I’ve always considered myself a fan of the pre-war films. In particular, I love the movies of the 1930’s. In my mind, 50’s films are more gritty, less hopeful as well as dramatic. As a fan of comedies and happy endings, I’ve kind of put films from this decade in a box to avoid.
No one was more surprised than me however to discover how many 50’s pictures I’ve seen and actually loved. Talk about preconceptions! I didn’t think I could find enough films to participate in this blogathon. When in reality my problem is that there were so many great pictures, that it about killed me to keep this list at five. It was a tough job, but someone had to do it.
There were so many films that I really love. But for the most part my deciding criteria was linked to nostalgia. The five movies on my list are ones I grew up watching. I’ve seen them all countless times and love them for their familiarity, the sense that I get that I’m re-visiting old friends and that happy cozy feeling of remembering my childhood experiences with them. Those that just missed the cut include Ivanhoe, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and To Catch a Thief. Painful, I tell you.
MY FIVE FAVORITE FILMS OF THE FIFTIES
- The Ten Commandments (1956) – This may actually be the first movie I ever saw. This or The Sound of Music. My parents bought one of the first VCR players when they came on the market, but the tapes were still rather expensive, so they only purchased The Sound of Music. However, thanks to the annual Easter airing of The Ten Commandments, they were able to record this film to watch all year round. Of course, I had to forward through the commercials.
I’ve always adored this spectacle of a film. I thought Nefritiri was the most fascinating woman I had ever seen. I couldn’t take my eyes off of her and those vibrant costumes! I even named my Precious Moments doll after her. I found Yul Brynner as Ramses equally mesmerizing as well as Cedric Hardwicke’s speaking voice. And then there was Moses, a character from my Sunday school Bible lessons, big as life on the screen and not at all how I imagined him.
It wasn’t until later when I discovered classic films, that I realized how many wonderful actors also populated the supporting roles. There was also the matter of quotable one liners like,
“So let it be written, so let it be done.”
“His God, IS God.
Not to mention, the pretty amazing special effects for the time. Needless to say, this is a movie which never fails to entertain me no matter how many times I see it. And every time I watch it, I travel right back to my childhood living room as I stare at the TV in awe.
2. How To Marry a Millionaire (1953) – I can’t remember the first time I saw this film. It just seems like it has always been a part of my life. The concept of gold diggers teaming up to ensnare rich men just always tickled my funny bone. But the excellent screen writing and direction gave it heart and depth. There’s so much subtle humor woven in, like Pola’s constant nibbling. And I love all of Schatze’s snarky lines. It’s also nice to see Marilyn Monroe in glasses playing physical comedy scenes so well.
Loco Dempsey: You don’t think he’s a little old?
Schatze Page: Wealthy men are never old.
Of course, I’ve always adored Travilla’s gorgeous, vibrant costumes that just perfectly suit each lady’s personality. I think that was one of the things that initially drew me to his movie, in particular, the fashion show.
But mostly I appreciate a film showing how three different women can work together for a common goal, remain friends and refuse to compete against each other. These gold diggers have much more substance than what first meets the eye.
3. Pillow Talk (1959)- I honestly don’t remember if this was my first introduction to Doris Day, comedienne extraordinaire. But this is certainly the first of her rom-coms to make a strong impression on me.
Once again, there’s so much to love about it, the Sixties split screens and glamourization of New York City, Doris’ colorful, perfectly tailored and accessorized costumes and the genius casting of Doris with Rock Hudson, Tony Randall and Thelma Ritter.
Tony Randall as a third wheel is absolutely brilliant, almost stealing the show from it’s stars with his ridiculous one-liners. But he is evenly matched by Ritter’s portrayal of Doris’ drunken sidekick with her own arsenal of words.
Alma (Ritter): If there’s anything worse than a woman living alone, it’s a woman saying she likes it.
I’ve always appreciated the mixture of the light comedy with the deeper more subtle take down of a male misogynist culture, thanks to Day’s character’s quiet taming of Hudson’s playboy. No matter how many times I watch it, it never fails to delight me. And I believe despite its’ age it still remains relevant.
4. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954) – I’m extremely particular about musicals. Overall, I’m not a big fan. However, I was introduced to this one at a childhood sleepover and something about it just captivated me. Perhaps, it was the vibrant, Hollywood homespun costumes. Maybe it was Milly’s strength in standing up to the pig-headed husband who sees her as little more than a maid with benefits. She is the perfect example of how to make the best of a bad situation, while setting personal boundaries. Those men thought they were getting a cook and housekeeper, but ended up completely reformed by the lady of the house.
Milly: Well, it wouldn’t hurt you to learn some manners, too.
Adam: What do I need manners for? I already got me a wife.
As ridiculous as some of the lyrics are to the songs in this musical, I’ve always found them rather catchy. Excepting Milly’s solos which I always fast-forward through because I’m just not a fan of operatic voices. In some ways these songs are similar to My Fair Lady, in that they act in a place of dialogue as an expression of the character’s inner thoughts. Though they aren’t as witty as the lyrics of my favorite musical, they are silly enough to add humor. I mean, where else would songs like Bless Your Beautiful Hide, Lonesome Polecat and Sobbin’ Women be acceptable (and funny) except in a musical about men getting their come-uppance? My sisters and I really love to mock Lonesome Polecat when we sing along. Such fun ridiculousness, but it serves to express the realistic feelings of isolated frontiermen so well.
But then I’m also entertained by the “courtships” and pairings of the remaining six brothers and the women they want. No matter who I watch this with, everyone has a favorite brother and a favorite couple. Not to mention, the barn-raising scene where they all meet is such an iconic one. This movie really does have something for everyone, whether to entertain, mock or even to teach a lesson.
5. Harvey (1950) – I’ve written about Harvey before, not once, but twice. It’s in a three-way tie for my favorite James Stewart movie along with Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and The Philadelphia Story.
Do you know what stands out the most to me in my memories of this film? No matter how many times I watched this growing up, my mom could never manage to stay awake long enough to see the whole thing! I’m still not sure if she’s ever seen all of Harvey, though she keeps trying.
There’s just something extra special about the character of Elwood P. Dowd played by Stewart that I love re-visiting. He is such a great example of someone who understands the value of kindness, who isn’t bothered by what people think of him and who really has his priorities in order. This is proved by his contented happiness with a life that most people would say is not very accomplished. Elwood has learned that people are more important than possessions or accomplishments. And although it takes all kinds in this world, I really think we could use more people who think like he does, even if those who love him best cannot comprehend him.
I love how his relaxed, generosity of spirit is contrasted with the frantic-ness of those around him. People rushing to control not only him, but their own lives as well and no happier for it. Of course within that contrast is where the comedy is found. I’ve always found that a meaningful message delivered in a comedic vehicle is easier to digest and remember.
Have you seen any of these films? What are some of your favorite movies from the Fifties? Have you ever found that your prejudice about a film is wrong?