Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Five Favorite Films of the 1950s--Toughest Blogathon Ever!

To celebrate National Classic Movie Day 2019, we're hosting the Five Favorite Films of the 1950s blogathon. Naturally, the Cafe staff is participating, too--but who knew it would be so brutal to whittle our favorite 1950s films down to a Top 5?

Sadly, we've been forced to omit many film faves! The fact is that the 1950s was a banner decade for cinema around the world. Alfred Hitchcock was at the peak of his career. Otto Preminger was breaking film censorship barriers. The wonders of real-life science inspired a number of science fiction movie classics. Colorful big screen musicals introduced new stars and provided worthy vehicles for existing ones. Great filmmakers in Europe and Japan emerged from the ashes of a world war.

Our selections below are our personal favorites, but we'd argue that one ranks with the greatest films of all time and the other four are iconic pictures that have withstood the test of time.

Kim Novak and James Stewart.
1. Vertigo (1958) – This richly-layered masterpiece reveals its big twist when least expected--turning the film on its proverbial head. It causes love to blur with obsession and greed to give way to guilt and perhaps love. I think it’s Alfred Hitchcock’s best job of writing (as usual uncredited) and directing…plus we get superb performances (especially from James Stewart and Kim Novak), a marvelous San Francisco setting, an unforgettably disturbing score from Bernard Herrmann, and nifty Saul Bass titles. Like all great films, I glean something new from it or appreciate another facet every time I watch it. My last viewing reminded me just how brilliant James Stewart is in the lead. In a career filled with fine performances, I think Stewart does his best work as a typical Stewart “nice guy” who evolves into a man obsessed with an illusion. Contrast Scotty’s (Stewart) playful banter early on with Midge with his climactic confrontation with Judy—his eyes ablaze with confusion, hate, and something akin to love. It’s a brilliant and chilling transition.

Stewart as the defense attorney.
2. Anatomy of a Murder (1959) – Otto Preminger’s enthralling courtroom drama requires multiple viewings to be fully appreciated. When I first saw it, I focused on the riveting story, which treats the viewer much like the jury. We listen to testimonies, watch the lawyers try to manipulate our emotions, and struggle to make sense of the evidence. When I saw it a second time, I knew the case’s outcome and was able to concentrate on the splendid performances. James Stewart, Arthur O’Connell, and George C. Scott earned Oscar nominations, but the rest of the cast is also exceptionally strong. In subsequent viewings, I’ve come to appreciate the film’s well-preserved details, from the small town upper-Michigan atmosphere to Preminger’s brilliant direction (e.g., in one shot, as Scott cross-examines a witness in close-up, Stewart—the defending lawyer—is framed between them in the background).

Gort--Hollywood's coolest robot.
3. The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) – If there were a Hall of Fame for Timeless Movies, then one of its founding members would be The Day the Earth Stood Still. I've probably watched it at least once every decade since I first saw it on NBC's Saturday Night at the Movies in the 1960s. When I was a youngster, the film's fantastic elements--and Gort, the coolest robot in the history of cinema--appealed to me. When I was a teen, its stern warning about the perils of nuclear war resonated with me. With each subsequent viewing, The Day the Earth Stood Still has revealed something new: presenting itself as a Biblical analogy, an editorial on the influence of media on public opinion, a portrait of fear of the unknown, etc. Its themes never fail to thrill me…making it much more exciting than any action-oriented sci fi film.

Danny Kaye and Basil Rathbone.
4. The Court Jester (1956) – My favorite comedy is a spot-on, delightful spoof of swashbuckling films. In a rare role worthy of his talents, Danny Kaye gets to sing, dance, use funny voices, contort his expressive face, and excel at physical comedy (such as walking in magnetized armor). The supporting players are all at the top of their game, too. Basil Rathbone has a grand time parodying past roles such as Sir Guy of Gisbourne in The Adventures of Robin Hood. Angela Lansbury displays a deft comedic touch, while Cecil Parker steals his scenes as the bored king whose only interest appears to be “wenches.” The Court Jester also includes Danny’s most famous routine—the one that involves the pellet with the poison in the chalice from the palace, the vessel with the pestle which has the brew that is true, and (finally) the flagon with the picture of a dragon (which is used for the brew that is true after the vessel with the pestle is broken). And did I mention that Danny and Basil Rathbone engage in the funniest sword duel in movie history?

Crosby and Kaye performing "Sisters."
5. White Christmas (1954) – There was a time when I grumbled because White Christmas was shown every Yuletide season while Holiday Inn (1942) only made sporadic appearances. Most critics consider the latter film, in which the song “White Christmas” was introduced, to be the superior musical. It was only after my wife and I acquired both films on video that I recognized the virtues of White Christmas. It’s a near-perfect blend of music and comedy, with the cast and crew at, or near, the peak of their careers. The dance numbers are staged energetically, with the highlight being Danny Kaye and Vera-Ellen dancing outside a nightclub to the melodic “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing.” Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney generate a more subdued, but no less effective, chemistry. Their duet “Count Your Blessings” was the big hit song from the film. The most effective pairing in the film, though, is the one between Crosby and Kaye. They’re a sensational team, whether doing musical numbers or comedy (their version of “Sisters”, done originally as a joke on the set, is hysterically funny).


Be sure to check out the 1950s film favorites from all the other blogs in this blogathon by clicking here to view the full schedule.

20 comments:

  1. 2/5 for Danny Kaye - I like it! Nice selection, Rick. It is indeed difficult to select just five. I've only one opening left and haven't made the final decision yet. Great idea for a blogathon and I'm looking forward to seeing everyone's choices!

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  2. Excellent overview of excellent films.

    My daughter was around 9 or 10 when I showed her White Christmas. She declared it the "best" Christmas movie because there were no "kids" and no "angels." Just some "nice people trying to do something nice for someone else." I think she's unto something.

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  3. ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️ Two Danny gems and two Jimmy gems and a word of wisdom from Klaatu. Happy National Classic Movie Day, Rick!

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  4. Vertigo is one of those films I love more and more on each viewings. I saw Anatomy of a Murder only once (but it was on big screen!) so I don't remember it much but I remember there was something quite ahead of its time about it. And I'm glad you included The Day the Earth Stood Still. My favourite sci-fi!

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  5. Wonderful post Rick, with lots of interesting choices. I'm in complete agreement on your assessment of James Stewart in Vertigo - possibly his finest performance, certainly his most complex role.

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  6. First - many, many thanks for hosting this blogathon, which is now officially a tradition (but no pressure). You know we both share The Court Jester - and Vertigo is indeed one of my all time favorites. I am still filled with questions every time I see it.

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  7. Of this list I've only ever seen Vertigo. It's terrific, for sure. I was going to aim for a Sci-Fi in my post but sadly haven't seen enough to pick my favorite and really sell it. Probably the one closest is Forbidden Planet, but based on your recommendation I will have to check out The Day the Earth Stood Still.

    Thanks for hosting this great blogathon!

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  8. I chose Vertigo for my list too (on social media - didn't have time to post on my blog). I think it's Hitchcock's most complex film, psychologically. It's also a step outside of James Stewart's usual "everyman" kind of role. I think the 1950's was really Stewart's decade for films. He did so many great ones.

    Tam May
    The Dream Book Blog
    https://tammayauthor.com/category/blog

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    1. Agreed. James Stewart did some of his best work in the 1950s. He's mesmerizing in Vertigo.

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  9. Good, strong choices here (though I'd probably opt out on "White Christmas" altogether). I also first saw TDTESS on that NBC broadcast. Wondered for a second if all your choices were going to include Stewart. I've always preferred his pre-WWII roles since the War changed him into a harder-edged, wearier soul thereafter -- but there were so many more layers to him that came with it. I wonder if that would have happened without the carnage he endured.

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    1. For whatever the reason, the post-WWII Stewart was a different actor. I personally prefer his films from that period, especially his one with Hitchcock and Mann.

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  10. I will echo everyone else by lauding your representation of Jimmy Stewart and, probably, the less-appreciated Danny Kaye. I've done a similar thing of comparing Holiday Inn and White Christmas. Although I'm biased having grown up with the latter film, in my humble opinion it holds up far better (especially sans black face).

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  11. These are terrific choices, Rick. And you're right – this was a tough blogathon! Thanks for organizing this and giving us all the opportunity to showcase films from the 1950s.

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  12. Oh, I must watch Anatomy of a Murder again!
    Fantastic choices.

    Carol, The Old Hollywood Garden

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  13. So glad to see not one but TWO fantastic Danny Kaye films on your list! If we had been doing a top 10 list, I'm sure The Court Jester would've made my list.

    Thanks again for hosting! I always love participating in these Classic Movie Day blogathons, even though they can be agony, haha.

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  14. WOW. OK, so VERTIGO beat REAR WINDOW for you. Interesting. I'm loving the nods to WHITE CHRISTMAS, which is like hot chocolate on a Winter's day. ANATOMY OF A MURDER is also getting a few nods in this, which surprises me a bit. I love it even though it didn't appear among my choices. And, who knew THE COURT JESTER was your favorite comedy. I have to revisit that soon. It's been years. Just terrific fun. Love this event.

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    1. The Hitchcock selection is a always a controversy in our family, as my wife prefers REAR WINDOW. Both are in my all-time Top 10, but, personally, VERTIGO has even more layers of complexity than REAR WINDOWS.

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  15. Great list of films! Like you, I wrestled between Vertigo and Rear Window but I had to choose Vertigo - it's so personal to me! I've never seen The Court Jester and I like that a classic sci-fi is on the list - particularly one so important and filled with fascinating tropes which became part of the genre. A great list and some films which I need to watch again.

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    1. I strongly recommend THE COURT JESTER--you'll have a grand time.

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  16. Its wonderful Rick that you are again sponsoring the National Classic Movie Day blogathon. Your selections are very good ones and well justified. I'm just glad I didn't have to pick five out of all those great 1950s movies. I'd still be thinking about next year.

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