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

The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), 116 minutes, D: Vincente Minnelli
Director Vincente Minnelli's acerbic and scathing show-business related melodrama and dark expose of sordid backstage Hollywood was one of many films about Hollywood (such as Sullivan's Travels (1941) and Sunset Boulevard (1950)). It was based on scriptwriter Charles Schnee's Oscar-winning adaptation of George Bradshaw's short story "Memorial to a Bad Man," that told about a scheming film producer. It won five of its six Oscar nominations. In the film's opening, most of the main characters (an actress, a writer, and a director) were gathered together in the office of film studio executive and "B" picture producer Harry Pebbel (Walter Pidgeon) at the old Shields Studio: director Fred Amiel (Barry Sullivan), star actress (originally a rehabilitated drunk) Georgia Lorrison (Lana Turner), and widowed, award-winning Southern novelist-screenwriter James Lee Bartlow (Dick Powell). After all three had furthered their careers and had become successes - they had one thing in common - all of them had earlier been manipulated and ruthlessly victimized by ambitious, cruel, driven, amoral, and egotistical film producer Jonathan Shields (Kirk Douglas); but now they had been asked to join the despised but irresistible Shields on his next production and film project, but each of them hated him for different reasons. In flashback, the viewpoints and pasts of Shields' three former associates were told, detailing how he had betrayed, double-crossed, and caused them emotional pain; they all disowned him and hoped that he would fail in the future. In the first flashback, Shields was shown as beginning his ruthless and opportunistic rise to power as a maker of quickie, low-budget westerns and horror films; Shields had tricked Harry Pebbel (and his production unit) into hiring him as a producer, while Fred Amiel directed several "B" movies; as time went on, Shields began to substitute his own ideas, and then in a picture written by Amiel, Shields double-crossed him, chose a different more famous director, Von Ellstein (Ivan Triesault), and stole his idea. In the second flashback, the daughter of a famous Hamlet stage actor, Georgia Lorrison (Lana Turner), was a drunk until Jonathan Shields rehabilitated her and made her a movie star; unfortunately, she fell in love with Shields, and thought he loved her in return. Following the premiere of her debut performance in his film, movie star Georgia entered the producer's mansion with a giant bottle of champagne to celebrate - and then Georgia shockingly discovered she had been betrayed by producer Jonathan's affair with starlet magazine cover-model Lila (Elaine Stewart). Jonathan delivered a hateful diatribe against the very vulnerable Georgia - viciously lashing out and berating her. In the subsequent, incredible freak-out scene following Georgia's suicidal reaction to Jonathan's insults - she ran from the luxury mansion, entered her car, recklessly drove off in a raging downpour, spun out of control, slammed on the brakes (an inset close-up of her high-heeled shoe) and screamed, as her automobile lurched and hurtled around and finally came to rest on the side of the road. In the third flashback, young college professor and novelist James Bartlow was brought to Hollywood with his faithless, flirtatious southern belle wife Rosemary (Oscar-winning Gloria Grahame), to adapt his latest best-selling book into producer Shields' film; to get Bartlow's distracting wife out of the way, Shields paired her up with Latino actor Victor "Gaucho" Ribera (Gilbert Roland) to take a romantic trip to Mexico; the entire affair ended in tragedy when their private plane crashed and both were killed. After Shields decided to take over the direction of the film (his first directorial effort), it became a disaster - the studio went bankrupt and he lost the studio. T he final scene was of director Amiel, actress Georgia and screenwriter Bartlow eavesdropping together on one telephone receiver - listening to the trans-atlantic conversation between Pebbel and the exiled Shields calling from Paris three years later - should they help him or not?

The Big Sky (1952), 140 minutes, D: Howard Hawks

Europa '51 (1952, It.), 113 minutes, D: Roberto Rossellini

Fanfan la Tulipe (1952, Fr./It.) (aka Fearless Little Soldier, or Fan-Fan the Tulip), 102 minutes, D: Christian-Jaque

Five Fingers (1952) (aka 5 Fingers), 108 minutes, D: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Michael Wilson's completed screenplay, thoroughly revised (uncredited) by the film's newly-appointed director Joseph L. Mankiewicz, was based upon L.C. Moyzisch's novel Operation Cicero. The fictionalized book (and subsequent semi-documentary spy-thriller film) was an account of how German Nazi intelligence officers during WWII were sold copies of the Allies' top secret documents (including information about the Normandy beach invasion of 1944, code-named Operation Overlord), in a transfer known as 'Operation Cicero.' The real-life 'Cicero' of the plot was Ulysses Diello ('Cicero') (James Mason), the traitorous valet to the British ambassador to Turkey in the early 1940s. As a spy, he plotted with intermediary Moyzisch (Oscar Karlweis) - the Nazi attache in the German embassy in Turkey, and Count Franz Von Papen (John Wengraf), the cynical German ambassador in Ankara, to provide film rolls (photos of the secret war files) in return for weekly cash payments of British pounds. Diello had fallen in love with the beautiful Countess Anna Staviska (Danielle Darrieux), a destitute widowed Frenchwoman living in exile in Turkey, and used her new villa (financed by his payoffs) as a meeting point for his mysterious 'business' transactions. The British became suspicious of security leaks in the Turkish embassy and sent special agent George Travers (Michael Rennie) to investigate. In the film's ironic ending, after the Germans had bungled using the secret information, Diello was living a life of gentlemanly luxury in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, after being double-crossed by both the Countess (who fled to Switzerland after withdrawing money from her bank account) and the Germans (who it was revealed had paid Diello with counterfeit bills).

Forbidden Games (1952, Fr.) (aka Jeux Interdits), 102 minutes, D: Rene Clement

The Golden Coach (1952, Fr./It.) (aka Le Carrosse D'or), 103 minutes, D: Jean Renoir

The Greatest Show on Earth (1952), 153 minutes, D: Cecil B. DeMille

High Noon (1952), 85 minutes, D: Fred Zinnemann
Director Fred Zinnemann's black and white, legendary classic 50's Western was frequently interpreted as a parable about artists left to "stand alone" and face persecution during the HUAC Hollywood blacklisting. It told about a principled lawman awaiting a suspenseful, fateful showdown with ruthless bandits returning to a small town to seek revenge. The film was enhanced by Dimitri Tiomkin's ballad (sung by Tex Ritter), and by the fact that it was virtually filmed in 'real-time' as the climactic and tense showdown approached. Hadleyville town marshal Will Kane (Best Actor-winning Gary Cooper), a hero figure, was newly-married to a beautiful, pacifist Quaker bride (Grace Kelly). With integrity and a strong sense of justice, duty, and loyalty, he placed everything on the line to confront a deadly outlaw killer (and his gang) set free by liberal abolitionists. The murderer arrived with his gang on the noon train - and Kane was left abandoned by an ungrateful town to face them alone.

Ikiru (1952, Jp.) (aka To Live), 143 minutes, D: Akira Kurosawa

The Quiet Man (1952), 129 minutes, D: John Ford
John Ford's Irish romantic comedy/drama was a Taming of the Shrew tale - lushly filmed on location. It told about an American ex-prizefighter Sean Thornton (John Wayne) who retired to his native, childhood Ireland (the greenish town of Inisfree) to begin a new life and find an Irish lass for a wife. He courted and subdued the fiery, red-haired, strong-willed Mary Kate (Maureen O'Hara), and fought an epic marathon brawl with her disapproving brother Will 'Red' Danaher (Victor McLaglen) to secure her dowry and precious heirlooms. Along the way, he was aided by the impish leprechaun-like matchmaker Michaeleen Flynn (Barry Fitzgerald).

Singin' in the Rain (1952), 103 minutes, D: Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen
One of the all-time best and most enjoyable of Hollywood musicals, produced by the Freed Unit - this colorful and appealing film spoofed and satirized the transitional chaos surrounding the end of the silent film era and the dawn of the 'talkies.' In the film's opening, vaudeville, egocentric silent film actor/dancer Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) and his vain, empty-headed blonde co-star actress Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen) were attending their Monumental Pictures' 1927 film premiere held at Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. Both were at the height of box-office popularity, but were competing with the advent of sound heralded by Warners' full-length sound picture The Jazz Singer (1927). Don and Lina were both taking diction lessons from an elocution coach, memoralized by the song "Moses Supposes." Shrill-voiced Lina's first ill-fated talkie The Duelling Cavalier with her swashbuckling co-star Lockwood turned out laughable before studio preview audiences, due to unsynchronized and uneven sound, and Lina's ghastly ungenteel voice. The problems of placing hidden microphones on the set and filming with bulky cameras in the early talkies were also comically illustrated. During an all-night session, Don received advice from his dance partner and friend Cosmo Brown (Donald O'Connor) and his ingenue girlfriend - aspiring actress Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds). Their idea was to remake the film as a musical re-titled The Dancing Cavalier, and Kathy would be recruited to rescue it - by secretly dubbing over Lina's uncouth voice. The newly-envisioned film was a tremendous success, but then the voice-dubbing deception was ultimately exposed when Lina was unable to duplicate the film's singing style in a live performance onstage. After being embarrassed in front of the audience and laughed off the stage at the film's premiere, Kathy was revealed to be the true singer - and the love between her and Don blossomed. With marvelous musical numbers (many of which were composed during the early sound phase of films from 1929 onward) including the nostalgic "All I Do Is Dream of You," the wacky and acrobatic "Make 'Em Laugh" (performed solo by Cosmo), the exuberant and lively "Good Mornin'", the dance duet "You Were Meant for Me," the title song "Singin' in the Rain" (the film's most famous sequence featuring a well-choreographed solo and soggy tap-dance on a street during a rainstorm), and the film's largest production number "Broadway Rhythm" (about a young hoofer arriving on Broadway and featuring a seductive dance by a gangster's moll portrayed by Cyd Charisse).

Umberto D. (1952, It.), 91 minutes, D: Vittorio De Sica

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