Mike’s Top Ten of 1950
1950 as a year feels pretty noir heavy. Even the top films have a darkness and cynicism to them. The two big films of the year are, of course, Sunset Boulevard and All About Eve. That pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the year.
You’re gonna see a lot of noirs and westerns here, because those are what were mass produced during this era. But what you’ll also find a a couple of really great hidden gems, including one of my favorite movies that absolutely nobody knows about.
That might be the theme for this year and the 50s in general — a lot of the obvious choices are there at the top, but some of the stuff below the line is some of the best stuff that you don’t know about, but really ought to.
Mike’s Top Ten of 1950
All About Eve
The Baron of Arizona
In a Lonely Place
Night and the City
11-20: The Asphalt Jungle, Broken Arrow, Caged, Father of the Bride, Gun Crazy, Mister 880, No Way Out, Rio Grande, Panic in the Streets, Winchester ‘73
Tier two: Armored Car Robbery, Between Midnight and Dawn, The Breaking Point, Cheaper by the Dozen, Dark City, Devil’s Doorway, Dial 1119, D.O.A., The Furies, Gone to Earth, House by the River, King Solomon’s Mines, The Man Who Cheated Himself, The Men, One Way Street, Stage Fright, Summer Stock, Wagon Master, When Willie Comes Marching Home, Where Danger Lives
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1. Sunset Boulevard
One of the greatest 100 American films ever made. A classic so iconic that people can quote a bunch of lines from the movie even without seeing it.
William Holden is a struggling screenwriter who happens upon an old LA mansion that is the home of Gloria Swanson, a former famous silent film actress. She’s now old and slightly crazy, believing herself to still be the star she was twenty-five years prior. She hires him to rewrite a script she intends to be her return to stardom, and he gets mixed up in her creepy, isolated existence.
The film is iconic all around. From the opening image of William Holden floating dead in the pool and narrating our story from beyond the grave, to the film’s final image (pictured above). It’s a masterpiece, through and through.
And a Billy Wilder film, again proving that man was a genius who could do anything and make it great.
“A dream is a wish your heart makes
When you’re fast asleep
In dreams you lose your heartaches
Whatever you wish for, you keep
Have faith in your dreams and someday
Your rainbow will come smiling through
No matter how your heart is grieving
If you keep on believing
The dream that you wish will come true”
It’s Cinderella. This movie is the one that saved Disney for good. They had money troubles all throughout the 40s and stayed afloat with their package films. But this one is the one that put them back on the map and kept them there.
There isn’t a whole lot to say here. Everyone’s seen this movie. It still holds up as one of the ten or fifteen greatest Disney films ever made. All the songs are prefect, and it looks stunning.
At this point, for me, what I respect most about the greatest of the Disney films, aside from the true artistry of their animation, is how they could also write such beautiful songs that hold up among the best ever written. It’s amazing to me the heights they’ve accomplished as a studio over the years.
3. All About Eve
“Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.”
What an amazing film. One of the most nominated films in Academy history and one of the most lauded films ever made. And with good reason. It’s amazing. Sunset Boulevard wins on the iconic images and quotes, but this movie has a whole bunch of other stuff going for it that also makes it one of the 100 greatest American films ever made.
The tagline for this movie was “It’s all about women… and their men!” Which, honestly, it’s not really about the men at all. The only real man of consequence in this movie is George Sanders. It’s entirely about the women, and that’s what makes it great.
Bette Davis is an aging star of the theater who seems to refuse her advancing age. She meets Anne Baxter one night outside the stage door. Baxter claims to be her biggest fan. After taking her in and chatting with her, she soon hires the girl to be part of her team. She starts to really like the girl and makes her a small part of her life. However, Baxter slowly starts to weasel her way closer and closer to Davis, backstabbing and cutting out all those who don’t seem to like her. And pretty soon, she starts angling for Davis’ part in the show she’s starring in.
It’s such a great movie. Davis and Baxter are amazing, George Sanders is so terrific. Celeste Holm is great. And you have an early Marilyn Monroe performance in the middle of the film.
What I like about this movie — and also Sunset Boulevard — is how cynical it is. I love how bad people succeed, and even the good people can’t do shit about it.
It’s about a lovable drunk whose friend is a six-foot tall invisible rabbit. Was there any doubt this movie was gonna be for me? And it’s Jimmy Stewart, who is just the greatest.
Stewart hangs out with Harvey, his best friend (and titular invisible rabbit), much to the consternation of his aunt and sister. They think he’s nuts, so they try to commit him. Hilarity ensues.
One of the great comedies of all time, featuring a great performance by Jimmy Stewart. Josephine Hull is also amazing as his aunt, and she won a well-deserved Oscar for her role.
How can you not love this movie?
5. Born Yesterday
I fucking love this movie, and it has 100% to do with Judy Holliday.
Judy Holliday was an actress who was so specific in her type that it was hard for her not to be seen exactly as she was here. But man, was she perfectly cast here.
She began her career on the stage, eventually getting noticed in the stage version of this story, taking over for Jean Arthur, for whom it was initially written. She ended up with a flashy supporting part in Adam’s Rib, which is a very standout performance in the film. And after that, Katharine Hepburn basically browbeat the studio into casting her here, despite her not being the first choice at all for the role. And man, did that work out.
The film is about Broderick Crawford as a gangster who comes to Washington in order to buy a few congressman and get into politics. Holliday plays his girlfriend. Crawford thinks she’s too dumb to be taken around all the high society dinner parties of D.C. so he hires William Holden, a journalist, to tutor her and maker her smarter. It’s like this weird version of Pygmalion. Of course, we find out she’s actually way smarter than anyone else ever thought, and begins to make everyone look like idiots. It’s hilarious.
It’s impossible to watch this movie and not be impressed by Judy Holliday. She’s so fucking good in this movie. It’s actually a situation where an actress fits a role so well it made it difficult to separate her from it in the future. But this is actually one of the great screen performances of all time simply because of how memorable it is. I’m telling you there’s no way to see this and not come out thinking she made a huge impression.
6. Night and the City
One of the great noirs ever made. Jules Dassin. There goes that man again.
Richard Widmark (here he is again. Not many people truly realize how often he turns up in great movies, giving great performances) is a hustler trying to make a name for himself. He ends up getting involved in promoting wrestling matches. Though the film is about him trying to make all these plans, and everything going very, very wrong.
This movie is very dark. No one is likable, there’s no redemption to be found, and it’s fucking great. This is a real masterpiece of the noir genre, and I feel like it’s one of those movies almost every film buff will love, because it’s so entertaining all around. The great films have this thing about them that makes them eminently watchable.
I recall this as being one of the greatest films ever made. Other people remember it differently.
If you’ve seen this film, then what I’ve just said is hilarious. If you haven’t, then you’re missing out. And shame on you. Because this is a masterpiece.
8. The Baron of Arizona
One of my favorite hidden gems of all time. Usually the premise is enough to sell you on it, and you go, “How did I not know this existed?!” Then just wait until after you see it. This movie is absolutely amazing and I couldn’t believe that not only had I not seen it for so long — I owned a copy of the movie for like four years before I actually watched it!
This movie stars Vincent Price as a con man who tries to claim the state of Arizona as his own. This is before it became a state. He realizes that, with the right lineage, he could actually legally be granted the entire state as his own. So he sets out on the longest con imaginable, going around and forging documents to get himself legally declared the owner of the territory that is Arizona.
This movie is GREAT. If you’re reading these lists, looking for hidden gems, look no further. Trust me on this one. This movie is so good and I know that no one knows anything about this. Oh, and by the way — Sam Fuller directed this movie. This was only his second film. Very unlike the films he’d later become known for, but man, this movie is incredible.
This is a real hidden treasure of American cinema. Don’t miss out on this.
9. In a Lonely Place
Quite probably Humphrey Bogart’s finest screen performance. A noir directed by Nicholas Ray, this movie is now generally thought of as a classic and among the greatest films ever made.
Bogart plays a screenwriter with a real temper. A woman he took home the previous night (not sexually) was murdered, and since he was seen with and around her, having violent outbursts, he looks like a suspect. And the film is about his relationship with Gloria Grahame, his neighbor, with whom he begins a relationship. She begins to see his violent behavior and wonders if he actually did kill the woman. But ultimately the film is about an abusive relationship, becoming more of a drama than a noir. Which is what makes it so great.
Grahame is great, and Bogart actually does give his finest screen performance. This movie is so great.
10. The Gunfighter
This is one of my all-time favorite westerns. And it’s probably one of the greatest of the genre, too. Though it does feel like it’s a bit of a hidden gem. Maybe if you’re into westerns you know about it, but otherwise I don’t think a lot of people are onto this one.
Gregory Peck is (insert title here), that legendary gunman that everyone’s afraid of and all the young bucks looking to make names for themselves seek out to try to best. The film begins with him killing one of these men. He arrives in a small town nearby, and immediately creates an uproar in the town. He’s simply trying to to come to his wife (who he hasn’t been able to see in years) and not make trouble, but of course that’s all that happens. His wife wants nothing to do with him and some men are looking to kill him.
The beauty of this film is its weariness and its de-mythologizing of the character of the gunfighter. While certain films glorify this guy, this film shows him for who he is — a guy who has to constantly look over his shoulder, isn’t able to live a normal life, and really is waiting for the death he knows is coming. The great scene in this movie is at the end, when he tells the young gunfighter what his life is gonna be like, and how miserable it is to be the mythical figure of the gunfighter.
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The Asphalt Jungle — One of the great noirs of all time. John Huston. An influence on Rififi. The central heist sequence is very similar to the famous one in Rififi. Simple structure, too. Mastermind gets released from prison, plans a heist, puts together his team, they pull off the heist, and then we watch as everything unravels and goes wrong. A classic.
Broken Arrow — This is one of the first revisionist westerns. Before this there were really only like two or three. 1950 began the trend of filmmakers taking the western genre and looking critically at what was actually going on. This is one of the first westerns to have sympathetic Native Americans in it. Jimmy Stewart plays a guy who forms a friendship with the Apaches and helps try to broker a piece between them and the whites. And in doing so, falls in love with an Apache girl.
Caged — A women’s noir. Female prison movie. Eleanor Parker is put in prison and has to deal with prison life, specifically a sadistic guard (played by a great Hope Emerson). Prison movies are always good, and this one has a nice twist because the cast is entirely female, and you get to see all the prison tropes filtered through a different gender. Which makes them so much more interesting. This is one of the hidden gem noirs of all time.
Father of the Bride — A classic family movie. It’s technically a comedy, but it’s not particularly laugh out loud funny. It’s just good. Vincente Minnelli directed and this is the movie they remade into the Steve Martin version I imagine most people know about. At least, more than they know about this. Spencer Tracy is a father whose daughter, Elizabeth Taylor, is getting married. So he has to deal with all the insanity of planning for the wedding and all of that, as well as the fact that he’s about to lose his baby girl, which is a tough time for all fathers. It’s a really rich film that is just so damn likable.
Gun Crazy — A quintessential noir and a forbearer to films like Bonnie and Clyde. One of those movies hardcore film buffs need to see. It’s about a husband and wife who go on a killing spree. That’s really all you need. It’s awesome. This movie is one of the important films in film history.
Mister 880 — I love this movie. I bet almost nobody knows what this is. I only saw this early because of a stray Oscar nomination. It’s about Burt Lancaster as a secret service agent on the trail of someone who has been counterfeiting thousands of dollars for years. It’s been such a low priority that no one’s bothered to investigate until now, but Lancaster is determined to catch the person doing it. Meanwhile, while he conducts his investigation, we find out who the perpetrator is — a nice old man, Edmund Gwenn. He makes counterfeit one dollar bills just so he can buy groceries and things. He goes around and buys ice cream for kids and is just a lovely guy. And it’s a nice juxtaposition to the genius counterfeiter that Lancaster thinks he’s after. And of course it builds to their paths eventually crossing, and a really satisfying conclusion. A very underrated little drama.
No Way Out — A great noir. Joseph L. Mankiewicz directed it. Sidney Poitier is a doctor assigned to treat two men shot during a robbery. One of them is Richard Widmark. Widmark is a racist who doesn’t want a black doctor operating on him or his brother. His brother eventually dies from his wounds and Widmark blames Poitier for it and sets out to ruin him. It’s Poitier’s first film and is a landmark film in dealing with race.
Rio Grande — John Ford’s final piece of his calvary trilogy. My personal favorite. This movie is so good. John Wayne is Kirby York (the same character he played in Fort Apache, though now promoted and older), the head of a calvary regiment. He’s got a bunch of problems — Apache keep attacking his troops and escaping into Mexico. His son is a new recruit, and he has to both fear for him but also treat him harshly so as not to show favoritism. And, possibly worst of all, his estranged wife Maureen O’Hara shows up to come get their son. This movie is so great. Wayne, O’Hara, Ben Johnson, Victor McLaglen and the Sons of the Pioneers sing songs during it! One of the great westerns and one of Ford’s best.
Panic in the Streets — One of the great noirs. Directed by Elia Kazan. Richard Widmark (there he is again) is a health official trying to find patient zero of a potential plague outbreak. Meanwhile, Jack Palance is a gangster who is patient zero and thinks the cops are after him for other reasons. So Palance is hiding out and Widmark needs to find Palance before all hell breaks loose and everyone gets infected. The fact that Kazan directed it should tell you how good it is. But also, this entire movie was shot on location in New Orleans, which makes the whole thing even more vibrant. This is actually one of the top noirs of all time. It’s amazing.
Winchester ‘73 — Anthony Mann is known for his dark, psychological westerns that were almost noirs in their own right. They began with this one. You’ll see quite a few of these popping up over the next decade. This one is about Jimmy Stewart, as a man who wins a prize rifle in a shooting contest. Eventually, he is ambushed, and the rifle is stolen from him. And we follow the rifle, from owner to owner, as each person who comes into ownership of the rifle meets a pretty bad end. Of all the Mann westerns, this is one of the best. Definitely top three for me. It’s amazing. Highly recommended, as far as westerns go. This one also stars Shelley Winters, Dan Duryea, Rock Hudson and a young Tony Curtis.
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- Armored Car Robbery
- Between Midnight and Dawn
- The Breaking Point
- Cheaper by the Dozen
- Dark City
- Devil’s Doorway
- Dial 1119
- The Furies
- Gone to Earth
- House by the River
- King Solomon’s Mines
- The Man Who Cheated Himself
- The Men
- One Way Street
- Stage Fright
- Summer Stock
- Wagon Master
- When Willie Comes Marching Home
- Where Danger Lives
This one’s gonna have a lot of noirs. A lot of these years will. Noirs and westerns. They’re two of my favorite genres and there were a lot of them these years. And they’re awesome.
D.O.A. is one of the more iconic noirs. Edmund O’Brien walks into a police station and reports his own murder. And the rest of the film shows how we got there. Essentially — he’s been poisoned, and he needs to figure out who did it before he drops dead. It’s amazing. Dial 1119 is such a great movie. An escaped mental patient murders somebody and takes a bunch of people hostage in an underground bar. And the movie is a standoff between him and the cops. The movie is basically a play. The Iceman Cometh, but with hostages. Like, oh, what’s that movie. Albino Alligator. One of the underrated noirs of all time.
One Way Street is a noir I saw at the noir fest they do here. Otherwise I’d have had no idea about it. It was a double feature with Hardly a Criminal, which I talked about in 1949. This one’s about James Mason as a mob doctor who is called in whenever someone gets shot. He comes in to treat Dan Duryea, and then slips out with Duryea’s money from the heist and his girlfriend. He and the girlfriend hide out in Mexico, until he hears that Duryea knows where he is and is coming for him (which may or may not be true). And he has to decide whether or not to return and confront him. It’s so good. Tonally it’s just two different movies. The entire middle is just this sojourn in Mexico that has nothing to do with the rest of the movie. But it works. Dark City is a noir you probably don’t know about. William Dieterle directed it. It’s about a bunch of guys, led by Charlton Heston in one of his first roles, who hustle a dude for a bunch of money in a rigged poker game. The man later kills himself. Which then sets the man’s psycho brother after the men, and he begins hunting them down, one by one, extracting vengeance. I really liked this one.
Armored Car Robbery is self-explanatory. It’s about a bunch of guys that rob an armored car, though the robbery goes wrong and they end up killing a cop. And the rest of the movie is the gang unraveling and things going way wrong. Richard Fleischer directed this, and it’s also part heist film as well as a noir. It’s just over an hour long, too. A fun, quick watch. Between Midnight and Dawn is about two cops on night duty who romance two women while also being tracked by a guy looking to kill them for arresting him. Fun little noir. House by the River is fun. Fritz Lang directed it. It’s about a writer who tries to fuck his maid while his family is out of town. When she resists, he murders her so she doesn’t tell anyone. He then dumps the body in the river, expecting it to float away. Only it comes back a few days later and becomes a big deal. Though, through circumstance, he manages to get his brother blamed for the crime, all while using the murder in his books to make money.
The Man Who Cheated Himself is Lee J. Cobb as a homicide detective who is secretly dating a married woman. He sees her kill her husband and helps her cover it up. Not only that, he gets his younger brother (an inexperienced detective) assigned to the case, thinking there’s no way it’ll ever get back to him. The Breaking Point is a noir remake of To Have and Have Not, starring John Garfield and Patricia Neal. It’s Garfield’s second to last role before his death, and the strain of being blacklisted was really starting to show. Where Danger Lives is about Robert Mitchum as a doctor who saves a suicide victim and falls for her. Though he then gets embroiled in the murder of the woman’s husband and the pair have to flee down to Mexico. I really enjoyed this one. Claude Rains and Maureen O’Sullivan co-star in this one. And also Faith Domergue — one of Howard Hughe’s “proteges.”
Devil’s Doorway is another Anthony Mann western. One of the major revisionist westerns of the era. Robert Taylor is a Native American Civil War veteran who is highly decorated. He returns home to live a quiet life, only to find that everyone hates him and doesn’t respect what he did at all because they can’t look past the color of his skin. It’s definitely not an uplifting movie at all, but it is one of the first cinematic indictments of the treatment of Native Americans, which helps it remain powerful. The Furies (not the Furries. That would be a way different movie) is also Anthony Mann. It stars Barbara Stanwyck and Walter Huston in his final film. He’s a strict cattle rancher and she’s his daughter, and much of the film is about their strenuous relationship. It’s pretty great. This movie is almost a noir. It’s about bad people doing terrible things. Wagon Master is one of John Ford’s favorite films of his. It’s about Ben Johnson and Harry Carey Jr as two men who help guide a Mormon wagon train through Monument Valley. It’s really good. Not one of those movies everyone loves of Ford’s, but definitely one of his classics.
The Men is Marlon Brando’s first film. Fred Zinnemann directed it. Brando plays a veteran who comes back home without his legs and has to get used to being paralyzed. It’s really good. Brando is fantastic, as is Teresa Wright, who plays his wife. Definitely an underrated film worth seeing. Cheaper by the Dozen is a family film that most people know because of the remake. It’s Myrna Loy and Clifton Webb as a family with twelve kids, and all the various hijinks that go on because of that. It’s fun. And it does not end the way I’d expect it to. I think people should see this movie just for that ending. No one would have the balls to do that today. When Willie Comes Marching Home is a John Ford war comedy. Dan Dailey is eager to join the war and fight. Though no matter what he does, he can’t get into action. He ends up as a flight instructor… at a base near his hometown. So everyone looks at him as a coward. Though he does eventually end up in combat, and just, crazy shit happens. It’s fun. A nice change of pace for Ford.
Gone to Earth is a Powell and Pressburger film. It was released as The Wild Heart in the U.S. after David O. Selznik got a hold of it and cut the shit out of it. It’s about Jennifer Jones as a gypsy woman who prefers being around animals than people, and the two men vying for her heart. Definitely not the strongest of the Powell and Pressburger films, but it looks great. Stage Fright is Hichcock. One of his “lesser” thrillers. Which doesn’t mean it’s not good, it just means it’s not thought of as on the level as most of his other ones. Jane Wyman is an actress who tries to help Richard Todd prove his innocence when he comes back and says he was accused of murdering his girlfriend (Marlene Dietrich)’s husband. It’s fun. Actually kinda funny too. Definitely some comedic elements to this one. Summer Stock is a musical with Gene Kelly and Judy Garland. She’s a farmer who houses a theater troupe in her barn as they rehearse for a show. It’s a good movie, though Garland definitely had more than a few issues during the filming of this one. King Solomon’s Mines is just a fun adventure movie. Stewart Granger, Deborah Kerr. Enjoyable.
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