The B+ Movie Guide: Part XVII

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:

East of Eden - 11

East of Eden (1955)


Beautifully shot and directed, and James Dean at his most James Dean. (Well, I guess Rebel Without a Cause is his most James Dean.) Really terrific movie. The bigger the screen, the better this is. (2)


The only movie he was alive to see released. Messed up when you think about that, huh? I held off on this one for a long time because I knew it was going to be pretty involved. I love Steinbeck, but I know better than to just dive into his longer works without first preparing myself. It’s like that with the movies, too. You don’t just throw on Grapes of Wrath, and you certainly don’t just put this on, either. But it’s pretty amazing when you consider how quickly film was evolving, looking at material and style that wasn’t wholly dissimilar between Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden, and then seeing how completely different the two films are in every way. 


The Man with the Golden Arm (1955)


Spellbinding movie. Didn’t know what this was (had heard about it, but it wasn’t really on my radar) before I watched it in the Studio class for college. Incredible. Frank Sinatra is a heroin addict. The finest performance he ever put to screen. And a great movie to boot. Everyone should see this. A forgotten classic. Not to mention, one of those movies (Preminger was great about that) that helped mark the end of the Production Code era. (3)


This movie was intense to watch. Like really intense, because so much of it is about withdrawals and jonesing for heroin. It completely destroyed any ideas I had about early Sinatra as a crooner-turned-actor or anything like that, because the guy manages the role in which he needs to be strung out, remorseful, ambitious and nervous at the same time. At one point toward the end he goes cold turkey and beats heroin, which seems unlikely, but you know. He did it his way.

Marty - 16

Marty (1955)


Perfect. Such a perfect movie. And simple, too. Ernest Borgnine and Betsy Blair. Two lonely people coming together. It takes place almost entirely over one night. And it’s perfect. It’s hard not to love this movie. (3)


You can’t dislike this movie at all, because it’s one of the first movies that does what it does. Ernest Borgnine is a guy in this 30s who can’t get women (which is great, because he was married to Katy Jurado from High Noon and Broken Lance four years after this) and Betsy Blair is a spinster schoolteacher. They meet and have a blast, and then the next day, everyone’s trying to get Marty to forget about her for a variety of reasons. The ending is so sweet, it cements Borgnine as one of the all-time greats. You have to love Borgnine for his final speech and for the look on his face during the last moments of the film. I also like how this was such a thing in Quiz Show, when John Turturro “forgets” which movie won Best Picture in 1955. 

Mister Roberts

Mister Roberts (1955)


Here’s what I told Colin about this one: “See this one. I know you. You’ll like this. It’s very enjoyable. It’s got everything. John Ford directing (sort of. He split credit with Mervyn LeRoy) Henry Fonda, Jack Lemmon, James Cagney and William Powell. Great comedy. It’s also somewhat dramatic, but mostly comic. A lot of fun. It’s like Operation Petticoat. It’s about unimportant war ships and all the hijinks that happen on board. Lot of fun.”

And trust me — I know what movies to suggest to people that they’re most likely going to enjoy. This is one that has a very high success ratio. (3)


What a fun movie this was! Jack Lemmon gets Best Supporting Actor for a hilarious performance as a duty-shirking ensign, William Powell is still himself after all these years, Cagney is the perfect foil for everyone, and Fonda spends an entire movie earning your sympathy, one sacrifice at a time. The combination of humor and occasional melancholy isn’t unlike M*A*S*H, which almost certainly borrowed from this movie, if only unconsciously. I’m not sure how essential it is, but it was one of the more enjoyable films of 1955. 

The Night of the Hunter (1955)


“Oh what a fucking movie this is. See this one if you haven’t. This is like – holy shit. I can’t believe Charles Laughton only directed this one movie.”

That about covers it. You’ve seen this parodied a hundred times, if you don’t know what this is. And if you don’t know what this is, go in cold. You’ll be shocked at how good this is. (2)


Reason number one why Robert Mitchum will forever haunt my dreams. The guy can be properly terrifying without anything but a look. I can’t believe this movie was overlooked at the time, because it’s masterfully done, with Mitchum’s performance and the creepy way it’s shot — it’s almost like an old German horror flick in that way. Oh, and Shelley Winters does her Shelley Winters thing she does in movies, which usually involves marriage, followed by water.

Rebel Without a Cause - 86

Rebel Without a Cause (1955)


This movie IS the 50s. (2)


Angst never changes! Actually, I found it pretty hard to identify with these characters because none of them played XBox or watched DVDs. Being a teen is both simpler and more complicated these days. But this is Dean at his Deanest (and we’re going to run the gamut here today), and the performance that sticks with him the most. Everyone knows him in the jeans, the white t-shirt and the red jacket. Weirdly, that became the basis for Fry on Futurama, though I don’t really see the connection. You’ve all seen this movie…why am I still typing?

Rififi (1955)


The heist sequence in this movie is unparalleled. Just see it, don’t ask questions. (2)


This is one I’ll type for. You need to watch this movie if you haven’t seen it. I don’t care if you don’t like subtitles or crime movies — this is enough to have you glued to the screen for thirty minutes of silence while they conduct a heist. The movie is like the French 50s version of a heist out of GTAV, or more appropriately, the French version of Asphalt Jungle, though with a little more attention to the finer points. They spend a lot of time on the details, and that’s why I prefer it to the American movie. 

Giant - 88

Giant (1956)


Another masterpiece. A different sort of Gone With the Wind. I think of them as a sort of trilogy. Gone With the Wind 1865-1880s, then Lawrence of Arabia turn of the century, and then this the 1910s to 1950. It’s amazing. I can’t even explain it. It’s just, spellbinding. I can’t even explain why, either. It just is. An absolute classic of cinema. (3)


It had never occurred to me to put this in with Gone With the Wind or Lawrence of Arabia, but that sort of makes sense. This is one of those epics that covers a changing world through the eyes of a few characters over the course of…200 minutes. Yeah, it’s long. This isn’t that one you watch twice a year, and I had it marked down on the list along with Cleopatra and the other self-contained cinematic marathons. This is also Dean at his least Dean, sort of running parallel to the Rock Hudson-Liz Taylor narrative. It does stuff with race like six or so years before that was really fashionable in Hollywood, which is also nice. Check your calendar for the next time you have 12 days free to watch all of this, and watch it. Maybe watch it after East of Eden and Rebel Without a Cause (a DEAN night!).


The Girl Can’t Help It (1956)


This was one I added later on for Colin after taking off the boring “film student” shit. And there is a reason this is being considered essential by me. Because if you are trying to teach someone about the history of cinema, this movie has at least two big cultural reference points. First off, it’s Cinemascope. They do this great trick at the beginning where they show you exactly what Cinemascope is. They start in the typical 1.85:1 ratio, and then go, “Here’s Cinemascope,” and they actually pull back the curtains and all of a sudden the film is in widescreen. It’s really informative.

And then, the other thing that’s great about this movie — it showcases the onset of rock ‘n’ roll. They actually stop the movie for performances. Little Richard performs at least two songs in the movie. Just performs songs. And other 50s bands perform as well. It really makes a significant case for itself being essential in that sense.

Plus the film is just great. Edmond O’Brien (who you will know from other movies on this list, who is just incredible) steals this movie. The film is about him as a gangster who wants to make his girlfriend (Jayne Mansfield. The bootleg Marilyn Monroe. With tits!) a big star. So he gets Tom Ewell (from The Seven-Year Itch), a down-on-his-luck talent agent and tells him to make it so. Problem is, she has no discernible talent, and all she really wants to do is be a housewife. But she “can’t help” the fact  that she’s got giant tits. It’s a real joy of a film to watch. And trust me when I say — Edmond O’Brien. The best. (3)


Two things: The Platters perform “You’ll Never, Never Know” in this movie, and this movie is responsible for The Beatles. Trust me. Look it up. Watch the movie, start the next Beatles.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)


Sutherland_Invasion of the Body Snatchers

This isn’t that version. I just couldn’t resist the picture. Each time they remade this movie, it was about a different thing. The original, I think, is best. It’s really good and has a good message to it. See the original. (3)


That picture can’t not turn up on this blog. This movie is probably what I think of when I think of classic 1950s Red Scare movies. And that’s why you need to watch this movie instead of the remake (I mean, watch that too) — you can’t do this movie quite as well without the threats of communism and McCarthyism. Just like Ionesco’s “Rhinoceros,” this is horror based in the simple terror of being alone as the world abandons you for something else. I didn’t think I’d be so defiant about the ending, but it got me. This is why we need more Cold War movies. I will always advocate for more Cold War movies. 

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Final Thoughts:


These years are ones where there aren’t as much “essential” movies, the way 1953 had essential movies. But they have great movies that are close to being essential. And I think they are essential. The Girl Can’t Help It, I explained why it should be there. Mister Roberts is the comedy Grand Hotel of the 50s, of sorts. John Ford, that cast — it makes its own case. The rest are self-explanatory.

East of Eden is basic level film buff stuff. Rebel Without a Cause is basically a 1, it’s so famous. Rififi is one that film buffs should see pretty early, too. Giant should be a 2, but I’ll give people a break and not be so strict about arbitrary rules. I’m also gonna stump for Night of the Hunter, Man with the Golden Arm, Marty, Mr. Roberts and The Girl Can’t Help It. Such incredible movies. How can you not like them?


Today was James Dean plus some other movies. You need to watch all the James Dean stuff, for sure. Beyond that, I really want to endorse MartyRififi, and Mister Roberts. This is a time of transition for America (like literally any other period of a few years isn’t…) and its film, so you see some of the old and some of the new. We see William Powell’s last film and another Steinbeck book made into a movie, but we also get rock and roll, race issues on film and communists.

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More movies tomorrow.

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