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

1951

Ace in the Hole (1951) (aka The Big Carnival), 111 minutes, D: Billy Wilder
Description.

The African Queen (1951), 105 minutes, D: John Huston
Based on the 1935 novel by C.S. Forester, the wonderful combination of Hepburn and Bogie makes this a thoroughly enjoyable blend of comedy and adventure. Forester's story, Bogey's Oscar®-winning performance, 'odd-couple' chemistry, and an exotic locale combine for classic adventure/romance. The boozing, smoking, cussing captain of a tramp steamer, Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart), saves prim, sober, and proper missionary Rose Sayer (Katharine Hepburn), "a crazy psalm-singing skinny old maid," after her brother (Robert Morley) is assaulted by a German soldier at the beginning of World War I in German East Africa, and dies from insanity. After many quarrels, they survive a treacherous African river journey on a rattle-trap steamer, shoot the rapids, struggle with mosquitos and blood-sucking leeches, and set sail on the Ulonga-Bora in order to sabotage The Louisa, a German warship.

Alice in Wonderland (1951), 75 minutes, D: Disney Studio
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An American in Paris (1951), 102 minutes, D: Vincente Minnelli
One of the great 50s screen musicals and a Best Picture-winner, colorfully enhanced by the grace and athleticism of Gene Kelly and direction by Vincente Minnelli. Jerry Mulligan (Gene Kelly), a young American G.I., lingers in Paris after World War II to study art and painting. He wants to live the life of the great painters -- in a Montmartre garret, starving for his art. When a rich, romance-minded American gallery owner (Nina Foch) offers to support him, he agrees -- even if the bargain means joining the benefactress' entourage of lovers. Then he meets Lise (Leslie Caron), a young, exquisite French mademoiselle, and instantly falls in love. Unfortunately, she's already engaged to marry her benefactor, music hall star Henri Baurel (Georges Guetary), an older man who saved her from the Nazis. But when Henri discovers that she cares for someone else, he gracefully exits, leaving the young couple to find love together. The film debut for French actress/dancer Leslie Caron, who was discovered by Gene Kelly. With sumptuous sets, charming dance sequences, George and Ira Gershwin's memorable melodies, and a seventeen-minute, avant-garde ballet choreographed by Kelly - with backdrops representing various impressionistic artists.

A Christmas Carol (1951, UK) (aka Scrooge), 86 minutes, D: Brian Desmond Hurst
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The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), 92 minutes, D: Robert Wise
One of the seminal science fiction films of motion picture history, it is based on Edmund H. North's adaptation of the short story "Farewell to the Master" by Harry Bates. Much like the "drive in movies" of the 1950's, such as The War of the Worlds (1952), Forbidden Planet (1956), and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), this influential, fantasy sci-fi film featured state-of-the-art visual effects and salient social commentary on the Cold War and warfare. The film not only examined wider issues of politics and society, but also at human emotions and frailties. This cautionary science fiction parable begins with the landing of a spacecraft on the White House Mall. A benevolent, interplanetary alien in humanoid form, Klaatu (Michael Rennie), causes a panic when he demands to speak to all of the representatives of Earth's governments. Although he warns the people of Earth to be non-violent and stop nuclear testing, he is shot by a nervous soldier. His massive robotic companion Gort (Lock Martin) vaporizes the offensive weapons, as Klaatu is hospitalized. He goes into hiding posing as an Earthling named Carpenter while residing with a human family (single mother/widow Helen (Patricia Neal) and her son Bobby (Billy Gray)), in order to observe their lives, and meanwhile to attempt to establish contact with Earth's leading scientist Dr. Bernhardt (Sam Jaffe). Klaatu's demonstration of power over the industrial complex -- by stopping power everywhere for half an hour -- ends up tragically. One of the most famous phrases in science fiction history is recited by Helen to stop Gort's rampage when Klaatu is killed: "Gort, Klaatu barada nikto." The film ends with the alien visitor's resurrection and a warning-proclamation. With a memorable score by Bernard Herrmann.

The Lavender Hill Mob (1951, UK), 81 minutes, D: Charles Crichton
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The Man in the White Suit (1951, UK), 85 minutes, D: Alexander Mackendrick
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Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951, UK), 122 minutes, D: Albert Lewin
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A Place in the Sun (1951), 123 minutes, D: George Stevens
An adaptation of Theodore Dreiser's novel An American Tragedy - a star-crossed melodramatic romance. Low-born, ambitious George Eastman (Montgomery Clift) hitches a ride to his distant uncle's place, where he is given an assembly-line bathing-suit factory job. The poor boy is entranced and infatuated by the snobbish, beautiful, well-bred rich girl Angela Vickers (Elizabeth Taylor) and they fall in starry-eyed love, but he also dates and impregnates poor, lower-class co-worker Alice Tripp (Shelley Winters). On Labor Day weekend at the Vickers' lakeside home, during a rowboat ride with Alice on a lake, George contemplates and wills (if not actually commits) the murder of his fiancee when she accidentally falls in and drowns - he falls from his 'place in the sun' when convicted and executed.

Strangers on a Train (1951), 101 minutes, D: Alfred Hitchcock
Another of Hitchcock's great suspense thrillers - co-scripted by Raymond Chandler and based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith. During a 'chance' meeting on a train enroute from Washington DC (a cleverly-choreographed sequence in which the two sets of the strangers' shoes are highlighted), rich psychopathic playboy Bruno Anthony (Robert Walker) explains his macabre, morbid theory of the perfect murder - an exchange or swap of murders and victims - to professional champion tennis player Guy Haines (Farley Granger). Bruno diabolically proposes murdering Guy's clinging, stifling wife Miriam (Laura Elliot) - since Guy wants to marry US Senator's daughter Anne Morton (Ruth Roman) - in exchange for Guy murdering Bruno's spiteful father (Jonathan Hale) and his acquisition of an inheritance, without any trace of clues. Haines dismisses the preposterous idea until Anthony kills his wife Miriam by strangulation at an amusement park and he is expected to fulfill his part of the bargain - with threat of blackmail. With a few great set pieces, including the tennis match, the cross-cutting sewer grating scene, the cocktail party scene of how to commit a murder, and the out-of-control merry-go-round in the finale in which Guy was finally cleared of the murder.

A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), 125 minutes, D: Elia Kazan
The powerful, frank dramatic adaptation of Tennessee Williams' Pulitzer Prize-winning play, based upon Oscar Saul's adaptation. The story of two sisters: a neurotic, sensitive southern belle Blanche DuBois (Vivien Leigh) who visits and remains with her sister (Kim Hunter) and her animalistic, earthy and vulgar brother-in-law Stanley Kowalski (Marlon Brando) in a down-and-out New Orleans project in the French Quarter. Mitch (Karl Malden), one of Stanley's buddies takes an interest in Blanche until Stanley strips and ultimately reveals the secrets of her embarrassing, lurid past. After being 'raped' by Stanley in a heavily-censored and edited sequence, the vestiges of her shattered self are led away to a mental institution.

The Thing (From Another World) (1951), 87 minutes, D: Christian Nyby
An influential and taut horror and science-fiction B-film hybrid based on John W. Campbell's 1938 story Who Goes There? This alien invasion film was director Hawks' sole science-fiction effort. A group of isolated scientists led by military pilot Captain Patrick Hendry (Kenneth Tobey) and lead researcher Dr. Carrington (Robert Cornthwaite) are stationed in a remote Arctic base. They discover a flying saucer UFO buried deep in the tundra, along with an eight-foot alien body (James Arness) in a block of ice. After removing the frozen spaceman from the craft and bringing it back to their research station headquarters, the Thing creature (a chlorophyll-based humanoid) accidentally thaws and escapes, and proceeds to kill the sled dogs and hunt down the scientists themselves for their blood. The film effectively focuses on character interaction, with natural and rapid-fire dialogue, appropriate scientific jargon, and a strong-willed female character named Nikki Nicholson (Margaret Sheridan). The three most memorable moments are the discovery of the shape of the spacecraft, the scene of the alien set ablaze with kerosene, and the final warning/bulletin radioed by reporter Ned "Scotty" Scott (Douglas Spencer) from the North Pole: "...Watch the skies, everywhere! Keep looking, keep watching the skies!"


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