Greatest Films of the 1950s
Greatest Films of the 1950s

Greatest Films of the 1950s
1950 | 1951 | 1952 | 1953 | 1954 | 1955 | 1956 | 1957 | 1958 | 1959


Title Screen Film Genre(s), Title, Year, (Country), Length, Director, Description

All About Eve (1950), 138 minutes, D: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
This much-loved, lengthy, acerbic drama of theatre life was about a young actress who insinuated her way into a Broadway stage star's life. Wit and sarcasm reigned supreme (e.g., "Fasten your seat belts. It's going to be a bumpy night") and George Sanders was perfect as Addison De Witt - a cynical, egotistical columnist/critic. The literate Best Picture-winning film featured Bette Davis as aging, bitchy accomplished star Margo Channing who took the seemingly-naive and innocent fan Eve (Anne Baxter) under her wing. As the film opened, the rising, unscrupulous star accepted an award for best newcomer on the Broadway scene. Then, in a flashback, it was revealed how the shameless starlet insinuated herself into the life of her idol, and schemed to steal her theatrical roles and her lover Bill (Gary Merrill). By ruthlessly exploiting the older woman's kindness and hospitality, she managed to achieve her present success while almost destroying the veteran star in the process. The ending of the film returned to the awards banquet to find the starlet clinging to her trophy, with another fan in the wings. Also with Marilyn Monroe in a bit part.

The Asphalt Jungle (1950), 112 minutes, D: John Huston
A classic noirish thriller, an adaptation based on a novel by W. R. Burnett, about a mastermind, aging, ex-convict criminal Doc (Sam Jaffe), who comes out of retirement (prison) for one last jewel robbery with an assemblage of underworld characters - Kentucky horse-farm loving Dix Handley (Sterling Hayden) with tough-girlfriend Doll (Jean Hagen), and sleazy lawyer partner Alonzo Emmerich (Louis Calhern) who plans to fence the jewels to support his expensive habits (e.g., an affair with seductive mistress Marilyn Monroe - in a cameo role). The heist unravels quickly and everything falls apart when an alarm accidentally sounds and the safecracker is mortally wounded by a stray bullet. While Emmerich commits suicide, and others are either jailed or wounded, Doc's creepy voyeurism for a young girl dooms him during his escape. Dix reaches his childhood Kentucky farm but expires in a field surrounded by horses.

Born Yesterday (1950), 103 minutes, D: George Cukor
Director George Cukor's comedy was one of the greatest of all-time, based upon Garson Kanin's 1946 play, and remade as Born Yesterday (1993) with Melanie Griffith, John Goodman, and Don Johnson. In the opening sequence, all three of the major characters were introduced during an elaborate arrival scene at Washington DC's Hotel Statler: corrupt, disreputable and uncouth, ignorant, and crooked millionaire junkyard (scrap-iron) tycoon Harry Brock (Broderick Crawford), his unrefined, expensively-dressed (with multiple fur coats) "dumb blonde" ex-chorus girl mistress/fiancee (a 'kept woman' for seven years) from Brooklyn named Emma "Billie" Dawn (Judy Holliday, a Best Actress Oscar winner in a major upset), and influential, DC political journalist Paul Verrall (William Holden). Brock and his mistress were escorted to an upper-floor, reserved "entire wing" of three expensive suites of rooms. In consultation with his Washington lawyer Jim Devery (Howard St. John), Brock was seriously contemplating setting up an educational tutor to refine Billie's harsh social graces, so that he wouldn't be embarrassed by her behavior in front of congressmen and other influential people. Brock hired Paul Verrall as Billie's tutor for $200/week - to refine Billie and make her more socially respectable and happy: ("Show her the ropes, sorta, and kinda explain things to her"), while he was working bribes and trying to influence politicians. Paul was particularly interested in trying to expose Brock's nefarious business dealings while working with Billie. As part of her tutoring sessions, Paul gave Billie civic-lessons field trip/tours around Washington DC's monuments and public buildings. (It was revealed during the story that Brock had unethically been using the unwitting Billie as an accomplice for his many business maneuverings and illegalities by having his empire of junkyards registered in her name - so he wouldn't be held responsible if prosecuted.) A burgeoning romance developed between Billie and bachelor Paul, after he kissed her in an elevator. Over time, Billie began to develop social consciousness and a true understanding of democracy, as well as an understanding of Brock's corruption, greed, power and personal arrogance. In the climactic scene, the newly-independent, free-thinking Billie realized that she needed to escape from Brock forever, when he was becoming more aggressively abusive, and still calling her 'dumb.' She called him a "Big Fascist!", and retorted: "Would you do me a favor, Harry?...Drop dead!" Finally, she stood up to Brock, and laid down an ultimatum: ("When you steal from the government, you steal from yourself, ya dumb ox!"). She affirmed that she would no longer sign any of his business papers in his scheme to form a scrap-iron cartel, and threatened to leave him. She would slowly relinquish his 126 different properties back to him that she legally owned (he had signed them over to her to hide them from the government), but only one by one: "In this whole thing, I guess you forgot about me - about how I'm a partner....So here's how it's gonna be. I don't want 'em. I don't want anything of yours or to do with you, so I'm gonna sign 'em over ...only not all at once. Just one at a time. One a year. Only you gotta behave! 'Cause if you don't, I could let go on everything! For what you've done, even since I've known you, I bet you could be put in jail for about 900 years. You'd be a pretty old man when you got out." Meanwhile, the two lovers Paul and Billie were married. The film's final lines were spoken to a motorcycle cop who asked for their license, but he was given their recent marriage license. He chuckled: "License please. No, not this license" - but then quickly forgave their crime: "Okay, forget it. My wedding present. But take it easy, or you'll never make it." Billie spoke about her recent marriage to Paul: "Oh, don't worry, we'll make it. It's a clear case of predestination." Officer: "Pre--- what?" Billie: "Look it up!"

Cinderella (1950), 76 minutes, D: Disney Studio

D. O. A. (1950), 83 minutes, D: Rudolph Mate

Father of the Bride (1950), 94 minutes, D: Vincente Minnelli

The File on Thelma Jordon (1950), 100 minutes, D: Robert Siodmak
The film noirish story centered around mysterious, duplicitous and treacherous femme fatale Thelma Jordon (Barbara Stanwyck) - as evidenced by the film's tagline: "...SHE'LL LIE...KILL OR KISS HER WAY OUT OF ANYTHING!" Thelma captured the emotionally-dependent heart of unhappily-married assistant District Attorney Cleve Marshall (Wendell Cory). Cleve's wife Pamela (Joan Tetzel) was more loyal to her wealthy father, and she constantly criticized him, pushing him to heavy drinking. Thelma chose Cleve as the duped fall-guy when she came to the office of chief investigator Miles Scott (Paul Kelly) to report threates of robberies at her home. She engaged in an adulterous and illicit (but genuine) love affair with Cleve, telling him: "Maybe I'm just a dame and didn't know it." She had even confessed to him, falsely, that she was lovelessly married and recently separated from shady jewel thief Tony Laredo (Richard Rober) - when in fact they had planned the crimes together. The misguided and self-deluding "fall guy" DA threw aside his family, future, and honor and helped to defend Thelma after her wealthy Aunt Vera Edwards (Gertrude Hoffman) was murdered. DA Cleve helped Thelma to reconstruct an 'untouched' version of the crime scene, so that neither of them would be suspected of foul play for tampering with evidence. Thelma seemed to imply to Cleve that Tony committed the murder during the robbery of her aunt's valuable emerald necklace, and made it look like an outside job. In reality, Thelma was the cold-blooded, calculating murderess. There was also suspicion about an unseen accomplice dubbed "Mr. X" (Cleve himself), who had assisted Thelma. Thelma became a prime suspect - she was charged for the murder (her Aunt's recently-rewritten will in her favor was a major factor). Love-struck DA Cleve took up the prosecution on her behalf, quietly hired defense attorney Kingsley Willis (Stanley Ridges) for Thelma, and manipulated the case to her favor. He circumvented revealed evidence of a dark life of blackmail, gambling, and relationship with her husband-partner-in-crime Tony, and she was found not guilty. After a post-trial rendezvous of Thelma with Tony, the couple planned to flee and live off her Aunt's inheritance. When Cleve arrived to be with Thelma, she told him that Tony had reappeared from Chicago for her ("I've always loved him...You must have known it, except you didn't want to know"). She admitted that Cleve had been set up to help defend her ("You were the fall guy, Cleve, right from the beginning"), and that she had killed Vera ("I'd like to say I didn't intend to kill her, but when you have a gun, you always intend if you have to"). After Tony knocked out Cleve from behind, Tony and Thelma fled together to go "as far away as possible." She struggled with accomplice Tony as he drove, trying to injure him with a burning-hot dashboard cigarette lighter. He died when their car crashed over a cliff and caught fire, while Thelma was hospitalized. During her deathbed scene, she made a full confession to Miles, but refused to identify "Mr. X." As she expired, she told Cleve: "You don't suppose they could just let half of me die?" Miles realized that Cleve was the mysterious "Mr. X."

Gun Crazy (1949/1950) (aka Deadly is the Female), 87 minutes, D: Joseph H. Lewis
A cult, noirish love-on-the-run tale based on MacKinlay Kantor's story, pre Bonnie and Clyde, about a reckless couple fatally attracted to their firearms - and each other. One of the best B films ever made. After serving in the Army, gun-loving Bert Tare (John Dall) meets trick sharp-shooter femme fatale Annie Laurie Starr (Peggy Cummins), portraying Annie Oakley in a Wild West carnival side-show - they are perfect companions. The two wild, amoral lovers marry - when financially strapped, they turn to a series of exciting cross-country robberies. One unnerving sequence is shot non-stop from a camera planted in the back seat of their getaway car. Their amour fou ultimately leads to their tragic end in a foggy swamp, brought down by their violent, jarring, reckless natures.

The Gunfighter (1950), 84 minutes, D: Henry King

Harvey (1950), 104 minutes, D: Henry Koster

In a Lonely Place (1950), 94 minutes, D: Nicholas Ray
A mature, bleak and dramatic 1950 film noir from maverick director Nicholas Ray - from a complex script by Andrew Solt. World-weary, acerbic, self-destructive, hot-tempered, depression-plagued Hollywood screenwriter and laconic anti-hero Dixon Steele (Humphrey Bogart), while planning to adapt a trashy best-selling romance novel, becomes the prime suspect in a murder case of a night-club hat-check girl Mildred Atkinson (Martha Stewart). After he invites her to his apartment to provide a synopsis for the book that he hasn't read, she is found brutally murdered the next morning. His romantic relationship with a lovely neighbor/would-be starlet Laurel Gray (Gloria Grahame) in the housing complex grows stronger when she confirms his alibi, but ultimately is put to the test as she becomes increasingly suspicious of his disintegrating self.

Los Olvidados (1950, Mex.) (aka The Forgotten Ones, or The Young and the Damned), 85 minutes, D: Luis Bunuel

Orphée (1950, Fr.) (aka Orpheus), 112 minutes, D: Jean Cocteau

Panic in the Streets (1950), 96 minutes, D: Elia Kazan

Rashomon (1950, Jp.), 88 minutes, D: Akira Kurosawa

Rio Grande (1950), 105 minutes, D: John Ford

Seven Days to Noon (1950, UK), 94 minutes, D: John Boulting and Roy Boulting

Sunset Boulevard (1950) (aka Sunset Blvd.), 110 minutes, D: Billy Wilder
Wilder's witty black comedy regarding a famed silent film star who refuses to accept the end of her stardom. Opens with a shocking flashback narrated in voice-over by a dead corpse - a victim floating face-down in a Sunset Boulevard mansion's swimming pool. Aspiring, debt-ridden screenwriter Joe Gillis (William Holden) hides from creditors while hired to write a script for faded film queen Norma Desmond's (Gloria Swanson) impending comeback. He takes advantage, encouraging her false hopes and moving in as her gigolo. The once-great star lives in a secluded estate with butler/chauffeur Max (Erich von Stroheim). The ambivalent, 'kept man' scriptwriter balances his exploitative dependence upon the film star with romantic attention toward young script-reader Betty Schaefer (Nancy Olson), creating a lethal situation. The perverse, cynical film references Swanson's actual career, with excerpts from one of her unfinished films (Queen Kelly, directed by von Stroheim) and cameos by other forgotten silent film stars (e.g., Buster Keaton).

Winchester '73 (1950), 92 minutes, D: Anthony Mann

A unique and classic, noirish black and white "psychological" western film based on a story by Stuart Lake - and the first of eight films (five westerns) pairing James Stewart with director Mann. It had all of the stereotypical attributes of an 'oater' (ie., a law-abiding town run by Marshal Wyatt Earp (Will Geer), an exciting shoot-out rifle competition, a decisive poker card-game, a buckboard chase, Indians on the warpath attacking a besieged group of cavalry troopers, a shoot-out between desperados and a posse, a deadly saloon fight, a bank robbery, a frantic horse-chase, and a cliffside rifle duel to the death). Accompanied by his longtime friend-sidekick High-Spade (Millard Mitchell), an obsessed, hard-bitten, vindictive Lin McAdam (James Stewart) participated in a Fourth of July markmanship shooting contest in Dodge City, Kansas to win a prized 1873 Winchester repeating rifle. Although he won, the rifle was soon stolen by his surly, runner-up opponent, an outlaw named 'Dutch' Henry Brown (Stephen McNally). The film followed the dogged, revenge-seeking search for the cursed and deadly weapon, the film's title character. In this tale of murder, revenge and deceit, the high-powered, famed rifle changed hands multiple times: from the murderous outlaw who first stole the gun, then to disreputable and immoral Indian gun trader Joe Lamont (John McIntire), to savage Indian brave-chief Young Bull (Rock Hudson!), briefly to young cavalry officer Doan (Tony Curtis!, billed as Anthony Curtis) and cantankerous old Army Sgt. Wilkes (Jay C. Flippen), to saloon girl Lola's (Shelley Winters) cowardly fiancee Steve (Charles Drake), to a crazed and psychotic killer 'Waco' Johnny Dean (Dan Duryea), and then back to the outlaw before ending up in the hands of its rightful owner. The western concluded with a climactic shoot-out between Lin and 'Dutch' on a hilly rock cliffside - and the revelation that they were estranged brothers (and 'Dutch' - actually Matthew McAdam - had murdered their father by shooting him in the back).

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