Women Who Made the Movies: Part 1

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There was a report recently released by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University entitled “The Celluloid Ceiling” which found that women held an even smaller percentage of jobs on the top 250 domestic grossing films of 2013 than they did in 1998. For example, among directors, women accounted for just 6% in 2013, and when you include writers, producers, editors, and cinematographers working on top films, the figure is still just 16%. With all that being said, the natural assumption could be that, when looking back at Hollywood’s golden age from the 30’s to the early 60’s, the involvement of women on any level behind the camera would have been virtually non-existent.

This would not be far from the truth. However, though that may be the case, the reality also is that the few women who were able to work behind the scenes made great contributions to moviemaking of that era and their work has stood the test of time, with some classics on their resumes that have entertained and continue to entertain many.

First of all, when it comes to women producing movies in the classic era, there were the big 3- Virginia Van Upp for Columbia, Harriet Parsons for RKO, and Joan Harrison for Universal. They were the only three women working as producers for Hollywood studios between 1943 and 1955, an achievement for that time.  And what they produced was top-notch,  with Van Upp producing the film-noir classic “Gilda” starring Rita Hayworth (Rita Hayworth and Glenn Ford pictured above) among other things, and Parsons producing the beloved “The Enchanted Cottage”, “I Remember Mama”, and the powerful “Clash By Night”starring Barbara Stanwyck and an up and comer by the name of Marilyn Monroe (Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Ryan pictured above).

But that’s not all they did. Van Upp was also a talented screenwriter, with the  musical “Cover Girl” to her credit, one of Rita Hayworth’s best vehicles. And Harrison was a screenwriter as well who worked with a director you may have heard of, Alfred Hitchcock, and wrote some of his earliest Hollywood classics, such as “Rebecca” (Joan Fontaine and Judith Anderson pictured above), “Foreign Correspondent”, and “Suspicion”, receiving Oscar nominations for both “Rebecca” and “Foreign Correspondent” in the same year.   Certainly this is a testimony to the level of female talent, though small in number, that was able to make its mark in the executive offices and beyond at that time.

As far as directors are concerned, Dorothy Arzner (pictured above, top, with Clara Bow) was the first woman to be admitted to the Director’s Guild in the 1930’s and was the only one for quite a few years. In addition, she was the only female director to work within Hollywood’s studio system, from the years 1927 to 1943, and still has the largest output of films from a female director in Hollywood down to this day. Then there was Ida Lupino (pictured above), the second woman to be admitted to the Director’s Guild, who set up an independent production company with her husband and wrote, produced, and directed several low-budget melodramas in the late 40’s and 50’s tackling powerful social issues, along with the gripping “The Hitch-Hiker” (pictured above), considered the first film noir to be directed by a woman.

When it comes to screenwriters, Anita Loos is considered one of Hollywood’s foremost early screenwriters, male or female. Her work dates back to 1912, working with famed director D.W. Griffith on “Musketeers of Pig Alley”, considered the first gangster film, to his gargantuan epic “Intolerance” in 1916, to the classic “The Women” in 1939, all the way to “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” in 1953. All together, she worked on over 100 films during her career. There are very few women, then or now, who have been able to have such a prodigious output as screenwriters in the film industry. However, besides Loos, there were others who left an indelible mark during Hollywood’s golden age.

With that in mind, here are two lesser-known female screenwriters who were able to put together an impressive body of work during Hollywood’s heyday.  They are as follows:

(1) Leigh Brackett (pictured above, 2nd row, on right)- Quick! Name a screenwriter who worked on both the classic “The Big Sleep” from 1946 and “The Empire Strikes Back”?  Leigh Brackett is the only screenwriter who has that distinction, which gives some idea of the range of her talent.  A noted science fiction/fantasy author of the 1940’s, she was a mentor of Ray Bradbury. It is said that the director Howard Hawks thought she was a good writer because, according to him, she “wrote like a man.” Whether she considered that a compliment or not is debatable, but what can’t be debated  is her skill as a screenwriter, which is amply demonstrated by the classics that bear her name.

Must-sees: The Big Sleep (1946), Rio Bravo (1959, pictured above), Hatari! (1962), El Dorado (1966)

(2) Virginia Kellogg- She has the distinction of being nominated for 2 Academy Awards in consecutive years for her work, 1950 and 1951. Though probably less-known than any of the other names mentioned, both the quality and grittiness of the films she wrote testify to her superlative ability as a screenwriter.

Must-sees: T-Men (1947), White Heat (1949), Caged (1950, Eleanor Parker pictured above)

Hopefully this provides some basis for more fully appreciating the work of all of these women during those years and getting a better idea of what contributions they made to what today is considered a period of classic Hollywood moviemaking. In my next post we’ll go from behind the screen to the screen itself and take a look at some actresses you may or may not know who may have been less famous than some of their contemporaries but made whatever they were in that much more interesting and enjoyable due to their being in it. Stay tuned.

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Best Year in Movie History-1939? 1950? or 1962?

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When it comes to movie history, 1939 is considered without question a banner year and rightly so. This has been established to such a degree that books on the subject have been written documenting the greatness of just that year in film, with breakdowns of the major films produced along with detailed background information on them, adding to the status already given it as the greatest year ever in Hollywood history.

With that being said, it’s interesting to note that over the years a certain amount has also been said, although more quietly, about other years in film that some feel are equal to 1939 in terms of sheer quality. While some may find this debatable if not outright ridiculous, the fact remains that a case has been made for other so-called banner years in moviemaking, and when looked at objectively, a certain amount of weight can be given to those opinions due to the quality of those years in film. Those years are, in quality if not chronological order, 1962 and 1950. So that raises the question: What is Hollywood’s greatest year? Is it 1939, 1950, or 1962? To answer, a basic overview of each year’s best films will be provided and by the end we’ll see what conclusion can be drawn based on the evidence clearly at hand.

Let’s start with 1939. The question for many would be, how can you look at any other year? The sheer number of great movies produced in that one year is truly staggering and it is quite a list. Let’s start with the obvious: A little movie you may have heard of called “Gone With the Wind” (Vivien Leigh, pictured above), along with another little movie called “The Wizard of Oz” (Judy Garland and cast pictured above), continuing with “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” (James Stewart, pictured above),then you have “Ninotchka” (Greta Garbo with Melvyn Douglas pictured above), and two great ones starring Bette Davis, “Dark Victory” and “Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex” (Bette Davis and Errol Flynn pictured above). On top of this you have “Stagecoach”, one of John Ford’s greatest Westerns, making a superstar out of a youngster by the name of John Wayne, along with “The Women”, “Wuthering Heights”, “Young Mr. Lincoln”, “Goodbye Mr. Chips”, and “Gunga Din”, one of the greatest adventure films of all time. Add to this “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” with the incomparable Charles Laughton, “Beau Geste”, “Drums Along the Mohawk”, and “Destry Rides Again.” Then there are some personal favorites: The spectacular “The Four Feathers”, the great “Jesse James” with Tyrone Power and Henry Fonda, and the hilarious “Midnight”, starring Claudette Colbert. With some great movies not even mentioned from that year, it makes one wonder how any other year could even come close.

Let’s see if one can. Let’s now look at 1962. Though not having the same number of movies to cite, the ones that can be cited are more than impressive. Let’s start with the Big Three: “Lawrence of Arabia” (Peter O’Toole, pictured above), “To Kill a Mockingbird” (Gregory Peck and Brock Peters pictured above), and “The Manchurian Candidate.” Just those three alone could hold their own against any great movie made in any given year, including 1939. “Lawrence” stands to this day as arguably the greatest biographical epic ever made, with director David Lean working at the height of his creative powers, filming scenes of great power and grandeur that have stood the test of time and have inspired countless directors, including Steven Spielberg who has said he watches this for inspiration before he begins shooting any film. “To Kill a Mockingbird”‘s lead character, lawyer Atticus Finch, in an Oscar-winning performance by Gregory Peck, was chosen by the American Film Institute as the number one hero in 100 years of movies, and that just gives some idea of the impact this movie has had over the years on those who have seen it. Many of a certain age could relate to the character of Scout, Atticus’ young daughter, played by Mary Badham, and the poignant and powerful message of racial tolerance, especially during the height of the civil rights movement, resonated strongly at that time and can still today. “The Manchurian Candidate” is a brilliantly written and directed spy thriller, one of the best ever made, with top-notch performances from all involved, especially Angela Lansbury as one of the worst villainesses ever brought to the screen.

But that’s not all. There’s also “The Miracle Worker”, with jaw-droppingly good performances by both Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke, who both won well-deserved Oscars for their work in this searingly powerful film; “The Longest Day”, producer Darryl Zanuck’s pet project and one of the best epic World War II movies ever made; “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”, one of John Ford’s last great Westerns with a dream cast including John Wayne, James Stewart, and Lee Marvin; and “Ride the High Country”, legendary director Sam Peckinpah’s first great film, and in the eyes of some, his best Western. It is said that Randolph Scott, one of the greatest Western stars in movie history, retired after this film because he felt he could never surpass his performance in it and that’s a fitting testimony to its greatness.

Then there’s “The Music Man”, one of the best musicals of the post-MGM era of musicals, “Days of Wine and Roses”, with outstanding performances by Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick, “Birdman of Alcatraz” with Burt Lancaster, the great thriller “Cape Fear” with Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum, and “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” (Bette Davis and Joan Crawford pictured above), a Grand Guignol classic with unforgettable performances by two of the greatest stars of Hollywood’s golden age. And there’s one more I must mention: “Lonely Are the Brave”, a poignant and beautifully acted modern-day Western, lead actor Kirk Douglas’ favorite of all his work and featuring his greatest performance.

Let’s move on to our next year, 1950. Two movies dominate any discussion of the quality of films that year: “Sunset Boulevard” (pictured above), one of the best movies ever made about Hollywood, and “All Abut Eve” (Bette Davis, pictured above) one of the best-written movies ever made. But it doesn’t stop there. There’s “The Asphalt Jungle”, John Huston’s seminal heist thriller, “Gun Crazy”, a cult classic and just as vivid now as when it was first released, “In a Lonely Place” (Gloria Grahame,pictured above) one of director Nicholas Ray’s greatest films with what many consider career-best performances from both Grahame and Humphrey Bogart, “Born Yesterday” with an Oscar-winning performance by Judy Holliday, and “Caged”, one of the best prison movies ever made, with an outstanding performance by Eleanor Parker as an woman gradually hardened by her life behind bars.

Then there was also “Winchester ’73”, Anthony Mann’s great Western starring James Stewart, which may have single-handedly renewed the popularization of Westerns in the 1950’s, the Westerns’ greatest decade, “Father of the Bride” (Elizabeth Taylor and Spencer Tracy pictured above), and the beloved “Harvey”, also starring James Stewart.

What has not been mentioned are foreign films from those great years. Add that to what has already been stated and the quality becomes even higher. There’s the French classic “The Rules of the Game”, from 1939, directed by Jean Renoir, Akira Kurosawa’s “Rashomon” from 1950, and “Jules and Jim” from Francois Truffaut along with “An Autumn Afternoon” from Yasujiro Ozu, both 1962, along with other excellent ones from that particular year.

The point is that the quality of movies from all three years is quite high. So what conclusion can be reached? Which year is the greatest year? My answer: Whichever one you like. So go through all three years to get a taste of the high quality to be found in each one, and then see the best movies of some of the best years in moviemaking history, adding to your classic movie enjoyment for some time to come.

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Screen Gems- 5 of the Best Unknown (or Lesser-Known) Foreign Films of the 1950’s

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As stated in a previous post, the 1950’s were quite a fruitful period for many great filmmakers and this was especially true when it came to those from foreign lands. The sheer quality of their work was staggering in its scope and brilliance, rivaling much coming out of Hollywood’s film factories at the time. Fellini, Bergman, Kurosawa, Truffaut, Malle, De Sica, Rossellini, Bresson, Chabrol, Visconti, Ozu, Mizoguchi, Ray, Clement, Ichikawa-the list of those who either began to make their mark or who made some of their greatest works during that period has hardly been rivaled either before or since. The movies themselves created by these talents during that period have stood the test of time and are classic in both their impact and their artistry. However, because it was such a prolific period for foreign filmmakers, there were other great works from foreign lands that came out during the same period that did not receive the same amount of attention or acclaim. But, as opposed to being less worthy, they are just less well-known. With that in mind, here are 5 movies deserving to be seen that are equal in quality to those more well-known during the best period of foreign filmmaking in movie history. They are, in random order, as follows:

(1) El (1952, Luis Bunuel, director, pictured above, and starring Delia Garces, also pictured above) Two years earlier, Bunuel had directed what many consider his masterwork of that period, “Los Olvidados”, a brutal and gripping depiction of life in the Mexican slums containing his trademark surrealistic touches which date all the way back to his earliest films. Though less surrealistic, this film is equally gripping, if not even more so, in its depiction of a middle-aged aristocrat who marries a beautiful young girl and falls victim to insane jealousy. With striking cinematography by famed cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa who also worked with John Ford, and a chilling central performance by Arturo de Cordova, it works as an observation both of obsession and madness with even a little black humor sprinkled in for good effect. A winner on every level and hard to forget.

(2) Twenty-Four Eyes (1954, Hideki Takamine with children pictured above) One of the great Japanese directors of the period, Keisuke Kinoshita, creates one of the best tear-jerkers of all time. The story of a young schoolteacher on an island community in South Japan and her group of students from primary to high school during the time of an increasingly militarist government, her pain becomes your pain as you watch these young ones grow up and become victims of a society and ways of life that she tries to protect them from. Intensely moving (have the hankies ready!)and powerfully acted, it is truly one of the unsung gems of a rich period of Japanese cinema and deserves to be far better known.

(3) The Nightingale’s Prayer (1959) Considered one of the best Egyptian movies ever made, it is the compelling story of a young woman named Amna, cast out of the village along with her mother and sister because of their father’s infidelities, who plots revenge on the young engineer who destroyed her family’s honor. However, that brief description doesn’t begin to do this film justice, as it twists and turns in various unexpected directions leading to an unforgettable conclusion. Criminally under-seen and well worth seeking out.

(4) Ballad of a Soldier (1959) A young Russian soldier, instead of taking a medal for a heroic act, asks for a few days leave to visit his mother and fix her roof. On his way to her home, he meets a girl, falls in love, spends a little time with his mother before he returns to the front and is killed. This is not spoiling anything as his death is revealed at the beginning of the film. What makes this movie so special is how, despite the fact that the outcome is already known, you still invest fully in this young man and his experiences and thus are more emotionally devastated at the end knowing what will happen. The final embrace between the young man and his mother is one of the most heartbreaking scenes in all of cinema. A must-see and one of the best Russian films of the era.

(5) Death of a Cyclist (1955) From Spain, it is the story of an accident-a cyclist is knocked down and killed by a couple on the road at the beginning of the film. However the couple are having an affair and don’t report the accident for fear of being discovered. This leads to a chain of events which tragically affects the lives of many people, including the couple, leading to an ironic and powerful conclusion. A well-acted and beautifully shot film, part thriller, part class expose’, it deserves attention and is another example of the greatness of foreign cinema of the time.

These are 5 films that will certainly not disappoint and may either add to your already high opinion of foreign films of that decade or move you to see what made them so outstanding and then get a real taste of the level of cinema coming from foreign shores at that time. In either case, seek them out if you can, see what you may have missed, and open a door to a whole new world that will seem a lot less foreign once you enter and see what’s there.

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The Next Best Thing: Lesser-Known Directors Whose Work You Should Know

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In the annals of film history the names of certain directors are so well-known and so widely respected that when mentioned they immediately evoke, not just recognition, but also appreciation for their work. Such is certainly the case with names such as Hitchcock, Welles, Ford, Capra, Wyler, Lang, Wilder, Hawks, Huston, as well as others. Not just the movies themselves but even a type of movie may come to mind when thinking of them, giving birth to such terms as “Hitchcockian”, “Wellesian”, or “Capraesque”, showing the influence their types of films have had on others.

However, it must also be admitted that just below the level of these directors is another group that may not be as well-known by name to the general public, but their work may be well-known, and among film aficianados their names are recognized and held in high regard. Such is certainly the case with directors such as Michael Curtiz, John Sturges, Jaqcues Tourneur, Robert Wise, Mitchell Leisen, Frank Tashlin, Andre De Toth, Allan Dwan, King Vidor, Anthony Mann (a personal favorite), Robert Siodmak, Anatole Litvak, etc. Together, these directors made some of the best movies to come out of Hollywood, and the skill and craftsmanship evident in their work to this day testifies to their skill as visual storytellers.

Well, just below these was another group. These were what are commonly referred to as “journeymen” directors, that is, studio directors who worked on one project after another without a particular style that stood out or made them as well-known as the others mentioned. Some are better known than others and have even had things written about them, such as Henry Hathaway, Richard Fleischer, Gordon Douglas, Jean Negulesco, Jack Arnold, and Vincent Sherman. Most others toiled away in relatively obscurity. But they weren’t all just churning out one picture after another with little regard for quality, far from it. As opposed to this, though not as well-known as their counterparts, a few of them turned out, not just an occasional good movie, but one after the other of very high quality, even on occasion equaling those of their more famous contemporaries. It is their work that is being celebrated here. With that in mind, this post is entitled The Next Best Thing, in other words, unsung directors of the golden age whose body of work had a standard of excellence almost equal to those directors far more renowned. Three in particular are highlighted here and they are listed in order along with their best work:

(1) John Cromwell-An actor-director with 48 films to his credit, he directed 10 actors to Oscar nominations which illustrates the quality of his work. This includes Bette Davis, Charles Boyer, Jennifer Jones, Claudette Colbert, and Eleanor Parker. With his name in the credits you’re almost always assured of getting a movie of high quality from that era.

Must Sees: Of Human Bondage (1934, Bette Davis pictured above), The Prisoner of Zenda (1937, Ronald Colman and Madeleine Carroll pictured above), Algiers (1938, Charles Boyer pictured above), Made For Each Other (1939), In Name Only (1939), Abe Lincoln in Illinois (1940), Son of Fury: The Story of Benjamin Blake (1942), Since You Went Away (1944), The Enchanted Cottage (1945), Anna and the King of Siam (1946), Caged (1950), The Goddess (1958)

(2) Clarence Brown- He directed or produced 50 highly acclaimed films and worked with many of the best performers in Hollywood history. Like John Cromwell, he also directed 10 actors to Oscar nominated performances, with two of them, Lionel Barrymore and Anne Revere, winning Oscars. He also has the distinction of being tied with both Robert Altman and Alfred Hitchcock for most nominations as best director without a win (5). Just like those two, this in no way detracts from the high quality of his work which continues to entertain to this day.

Must Sees: A Free Soul (1931), Anna Karenina (1935, Greta Garbo pictured above), Wife vs. Secretary (1936, Clark Gable and Myrna Loy pictured above), The Human Comedy (1944, Mickey Rooney pictured above), The White Cliffs of Dover (1944), National Velvet (1944), the Yearling (1946), Intruder in the Dust (1949, Juano Hernandez pictured above)

(3) Sam Wood- He directed 11 actors to Oscar nominated performances with 3 winning Oscars. Like Clarence Brown his work dates back to the silents with his best work being in the sound era, and has amassed a list of credits that have thrilled many classic movie fans over the years.

Must Sees: A Night at the Opera (1935), Goodbye Mr. Chips (1939), Kitty Foyle (1940, Ginger Rogers pictured above), The Devil and Miss Jones (1941), Kings Row (1942, Robert Cummings pictured above), The Pride of the Yankees (1942)

This should be enough to get anyone interested started. But time (and space) will fail me if I include the work of other lesser-known craftsmen of the day such as John Farrow, John Brahm, John M. Stahl, Henry King, Jack Conway, Archie Mayo, W.S. Van Dyke, Robert Stevenson, Robert Z. Leonard, George Sherman, William Keighley, etc. Oh, and there’s one more ‘journeyman’ director of the period, Victor Fleming, who directed a couple of little movies you may have heard of-“Gone With the Wind and “The Wizard of Oz”-both in the same year! So look for their work, see it if you can, and gain a better idea of the range of greatness, from both the best and the rest, available from Hollywood’s golden age.

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The 100 Best Movies Made Between 1946-1960-Part 4: The Masterworks

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As mentioned in my last post, this is the final one in the series on the 100 Best Movies Made Between 1946-1960, in my opinion the best period in moviemaking history as stated in my first post on the subject. This one will now provide what I call The Masterworks of that period. What I mean by Masterworks is that these movies are the most well-known and highly regarded works of that era or any other. In addition, in many cases they represent the crowning achievements of their respective directors, some of the best work by some of the best directors that have ever lived. With this list, however, since most of these titles are well-known or at least should be, there will not be any information provided, just the title along with the year and director. If you’ve seen these films you’ll know why they’re being listed, if you haven’t, see them and you’ll see why. I now present The Masterworks, in very random order:

(1) Sunset Boulevard (1950, Gloria Swanson pictured above) Billy Wilder

(2) Some Like It Hot (1959) Billy Wilder

(3) The Apartment (1960, Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine pictured above) Billy Wilder

(4) The Seven Samurai (1954) Akira Kurosawa

(5) The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1946) John Huston

(6) The Asphalt Jungle (1950) John Huston

(7) The Big Sleep (1946, Bogart and Bacall pictured above) Howard Hawks

(8) Red River (1948) Howard Hawks

(9) The Searchers (1956, John Wayne pictured above) John Ford

(10) Touch of Evil (1958) Orson Welles

(11) Vertigo (1958, James Stewart and Kim Novak pictured above) Alfred Hitchcock

(12) Rear Window (1954) Alfred Hitchcock

(13) Psycho (1960) Alfred Hitchcock

(14) Strangers On a Train (1951, Farley Granger and Robert Walker pictured above) Alfred Hitchcock

(15) North by Northwest (1959, Cary Grant pictured above) Alfred Hitchcock

(16) Notorious (1946, Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman pictured above) Alfred Hitchcock

(17) The Third Man (1949) Carol Reed

(18) All About Eve (1950, Bette Davis and Gary Merrill pictured above) Joseph L. Mankiewicz

(19) The Killers (1946) Robert Siodmak

(20) Tokyo Story (1953, Chishu Ryu and Setsuko Hara pictured above) Yasujiro Ozu

(21) La Strada (1954) Frederico Fellini

(22) On the Waterfront (1954, Marlon Brando and Eva Marie Saint pictured above) Elia Kazan

(23) A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) Elia Kazan

(24) Shane (1953, Alan Ladd pictured above) George Stevens

(25) Night of the Hunter (1955) Charles Laughton

(26) Bicycle Thieves (1948) Vittorio De Sica

(27) It’s A Wonderful Life (1946) Frank Capra

(28) Stalag 17 (1953) Billy Wilder

(29) Wild Strawberries (1957) Ingmar Bergman

(30) Black Narcissus (1947) Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger

(31) The Red Shoes (1948) Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger

(32) The 400 Blows (1959) Francois Truffaut

(33) Paths of Glory (1957, Kirk Douglas and Adolphe Menjou pictured above) Stanley Kubrick

(34) Twelve Angry Men (1957) Sidney Lumet

(35) Anatomy of a Murder (1959) Otto Preminger

(36) High Noon (1952) Fred Zinnemann

(37) From Here to Eternity (1953) Fred Zinnemann

(38) Singin In the Rain (1952, Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds pictured above) Stanley Donen

(39) Rebel Without a Cause (1955, James Dean and Natalie Wood pictured above) Nicholas Ray

(40) Breathless (1959) Jean-Luc Godard

(41) The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) William Wyler

(42) The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) David Lean

(43) Great Expectations (1946) David Lean

(44) Oliver Twist (1948) David Lean

(45) A Star Is Born (1954) George Cukor

These would be The Masterworks, and I’m sure most movie lovers with knowledge of both present and past films would agree with the majority of the choices found here, concluding my list of the 100 Best Movies Made Between 1946-1960. There may be some movies of that era that a few may consider great that are not on these lists. The reason is, though the listings from all the posts can be used as a true guide for any movie fan to discover the gems from that period, it is a personalized list, meaning it reflects what I feel are the best of the era, and, I must say, you’d be hard-pressed to find many much better than these. But if some feel that certain movies not listed should be, by all means add them to what has already been provided, giving more weight to what was stated at the beginning, namely, that those years were indeed the best period of moviemaking in history.

So, in conclusion, if you haven’t seen all of these movies, please use these last few posts as a road map to discovery of true movie greatness. Savor what you find. And Mr. Clooney, if by chance you may be listening (or reading, either way highly doubtful but you never know) maybe what has been presented can move even someone like you or others with a preferred period of great moviemaking in mind to re-consider or even completely change your view based on looking at a seminal period of moviemaking that laid the groundwork for years to follow. Here’s hoping.

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The 100 Best Movies Made Between 1946-1960-Part 3: The Next Level

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This post will now present Part 3 of the 100 Best Movies Made Between 1946-1960, what I consider the best period of moviemaking in history as stated in a previous post. This listing is what I call The Next Level, but to clarify, this is not to imply that these movies listed are better than the ones listed in my previous posts. The thought all along has been to present the best movies made during that period. Rather, The Next Level is just in the sense of being more well-known than the others previously listed may have been, either the movie itself or the director or, in most cases, both. With that in mind, here they are, in random order:

(1) The Killing (1956) The story of a racetrack heist gone awry, it’s the movie that made a name for director Stanley Kubrick and clearly indicates the greatness to follow.

(2) Roman Holiday (1953, Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck pictured above) A lovely confection of a movie, with an Oscar-winning performance by Audrey Hepburn in her first starring role and the beginning of the iconic status she holds to this day. It also has one of the best bittersweet endings of all time.

(3) Spartacus (1960) The definitive swords-and-sandals epic, also directed by Kubrick. All together now: “I am Spartacus!” If you don’t know that line, see it and see why it’s one of the most well-known lines in movie history.

(4) The Heiress (1949) One of William Wyler’s best films, with an Oscar-winning performance by Olivia de Havilland, along with a stellar cast and one of the more memorable endings of any movie made then or now.

(5) Witness for the Prosecution (1957, Tyrone Power pictured above)) Billy Wilder with one of the greatest courtroom thrillers ever and another stellar cast led by Tyrone Power, Marlene Dietrich, and the great Charles Laughton.

(6) I Want to Live! (1958) Susan Hayward at her scorned, suffering woman best in her Oscar-winning performance as the first woman executed in California’s gas chamber. Compellingly acted and directed.

(7) Written on the Wind (1956, Rock Hudson and Lauren Bacall pictured above) Director Douglas Sirk made some of the greatest movies of the 50’s and this is the best of them all. Positively bursting with melodrama and Technicolor it can’t fail to entertain a true movie fan of any era.

(8) Elmer Gantry (1960) Burt Lancaster in a powerhouse Oscar-winning performance as a shady traveling preacher in this gripping expose of tent evangelism in the 1920’s. With great support from Jean Simmons and an Oscar-winning turn by Shirley Jones, it still packs a wallop.

(9) The Magnificent Seven (1960) Director John Sturges and his most well-known Western and one of the best known Westerns of all time, with great action scenes, a great score, and a great cast. Still holds up well today.

(10) White Heat (1949, James Cagney pictured above) Unquestionably James Cagney’s best gangster film and one of the best gangster movies ever made. All together now: “Made it ma! Top of the world!”

(11) The Band Wagon (1953) From director Vincente Minnelli, one of the greatest musicals and Fred Astaires’s best MGM musical. If you want to see some of the best dance numbers ever put on film this would be a great place to start.

(12) The African Queen (1951) Humphrey Bogart’s Oscar-winning performance, a superb combination with Katherine Hepburn, excellent John Huston direction, and a torturous trip through the Belgian Congo all make for great entertainment.

(13) Out of the Past (1947) The template for any true film-noir in every way. If you’re looking for real noir, you can’t get a whole lot better than this.

(14) East of Eden (1955, James Dean pictured above) James Dean, in his first film and arguably his best performance, along with solid direction from Elia Kazan, helps to make this a movie of great power. Unforgettable performances by all.

(15) Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958, Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman pictured above) Some of the best acting of the era by an ensemble cast in this vivid version Tennessee William’s play. Still powerful today.

(16) The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946, Lana Turner pictured above) John Garfield and Lana Turner create combustible chemistry and ignite the screen in this, the best version of James M. Cain’s novel.

(17) The Quiet Man (1952) John Ford’s ode to the place of his birth is beautifully realized, with one of John Wayne’s more endearing performances, splendid scenery in Technicolor, and Maureen O’Hara in all her redheaded glory as the object of Wayne’s affection. A delight from start to finish.

(18) Ben-Hur (1959) Another great directorial effort from William Wyler and, despite others made at the time, the definitive Biblical epic in every way. See if any action sequence today is better than the non CGI chariot race in this film and you’ll get an idea why it has stood the test of time.

(19) Key Largo (1948) Edward G. Robinson in one of his last great gangster roles, along with Bogart, Bacall, Lionel Barrymore, and the great Claire Trevor in an Oscar-winning performance, combine under the sure directorial hand of John Huston to create this riveting classic.

(20) Born Yesterday (1950) The irrepressible Judy Holliday in an Oscar-winning performance as Billie Dawn, the quintessential ‘dumb blonde’ who winds up getting the upper hand, with Broderick Crawford and William Holden providing fine support. Director George Cukor’s light touch is evident in one of the best written comedies of that era or any other.

(21) Adam’s Rib (1949, Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn pictured above) The best of the Hepburn/Tracy pairings, with the added bonus of Judy Holliday, and once again under the direction of George Cukor, it’s one of the best comedies ever made.

(22) Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1955, Kevin McCarthy and cast pictured above)) Creepy, scary, unforgettable sci-fi, imitated and remade, but none of that diminishes the power of this classic. Truly one of the best science-fiction movies ever made and a must-see. Don’t forget-“You’re next!”

(23) The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951, Gort the Robot pictured above) Another landmark science-fiction film of the era with a message that still resonates today. Though opposite in tone from ‘Body Snatchers’, it’s still a powerful film that is worthy of its cult status (“Klaatu barada nikto!”)and essential viewing.

(24) Giant (1956) Sprawling tale of wealth, prejudice, and love both realized and unrequited, all as big as Texas. With a great cast and starring Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, and in his last film, James Dean, it’s one of the best and biggest widescreen movies of the era and is just as entertaining now as it was then.

(25) Inherit the Wind (1960) Fredric March and Spencer Tracy give peerless performances in director Stanley Kramer’s version of the famous play depicting the Scopes ‘monkey trial’ of 1925. From these two veterans alone you have one of the best acted films of all time.

These make up The Next Level. As far as what my next and final list on this subject will cover, I think the title says it all: The Masterworks. See you soon.

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The 100 Best Movies Made Between 1946-1960-Part 2: The Other Great Ones

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With this post I continue to list the 100 best movies made between 1946-1960. Part 1 covered Sleepers, that is, 15 great movies of that period that are not completely unknown but may be lesser known by even quite a few current movie fans but certainly need to be seen. This group of 15 covers what I call The Other Great Ones. These would be other great works from famous directors of those years in addition to something else that may be better known, or a stand-alone great work from a lesser-known director during those years. I’ll mention which is which as I go along. Here they are, in random order:

(1) The Caine Mutiny (1954-Van Johnson, pictured above) Director Edward Dmytryk made some good movies in his time, but this would be considered his most well-known film and a classic of that period, so in that sense it is a stand-alone. A tension-filled character study and courtroom drama at the same time, it benefits from a stellar cast and great performances, particularly Humphrey Bogart as the quintessential mad military officer, Captain Queeg, along with individual scenes of striking power. Definitely one to see.

(2) Odd Man Out (1947) Director Carol Reed’s other great movie of the period, along with one to be named in a later post. Another outstanding performance by James Mason as a wounded IRA gunman after a botched robbery attempt trying to find his way to safety. Beautifully shot and superbly crafted, with an outstanding finale, it is one of the best British films ever made.

(3) In A Lonely Place (1950) Another great film directed by Nicholas Ray, one of the greatest directors of that era, with his most well-known film of the ’50’s to appear in a later post. Humphrey Bogart again, in what many consider to be his best screen performance, stars along with a personal favorite of mine, Gloria Grahame, in a powerful character study of a screenwriter with a violent temper possibly guilty of murder, the woman who loves him, and the destructive relationship this leads to. This movie gave birth to what some consider the most romantic words said in any movie: “I was born when you met me, I died when you left me, I lived a few weeks while you loved me.”

(4) Pather Panchali (1955) The movie that put films from India on the map and showcased the extraordinary talent of director Satyajit Ray in his feature film debut. A remarkable, brutally realistic, and tragic story of a poor Indian family, it showcased a part of the world that had not been seen by many before and introduced to the world the greatest director to come out of India and one of the greatest directors period. Though he went on to make other great films, this film, along with the two that followed it in the ’50’s, formed a trilogy that is arguably the greatest film trilogy ever made to this day.

(5) Ace in the Hole (1951) Billy Wilder’s probably least known great film of the 1950’s. An incisive, compelling melodrama that rings true even today, it tells the story of a self-seeking journalist, played to the hilt by Kirk Douglas, who strives to boost newspaper sales and his own image by delaying the rescue of a man trapped in a mine. An unrelentingly cynical look at journalism, it truly lives up to its other title in showing the power of the press gone awry: “The Big Carnival.”

(6) The Lady From Shanghai (1948) (Rita Hayworth, pictured above) Orson Welles’ other great film of the period. Though the story may lean toward the convoluted side (the movie possibly cut against Welles’ wishes), the visuals are pure black and white poetry, with a climax in a hall of mirrors that is stunning in its virtuosity. One of the most brilliantly shot movies of that or any time.

(7) Rififi (1955) Director Jules Dassin made some good films during the era, such as Brute Force and Night and the City, but this one stands head and shoulders above them all, so in that sense it is a stand-alone. The template for all heist movies gone wrong to follow, it tells the tale of a group of crooks who rob a jewelry store and what happens to each one afterward. There is a 25 minute silent robbery sequence of the jewelry store itself that is amazing even to this day. A must-see for any true cinephile.

(8) Johnny Guitar (1954) Nicholas Ray again, this time with Joan Crawford in tow, in one of the most bizarre and entertaining Westerns ever made. Almost an extended catfight, with Mercedes McCambridge as a frighteningly intense antagonist, it tells the story of a gambling saloon owner played by Crawford who resists the efforts of McCambridge and others to run her out of town or have her killed. Great dialogue, unusual settings, glorious Technicolor, and the strong presence of Joan Crawford add up to a cult classic that should not be missed.

(9) Winchester ’73 (1950) Director Anthony Mann’s best western of the 1950’s, and he made some good ones. An exceptional, very entertaining Western, with James Stewart as a man tracking his stolen rifle and the trail of hands his rifle travels through, leading to a memorable shootout climax. James Stewart in great anti-hero mode, Dan Duryea as a great slimy villain, and a compelling storyline all make for another must-see movie of the time.

(10) Marty (1955) Another stand-alone, with Ernest Borgnine in a poignant, Oscar-winning performance as a lonely Bronx butcher who finds love with an equally lonely girl. One of the best of the filmed teleplays of the era, its naturalistic setting and dialogue set a path for other films to follow and its impact remains to this day.

(11) The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) (Lana Turner, pictured above)) Director Vincente Minnelli’s other great movie of the 1950’s, with another to be mentioned in a later post (though Some Came Running comes close). A clever, incisive look at Hollywood and its machinations that is not dated down till today, with an excellent performance in particular by Lana Turner, it makes for great entertainment.

(12) Sweet Smell Of Success (1957) Years ago, New York magazine boldly proclaimed that this was the best New York movie ever made, and its doubtful even a dyed in the wool New York filmmaker such as Woody Allen would disagree. This would be a stand-alone since the director, Alexander Mackendrick, save for the excellent Ealing Studios comedies The Man In The White Suit from 1951 and The Ladykillers from 1955, has done work that is not known by most. But this one more than makes up for that. One of the best written movies ever made and brilliantly filmed in gleaming black and white by the great James Wong Howe, the movie vividly captures not just NYC nightlife of the 1950’s, but practically seethes with the barely contained ruthlessness of Burt Lancaster, in a chilling performance as JJ Hunsecker, the most feared columnist in New York, and his contempt for fawning press agent Sidney Falco, played by Tony Curtis in what his probably his best ever performance. A definite must-see on many levels.

(13) Diabolique (1955) Much imitated, even remade (sadly), but never bettered. A highly influential, suspenseful, and downright scary thriller from lesser-known French director Henri-Georges Clouzot, who specialized in suspense, it is about a sadistic headmaster’s wife and mistress who conspire to kill him and do, but then his body disappears. The story goes that Alfred Hitchcock wanted to direct this but couldn’t get the project. It is a testimony to the quality of this movie that even he couldn’t have done it better.

(14) My Darling Clementine (1946) Director John Ford and the second best western he made during that period, with the first to be named in a later post. The story of Wyatt Earp, played by Henry Fonda, and Doc Holliday, played by Victor Mature, cleaning up Tombstone, including the shootout at the OK Corral, this is a beautifully shot movie, with memorable scenes and excellent performances, a true classic of its type that should not be missed.

(15) Bad Day at Black Rock (1955) John Sturges, though not a household name, was a solid action director if there ever was one, and this is testified to both by this film and another one that is extremely well-known to be named in a later post. This story of a one-armed stranger, superbly played by Spencer Tracy, getting off a train in a sleepy desert town filled with hostile townsfolk and something very sinister to hide, is powerfully told with electrifying action sequences and strongly drawn characters played by some of the best character actors in the business. Another must-see of the period and essential viewing.

This would constitute the group of The Other Great Ones, added to the 15 from my last post, all without question some of the best movies ever made. My next post will add more to the total and the group will have this title: The Next Level. Tell you more when I see you then.

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The 100 Best Movies Made Between 1946-1960-Part 1: Sleepers

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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.

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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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Not-So-Stiff Upper Lip:Ten Visually Arresting British Films

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In October of 2010, British director Danny Boyle, Oscar winner for directing “Slumdog Millionaire”, was quoted as saying this: “I remember always being disappointed that British films weren’t that visual. They were a bit boring and I always find that frustrating.” He was saying this in response as to why his films tended to be filled with highly charged visuals. So, in essence, he was saying that his style was a response to what he didn’t see in the British films of his youth.

In line with his thought, there is a common belief that has persisted that British films of the past for the most part have tended toward the quietly sedate, with the same basic English manor settings, everyone speaking veddy veddy proper English, and nothing overly dramatic truly occurs. This has led quite a few to write off the period before the early to mid-60’s as not worthy of much attention and interest. In reality, though, this could not be farther from the truth.

Unbeknownst to quite a few, there was a period unofficially known as the “golden age” of British cinema that lasted from approximately 1934, beginning with Hitchcock’s original version of “The Man Who Knew Too Much”, and ending with the last great comedy from Ealing Studios, “The Ladykillers”, in 1955. In between this period you will find not just the great British Hitchcock thrillers of the 30’s, but also the exciting Gainsborough Studio melodramas of the 40’s starring James Mason, Margaret Lockwood and others, such as “The Man in Grey” and “The Wicked Lady”, and ending up in the late 40’s and early 50’s with all the great Ealing comedies such as “The Man in the White Suit” and “the Lavender Hill Mob” among others. Interspersed in that period were great works from both Carol Reed and David Lean along with others, making for a truly rich and varied period of British moviemaking.

During that same period there were some standout examples of visually exciting films. Though the list to follow doesn’t cover all of them and doesn’t intend to , these would probably be the best examples to start with to get a real taste of the flair that existed in an unfairly maligned period of British filmmaking that is ripe for discovery or rediscovery. The list is in priority order and is as follows:

(1) Black Narcissus (pictured above-1947)- Beginning in the late 30’s, director Michael Powell began a period of moviemaking that has few equals in ingenuity and originality and that extended to his visuals. Black Narcissus is arguably his crowning Technicolor achievement, shot by one of the greatest cinematographers of all time, Jack Cardiff, who won a well-deserved Oscar for his efforts. A stunning film, it captures, mostly through visuals, the effect of a convent high in the Himalayas on a group of nuns stationed there, going from reverie to madness. Lush, intense, poignant, and suspenseful in equal measure, with a wordless sequence towards the end that is one of the most powerful scenes ever filmed, Black Narcissus is a Technicolor masterpiece.

(2) Stairway to Heaven (1946)-Another Michael Powell gem. He, along with co-director Emeric Pressburger, were truly unique visual storytellers and this film is a prime example of that. The story of a British pilot played by David Niven who is shot down and supposedly dies and goes to heaven but pleads his case to return to earth for the woman he loves, the movie is a stylistic marvel, with scenes on earth shot in vivid color and scenes in heaven in black-and-white, with jaw-dropping shots of both a heavenly court and a real stairway to heaven. Truly an original.

(3) The Red Shoes (1948)- Still another Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger gem. They made some of the best movies of that time or of any time, both visually stunning and complex, like fever dreams come to life, and The Red Shoes, along with Black Narcissus, would be them working at the height of their Technicolor powers. Highly stylized and a favorite of ballet fans everywhere along with Martin Scorsese, who lists this as one of his favorite films of all time, it is about a ballerina torn between two men, with superb dance sequences and color that almost drips from the screen. A wonderful film in every way but especially visually.

(4) Oliver Twist (1948)-Another superb director, David Lean, working at the height of his craft directing the best adaptations of the work of Charles Dickens. Using vivid black and white as a palette, Lean, along with another great cinematographer, Guy Green, creates indelible images and sequences that have stood the test of time. The opening sequence where Oliver’s pregnant mother walks across the stormy moors about to give birth, along with the sequence of Bill Sykes about to commit murder, are some of the most creatively shot scenes ever filmed and are textbook examples of true visual storytelling.

(5) Great Expectations (1946)- David Lean again, with another Dickens adaptation, but once again with classic black-and-white images that fill the screen. The opening scenes in the cemetery where Pip first runs into Magwitch are some of the most suspenseful ever filmed. Beautifully shot from beginning to end and an Oscar winner for Best Cinematography, once again by Guy Green, Great Expectations is another wonderful example of the high level of visual storytelling existing at that time.

(6) The Third Man (1949)-Director Carol Reed, along with cinematographer Robert Krasker who won an Oscar for his work here, creates some of the best black-and-white images of the era using post-war Vienna as the backdrop. It’s the story of a writer played by Joseph Cotton looking for the mysterious Harry Lime played by Orson Welles. Light and shadow along with unique camera angles are used to great effect, especially in the chase sequences toward the end of the film, and the first shot of Orson Welles, with a beam of light used to illuminate him, is one of the greatest entrances in all of film.

(7) Night and the City (pictured above-1950)- Another great example of black-and-white cinematography from that era, this time night-time London. The film traces Harry Fabian, played with great relish by Richard Widmark, a hustler in the London underworld whose time is running out. Filled with striking imagery, it’s arguably the best example of film noir cinematography in a film not shot in the U.S.

(8) Brighton Rock (1947)-Another fine British director, John Boulting, making one of the best movies of the era. Richard Attenborough makes for a memorable villain as Pinkie, a loathsome small-time hood, but its the visuals that really make this film stand out. Outstanding use of editing in various scenes, particularly an opening sequence involving a chase and eventual death, makes this an outstanding example of British filmmaking of the time.

(9) Green For Danger (1946)- The best movie that Alfred Hitchcock never directed. A comedy-suspense classic, this exciting underseen gem is one of the best examples of building tension through visuals that anyone can see. Set in a rural English hospital during World War II where a killer is loose, and starring the inimitable Alistair Sim as an amusing Scotland Yard inspector called in to investigate, this is one of the best films of the 1940’s both visually and otherwise and deserving of far more attention.

(10) Odd Man Out (1947)- Carol Reed again, along with Robert Krasker, and another great film of that era, but once again, it’s the visuals that help make it so. Starring James Mason as a wounded IRA leader hunted by police after a robbery, the great editing and crisp black-and-white imagery add to the suspense and impending sense of doom that fills every frame. A beautifully filmed classic that has been imitated but never bettered.

These are some of the best, if not the best examples of highly visual British films that defy the staid stereotype so unfairly put upon the ones from the past. See them if you can, relish them, and get a chance to appreciate that there’s more to movies from Great Britain than what may have met the eye up until now.

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