Nightman’s Top Ten Films Of The 1950s

*Note – I accidentally messed up my count when writing out the mini-reviews, leaving out my number 1st time around, hence this list being eleven instead of ten. More fun for you!

Greetings, glancers! Hopefully you have all been enjoying my Top Ten Lists by each year, keeping in mind that these are more representative of personal preference than quality. Now that I have completed each year of the 1950s, I thought I would give a quick overview of my Top Ten of the decade and maybe see if any particular year stands out.

11. Marty (1955)

10. Rebel Without A Cause (1955)

9. Godzilla (1954)

8. The Thing From Another World (1951)

7. Invasion Of The Bodysnatchers (1956)

6. Throne Of Blood (1957)

5. Dial M For Murder (1954)

4. Vertigo (1959)

3. Rear Window (1954)

2.  Seven Samurai (1954)

  1.  North By Northwest (1959)

As if there was any doubt, Kurosawa and Hitchcock owned the 50s. They make up the top six positions, and any one of those can be shown to someone who has never seen a Hitchcock or Kurosawa film before, and they’ll be converted. Maybe Throne Of Blood doesn’t quite fall into that category, but it’s a great one to show Kurosawa fans who haven’t yet experienced it.

Marty I saw in my late teens, and it’s probably a film I would not have bothered with for a long time, if not at all, had it not been for my brother’s love of Airwolf. He would seek out any movies or shows featuring the stars of Airwolf and in those early Internet days it wasn’t so easy getting a hold of those. Marty was one of the easiest as it was an Oscar winning film, compared to something like Damnation Alley. Ernest Borgnine of course won an Oscar for the film, well deserved too. It’s just a very sweet, underdog romance, with an unlucky in love guy and gal meeting each other and… you know the rest. It’s like Rocky, but without the fights.

Rebel Without A Cause is James Dean’s most famous, most iconic movie – it’s one of the films you kind of know all about before you ever watch it thanks to the pop cultural imagery. It’s arguably the first, and maybe still the best film about the generation gap as seen primarily from the youth’s POV. It’s basically about three messed up kids who end up in a police station together and we get to see what they’ve done, examine why they may have done it, and then we get all these classic scenes of 50s American teen life – school, fights, car races – almost every cliche in the book comes from this movie. Only the most iconic movies get banned or create a public outcry – this one seeing concerned groups freaking about their children (or neighbour’s children) becoming juvenile delinquents. Only the most iconic films have their own unique curse – stars Dean, Mineo, and Wood all dying in excessively tragic or mysterious circumstances. Throw in Dennis Hopper, Nicholas Ray directing, and it’s a film everyone should see, preferably at the age depicted.

Godzilla is Godzilla. Again, even if you haven’t seen the original, or any of the four million sequels or remakes, you know what it is. There are a lot of iconic movies this year, but the cool thing is that people are always surprised by how good they are when they watch for the first time. Godzilla is of course Japan’s answer to King Kong, with added nuclear paranoia thanks to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and while both films look clunky now when you first see the creatures, the quality of the direction and storytelling quickly makes you forget and sucks you in. I saw this when I was young, and like many people who see Frankenstein when they are young, I sided quickly with ‘the monster’. It take a hell of a lot of skill to make you sympathize with a hundred foot city crushing dinosaur.

The Thing From Another World is not quite as iconic as others on the list, primarily due to it being overshadowed by Carpenter’s definitive version. You probably shouldn’t go showing The Thing to kids but Nyby’s version is a fantastic introduction to  sci fi and horror for kids. Again, you quickly forget the age of the film and get pulled in by the plot, the claustrophobia, and the tension.

Five years later and we get another sci-fi classic of paranoia and tension in Invasion of The Body Snatchers. It’s my least favourite of the film versions (excluding The Invasion because it is balls), but it’s still fantastic – showing how strong the 70s and 90s versions are. Cinematic sci-fi hit a peak this decade as technology began to catch up with ideas – it wouldn’t be till 1977 till the next major leap took place. In this version, which is by far the most hopeful, a Doctor keeps having patients who claim that their relatives and friends have been ‘replaced’ by someone else, even though they look the same – Capgras Delusion. What is initially dismissed as a group hysteria becomes more sinister as the evidence stacks up, and a silent invasion seemingly spreads throw the city. It’s a little on the nose at times, but it’s great fun and another fine introduction for younger viewers.

Throne Of Blood, as mentioned above, is fantastic. It’s shocking. It’s Shakespeare, but not as you know it. It takes the loose plot of Macbeth, transports it to some point in feudal Japan history, and features one of the all time great death scenes. Seriously, every single time someone who hasn’t seen that moment sees it, their mind is blown. Even though Toshiro Mifune is awesome here (he always is), it’s Izuza Yamada as his wife who steals the show – she is utterly terrifying.

Dial M For Murder is underrated. I feel like when critics and fans talk about Hitchcock’s best films, they always leave this out. Maybe because it isn’t as experimental groundbreaking as some of his other works, but few beat it on sheers thrills and tension building. It’s a familiar enough story, but wrapped around multiple double-crosses that by the end you’ll be tied in knots. In classic Sherlock style, it all takes a Wiley detective to unfurl the mess for us and it’s utterly compelling. Grace Kelly and John Williams are superb and it’s dripping with Hitchcock’s trademark wit.

Vertigo is one of the greatest films of all time. I’ve said it before, that there are four films that tick all the boxes from cultural impact to importance to money making to critical and fan acclaim that no others come close to – Star Wars, The Godfather, and this. The other just happens to be on this list too. These are, in my opinion, the four most important films ever made. Where do you begin with Vertigo? It’s probably Hitchcock’s greatest achievement, bearing in mind he also has three other films on this list, and also made the likes of Rebecca, Psycho, The Birds. The film concerns a detective (James Stewart) who retires after his fear of heights causes the death of a fellow cop. He takes on some freelance work from an old friend, tasked with following the friend’s wife around as the friend suspects she is in danger. Maddie, the wife, meanders around San Fransisco, making various deliberate stops before eventually, apparently trying to kill herself. Stewart rescues her, and falls in love with her, but love quickly becomes obsession, deception, death, rebirth, and a whole bunch of other crazy stuff happens. It’s another film which is great fun to watch with someone who knows nothing about it – like all of Hitchcock’s best movies, they keep you guessing, and second guessing – but you’ll be surprised at every turn.

Rear Window makes it three in a row for The Master. It’s a perfect film, a technical marvel, a sign of a man at the height of his powers and craft, a twisting, yet simple story laid out bodies on a slab, and stars Jimmy Stewart, Grace Kelly, and Thelma Ritter – three of the all time greats. You’ll hear people say that films from so long ago couldn’t possibly affect them, scare them, make them laugh – this will do all of those and prove them wrong.

I mentioned the four most important films ever earlier? Seven Samurai is the other one. Has there ever been a three plus hour black and white movie, in Japanese, that rattles by so quickly and holds your attention so closely? Hell, few modern 90 minute Hollywood movies can manager that today. When people are listing their favourite films, it’s easy to gush on about plot but the truth is that even the most complex plot can be boiled down into one or two sentences – Seven Samurai is as simple as it gets – a bunch of bad guys are antagonizing and hurting a bunch of peasant farmers, so the farmers group together and request that (insert title here) protect them and get rid of the bad guys. You’ve seen that movie a hundred times in a hundred different way, but never as good as this. It’s the characterization, the stylized fights which range from chaotic and fast, almost anti-cinematic and anti-Kurosawa, and therefore more realistic, to the ultra-slowed wide shots to show just how badass the Samurai are. You feel each death personally and by the end you look at the time and wonder if you can squeeze in another watch before bed.

What could possibly top all of those movies? Hitchcock doing Bond, before Bond was a thing. North By Northwest is one of those movies which has it all – drama, romance, thrills, laughs, action, suspense – every genre worth covering is covered. The plot is your standard Hitchcock ‘innocent man in wrong place at wrong time’ movie, and sees Carey Grant on the run for a crime he didn’t commit, and while the cops try to catch him and the criminals try to kill him, he just wants to clear his name and if he’s lucky, fuck Eva Marie Saint. Spoiler Alert – the train does enter the tunnel. There’s just so much to love here, mainly stemming from the script and the way the top drawer cast relishes it. You also have the iconic cornfield chase, the iconic Mt Rushmore fight, and a high octane pace that today’s action directors can only dream of.

Let me know in the comments what you think of these movies, and your reasons for not seeing any of them yet!

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2 thoughts on “Nightman’s Top Ten Films Of The 1950s

  1. John Charet May 16, 2018 / 8:43 pm

    Great post 🙂 I would probably place Vertigo at number one though. Anyway, keep up the great work as always 🙂

    • carlosnightman May 16, 2018 / 10:06 pm

      Again, can’t go wrong but North By Northwest is just so much fun

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