As one war ended, another began as North Korea invades South Korea. The first hydrogen bomb is successfully detonated in the United States. Elizabeth II is crowned Queen in the first ever televised coronation. Ruthless Russian dictator Joseph Stalin dies. Elvis Presley releases his first song ‘Heartbreak Hotel.’ But what was happening in Hollywood? Let’s take a look at some of the best films the movie industry had to offer in the 1950’s:
SUNSET BOULEVARD (1950)
How far would you go to save your career? This captivating noir answers that question, in the form of forgotten silent movie star Norma Desmond, who would do anything. Even murder. Starving for the spotlight once more, like a moth to the flame, the desperate actress fantasizes about the prospect of a new role. Clinging to the past, she suffocates herself with old portraits of the star she used to be in her grim sunset castle. Swallowing in her own self-pity, Norma watches old movies, comforting herself with the words “I am big, it’s the pictures that got small.” Enter struggling screenwriter Joe Gillis. Running away from credit boys, he stumbles across a mansion, and meets the desperate woman, in which he will soon be trapped in her warped state of delusion, jealousy and madness. Thinking he can make a quick buck, Joe hatches a plan to re-write the script Norma has been writing for her comeback… oops, sorry, “return” to the big screen. After an attempted suicide and guilt trips, he begins to realize that he’s the one being played. Nominated for eleven Academy Awards, winning three, and adapted into a successful West End show, the story still holds up to this day. It seems the world will always be ready for Norma Desmond’s close up.
STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (1951)
An accidental game of footsies sparks a chance encounter in Alfred Hitchcock’s psychological thriller. What starts as friendly chit-chat between two men, turns into a deadly ‘criss-cross’ plan in which one of the men suggests committing murder. Tennis player Guy Haines wants to end his messy relationship with wife Miriam. The “very clever fellow” Guy meets on the train, Bruno Antony, wants to rid of his father whom he loathes. In the same manner as offering to exchange numbers, Bruno calmly plots to swapping murders so they’ll both get away with it. Thinking nothing more of this bizarre conversation, Guy departs from the train. Little does he know that Bruno is deadly serious. When the madman takes care of Miriam, Bruno hunts down Guy and expects him to return the favor and keep up his end of the bargain. The master of suspense director plays on the obsessive side of Bruno’s character to great effect, using the camera to showcase him like a stalker. A haunting shot of Bruno dressed in black in the distance to signify he’s always watching Guy wherever he goes. Constantly checking up on him with calls, letters, even sending a gun to entice the poor man to finish the job. The devil on an angel’s shoulder. Another memorable shot takes place at a tennis match. As onlooker’s heads are watching the ball go back and forth as play goes on, Bruno’s head stays directly ahead of his prey, never breaking his sight on his victim. In true Hitchcock fashion, a tense life and death struggle occurs in the finale, and Bruno is finally defeated. While Strangers On A Train is not Hitchcock’s best effort, he was simply warming up is lens for his future releases. Maybe that’s why the art of talking to strangers on public transport is dead because of this film. You never know who you could bump into…
SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN (1952)
Not a lot would disagree with the opinion that the film that tap danced its way into our hearts is the greatest musical ever made. None that has come before or since the release of Gene Kelly’s best movie has even come close to its warm and just downright lovely story. Not to mention the music. From peppy songs such as All I Do Is Dream Of You, the hilarious Make Em Laugh, to the iconic title song, it’s no wonder fans from all generations are still in love with this masterpiece sixty years on. Fear of talking pictures ending his career, instead of enslaving a writer and killing him, Don Lockwood turns his now-redundant silent film into a singing spectacular. Bouncing from one musical number to the next, Singin’ In The Rain is timeless. Come rain or shine, this film will always leave a smile on you face.
ON THE WATERFRONT (1954)
Long before he stuffed cotton balls in his cheeks, a young Marlon Brando starred as a rough and ready dockworker trying to do the right thing in this powerful drama. After throwing a fight, and literally his own career as a promising boxer, Teddy Malloy finds himself working for a mob boss Johnny Friendly. When he unwillingly helps murder a young union worker before he can give information about Friendly’s illegal activities, he decides to join forces with grieving sister Edie and a local priest to take the mob down. With the role of Teddy nearly going to Frank Sinatra, it would’ve been a different film entirely. We definitely would not have been knocked for six with the gut wrenching “I could have been a contender” speech. Earning him an Academy Award for Best Actor, Brando blends raw angst and streetwise toughness in perfect unison. The greatest actor the world has ever seen.
DIAL M FOR MURDER (1954)
Stylish. Elegant. These two words were commonly used when critics reviewed this stage adaption. As the story unravels like stockings used as a murder weapon, it never loses its style or its elegance. Set entirely on one stage, a retired tennis player plots the perfect murder to gain control of his wife’s enormous fortune. When the attempted assassination goes horribly wrong and his accomplice is killed instead, he tries to cover up his tracks and deceitfully points the finger at his wife. He would’ve gotten away with it too if it wasn’t for his wife’s lover and a moustache-combing detective. Princess Grace Kelly’s unforgettable performance won her critical acclaim. And it wouldn’t be the last time in the 50’s. Dial M for Magnificent.
Watch this space for part 2.
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By George Millard