As stated in my last post, I would now like to present what I consider the 100 best movies made between 1946-1960, what I also consider to be the best period of moviemaking in history for the reasons stated in my last post. However, as opposed to just a list of 100 titles from that period, I thought it might be better to put them in some basic categories, making it easier both to list and appreciate individually. Though I’m sure all will not agree with my choices, the thought here is to provide an idea of the high quality of movies from that period so that some who may be unfamiliar with or who may have underestimated the period can gain a real appreciation for an outstanding era in movie history and discover some of the greatest movies ever made in the process.
The first category will be sleepers, not completely unknown, but rather, great movies of that period that may be not be as well-known as others but are outstanding works of those years and ripe for discovery. They are, in random order, as follows:
(1) Bigger Than Life (1956) Director Nicholas Ray’s excursion into the harrowing effects of prescription drug abuse, using a suburbia in all its ’50’s Technicolor glory as his backdrop. James Mason gives one of his best performances and one of the best performances of that decade as a teacher, overwhelmed by the economic demands of the time to keep up appearances, who succumbs to a cortisone addiction and changes into a bullying monster, with devastating effects on his family. A gem of the time that deserves to be more well-known.
(2) Body and Soul (1947) The story of a morally corrupt boxer on the rise, it’s one of John Garfield’s best performances and is considered by many the best boxing movie ever made. If you haven’t seen it, do so and you be the judge.
(3) Force of Evil (1948) Another great performance by John Garfield, this time as a gambling syndicate lawyer overcome by his own greed, and the effects on him and his brother, a small-time bookie operator. A beautifully shot addition to the film-noir canon of the era and a must-see.
(4) Gun Crazy (1949) A cult classic, it vividly tells the story of a Bonnie and Clyde-like couple who begin a life of crime and shows where it eventually leads. Unknown Peggy Cummins plays the female lead, a true femme fatale who lives up every bit to this movie’s other title: Deadly Is The Female.
(5) They Live By Night (1949) Great film debut by Nicholas Ray, it also showcases a young couple on the wrong side of the law, but the emphasis is on their tender relationship while the threat of imminent doom hangs over them. Criminally underseen and well worth finding.
(6) Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) Ealing Studios in Great Britain made some great comedies in the late 40’s and 50’s. This is the blackest and best in my opinion, about a member of a titled family cast aside who decides to eliminate all heirs who stand between him and the family fortune. All 8 of those heirs, both male and female, are played by the peerless Alec Guinness in a wonderful performance (or performances, take your pick). Along with the presence of the great Joan Greenwood, this film overflows with wit and style, with a great ironic ending and one of the best lines of this or any other film: “Revenge is a dish best served cold.”
(7) Pickpocket (1959) French director Robert Bresson made some great films but this may be his most accessible. The story of a lonely, compulsive pickpocket who is redeemed through love, it is a character study as well as a tension-filled view of that world, with a brilliant pickpocketing sequence that has to be seen to be believed.
(8) Letter From An Unknown Woman (1948) Joan Fontaine stars in a lush, tragic, romantic tale of a woman’s lifelong obsession with a musician which ends in total heartbreak for all involved. One of the best so-called women’s pictures ever made and truly deserving of being more well-known.
(9) A Letter to Three Wives (1949) Writer-director Joseph Mankiewicz’s ear for great dialogue is put to wonderful use in this subtle slap at Americana and attitudes of the time. Three wives on a picnic receive word from a friend that she has run off with one of their husbands. But which one? With great performances by all involved, including Linda Darnell (pictured above), this is an excellent example of Mankiewicz’s work which led to his crowning achievement the next year: All About Eve.
(10) Rocco and His Brothers (1960) What a movie. A powerful, near-operatic work by Luchino Visconti, it chronicles the plight of a peasant family that moves into Milan and what happens to the five brothers over a period of time, from triumph to great tragedy. Each one’s story is told separately with the stories intertwining, creating a tableaux that is akin to watching real life before your eyes. With a beautiful score by the great Nino Rota, exquisite cinematography, and outstanding heart-wrenching performances from all involved, it is one of the best movies you will see in any year. What a movie.
(11) A Face In The Crowd (1957) If all you can think of when it comes to Andy Griffith is Mayberry, think again. You have never seen him like you will see him in this somewhat prescient tale of a slimy, amoral hillbilly that, through the power and cult of celebrity, becomes a big TV star all the while taking advantage of those that made him so. Griffith is fantastic as this unscrupulous character in his film debut, along with a great cast that includes Walter Matthau and Patricia Neal, all under the masterful direction of Elia Kazan.
(12) The Earrings of Madame De…, (1953) A beautifully filmed tale of what happens after a woman pawns earrings given to her by her husband and the chain of events this leads to. A wonderful tracking shot opens the movie followed by several throughout, all elegantly shot, acted and directed. Another true cinematic gem.
(13) Sansho the Baliff (1954) Along with Kurosawa and Ozu, Kenji Mizoguchi stands as one of the greatest Japanese filmmakers of that era and of all time and this is his crowning achievement. An epic of overwhelming power, this story of a family ripped apart through oppression and injustice is filled with beautiful imagery and devastating performances. If you’re not moved at all by the final scenes between mother and son, then believe me, nothing will.
(14) The Cranes Are Flying (1957) An exquisitely filmed love story from Russia about a girl whose sweetheart goes to war during World War II but refuses to believe reports of his death, then suffers in the interim. Some of the shots in this film are way ahead of their time, including one of the best death scenes ever put to film. Not known by many and a great cinematic experience.
(15) The Gunfighter (1950) Gregory Peck stars as a gunfighter who fails to shake off his past despite his best efforts. One of his best lesser-known roles and without question one of the best Westerns of the 1950’s, the greatest decade the Western has ever had.
These are the first 15 of the 100 and hopefully you get some idea of the quality of that period by just these few. If you haven’t seen any of these, hopefully you’ll give them a look and see what you’ve missed. The next post will provide 15 more but with a different heading: The Other Great Ones. I’ll explain what that means at that time. See you then.