The B+ Movie Guide: The New List (Part XVIII)
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 Sniper (1952)
This one is fascinating. It’s about a sniper going around and killing people and the police figuring out who it is and why they’re doing it. And we follow both the police and the sniper. It’s a really interesting movie. Edward Dmytryk directs.
Springfield Rifle (1952)
Gary Cooper is a Civil War soldier who gets dishonorably discharged from the army for cowardice, bringing him great public shame. Thing is, though… it’s only fake. He’s secretly undercover and is using that to get in with the rustlers who are giving horses to the Confederates. It’s basically a western spy movie.
Beat the Devil (1953)
So many interesting elements to this one. John Huston directs. The cast is Bogie, Jennifer Jones, Gina Lollobrigida, Robert Morley, Peter Lorre and Bernard Lee. And the script was co-written by Truman Capote. This is a movie whose script was written as it was being shot, and it’s considered one of the first camp movies ever made. It’s about a bunch of crooks who want to get rich as they wait for a ship to take them out of the port they’re in. It’s an interesting movie. Some people might hate it. But it’s fascinating, just because Hollywood didn’t do camp in these days. Not with this kind of cast.
The Big Heat (1953)
Noir. Fritz Lang. Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame, Lee Marvin. Ford is cop investigating his partner’s death. He slowly uncovers a web of deceit and murder. You know how it is. It’s a classic noir. Essential as noirs go.
The Earrings of Madame de… (1953)
Max Ophuls film. An aristocratic French woman lives a lavish lifestyle. And as such, she owes a bunch of money. So she arranges to sell her earrings, which her husband gave her as a wedding present. She pretends she lost them. And we follow the earrings as they end up from person to person, By the time the earrings come back to her, so much is revealed and so much has changed. It’s a really terrific film. I don’t often put foreign films on here, but this one’s a masterpiece.
The Glass Wall (1953)
This one is an interesting noir. It’s about an immigrant. A citizenship noir. A guy comes to America after surviving concentration camps. They don’t want to let him in. He says he helped an American soldier, which qualifies him for entry into the country. But all he knows is the guy’s name and that he’s a musician. Naturally they don’t believe him. Meanwhile he runs off, and they chase him. So he has to evade the authorities while finding a guy he knows nothing about in the biggest city in the world. He finds Gloria Grahame along the way, who ends up on the run with him through circumstance. It’s a really interesting film. The “innocent man on the run” noir.
You know what it’s about from the title. Tony Curtis plays Houdini and Janet Leigh plays his wife. (They were married at the time.) It’s pretty much your standard biopic. But I’ll watch anything with Tony Curtis, and this was a completely engaging film.
House of Wax (1953)
It’s a color version of the 1933 version (also on this list). This film looks great in color, and stars Vincent Price. Plot is the same. Wax museum, burned down, guy horribly disfigured. Comes back with incredibly lifelike wax statues, which might be made of real people. I think the comparison of this and the 30s one is fascinating, because you see how things have changed and what the predominant genre conventions are during each of the eras.
How to Marry a Millionaire (1953)
Technicolor. And the first film ever shot in CinemaScope. Second film released in CinemaScope, but the first film shot. Betty Grable, Lauren Bacall and Marilyn Monroe are all women who want to marry a rich guy. And we watch them go about it. William Powell is in this too. It looks terrific. And it’s CinemaScope.
Island in the Sky (1953)
William Wellman movie. I think I saw this for the first time when I was watching stuff for my 50s lists. I was blown away by how much I liked this. John Wayne is the captain of a giant plane (apparently called a Skytrain. Colin’ll know what it is) and has to crash land somewhere in Canada. But they can’t tell where specifically. So they have to survive in freezing cold while also hoping their rescuers can figure out where they are before they all die. It’s great. Incredibly realistic. One of my favorite discoveries.
Barbara Stanwyck is on vacation with her family down in Baja, where coincidentally a killer has escaped from prison in the area. There’s a fishing accident, and her husband ends up pinned below a collapsed dock, just as the tide is coming in. So she has to figure out how to get help before the tide comes in and he drowns. And in doing so, she runs across the escaped fugitive. Really top notch suspense noir. Only like five characters in the entire movie. Really contained, really well done.
Little Fugitive (1953)
This movie is sort of an American New Wave film. Right between Bicycle Thieves and The 400 Blows comes this movie. Completely realistic and unlike anything that came out during the time. It stars two kids. Brothers in Brooklyn. Their mother goes off to visit her mother, and leaves them alone for the day. And the older brother and his friends set up a prank where they pretend like the younger brother killed his older brother with a toy gun. Terrified, the younger brother runs away and gets on a train. And he ends up at Coney Island. So he wanders around, going on all the rides and stuff, while his brother is freaking out, trying to find him, because their mother is gonna be home soon. It’s great. This could have been a student film from Scorsese or something, it’s that realistic. And this was made in ’53!
When I started the Oscar Quest, there were really only a few films I discovered that I’d previously had no idea about that I fell in love with. This might be the number one movie of that group. Definitely not for everyone, I’ll admit, but for me, this was a perfect movie and was entirely up my alley.
Leslie Caron plays an innocent country girl whose father died and has no one. Before he died, he mentioned a baker in a small town who was an old friend of his who would take her in and help her out. The film starts as she arrives in this town, only to find out the baker has died. She almost gets taken advantage of by a shopkeeper in the town, and is saved by a magician, who is in town with his fellow circus folk while they are in town. Having nowhere to go, Lili follows them back to the circus. They take pity on her and give her a job. But she’s horribly unqualified and it is disastrous and she’s fired. Having nowhere to go, she’s about to throw herself in the Seine until, out of nowhere, some puppets from the circus start talking to her. She begins interacting with the puppets as if they’re real. And it proves to be a huge hit with the public, so she’s brought on to do that. Meanwhile, she’s still infatuated with the magician, and there’s the man who operates the puppets, a former dancer who is just a mean, cynical person, who also starts to develop feelings for her.
It’s a beautiful film. There are a lot of fantasy dance sequences in it, too. It’s not a perfect film, and I feel like a lot of people who see it based on my review of it will probably hate it. But I saw something really special here. (This is also coming from the person who unashamedly loves Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium. So do with that what you will.) This also was nominated for Best Director and Best Actress, so if you put any stock in that sort of thing… it does have that. (Also in 1953, which means it was up against From Here to Eternity, Stalag 17, Roman Holiday and Shane.)
Victor Fleming directed the movie Red Dust in 1932, with Clark Gable and Jean Harlow. This is a remake of that, with Clark Gable and Ava Gardner. This was her only Best Actress nomination. Oh, and Grace Kelly is in this too. He’s a game hunter in Africa who is taking Grace Kelly and her husband on safari. Meanwhile, Ava Gardner shows up to meet a friend of hers, but then at the last minute he doesn’t show up, so she’s stuck with them. And the rest of the movie is basically about which woman is gonna end up with Gable. It’s good.
M. Hulot’s Holiday (1953)
Jacques Tati has a very weird and unique place in film history. He made five films. Four of them are well-known. I’ve included three of them on this list (Trafic is the other one, in case you’re interested). I just felt they were all worth mentioning, just because his style is so unique and worthwhile. Actually, did you see the animated film The Illusionist? It’s based off a lost Tati script and the main character is based on him and his style of comedy. The premise is — he makes essential silent movies. There’s no dialogue. It’s only background noises. Traffic, crowd noise, sound effects, etc. And his character (usually M. Hulot) goes around, stumbling into things and causing chaos. He’s almost like Mr. Bean. Just a good-natured dude who makes things more complicated for other people. The movies are hilarious. You need to see at least one of them. His stuff is essential.
The Moon Is Blue (1953)
This is a romantic comedy. At heart. But really there’s a great story to this movie and how it’s partly responsible for the downfall of the Production Code.
The writer of this movie got several notices from Joseph Breen about how his script displayed “an unacceptably light attitude toward seduction, illicit sex, chastity and virginity.” And then Otto Preminger and the writer basically said, “Thanks for your notes, we’ll be proceeding as we were.” And the heads of United Artists literally went back and reworked the contract in the part that said the movie had to get a seal of approval. Of course, it didn’t get a seal, so United Artists said, “All right, fuck it.” And they coordinated a release strategy around that, and ultimately the film was the fifteenth highest grosser of the year.
This movie literally went to the SUPREME COURT. Three states banned the film, and Preminger and United Artists went to court in one of them (Maryland) and won. So then they went to Kansas, and the Supreme Court of Kansas was like, “Fuck that shit.” (My version of history is better. You remember my version.) So they went to the actual Supreme Court, which said they had a right to show the film. So pretty much this was the first major blow struck against the Production Code being the thing that decided what could or could not be put in a movie. (Which led to The Man with the Golden Arm two years later, which was already on the first list.)
Anyway, here’s what it’s about: Maggie McNamara (who got nominated for this movie) is an actress (and a virgin). She meets William Holden on the top of the Empire State Building and he invites her to drinks in his apartment. Also there is David Niven. Who speaks perhaps the line of the movie, which is, “The three things I live for are steak, liquor and sex.” And both men are determined to be the one to take her virginity. But she’s more interested in talking about sex than actually having sex. This movie isn’t even subtle about it’s innuendo. It’s right out in the open. And it’s great. This is historically important, and is entertaining as shit on top of it. That’s essential.
The Naked Spur (1953)
Anthony Mann western. Jimmy Stewart. Janet Leigh. The great thing about these Anthony Mann westerns, especially the ones with Jimmy Stewart is that they all have such dark undertones. Jimmy Stewart is thought of as a likable guy on screen, but he really had some anger running beneath him in a lot of those parts. Anyway, Stewart is tracking Robert Ryan, who’s wanted for murder. He’s also really determined, and really obsessed. It’s a great movie. Classic western.
Pickup on South Street (1953)
Yeah, boy. Sam Fuller made some great movies. This will be a lot of people’s favorite of his. It’s about a pickpocket who accidentally lifts some microfilm that contains secrets to be sold to communists. So now the pickpocket is working with the government to help take down the spies. It’s great. Richard Widmark stars, and Thelma Ritter is in this, and is terrific. She got nominated for it. This movie is terrific. Highly recommended.
The Robe (1953)
This was the first picture released in CinemaScope. A big religious epic with Richard Burton. And Jean Simmons and Victor Mature. And Michael Rennie (who was ill, the day the Earth stood still). Richard Burton is a senator’s son (this is Rome, by the way), who bangs a lot of women. But he’s really interested in Jean Simmons. Because she’s Jean Simmons. He also buys Victor Mature in a slave auction. Anyway, Burton is transferred to Jerusalem by Caligula, and sees Jesus tearing around with his boys. Victor Mature of course gets converted. Oh, and then they crucify the bastard. Jesus, not Mature. Mature got his own sequel after this, Demetrius and the Gladiators. And then Burton wins Jesus’s robe in a dice game (I’m not making this up. I think Colin will want to see this if he hasn’t already for this one moment. He legit wins Jesus’s robe in a dice game), and then starts feeling crazy guilt over the whole thing. Jesus’s death. Not winning the robe in a dice game. That’s something you be proud of. Anyway, he then ends up converted or whatever, and he and Simmons get killed. It’s what the Romans did to Christians. You know. Mostly it’s big and CinemaScope and in color. The movie’s fine. Mostly it’s about its historical importance than it actually being a great movie. It’s just fine. Burton acts like a crazy person in the scene where he touches the robe. That’s pretty funny. But it’s historically important, so that makes it essential for film history people.
Trouble Along the Way (1953)
John Wayne comedy. Michael Curtiz directs. Donna Reed costars. And Charles Coburn is in it (yeah, boy!). An obscure Catholic college needs money. So they get John Wayne, a big time football coach, to come to the school. He only takes it when he finds out his ex-wife has complained that he’s an unfit father. So he does it to prove to Social Services that he’s a good dad and providing a proper environment for his daughter. Donna Reed is the agent assigned to the case, who is already against Wayne because he reminds her of what it was like with her own father. So Wayne tries to win her over… and you know how that goes. Meanwhile, Wayne turns around the football team through… well, let’s call them “fun” methods. It’s a really enjoyable movie. I loved the relationship between Wayne and his daughter. They both are terrific here. I really enjoyed this movie quite a bit. Probably a top ten movie for me this year, and 1953 is a stacked year.
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