The B+ Movie Guide: The New List (Part XVII)
I gave Colin a giant list of 500 movies, and he finished it. Of course I’m gonna come up with another list.
This one is for everyone, though. Not specifically for Colin. This is raw material for everybody, should they choose, to go out and see more movies. Not all of them are essential. Most of them are just awesome. I told Colin that once he finished this list, I’d give him another one that was more fun than work. Geared toward cool stuff that he’d enjoy.
I went through and found 1,000 more movies that I think either need to be seen (leftover “essential” films) or are just really great and would be enjoyed by most who see them. Here they are:
The Magic Box (1951)
This is the story of William Friese-Greene. Who? I’ll tell you. He’s the guy (or one of the guys, but for the sake of the movie, let’s go with “the guy”) who made the first movie camera. It’s a straight biopic. The real joy of this movie is the scene where he actually succeeds (after everyone has told him he wouldn’t all along). There’s actually a terrific cameo in that scene that made me do a double take. There are a bunch of cameos in this, but the policeman is the one that made me go, “Oh shit.” It’s a really good British biopic.
On Moonlight Bay (1951)
This is an unofficial double entry. They made this movie and a sequel, both of which were named for very memorable standards. This one you know — “We were sailing along…” and the sequel is called By the Light of the Silvery Moon. The first movie is actually a lot like Meet Me in St. Louis. It’s a family at the turn of the century and the oldest daughter falls in love. Though here, it’s Doris Day, and she’s more of a tomboy who has to learn how to act like a lady in order to be with her beau. And the sequel is a continuation of the story. So if you like the first one, you might want to check out the sequel too.
People Will Talk (1951)
This movie is a dramedy starring Cary Grant as a character named Dr. Praetorius. Which is interesting in and of itself. It’s a hell of a name. And it’s about him as a doctor with strange methods and eccentricities. And a colleague tries to get him fired by filing a complaint. Meanwhile, there’s also a girl who is pregnant but not married, and Grant becomes close to her. It’s a really interesting film. Not quite drama, not quite comedy, but a nice mix of both. Joseph L. Mankiewicz directs, so between him and Grant, it’s a pretty safe bet.
The Steel Helmet (1951)
Yeah, boy. This is my favorite Sam Fuller movie. It’s a sentimental favorite, just because I was blown away when I saw this as a freshman in college for the first time, and it personally just means a lot to me for various reasons. It’s a movie he made for like, $40,000 using UCLA or Santa Barbara students as extras playing Korean soldiers. Which is pretty great. It’s super low budget, but it’s really effective. The opening shot of this movie is terrific: the credits play over a steel helmet with a bullet hole through it. And when the credits end, the helmet rises further into frame, and we realize the guy wearing it isn’t dead. Oh, and he comes across a little Korean boy he calls Short Round. Just in case you were wondering where that character came from. And this is about him and a bunch of other soldiers who capture a Korean soldier and hole up in a Buddhist temple. And there’s another Korean soldier sneaking around, trying to take them all out. But really the whole thing is about the racial tensions and different ethnic conflicts between all the men. It’s really fascinating. I really love this movie quite a bit.
The Tales of Hoffmann (1951)
Powell. Pressburger. GORGEOUS. This looks just as good as Black Narcissus and The Red Shoes. Oh, and just so everyone’s aware — this is a legit film adaptation of an opera. These guys were like, “Fuck it, we’re doing an opera.” And it doesn’t matter. It’s beautiful. Moira Shearer gets to dance again here too. Just see it. I can’t imagine why anyone would turn down a Powell and Pressburger movie in color. That’s practically treason.
Laurence Olivier and Jennifer Jones. William Wyler. She gets on a train with big dreams, and ends up working in a factory, fired, out of a place to stay — you know how it goes. And then she happens upon Laurence Olivier, a middle-aged restaurant manager. She becomes his mistress, purely so she can have a place to stay. Meanwhile, he becomes smitten with her, to the point of obsession. It’s mostly a drama. It’s good, though. Wyler always delivers something worthwhile.
Come Back, Little Sheba (1952)
Shirley Booth won an Oscar for this. Her first film role. Burt Lancaster is a recovering alcoholic, and he’s married to Booth. He dropped out of med school because she got pregnant. But the child died and she couldn’t have any more. Hence the alcoholism. Meanwhile, they take in a college student for the extra money. So now there’s a hot 20 year old living in the house with them. It’s really good. She won the Oscar, but Lancaster delivers the real goods here. Terry Moore is also good as the college student. It’s pretty much a three-hander. Not many more actors in the movie besides our main three. Really good stuff here.
Deadline, U.S.A. (1952)
Crime movie. Bogie. He’s a reporter who is trying to bring a gangster to justice and also keep his paper from folding. It’s part noir, part straight up drama. It’s really great. I like newspaper movies a lot. This one is really underrated. Highly recommended.
5 Fingers (1952)
Spy movie. Joseph L. Mankiewicz. James Mason is the valet to a British ambassador. And secretly he starts selling secrets to the Germans. He’s also falling in love with a Polish woman as well. It’s really good. There are some tense moments, when he’s breaking into a safe and the ambassador is in the next room, and he has to do it quickly and quietly. Really good stuff here.
The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)
This is the movie that won Best Picture over High Noon and The Quiet Man. It’s essential. Because if you haven’t seen this, you can’t complain that it won. And also — it’s actually really good. Winning aside, this is a really engaging movie. It’s a big drama about people at the circus. And you see a bunch of circus acts, and get the requisite melodrama. Charlton Heston runs the thing, and he’s sleeping with his main acrobat, but she’s got a suitor in the new high-priced acrobat they hired. All of that good stuff. My favorite subplot is Jimmy Stewart, who plays a clown named Buttons. Not kidding. He’s in clown makeup for the entire movie. People think he’s really nice, but a bit odd. And we find out that the reason for that may be because he’s hiding some secrets… and may be on the run from the police. There’s great stuff here. Cecil B. DeMille. It’s definitely an engaging movie. And like I said — if you haven’t seen it, you can’t complain.
Has Anybody Seen My Gal (1952)
This is a Douglas Sirk movie. But it’s a comedy. I was shocked when I saw he directed this. This is nothing like his other stuff, and honestly, if you heard that this was directed by Charles Walters or Roy Del Ruth, you wouldn’t bat an eyelash. Anyway, it’s another Charles Coburn movie. (He’s the best.) He’s another millionaire who decides to leave all his money to the family of the only woman he ever loved (even though she never loved him and they only dated for like three weeks). Of course he goes to town undercover as a regular guy, and he starts to meddle in the affairs of the family — you know the drill. It’s really good. I was surprised at how funny this was and how much I enjoyed it. Piper Laurie and Rock Hudson are also in it. But stick with Coburn. You know Coburn will always do right by you.
Kansas City Confidential (1952)
Noir. A really famous noir. Essential, as noirs go. John Payne is an ex-con trying to go straight. He gets framed. He has to prove his innocence. Typical noir plot. But it’s executed really well.
Of all the Charlie Chaplin films you haven’t heard of (you’ve heard of The Kid, The Gold Rush, City Lights, Modern Times and The Great Dictator. You haven’t heard of A Woman of Paris, Monsieur Verdoux, Limelight, A King in New York and A Countess from Hong Kong), this is his best. This movie is beautiful. He plays a washed-up, alcoholic comedian. Claire Bloom plays a suicidal dancer. He saves her from killing herself and nurses her back to health. They find strength in each other and form a really wonderful relationship. He even attempts a comeback. It’s… a great, great movie.
This movie also has an interesting bit of trivia about it — it won an Oscar 20 years after it came out. The movie wasn’t released in the US in 1952 because of Chaplin’s exile status. So it got released in 1972 and won Best Original Score that year. (Partly because The Godfather score was deemed ineligible. But regardless of that, it still won.)
Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned the best part — toward the end of the movie, as Chaplin is attempting his comeback, he reunites with his former comedy “partner”… who is played by Buster Keaton. And the two of them perform a scene together. So this is the only movie that features both Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton doing comedy together. If that’s not essential, I don’t know what is.
I’m also telling you that you need to see this. This is one of the most underrated movies of all time
The Member of the Wedding (1952)
I saw this as part of the Oscar Quest. Julie Harris was nominated for Best Actress for this. So I put it on, not really expecting a whole lot from it. And I was blown away by Harris’ performance. I’m pretty shocked she didn’t win for this movie. I don’t (and didn’t) get blown away that often by performances. Usually I will appreciate them and can say they’re great, but rarely am I left in a state of awe at how good someone was. That’s how I felt about Julie Harris here.
This is based on a Carson McCullers novel. She wrote four books in her life. Three of them were turned into movies, and all are really good and feature great performances. This is one, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter is the second (which we’ll get to later on), and Reflections in a Golden Eye is the third (which we will also get to). This one is about Julie Harris, a young tomboy, who idolizes her brother. Her life has been beautiful and simple and she’s lived within her own world for years. Only now, her brother is getting married, and is going off on his honeymoon. And she’s not going to be allowed to come. And it really brings her entire world crashing down around her. She has to come to terms with the facts of life and ultimately grow up. And her performance is perfect. This movie ultimately is what it feels like to be a child.
I can’t recommend this highly enough. Fred Zinnemann directs (same year as High Noon). Ethel Waters (you’ll remember her if you saw Pinky) and Brandon de Wilde (who would later go on to play the kid in Shane) are also in this. This was one of my favorite discoveries of the Oscar Quest and in general.
Monkey Business (1952)
Howard Hawks. Cary Grant. Ginger Rogers. Marilyn Monroe. Charles Coburn. Screwball comedy. HILARIOUS. Cary Grant is searching for the fountain of youth. He tests his concoctions on monkeys. He actually succeeds. Unbeknownst to him, one of his monkeys breaks loose and puts his success in the water cooler. So everyone ends up drinking it and acting twenty years younger than they are. Have I mentioned this is hilarious? Everyone needs to see this. I’d be shocked if people didn’t enjoy this. Look at that pedigree!
Moulin Rouge (1952)
Yes. It’s the same story as that. Sort of. You’ll notice a lot of similarities. Though while the Baz Luhrmann version is fun and a musical, this one is dour and depressing. But it looks great. The Technicolor is awesome here. This is about Toulouse-Lautrec (the guy Leguizamo played, who was actually like four feet tall), the guy who painted the famous painting. He’s an alcoholic painter, and we follow him to his last days. Jose Ferrer is great here. Zsa Zsa Gabor is also in it. Collette Marchand was nominated for Supporting Actress for this. Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing are in this! Oh, and it was directed by John Huston. I think everyone should see this. It’s really good. Nominated for a bunch of Oscars, and one of those movies that will surprise you at how much you like it.
The Narrow Margin (1952)
If I were making a list of just film noirs — this might make the top ten. I love this movie. Love it, love it, love it. A cop and his partner have to protect a mob widow, who is traveling from Chicago to LA to testify. Pretty much the entire movie takes place on the train. This is basically a noir version of the best part of From Russia with Love. Twists and turns everywhere — I cannot stress how much I love this movie.
No Room for the Groom (1952)
The other Douglas Sirk comedy that made it on here. The man was pretty versatile. This one is screwball all the way. Tony Curtis and Piper Laurie elope in Vegas because he’s gotta go back to the army soon. They plan on a great honeymoon, but he gets chicken pox and they can’t. So he goes back to the army and she goes back with her family. Only she doesn’t tell the family about the marriage because her mother is melodramatic and she thinks it’ll kill her. Meanwhile, her mother is trying to marry her to someone else. And by the time Curtis gets back, the rest of the family are conspiring against him to have him declared mentally incompetent so he can’t be married to Laurie. It’s really funny. I’m a huge Tony Curtis fan, so I’m prone to enjoying anything with him in it. But this one is legitimately funny. You can’t go wrong with a good screwball comedy.
O. Henry’s Full House (1952)
This is an anthology movie. And I find that I really like these anthology movies. (The best, of course, being How the West Was Won.) This one is based on O. Henry’s stories. And it revolves around five stories. I’ll break them down one by one, to show you why this one is worthwhile:
The Cop and the Anthem. Henry Koster directs. Charles Laughton and Marilyn Monroe are in this one. Laughton is a homeless guy who has no place to stay for the winter. And he realizes that jail is actually the best place he can be. So he spends the entire time trying to get arrested. And the joke is that everything he does somehow doesn’t get him arrested.
The Clarion Call. Directed by Henry Hathaway, starring Richard Widmark. He’s a cop who owes a personal debt to a woman but also knows she committed murder. And he has to decide whether or not to arrest her.
The Last Leaf. Directed by Jean Negulesco, starring Anne Baxter. She’s a woman who’s got pneumonia and is really sick, and decides that when the last leaf falls from the tree out her window, she’ll die.
The Ransom of Red Chief. Directed by Howard Hawks. A couple of criminals kidnap the son of an important figure in the town, figuring it’ll net them a nice ransom. Only they quickly realize that no one wants the kid back. And then we see why — the kid is more trouble than he’s worth. This is the one straight comedy in the bunch, and it’s great.
And finally — The Gift of the Magi. Which, you know the story. Directed by Henry King. Starring Jeanne Crain and Farley Granger.
It’s really good. No story overstays its welcome, and it’s a really entertaining movie shot by some great directors. Plus, O. Henry is one of the masters of the short story.
Scandal Sheet (1952)
This one I saw very recently for the first time. Noir. Broderick Crawford is a newspaper man who has turned around his paper by starting to print a lot of scandalous headlines. He basically went from “proper” news to tabloid fodder. His new thing is organizing a giant dance for all the single people in town, and offering money to the first couple who meets at the dance and gets married that night. That sort of thing. Meanwhile, he runs into a wife (and an identity) he ran out on years ago. She threatens to reveal who he really is. And of course she ends up dead accidentally. And now he is in the position of putting stories in the paper about his own actions. It’s really great.
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