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Top 5 films of the 50’s

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Credit: Owen Meldon, 42Fifty

By the time the 1950s had rolled around, the Hollywood machine was already well and running. However, with the rise of television, the film industry had to prove to audiences that cinema was here to stay. This resulted in many great films. These are my personal five favorites from the era.

5: “A Face in The Crowd” (1957)

“A Face in The Crowd” is the story of  Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes, an Arkansas drifter who rises to power and fame via a television program. I would consider this a fairly underrated movie. It’s message about the nature of fame and how far it can go into one’s head rings just as true today as it did in 1957. It’s directed by Elia Kazan, director of films such as “A Streetcar Named Desire,” “On the Waterfront,” and “East of Eden.” They’re all amazing movies in their own right, however this film still manages to stand out amongst them. Andy Griffith, in his debut performance, does an outstanding job of showing Rhodes’ gradual decline into madness. The cinematography was also wonderful for its time. Sadly, due to its mixed reviews at the time of its release, the film managed to slip under the mainstream. However, over the years, it has gained in popularity, and in 2008, it was even inducted into the Library of Congress.

4: “Throne of Blood” (1957)

“Throne of Blood” is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” set in feudal Japan. Akira Kurosawa’s take on the play is by far the most unique take I’ve ever seen. Also known for works like “Seven Samurai,” “Rashomon,” and “Yojimbo,” Kurosawa was practically a master of the samurai genre, and it really shows in this film. He beautifully blends the western theatre of Shakespeare with the traditional style of Japanese theatre of Noh. Toshirô Mifune and Isuzu Yamada do wonderfully as Taketoki Washizu and Lady Asaji Washizu respectively, the film’s version of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. Mifune’s fear, anger, and hunger for power and Yamada’s calm, collective cunningness work absolutely perfectly for both characters. In my opinion, it is the greatest adaptation of the scottish play of all time. 

3: “Rebel without a Cause” (1955)

“Rebel without a Cause” follows Jim Stark, a rebellious teen who moves to a new town, as he tries to go about his day. James Dean’s unrivaled presence is on full display in this film. He brings the most emotion out of every scene. His co-stars, Sal Mineo and Natalie Wood, bounce off of his energy really well. However, they still manage to bring their own energy on-screen as well! For any fan of coming-of-age films, this is an absolutely quintessential watch. It is most definitely the peak of James Dean’s career. Sadly, it was one of only three films made before his tragic death in 1955.

2: “The Night of The Hunter” (1955)

“The Night of The Hunter” is about a zealous preacher who tries to get his two young step-children to tell him where their father hid $10,000. Robert Mitchum plays Harry Powell, the aforementioned preacher, and it is by far one of the most terrifying performances of all time. Mitchum manages to mix his natural charm and his natural unnerving nature beautifully. The story itself is a wonderful noir meets southern folk-tale. There is not one second that doesn’t grab my attention. Much like “A Face in The Crowd,” this also faded into obscurity, due to the film’s mixed reviews. It ended up being the sole film from director Charles Laughton. A tragic fact, considering the amount of sheer amount of potential he showed with this film. However, also like “A Face in The Crowd,” this too has managed to grow in popularity. 

Honorable Mentions:

“12 Angry Men” (1957)

“12 Angry Men,” based off the teleplay by Reginald Rose, is about a jury deciding wether or not an 18 year old boy is innocent or guilty of the murder. The film has a wonderful ensemble of characters and actors. Some stand-outs include Henry Fonda as Juror 3 and Lee J. Cobb as Juror 3. It is a very minimalistic film, leaving out even character names, but it is most definitely a great one.

“The Man with The Golden Arm” (1955)

“The Man with The Golden Arm” is the story of Frankie Machine, a reformed drug addict, returning to his home town and in turn, his old ways. This film was different in its time, as it was released outside the traditional Hollywood system, which meant that it did not have to follow the traditional restrictions as any other film at the time, and it really shows. The film’s sheer intensity is through the roof, and completely incomparable than any other film at the time. This, and an amazing performance by Frank Sinatra, truly make this a film like no other.

“Pickpocket” (1959)

“Pickpocket” is a French film about a young man who dives into the life of pickpocketing. This is a very subtle film, but it’s one that begs for further thought even after watching it. Everything from the performances, to the writing, to the camera-work, is absolutely hypnotic. It manages to pack a lot of story and punch into a runtime of only seventy six minutes. Anyone eager to get into French films, or want to figure out more about how the French New Wave came to be, this movie is a great place to start.

1: “The Searchers” (1956)

“The Searchers” follows Ethan Edwards as he searches for his niece Debbie, who’s been kidnapped by a Comanche tribe. This is not only the greatest film of the 50s, it is by far one of the greatest films of all time. It is an absolutely magnificent deconstruction of the Western genre, by one of its masters, John Ford. John Wayne gives an amazing performance, only rivaled by his co-stars Jeffrey Hunter and Natalie Wood. The score by Max Steiner is also positively beautiful. Winton C. Hoch’s cinematography is the best of the decade, and quite possibly one of the best of all time. This film is truly like none other in the genre, and it is an absolute must-watch for any fans of it. (See my review here)

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