The B+ Movie Guide: Part XV

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:

Roman Holiday - 17

Roman Holiday (1953)


Shut up. Stop reading. See this movie right now. This is a top 20 all-timer for me. This movie is perfect. You will love it. Just stop and see this right now if you haven’t. (2)


This is one of the most joyous film-watching experiences I’ve ever had. Particularly the time we had drinks with us when we skipped the party scene that one night in college and went to the campus theater to watch this. If you don’t know this movie, shame on you, but the premise is that Gregory Peck is a reporter in Rome while a European princess (Audrey Hepburn) is visiting the city. She sneaks out of the palace because she’s tired of official life and winds up with Gregory Peck, who figures out who she is and arranges with his photographer pal (Eddie Albert!) to conduct an undercover expose of her time in the city. So the whole movie is her pretending to be a commoner while he pretends to not know who she is. It’s a classic screwball setup, and Eddie Albert is usually the one caught up in the middle of it, not knowing what to do. This is how you make a romantic comedy, and it doesn’t even have the stereotypical ending! What a perfect movie. I can watch this whenever and it always puts a smile on my face.


Shane (1953)


The Citizen Kane of homoerotic tree stump removal scenes. (2)


This is a great movie, but I still don’t put it in the Pantheon. Like, it’s amazing, but I’m not going to watch it like I watch the Ford and Hawks movies. Like, Jean Arthur yes, and Jack Palance YES, but what do I really care about Alan Ladd? This is the story of him showing up and helping out homesteaders against the bad guys in town. What’s really going on is, he shows up and Jean Arthur falls in love with him. He recognizes that his presence is threatening their household, so he solves their problems and then goes away. That’s the idea. But the themes explored here are revisited in other movies (most notably The Searchers, in which John Wayne rides in and immediately has sexual tension with his sister-in-law for the few minutes of film she stays alive for, and much later in Pale Rider, where they do another version of the stump removal scene with a rock instead), in each case with a more appealing leading man. It’s an archetypal film, a masterwork of the genre, but I can’t help but to think it could have been a little better than it was because of the lead actor they chose and how wholesome it had to be. Somewhere between 1953 and 1956, things changed and Westerns were allowed to be a little darker. But since this is the Citizen Kane of homoerotic tree stump removal movies, you do kinda need to have seen it. And it’s Jean Arthur’s last movie!

Stalag 17 - 2

Stalag 17 (1953)


Billy fucking Wilder. This man. I mean, really. This movie is perfect. Prison camp movie. Takes place entirely in the camp. The men try to escape. There’s a rat in their midst. It’s a perfect movie. This should have been nominated for Best Picture that year. This is one of those, like The Great Escape, that you can just recommend to people like, “You haven’t seen that? See it.” And you know they’re gonna love it. Because it’s just that good. (2)


There were always some WWII movies on in my house and this was one of them. Who’s the rat? How do you deal with him? Why is this Nazi guard such a friendly guy? That guy, by the way, was Sig Ruman, who was in six awesome movies on this list, as far as I know. Google him — you’ll know him when you see him. This is where you can point out how Wilder really nailed drama and suspense in a way that Lubitsch never really did. The guy was a genius, but Lubitsch only really had Broken Lullaby to point to in the drama department. If stuff like The Lost Weekend and Sunset Boulevard hadn’t convinced you with their severity, the lightness of this drama should be enough to prove Wilder’s range. Super watchable movie, impeccably done. 

Tokyo Story (1953)


This is one of those where, once I put it on, I wanted to take it off. Because it’s not exactly a good time. And it’s not necessarily entertaining as much as it is great. But it’s good that this is here. It should be here. It’s worth seeing, and it’s often on those lists of greatest movies ever made. Everyone should see at least one Ozu, and this is probably his best. (Though I do enjoy Ohayo. That’s fun.) (3)


This isn’t even a great time if you speak the language, which I do. It is, however, an absolute masterpiece that can’t be denied its recognition. The story comes from Make Way for Tomorrow, which we already covered in these articles. Ozu was obsessed with families and the bonds that they share (which you can also see in his spiritual successor, Hirokazu Koreeda), so he took the American story and put a little spin on it. The old couple doesn’t need a place to live; in this case they’re visiting Tokyo from rural Hiroshima and want nothing more than to spend time with family. The only one who spends any time with them is their widowed daughter-in-law, played by Setsuko Hara — this role put cemented her as the purest, most wonderful, most revered, most gut-wrenchingly perfect actress in Japanese film history. She’s still alive, though reclusive, and still idolized for this role. But the main theme this film deals with is the difference between blood relations and adopted relations. I’m right there with Mike in saying that watching films by Ozu can be like trying to suck drying concrete through a cocktail straw, but just take my word when I tell you that this concrete tastes really good. 

The Wages of Fear - 26

The Wages of Fear (1953)


Watch this fucking movie. Trust me on this one. Get it, put it on one day, and be prepared. If you’re watching that shit 100% attention, you’ll be drawn right in. It is one of the tensest movies ever made. They remade it as Sorcerer and then Licence to Kill ripped it off for the climax. It’s French guys who are transporting trucks of nitroglycerin across South America. And it’s all rocky and shit, and hot. And they need to not get blown the fuck up before they make it to their destination. It’s fucking riveting. This is one of those movies where, if this is playing in a theater, I’m driving there just to go see it. This shit is great on the big screen. (3)


This was a surprise, I’ll tell you that. I don’t go into most foreign films brimming with excitement. Mike told me to be ready and to be watching the screen closely. I was wondering what he was talking about because the first few scenes or so are really slow. And then, I spent the following two hours biting my nails almost entirely off. This movie is the sort of proof you need that films can be tense with nothing more than a great script and practical effects. When I railed against Marvel for being lazy, it was mostly because they try to build tension with these elaborate CGI scenes lasting ten minutes at a time and then diffuse everything with a few lines of dialogue. They don’t know how to build tension slowly and then keep it to the point where you’re ready to pop. I had to pause this movie once or twice to use the bathroom, and when I paused it, I realized that my heart was pounding and that I was full of adrenaline. It will suck you in. 

War of the Worlds (1953)


I don’t love this movie. But based on the title, it’s a classic. And I didn’t want to slight the sci-fi genre. So it’s here. I don’t feel great about it. I’d rather have something more fun, or something I consider more entertaining here, but this is one of those “for them” entries that feels more “essential” than entertaining. (3)


There are better sci-fi movies. But it’s got Gene Barry, who I like (he was the murderer in the Columbo pilot episode/movie!), and you really need to see it if only so you can say that you’ve only seen the Tom Cruise movie. And hey, for what it’s worth, this did win an Oscar for Best Special Effects, beating out…oh, wait, it was the only nominee. Okay. Look at what I wrote here and what I wrote for Wages of Fear and you should be able to tell how I sound when I’m not totally sold on a movie.

Dial M for Murder (1954)


Hitchcock. Probably the weakest on this list. But it’s still great. And it was shot in 3D. It’s Hitchcock. You know it’s good. (3)


This is his weakest on this list? Actually, I guess it would be. But it still has all the great makings of a Hitchcock masterpiece, including and especially the stretch of film where everything seems to be going right for the wrong reasons and the main character thinks things are okay. I just love what a mess things are in his movies, because it’s always a carefully coordinated mess on the part of the filmmaker. This is also awesome because most of it occurs in the flat. You can’t dislike this kind of movie. It’s against the law.

Godzilla (1954)


A lot of really great, quiet moments. Incredible performances. One minute you’re laughing, one minute you’re in tears. If you want to see some of the greatest dramatic performances ever put to screen, look no further. It’s this quiet relationship drama, and the child actors are just out of this…. wait, what? (3)


The A-bomb allegories and the symbolism…meh. It’s good, old-fashioned Ishiro Honda monster action. If you didn’t like King Kong, you probably won’t like this, but I think it’s awesome. There’s a monster, a crazy guy, a terrorized populace…it’s Japan doing the Frankenstein-like monster movie 20 years later. And it’s awesome. 

Magnificent Obsession (1954)


I try to get Douglas Sirk on here as much as I can. I think the man was a genius. The way he tuned the melodrama into an art form is so great. At least one Douglas Sirk movie is essential for real film people. I have, I think, three, on this list, maybe four, just because they’re amazing. This is tracking the melodrama, just the way we track the essential sci-fi films. This one is Rock Hudson and Jane Wyman. They made two of these together. The premise is — he’s a playboy who drunkenly wrecks his speedboat, so the EMTs are over there getting him in order. Meanwhile Wyman’s husband, a beloved doctor, dies of a heart attack because the equipment needed to save him is being used on Hudson. So he feels shitty, and secretly starts to help out Wyman. And of course, romance blossoms, even though she doesn’t quite know who he really is… it’s pure melodrama. Great movie. (3)


The color. Mike didn’t mention the color, and I think back on the Sirk melodramas for their color above all else. I mean, sure, he perfected the genre and paved the way for soaps and stuff. Sirk probably made Peyton Place possible (say those words five times fast for elocution practice), which then set off that TV series and revolutionized dramatic programming for decades to come. But man, these movies looked pretty great. I think I remember All that Heaven Allows as being a little better to look at, but this one is good because it has a lot of primary and secondary colors — red, red lipstick and bright green bathing suits. Stuff like that. I didn’t know Sirk really before the list, and now I’m convinced that his run during the 50s (we’ve got four on the list) is hugely underrated, or at least under-discussed.

On the Waterfront - 44

On the Waterfront (1954)


“It wasn’t him, Charley, it was you. Remember that night in the Garden you came down to my dressing room and you said, ‘Kid, this ain’t your night. We’re going for the price on Wilson.’ You remember that? ‘This ain’t your night!’ My night! I coulda taken Wilson apart! So what happens? He gets the title shot outdoors on the ballpark and what do I get? A one-way ticket to Palooka-ville! You was my brother, Charley, you shoulda looked out for me a little bit. You shoulda taken care of me just a little bit so I wouldn’t have to take them dives for the short-end money.”

“Oh I had some bets down for you. You saw some money.”

“You don’t understand. I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let’s face it. It was you, Charley.” (2)


This is a movie that some people have seen. 

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Final Thoughts:


I’m struggling for what else to add here, because the purpose of my final thoughts is to talk about which of these theoretically wouldn’t be considered essential. But pretty much all of these are. War of the Worlds, I’d contend, could be taken off. And I do have four Sirk movies on there. So if you wanted to squeeze other things on, some of those could be taken off. Dial M for Murder is not a truly essential Hitchcock. That is one that could for sure be swapped out for something else. The rest though, would appear on 95-100% of other lists of essential movies.

Rankings: Treat On the Waterfront as 1. Tokyo Story probably should be a 2, but I leave it at 3 because Americans just don’t watch foreign movies and I want the people who see it to be dedicated, so they don’t go, “What the hell is this?” Roman Holiday has to be seen or else we can’t be friends. Stalag 17 is awesome and is Billy Wilder so that makes it a 2.  Shane is a 2 just because it’s Shane. And Wages of Fear is a 2 for me just because you should see that movie. The rest are safely 3s.

Also, addendum to Colin’s Roman Holiday note — we got fucking wasted at that movie. I still remember where we were sitting. I find I remember where I was sitting for a lot of movies in that theater. Especially when alcohol was involved.


There’s a question — the last two Sirk movies we’ve got should be on, but the first two, which are Magnificent Obsession and All that Heaven Allows, probably don’t both have to be here. Dial M for Murder could also be left off, now that I think of how many of his movies made the cut. But everything else…is anyone going to argue against this stuff? This is also, if you notice, where Japanese film starts to show up in a big way. We had Rashomon and Ikiru, and now we’ve got Tokyo Story and Godzilla. The 50s were a good time for Japanese film. The 60s were when things got weird. Good weird and bad weird. But we’re not there quite yet. 

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More movies tomorrow.

One response

  1. I started reading this, and it said, “Just stop and see this right now if you haven’t.” And I was like, ‘That’s crazy. Nobody’s gonna actually do that. I don’t even, wait, is Roman Holiday on Netflix?’ And it was. So I was like, ‘What the hell!’ And I watched it. And guess what, it was great. So, yeah, that’s totally legit advice!

    July 23, 2015 at 3:26 pm

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