The B+ Movie Guide: Part XIV

In May of 2012, Colin said I should make a list of movies that need to be seen, because he felt there were huge gaps in what he’d seen, and wanted something to do. The idea was that I’d make up a list, as “homework” for him, and he’d use that as things to watch.

So we came up with a giant list of 500 movies that worked, and Colin went about finishing it. And now that it’s finished, we’re gonna write it up. Because you don’t watch a giant list of movies without documenting that you did it.

We’re going through the entire list, little by little, for posterity’s sake. And here’s the next set:

A Streetcar Named Desire - 11

A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)


Hey, Stella! (2)


Vivien Leigh thought she could get with Karl Malden, but Brando puts a stop to that. Yeah, you should really have seen this. I was cracking up when I went back and watched Woody Allen do Leigh in Sleeper. How it ends with them drugging him and him saying, “I don’t know who you people are but I’ve always relied on the kindness of strangers…”


The Thing from Another World (1951)


50s sci fi. I tend to overlook horror and sci fi as important American genres in the history of film, so I wanted to give them their due. And the 50s were all about sci fi (because of the reds, you see). And this movie is one of the godfathers of the genre (with Day the Earth Stood Still). The final monologue (“Watch the skies!”) is all about the Red Scare. It’s also a really entertaining movie. Essentially directed by Howard Hawks. And I’m one of the few who actually prefers this version to the John Carpenter version. I understand why people would go the other way, but to me, I like this one better. (3)


This is basically the original Groot. A plant alien comes to Earth and terrorizes a research facility in the Arctic. I’m not really sure about why it was a plant, but it’s all a Communist thing, which is why it’s nearly impossible to kill and sucks the blood of men. I really like how Howard Hawks is supposed to have directed nearly all of it, but didn’t get credited in the film, or officially, and yet — the posters still all say it was him. I love an open secret.


The Bad and the Beautiful (1952)


I fucking love this movie. Everything about this movie is perfect to me. Kirk Douglas in douchebag mode again. It’s basically a noir, in a way. It’s also perhaps the best movie from Hollywood about Hollywood. It starts with Walter Pidgeon bringing 3 people (a writer, an actress and a director) to his office and saying, “Look, I know Kirk fucked you all over, but just work with him again, it’s a great project.” And they all flash back to how Kirk Douglas fucked all three of them over. It’s brilliant. If I’m listing a top 100, this would be on there. I’m talking for all time, not just for me. That’s how highly I think of this movie. (2)


This guy is a total scumbag. Second movie in two years in which Kirk Douglas plays someone you wouldn’t want to be friends with. Mike explained the basic premise, and that’s totally it, but it’s great as a sort of intervention with the three of them. I tend to think of this with All About Eve because they’re both about conniving backstabbers in show business who will do just about anything to get ahead. This is probably better, though, because you know what it is from the beginning (flashbacks!), but still get to watch and really find yourself rooting for Douglas at times, knowing full well that he’s an ass who’s going to screw everyone over. An exceptionally good film.


High Noon (1952)


“Do not forsake me, oh my darlin’…” Man, what a perfect entity. People talk about the political overtones, but I don’t even see that. I just see a great movie. Takes place almost entirely in real time, and it’s great. It’s a perfect movie. Not just a western. Perfect. Movie. (2)


The weird thing is, I sort of remove this from the rest of the Western genre, which is probably just because it isn’t Ford or Hawks. It feels so different from the rest, but that’s not at all a bad thing in this case. Gary Cooper is the marshal who put away a bad guy who got out of his execution and is coming back for revenge. The entire town knows this bad guy is coming, and they’re so terrified of him that they all turn on Gary Cooper. Cooper can run (with his Quaker wife, Grace Kelly!), but he decides to stick it out and do his duty. Basically, nobody wants anything to do with him and Grace Kelly’s ready to leave him over this, but she comes back and helps during the gunfight. At the end, Gary Cooper’s eyes tell everyone to go to hell. The tension is that much greater because it’s all in real time, so you can feel that impending doom.

The reason you have to look at this in context with every Western around it is because it’s a thought experiment for how the country should behave, which was soundly rejected. Whether or not High Noon was a critique of McCarthism, the most direct rebuttal of the film came in Rio Bravo, which does away with the desperation and the hero asking for help. Hawks believed that America should lead by example, by simply being better, which is why he and Wayne so disliked High Noon. I like them both.

Ikiru (1952)


Kurosawa is one of those rare cases where he was deeply influenced by American cinema. Which really helps his films translate well to American audiences. Especially modern audiences, who by and large can’t handle international cinema. Kurosawa made his versions of noirs and westerns, even Shakespeare. This one, though — this is just a quiet drama. It’s really affecting, too. A movie about a guy finding out he’s going to die and trying to discover what his life has meant. Definitely worth being on this list. It’s one of the most moving films ever made, and really ought to be seen by everyone. (2)


This wasn’t Kurosawa’s most engaging film by a long shot, but it’s so full of emotion that you can’t help but to be amazed at it. It’s also really Takashi Shimura’s best appearance, even though he shared the screen with Mifune in a bunch of Kurosawa’s movies. This plot resonates with foreign audiences, but it’s also captured something that’s extremely Japanese. What happens when your station is taken from you, and all you’re left with is yourself? This is a country that’s obsessed with a different sort of status — more than money or even social standing, a man’s worth is derived primarily from his occupational position. So it’s like a Hawks movie in that if you have a respectable job and do it well, nobody can fault you for anything. Shimura’s character has that until he finds out he’s dying and realizes he hasn’t yet lived. Most of the responses he gets from the random encounters he has are along the lines of, “Don’t you have that job?” or, “You didn’t act this way when I worked for you…this is awkward.” As touching a film as it is, I took this to be a critique of the Japanese postwar ethos at a time when Japan still had something of a choice between the coming economic miracle and a less extreme path focused on self-examination. A masterpiece, though still sort of a second-tier Kurosawa film after Rashomon and Seven Samurai.

The Quiet Man - 21

The Quiet Man (1952)


Only John Ford could make this movie work. He wanted to make this for years, and the studio wouldn’t let him, so he said, “All right, I’ll make this Rio Grande movie if you let me go to Ireland and make my movie.” Rio Grande is amazing, by the way. And he goes off to shoot this movie — and it’s perfect. There’s barely a story to it, even. John Wayne is a boxer who killed a guy in the ring and is now going back to the town where he’s from. But that’s not really part of the movie. Mostly it’s about him fitting in with the community and falling in love with Maureen O’Hara, and the whole issue with her brother (Victor McLaglen, who is the man) and the dowry — narratively, it’s a weird movie. And yet it works. 100% works. And it’s also one of the most beautifully shot films you’ll ever see. See this movie. See it as soon as you can. You might not appreciate it fully at 18, but man, one day, you’ll realize how good this is. (2)


Think Straw Dogs, but in Ireland and WAY happier.

Singin’ in the Rain (1952)




I think we all enjoy a movie in which an intolerable woman gets her comeuppance. This is in the top tier of musicals and must be seen. End of discussion.


The Band Wagon (1953)


One of the best forgotten musicals of the 50s. It’s a weird musical too. The framing device of this one provides a weirdly meta context to the whole thing. Almost like the musical was dying and they were looking back on it. Other than that, the film is a complete joy. Cyd Charisse is just gorgeous (not as gorgeous as in Singin’ in the Rain. Because damn), and the plot is just terrific. The final Girl Hunt Ballet is worth the price of admission alone. This was Astaire’s answer to An American in Paris/Singin’ in the Rain with those extended sequences. (3)


This movie (not be confused with The War Wagon, which would be funny) is one I hadn’t even heard of. Even after watching the Fred and Ginger musical comedies, I didn’t know this, so I was pretty into it when it turned out to be about Fred Astaire playing an aging caricature of himself. This was basically 1953’s Birdman in that regard. Just, with music and joy and less attempted rape on stage. It combines the best of the Gene Kelly musical format with the old Astaire-Rogers fun (the song “Shine on Your Shoes” feels so classic) and a plot right out of the 30s backstage musicals like Gold Diggers of 1933. If this isn’t a truly essential film, it is one that you can enjoy for having seen the essential films it recalls. Movies like this are why Hollywood is judged as an institution and why these things can’t be viewed in isolation.

From Here to Eternity - 21

From Here to Eternity (1953)


1953 was a crazy good year. There are a few years that really stand out as having a bunch of incredible movies. 1953 is one of them. Also, this is From Here to Eternity. You know that scene of them kissing on the beach? Yeah. This movie is iconic. You need to see it. Best Picture winner, all time American classic. Burt Lancaster, Deborah Kerr, Montgomery Clift, Frank Sinatra, Donna Reed, Ernest Borgnine. Cast is stacked and it’s just one of those great Ameican movies. (2)


What a huge movie. It got nominated for 13 Oscars and won eight of them. And look at that cast! I love Lancaster and Ernest Borgnine was a national treasure. You also have to admire them for setting up a massive story like this the way they did, leading up to Pearl Harbor. It’s like doing a movie that starts on September 3rd, 2001 — you’re like, “Hey, so that’s still earlier, but it can’t not be related.” And then it just ends with that and the characters dealing with it.

Is it not funny that Justin Timberlake is the new Frank Sinatra? 

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes - 26

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)


Howard Hawks. Marilyn Monroe. Jane Russell. Charles Coburn. Incredible movie. Gorgeous, too. All around. The color, the costumes, the actresses — astounding. Plus, “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.” This is the perfect storm of “how can someone not like this movie?” (3)


Before there was “Bitch Better Have My Money” there was “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend.” A different slant, I’ll grant you, but the same general premise. This movie is all about Marilyn Monroe getting everything she wants by chasing rich guys. I’m sure there are plenty of women who hate this movie because of how it portrays them as gold diggers, but the women in this movie are a sight smarter than the men. Men are fools, or so we’re expected to think at the end of this movie. Who cares? It’s fun as hell and looks stupendous. And if you want to laugh during a movie, pick something with Charles Coburn.

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Final Thoughts:


I’m finding that the beauty of this list is that, if you’re actually a movie buff, you’ll have seen a solid portion of these going in, so it’s actually a good guidepost for what you should see next, and it doesn’t feel as much like you’re being told to watch things, because you’ve already seen some of them and know how great they are. So it’s like, “Oh, these are also great? Cool.”

Otherwise, yeah, all pretty essential. Ikiru, maybe you can make a case against (but why would you?) and The Band Wagon is one you wouldn’t immediately think of as one, but I think it should be. So there you are.

Anyone making an essentials list is going to have/has earned the right to have a 10% margin of putting what they want or they feel is subjectively essential.

And even though there isn’t a 1 on this list, if you’re getting into movies: From Here to Eternity, High Noon, Singin’ in the Rain, The Quiet Man and Streetcar are to be treated as 1s.


This is a really essential list. Mike has it — everything but Ikiru and The Band Wagon are slam dunks, and those two (especially Ikiru, but I’m biased) are well worth your time if you haven’t seen them and have seen everything else. By now, I hope that everyone following the list is able to see what we’re trying to do with it and what Mike was thinking when he put it together. There are obvious movies, and there are movies that go with obvious movies. We like talking about the latter. 

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More movies tomorrow.

One response

  1. Oh my god – the only one I’ve seen is Singin’ In The Rain! I’m a bad movie blogger. :-)

    July 21, 2015 at 1:45 pm

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