5 Reasons Why 1946-1960 Was The Best Period In Moviemaking History

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With the title of this particular post stating what it does I’m sure I’m sure to be in a minority, but let me tell you the basis for it: Some time back, George Clooney was quoted in an interview with Parade magazine as saying that not only was 1964-1976 his favorite period of moviemaking, but it was also the best period of moviemaking by far. He went on to speak of the great directors of that period doing their greatest work, how well it reflected the times, and it was also reported that he gifted all of his close friends DVDs of his 100 favorite movies of that period.

First of all, let me say that in looking at his list, Mr. Clooney has impeccable taste in movies and the ones he picked are certainly the best of that era and some of the best ever made, without question. The only quibble I have is the thought that it was the ‘best period of moviemaking by far.’ My respect for his choices is outweighed by the broadness of that statement. The greatness of that period of moviemaking can’t be questioned, but to put it into a category above and beyond what preceded it in my mind requires just a little stretching. The reason is because it discounts a truly great period of moviemaking that can at least equal if not surpass in certain ways the era that Mr. Clooney and a few others speak of with the highest esteem.

Another reason for this post is because I feel that movies of the 1950’s in particular have suffered from a bad rap over the years. Schlocky sci-fi, bloated Biblical epics. wide-screen banalities; you name any of that, the movies of the 1950’s were filled with it, or so the story goes. Unfortunately, that estimation of the period has caused many to overlook some of the greatest works the cinema has ever produced and, in some cases, has not equaled since. Add the late 40’s to it, the real postwar period, and you’ll find a maturity, a richness, a variety in themes and tones not found before, a more focused, realistic view of life and its foibles, along with a burgeoning group of filmmakers making their mark and the current group of masters hitting their stride, resulting in masterworks that have stood the test of time. With all that being said, I’d like to now provide 5 reasons why 1946-1960 in my humble opinion was the greatest period of moviemaking, to quote Mr. Clooney, ‘by far.’ Here they are, in random order:

(1) Brando, Dean, Monroe-Just the last names are enough and you know who I’m talking about. Each one either started working in films or became superstars in the 1950’s, with Brando making his film debut in “The Men” in 1950. All three established a legacy from that period that stands until today, with Marilyn Monroe still one of the biggest selling celebrities of our day over 50 years later. Each one established a way of acting, a type of celebrity, a screen persona that has transcended any one period of time and had indelibly left a mark on all that has followed them. As Martin Scorsese was once quoted as saying, and I paraphrase, when it comes to screen acting, it’s either BB or AB-“Before Brando or after Brando.” Discount that period of filmmaking and you discount their impact and that would be impossible.

(2) The rise of foreign filmmakers- Not that filmmakers outside the US were not known before the late 40’s, but the sheer number of talented filmmakers from abroad that emerged in the era we’re talking about is staggering: Akira Kurosawa, Ingmar Bergman, Frederico Fellini, Francois Truffaut, Louis Malle, Jean-Pierre Melville, Roberto Rossellini, Luchino Visconti, Vittorio de Sica, Satyajit Ray, etc. All made their first films or became known during that period putting foreign films on the map in this country and what a richer moviemaking experience it has been because of the discovery of their work during that time.

(3) Film movements- Many of the first film movements, or revolutionary ways of telling a story, started abroad so it’s no surprise that with the rise of foreign filmmakers came the movements that revolutionized film and stand to this day: Neorealism and Nouvelle Vague or New Wave, started during those years. In addition, 1959 saw a revolution not abroad but here: independent film made on the cheap, brought to the screen by John Cassavetes with his groundbreaking work “Shadows.” The types of films seen today in their diversity first came to life in that seminal period.

(4) Best work by the best directors in history: How many directors have at least 5 great movies on their resume? Now how about almost back to back in one ten-year period? Try Alfred Hitchcock in the 1950’s to 1960. From Strangers on a Train to Rear Window, then Vertigo, North by Northwest, and then 1960 with Psycho. Add to this The Searchers from 1956, arguably John Ford’s greatest Western if not greatest film, It’s a Wonderful Life from 1946 by Frank Capra, along with John Huston’s Treasure of the Sierra Madre in the same year, followed by The Asphalt Jungle in 1950, and The African Queen in 1951, both also directed by Huston. On top of all this, Billy Wilder. From Sunset Boulevard in 1950 to Stalag 17, then to Witness For the Prosecution and ending the decade with Some Like It Hot in 1959. Add to this Howard Hawk’s Rio Bravo, Fred Zinnemann’s High Noon, the brilliant work of David Lean with Great Expectations and Oliver Twist in the late 40’s to Bridge on the River Kwai in the 50’s, Carol Reed’s The Third Man in 1949, and Michael Powell’s breathtaking masterworks from that era: Black Narcissus and The Red Shoes. Not to mention the work of Elia Kazan, Otto Preminger, Nicholas Ray, who didn’t begin directing until 1949 and did his best work within the next ten years, and, of course, the towering works of Douglas Sirk, a true movie stylist if there ever was one, capturing the look and attitudes of the 1950’s while commenting on it at the same time with Written on the Wind, All that Heaven Allows, Magnificent Obsession and Imitation of Life. There’s one more director who must not go unmentioned during this time: Orson Welles. Though his masterwork, Citizen Kane, came out in 1941, what is considered his last masterwork and the end of the noir cycle, Touch of Evil, came out in 1958, this same fruitful period.

(5) Film Noir- An earlier post of mine commented on film noir so I won’t go into great detail at this time, but I will say that if you discount this period of filmmaking then you discount the period when most of what we call film-noir was in full flower, and the fact that this type of film has affected even the types of films we see today shows how important those years of moviemaking were to any true movie fan.

Those are my 5 reasons why those years, 1946-1960, stand out as the greatest years of moviemaking until now. Of course you can disagree, but it would be hard to take the sum total of great work done at that time and not at least have greater respect for this unfairly maligned period or perhaps a completely adjusted viewpoint. So, with that in mind, in my next post I will list the 100 Best Movies of 1946-1960, so any who are willing can be the judge and get a chance to see for themselves an era of filmmaking that was truly second to none. Stay tuned.

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About bjbradford

An avid collector of classic movies for over 20 years ranging from the silent era through the early 1960's, from the justly famous to the unjustly obscure and quite a bit in between.
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