In a Lonely Place, USA, 1950, 91 min. Starring Humphrey Bogart, Gloria Grahame, Frank Lovejoy. Directed by Nicholas Ray. Grahame finds herself falling in love with volatile screenwriter Bogart, only his temper could be a problem. That and there’s a possibility he may be have murdered someone. Intelligent drama has a lot to say about trust, relationships, writing, and Hollywood, much of it pessimistic, all of it fascinating.
All About Eve, USA, 1950, 138 min. Starring Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, George Sanders. Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. One of Davis’s best known roles has her as a mature actress who takes an ingénue under her wing, only to find that the young woman isn’t quite as innocent as she seems. Crackling dialogue trips off of the tongues of Davis and the highly talented supporting cast.
Sunset Boulevard, USA, 1950, 110 min. Starring Gloria Swanson, William Holden, Eric Von Stroheim. Directed by Billy Wilder. Triumphant combination of drama, noir, and delicious black comedy in the story of struggling writer Joe Gillis (Holden) who finds himself enmeshed in the twisted world of mad former silent movie queen Norma Desmond (Swanson). Hollywood in-jokes and cameos abound, but you don’t need to be a diehard film buff to enjoy this masterpiece.
Rashomon, Japan, 1950, 88 min. Starring Toshiro Mifune, Machiko Kyo, Masayuki Mori, Takashi Shimura. Directed by Akira Kurosawa. Kurosawa’s portrayal of a rape/murder told from assorted viewpoints, including that of the murder victim! So effective, the title has become linguistic shorthand for any situation described from multiple perspectives.
Forbidden Games, France, 1951, 87 min. Starring Brigitte Fossey, Georges Poujouly, Louis Herbert. Directed by René Clement. Touching story of a young French girl orphaned in an air raid early in World War II, who is taken in by a family of peasants and forms a quick bond with their young son. The two children then find their own unique way of dealing with the death they have had to face at so young an age.
Ikiru, Japan, 1952, 143 min. Starring Takashi Shimura, Nobuo Kaneko. Directed by Akira Kurosawa. Touching story of a man who, upon learning that he does not to have long to live, vows to make his mark on the world. Kurosawa regular Shimura shines in the title role.
Viva Zapata!, USA, 1952, 113 min. Starring Marlon Brando, Jean Peters, Anthony Quinn. Directed by Elia Kazan. Kazan joined with screenwriter John Steinbeck to paint this energetic portrait of the man who led the Mexican Revolution to victory, only to learn a lesson about the price of power. Quinn won an Oscar for his role as Brando’s tempestuous brother.
Tokyo Story, Japan, 1953, 136 min. Starring Chishu Ryu, Chieko Higashyama, Setsuko Hara, Haruko Sugimura. Directed by Yasujiro Ozu. Simple story of an elderly couple who live in the country going to visit their grown sons and daughters in Tokyo. Unfortunately they do not get quite the welcome they expected, nor, it turns out, do their notions of their children’s lives correspond to the reality of the situation. Ozu’s films stand in sharp contrast to the action-packed spectacles of his fellow countryman Kurosawa, as they unfold in leisurely fashion, giving them an air of dynamic realism. Frequent Ozu collaborator Ryu convincingly plays a man much older than he actually was, and among the cast Sugimara stands out as the widowed daughter-in-law who turns out to be far more devoted to the couple than their actual offspring.
Mr. Hulot’s Holiday, France, 1953, 86 min. Starring Jacques Tati, Nathalie Pascaud. Directed by Jacques Tati. Tati introduces the popular character he would play in three more subsequent films by sending him to the beach, where complications, of course, ensue. It’s quite easy to see why some value Tati in the same way they do predecessors such as Chaplin and Keaton.
Rear Window, USA, 1954, 112 min. Starring James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Wendell Corey, Thelma Ritter, Raymond Burr. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Photographer Stewart finds himself housebound and bored after he breaks his leg, but manages to find entertainment observing the lives of those in the apartments around the well inside his building. Only entertainment takes a backseat to intrigue when he begins to suspect one of the neighbors of having killed his wife. Hitchcock shrewdly turns the camera back on the audience in a jab at the joys of voyeurism that, of course, are such an integral part of the movie-watching experience. Grace has never looked lovelier as Stewart’s gal pal who allows herself to get involved in the mystery and Burr is suitably menacing as the is-he-or-isn’t-he-a-killer neighbor.
Senso, Italy, 1954, 115 min. Starring Alida Valli, Farley Granger. Directed by Luchino Visconti. An Italian countess begins a troubled romance with an Austrian officer, made even more difficult by existing tensions between their two countries owing to the Austrian occupation. Visconti blends love, politics and splendor in a way that was uniquely his.
The Seven Samurai, Japan, 1954, 141 min. Starring Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura. Directed by Akira Kurosawa. Kurosawa’s sweeping samurai epic is unquestionably a great action picture, but, as befits one of the art form’s greatest masters, it is also so much more, the story being driven as much by an examination of Japan’s class system and social traditions as it is by battles. This film was remade in America as the classic western The Magnificent Seven, but elements of it have turned up in countless films over the years.
La Strada, Italy, 1954, 104 min. Starring Anthony Quinn, Giuletta Masina, Richard Basehart. Directed by Federico Fellini. A young woman is sold to a traveling performer by her poor family and finds herself at the mercy of his brutal nature. When she meets a kind trapeze artist she rediscovers a joy she had almost forgotten, but is it too late for her? This heart-wrenching drama found Fellini really beginning to come into his own.
On The Waterfront, USA, 1954, 108 min. Starring Marlon Brando, Karl Malden, Lee J. Cobb, Rod Steiger. Directed by Elia Kazan. Brando’s performance as an ex-boxer longshoreman who has to decide where his loyalties lie resonates to this day. Some may find it difficult to view the film and not think of the political context of what was happening in the film industry at the time (Kazan had a few years earlier testified before HUAC – something some in Hollywood still haven’t forgiven him for), but the powerful story and Brando’s unforgettable performance make it worth the effort.
Lola Montes, France, 1955, 110 min. Starring Martine Carol, Peter Ustinov, Oskar Werner. Directed by Max Ophüls. Ophüls’ final film is the story of the life and many varied loves of the title character, an infamous nineteenth-century courtesan. The director frames the film within the context of a large circus act with Ustinov using his sly persona to good effect as the ringmaster.
Apu Trilogy: Pather Panchali/Aparajito/The World of Apu, India, 1955/1956/1958, 112 min./108 min./103 min. Starring Kanu Banerji, Karuna Banerji, Pinaki Sen Gupta, Soumitra Chatterjee. Directed by Satyajit Ray. Ray began his career with these three films following the ongoing life of young Apu and his impoverished family, from his youth (Pather) to going to college (Aparajito) to marriage (World). Those who think of Indian films as Bollywood musicals should see these beautiful works.
The Searchers, USA, 1956, 120 min. Starring John Wayne, Jeffrey Hunter, Vera Miles, Natalie Wood. Directed by John Ford. Wayne broke from his typical hero persona to play the racist protagonist, who spends years chasing after his niece who has been kidnapped by Indians. But is his determination really fueled by family devotion or something else entirely? Ford’s usual dazzling landscapes stand backdrop to what may be the finest western story he ever directed.
The Seventh Seal, Sweden, 1957, 96 min. Starring Max Von Sydow, Gunnar Bjornstrand, Bibi Andersson. Directed by Ingmar Bergman. A knight on his way back from the crusades stops for a game of chess – with the Grim Reaper. Naturally the stakes of the game are quite high. It is easy to imagine this film being as downbeat as much of Bergman’s other work, but people may be surprised upon revisiting it to discover how much humor courses through it.
The Bridge On The River Kwai, UK, 1957, 161 min. Starring William Holden, Alec Guinness, Jack Hawkins, Sessue Hayakawa. Directed by David Lean. One of the most stirring of all war films finds a group of POWs assigned to build a bridge for the Japanese holding them prisoner, but who’s really in charge? Adding to the complexity there is a group of allied soldiers planning on blowing the bridge up. Great adventure and great drama combine to make one memorable cinematic experience.
Wild Strawberries, Sweden, 1957, 90 min. Starring Victor Sjostrom, Ingrid Thulin, Bibi Andersson. Directed by Ingmar Bergman. An aging doctor about to be honored, while on a car trip with his daughter-in-law and a young hitchhiking couple, reflects on his life through recollections, dreams and discussions. Remarkable and highly symbolic study of belief and regret.
Vertigo, USA, 1958, 128 min. Starring James Stewart, Kim Novak, Barbara Bel Geddes. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Police detective on hiatus for a nervous condition takes a private job to follow a beautiful troubled young woman. But as events get stranger and more mysterious, he finds himself being led to a very dark, disturbing place – in his own mind. One of the Master’s most eminently influential films.
Hiroshima Mon Amour, France-Japan, 1959, 91 min. Starring Emmanuele Riva, Eiji Okada. Directed by Alain Resnais. A French actress, after sleeping with a Japanese man she meets in the title city, finds herself unable to suppress memories of a previous affair that ended badly. And as it turns out, he has some secrets as well. Resnais gives us meticulously crafted images conveying the difficulty of letting go of the past.
Breathless, France, 1959, 89 min. Starring Jean-Paul Belmondo, Jean Seberg. Directed by Jean-Luc Godard. Godard broke all sorts of rules of conventional cinema with his simple tale (authored by Francois Truffaut) of a Bogart-obsessed thug on the run from the cops – when, that is, he’s not hanging out with his politically-minded American girlfriend. The film that, along with Truffaut’s 400 Blows, began the French New Wave.
The 400 Blows, France, 1959, 99 min. Starring Jean-Pierre Léaud, Patrick Auffay. Directed by Francois Truffaut. The other inaugural film of the French New Wave is also the first of the series of films Truffaut and Léaud made centered around the character of Antoine Doinel. In this first film Antoine is a school kid finding it easier to get into trouble than to stay out of it. Fascinating and moving.