Happy National Classic Movie Day!
Every year, Rick of Rick’s Film and TV Cafe poses a question to the blogging world, and it’s always a good surprise. Usually, but not exclusively, the number five figures into things somewhere, and this is one of those times. This year, Rick wants to know which films of the nineteen-fifties we like best.
Honestly, though, if I had to pick my favorite decade for films, I would choose the nineteen-forties. You guys know I enjoy studying the World War Two home front. However, there’s a ton to like about the nineteen-fifties as well. It was, of course, the decade in which television made movie studios nervous, and the old guard upped their game considerably. Why stay home and stare at a tiny screen when there’s glorious Technicolor, breathtaking CinemaScope, and stereophonic sound on offer? At least that’s what the studio muckety-mucks hoped the public would think.
Did it work? Well…yes, and no. As we’ve discussed on here before, the studios had more than TV to contend with, as the so-called “Bill of Divorcement” of 1948 meant they couldn’t own theaters anymore, and independent theater owners were no longer mandated to rent preset blocks of double features and shorts. This cut the studios off from guaranteed revenue streams, and they had to be very careful about where their money went. The pressure was most definitely on. There were plenty of hits and plenty of misses, but either way, the fifties were a crazy roller coaster of a decade for the film industry.
So which five films would be my favorites? It’s a hard choice, but without further ado, in no particular order and all that stuff, here we go…
A Star Is Born (1954)
If anyone asks me, this is the version of A Star Is Born. I honestly can’t think of anyone else who could bring the kind of intensity Judy brought to the role of Esther Blodgett–as I’ve said previously, this was Judy’s “Up Yours” statement to Hollywood. Even if it wasn’t, though, Esther Blodgett is an all-or-nothing role, and Judy absolutely nailed it. She’s ably matched by James Mason, who is believable both as a screen idol and as a has-been, and so likeably pathetic that it’s tough going not to hope Esther and Norman get to somehow live happily ever after.
Rear Window (1954)
I never get tired of Rear Window. My husband and I first saw it at a library screening when we were dating, and I’ve loved it ever since. In fact, I relate to it even more now because I’ve lived in apartments my entire marriage, and that means I’ve seen a lot of strange stuff. No murders, of course, but a lot of strange stuff. Anywhoo, Rear Window is quintessential Hitchcock, which means I’m going to move on and not ruin it for anyone. As I said in my full-length review, this is a movie to be seen and discovered, then seen again.
Singin’ In the Rain (1952)
The perennial classic is wall-to-wall fun. It was made when Gene Kelly, Stanley Donen, and the Freed Unit were really at the top of their game following their success with An American In Paris and Royal Wedding. While it does proport (or maybe foster) one of the major myths of the silent-to-sound transition, namely careers ending because of a star’s awful voice, it can easily be forgiven. Over and over and over. Particularly during the title song sequence when Gene Kelly famously dances down that rain-soaked street.
Roman Holiday (1953)
Gregory Peck, Audrey Hepburn, William Wyler and Rome. What’s not to love? This is the film that saw Audrey Hepburn, as well as her character, Princess Ann, come into their own, all against the backdrop of the storied city. Speaking of which, I always enjoy the way Rome is a character here–it’s interesting to see the city at a time when the Second World War wasn’t too far in the rear view mirror. Rome’s residents seemed happy and hopeful, allowing themselves to wish and dream again. No doubt many things changed because of the war, but Rome was still Rome–vital, graceful, and beautiful.
Father of the Bride (1950)
As much as I enjoy the 1991 Father of the Bride with Steve Martin, there’s something about the original that the remake can only live up to. Titular father Stanley Banks is played with unfailing wryness by the peerless Spencer Tracy, who is suitably matched by Joan Bennett. There’s a nice family feeling to the movie, as the cast got very close in real life, especially Tracy and his onscreen daughter, Elizabeth Taylor. It all adds up to an utterly charming film that doesn’t date.
I’m tempted to sneak in a couple of Honorable Mentions, because, well, just because, but…nah. We’ve got a pretty good snapshot of the 50s right here. Fun, playful, earnest, and always memorable.
For more 50s favorites, please see Rick at the Classic Film And TV Cafe. Thanks for hosting, Rick–it was fun, as always! Thanks for reading, all, and see you next time…