3. Seven Samurai (1954)

Why? Akira Kurosawa’s epic masterpiece about a poor village who hires seven samurai to protect them against bandits. What I love most about this film, compared to the other remakes (The Magnificent Seven films), is how Kurosawa was more interested in who the samurai were as human beings rather than warriors. Yes, they were totally badass and had their own unique skills, but they all had motives and human emotions that made them more relatable than just typical one-dimensional heroes there to save the day. The film wasn’t just focusing on the samurai either. Kurosawa gave just as much attention to the people of the village as the samurai themselves. This all leads to a very emotionally investing and tense finale with high stakes.

Fun Fact: Often credited as the first modern action movie. Many now commonly used cinematographic and plot elements–such as slow motion for dramatic flair and the reluctant hero to name a couple–are seen for perhaps the first time. Other movies may have used them separately before, but Akira Kurosawa brought them all together.

2. Rear Window (1954)

Why? A movie that is like a TV bottle episode, only it’s two hours instead of just 30 minutes. It never ceases to amaze me how well directed this movie is by Alfred Hitchcock. Somehow he manages to create an extremely investing and thrilling movie all in just one room. It’s without a traditional music score, all of the sound in the film is diegetic, meaning that all the music, speech and other sounds all come from within the world of the film. James Stewart and Grace Kelly (my favorite classic actor and actress) make a perfect pair. And the movie’s theme of voyuerism and the pleasure of watching others directly connects why we enjoy watching strangers on-screen. There may be no other movie that explains why we love movies so much better than Rear Window. 

Fun Fact: The entire picture was shot on one set, which required months of planning and construction. The apartment-courtyard set measured 98 feet wide, 185 feet long and 40 feet high, and consisted of 31 apartments, eight of which were completely furnished. The courtyard was set 20 to 30 feet below stage level, and some of the buildings were the equivalent of five or six stories high.

1. Vertigo (1958)

Why? I can’t think of any director who had a better decade of filmmaking than Alfred Hitchcock in the 1950s, and this just might be his crowning achievement. What separates Vertigo from his other films is how better it gets from every viewing. With most of Hitchcock’s films, you can understand how great and brilliant it is from just the first viewing. However, with Vertigo, one viewing does not do it justice. You need to watch it multiple times to really get a grasp of what it’s trying to say, and just what makes it so brilliant. It’s a hypnotizing film with a great cast lead by James Stewart, in one of his darker performances, a brilliant musical score, and visually one of the most stunning shot films ever made.

Fun Facts: Uncredited second-unit cameraman Irmin Roberts invented the famous “zoom out and track in” shot (now sometimes called “contra-zoom” or “trombone shot”) to convey the sense of vertigo to the audience. The view down the mission stairwell cost $19,000 for just a couple of seconds of screen time.

First ever film to use computer graphics. Seen in the opening credits sequence done by Saul Bass.



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