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The Underrated Fifties


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My list for 1950:

 

1. SUNSET BOULEVARD (on my Classic Top Ten)

2. HARVEY

3. ALL ABOUT EVE

4. THE ASPHALT JUNGLE

5. CAGED

6. BORN YESTERDAY

7. CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN

8. SO LONG AT THE FAIR

9. PANIC IN THE STREETS

10. CINDERELLA and WINCHESTER '73 (tie)

 

Honorable mentions: SEPTEMBER AFFAIR; THE MEN; THE MAGNIFICENT YANKEE; HOUSE BY THE RIVER; NO MAN OF HER OWN; NO WAY OUT; and TEA FOR TWO.

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I'll begin by re-posting my 1950 list from the other thread. I see that we have quite a few titles in common, including one I'd accidentally omitted the first time around (No Man of Her Own) that your list reminded me of.

 

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

 

I apologize for going to 1950, but it's long been my thought that this was the greatest movie year ever, and I wanted to test my instinct.

 

And after going over all the movies from 1950, I think my initial instincts were correct - - - at least if you have the same taste in genres that I do. :)

 

1. All About Eve (top 10 of all time, at least for Hollywood films)

2. The Asphalt Jungle ("Don't bone me!")

3. Three Came Home

4. The Damned Don't Cry

5. Whirlpool (Jose Ferrer's best performance)

6. The Killer That Stalked New York

7. Panic In the Streets

8. Night in the City

9. The Baron of Arizona

10. No Way Out

 

Best of the rest: The Secret Fury, Between Midnight and Dawn, Woman In Hiding, Born to Be Bad, D.O.A., In a Lonely Place, Tension, Stage Fright, Backfire, Borderline, Scandal, Trio, Caged, Sunset Boulevard, A Life of Her Own, Mr. 880, 711 Ocean Drive, *No Man of Her Own*

 

Underrated: Three Came Home, Whirlpool, The Baron of Arizona

Overrated: Stromboli

Have to see: Rashomon

 

Best actor: Sterling Hayden (The Asphalt Jungle)

Best actress: Bette Davis (All About Eve) (duh)

Best supporting actor: George Sanders (All About Eve)

Best supporting actress (if you can call it that): Anne Baxter (All About Eve) (and if she's not considered Supporting, then make it Celeste Holm or Thelma Ritter)

 

Number of films viewed: About 85 - 90

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I'm surprised you asked that question. Doesn't everyone know here that all movie years are judged against 1939.

 

Hey, I'm joking, but,, well, not really, since that is the only logical way to explain how year after year can be underrated.

 

My POV is that the terms overrated and underated are overused.

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I wonder why 1939 was such a great year?

 

Did more people go to the movies in 1939, thereby giving the studios more money to make better movies?

 

Was it just "chance".

 

I notice that 1938 and 1940 were pretty good years too.

 

Has anyone made up a list of ALL the best films of 1939?

 

Was 1939 looked upon as being a Great Year by people back in 1939, or is that a modern concept started by us old-movie buffs?

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Oh, by the way, I have an old edition of a major New Orleans newspaper from 1915, and all of Page 2 is dedicated to The Movies.

 

The Sports section is later in the paper. So Movies must have been very important and popular to newspaper readers as early as 1915.

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My favorite years are 38 - 41. So many great movies released during those years. Why?

 

Well I can only guess but Hollywood matured. i.e. there were less 'throw away' programmers. i.e. studios put more money and effort into more of the movies they released those years than they did during the early 30s. Also, a lot of European talent left Europe, due to the Nazis, and came to the USA.

 

Anyhow those are some of my ideas on 'why', I'm sure others here have better ones.

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I find that some 50s movies, notably the classics Sunset Boulevard and All About Eve, though made in 1950 are primarily in the vein of 40s. Asphalt Jungle is another. Just a thought, but the 50s don?t really kick in for me until about ?54. There is something about then, rock and roll, the demise of the studio system, the advent of wide-screen color extravaganzas, which seem to mark what we think of as being 50s. The *Jimmy Dean* movies, Tea and Sympathy, Around the world in 80 days, the gidget-y beach movies, etc. etc. etc., stuff like that. For me, many of the 50s movies were not as interesting on average than 40s movies, there was a blandness that somehow mirrored some of the stuff that was showing up on TV, those staid sitcoms, for instance. I understand I'm oversimplifying a bit, there was, for instance, a wave of coming of age films in the 50s that were quite gritty for the times. No example comes readily to mind but I remember TCM doing a series on this. On The Waterfront comes to mind as a possible watershed example of the bridging of the two decades in spirit, having elements of both decades, and of course Brando showing something extraordinarily new and uncommon in the way of acting. I notice that some of the lists here are comprised of mostly early 50s. Just airing some thoughts, I understand we?re talking here about the decade of the 50s, certainly a viable subject, regardless of the zeitgeist...and that there were a number of quite good movies made, even during my 'bland' period, ha.

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I agree with your idea that the "50's" as we think of them didn't really start until about 1954 or 1955. In terms of movies, I think it was the combination of the influx of teenagers and the advent of the technicolor wide screens that switched the focus towards spectacle and away from content. Not that there weren't plenty of exceptions to that overgenerality, but in hindsight I think that the period roughly stretching from 1945 to 1952 can be seen as a bit of an anomaly, in that there during that period there were far more movies dealing with the grittier undersides of life, and relatively fewer movies that were purely escapist. In that respect, many of the movies of the late 50's had more in common with the movies of the late 30's than they did with the movies of the 1945-52 period.

 

Again, this is all one big generalization with many exceptions, but I do think that the broad point is valid.

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>Doesn't everyone know here that all movie years are judged against 1939.

 

You know, that's funny...but I think you have somethin' there!

 

There are underrated titles in every year, from every decade. When I was composing my list for 1948, I had to go back and add CANON CITY at the end, which gave me a tie for number 10. Such an amazing film, probably the best prison break film ever in my (not so) humble opinion: the cinematography is utterly superb; it is filmed in a docudrama style; and there is some excellent action and suspense in it. It is so underrated that even I tend to overlook it, which I do not want to do. Incidentally, _every_ review for CANON CITY at the Internet movie database is overwhelmingly enthusiastic. It is one of those pictures that just strikes a chord with you. I wish more people knew about it, and I hope that anyone who reads this seeks it out.

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>Was 1939 looked upon as being a Great Year by people back in 1939, or is that a modern concept started by us old-movie buffs?

 

Valid question. Some folks tend to over-emphasize the importance of the year 1939. But I try not to. That is not to say it is not a great year, but it is not the best year of Hollywood cinema as far as I'm concerned. I call it a vintage year. But I also call 1973 and 1990 vintage years, too.

 

When I sat down to work on my lists for each year-- I sifted through the top moneymakers, the top British films, any foreign films that gained a wide audience in America, and films that may have slipped under the radar by the vast majority of viewers but still had noteworthy direction or acting. Going through these groups of films, I would sometimes say to myself, this is a truly dynamic year-- because there are a lot of gems here! I felt that way about 1937 and 1955 in particular...just as strongly as I feel about '39, '73 and '90.

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I think you have part of it, Jamesjazzguitar. But you can also add the fact that America ws just coming out of the Depression in 1939 and WWII was looming on the horizon. People were coming back to the movies and the money guys in NYC were relaxing a little bit, letting the creative types in Hollywood have a bit more leeway to do things right instaed of cheap and fast. Many of the best directors and actors and etc had really hit their stride and the whole thing was clicking over like a well-oiled machine.

 

It could also be partly that 1939 looks so good compared to what came after--first came WWII and propaganda films, then the restrictions of the Blacklist and the Red Scare, the loss of the theatre chains which had more or less guaranteed business for the studios, plus television...etc etc. Now this is not to say that no good films were made after 1939--Billy Wilder hadn;t even gotten started directing yet and Hitchcock had yet to make some of his best, but the Studio System was winding down

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laffite,

 

Excellent overview of the decade. As we go along, I will be listing some of the titles you mentioned. Regarding James Dean, specifically, I think REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE is an overrated teen angst (melo)drama and I will not include it. I feel EAST OF EDEN has a better pedigree in terms of literary source, direction and performance (Julie Harris is a much better actress than Natalie Wood, sorry to say, and I do like Natalie).

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I think people get too hung up on this "year" issue, ie. 1935 was better than 1934, etc. And is a film made in 1938 but released for viewing in 1939 a "38" picture or a "39" one? To my eyes we see a steady progression of improvement thru the sound pictures era up until the year of 1939 (the peak year) . Because of the war in Europe and the political climate and anticipation here in the U.S. starting in 1940 the industry had to start scaling back on budgets , could "Gone With The Wind" been done in 1940 or 41? As James mentions, there was a significant import of talent coming into the U.S. during the 30's that helped the U.S. film industry. And was also pointed out the events in Europe in the late 30's greatly impacted the income that Hollywood had been receiving from that market. I especially like the 1940 and 1941 films partially because the industry had to do more with less and the films seem efficiently made, and a little less emphasis on the spectacular , like we see with "Gone With The Wind" and others.

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>I'd accidentally omitted the first time around (No Man of Her Own) that your list reminded me of

 

Such a great film! When Stanwyck was SOTM in December 2012, I desperately wished the TCM Powers That Be had licensed it from Universal (it's a Paramount film owned by Universal). Her performance in NO MAN OF HER OWN is just so spot-on. That train wreck scene near the beginning is shocking and powerful to watch. I can imagine the impact it had on viewers who saw it on the big screen.

 

She worked well with many directors but her collaborations with Mitchell Leisen are particular favorites of mine.

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> there was a significant import of talent coming into the U.S. during the 30's that helped the U.S. film industry

 

Yes, but many of those folks stayed in the U.S. for the rest of their careers. Directors like Alfred Hitchcock; actresses like Greer Garson; even a character actor like S.Z. Sakall. So it wasn't only the late thirties, but the forties, fifties and sixties that received benefit of their talents. It wasn't like they came to Hollywood, then packed up and went back to Europe the minute the war ended. Many of them stayed. Many of them became American citizens (including Hitchcock) and worked in Hollywood for a long time.

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>I wonder why 1939 was such a great year?

 

 

It's our desire to look back and place importance in hindsight that makes 1939 *the* year in film that so many people talk about and celebrate and judge other years against.

 

Why?

 

It all has to do with timing. Lately, there have been a couple of books about game changing years.

 

1939 is not one of those years.

 

Instead, it stands frozen in time as that last great year before not only America changed forever but the world as well. The movies that were released in 1939 stand as a testament to a time frozen forever before the brutality of WWII, the Cold War and everything that came after.

 

In 1939, a stubborn Southern belle swore to God that she would never go hungry again, a hayseed senator brought down his powerful mentor, a stagecoach filled with a disparate group of travelers made an arduous trip to Lordsburg, three men in her Majesty's Royal regiment learned that friendship mattered most, a teacher affectionately known as Mr. Chips learned to love and a young girl named Dorothy learned there was no place like home.

 

 

But 1939 signified more than just a great year for film. It is the role 1939 plays in history that makes it important. In 1939, the storm clouds of war were rapidly gathering. Most of Europe had fallen to Hitler but England and France were still holding out. The United States was still taking a wait and see approach despite the Roosevelt Administrations Lend/Lease program with Great Britiian.

 

But war had not traveled to America and we held out hope that, despite the nightly reports on the radio, we could sit this one out. We were still coming out of the Depression. Despite celebrating the future of progress at the World's Fair that year in New York, we looked to things that brought us comfort, the movies.

 

The movies of that year were not of a country in transition but of a country hanging on to illusions of an era that was passing into history faster than most realized. History was changing too fast on the world stage for the movies to keep up with and the films of 1939 remind us of that. It was a safe year when the world had yet to blow apart and America's role on the world stage changed forever.

 

Within the year, France would fall, Britain would stand alone against Germany and be bombarded mercilessly. In Asia, Japan would attack everyone that stood in its way towards dominating the Far East.

 

The attack on Pearl Harbor changed America forever. We entered the war against not only Japan but Germany. We began the move from a agrarian society to an urban one as car factories and more were re-tooled for war.

 

Once America entered the war, everything changed for us.

 

Men, old and young, enlisted and went overseas to serve. Women were allowed into factories that made war materials and war machines. For many, filling in for young men overseas fighting for freedom, it was the first time they had been able to provide for their families. Women were trained to fly and many who had learned to fly from barnstormers landing in nearby fields signed up to fly planes cross country and overseas for male aviators to use in the fight.

 

Hollywood soon jumped on the patriotic, propaganda bandwagon and started filling their theaters with movies that supported the war effort.

 

There was no time think, only to do, supply the pipeline that kept morale up and kept the war coverage in the best light.

 

But underneath all that, America was changing. Quickly. Too quickly for the movies or magazines of the day to keep up.

 

Everything focused on the war effort. The movies, radio, the magazines like the Saturday Evening Post and Liberty.

 

Suddenly we were storming at the beaches of Normandy, the war had turned in our favor in the Pacific and things are looking up.

 

Finally came V-Day and, in an effort to stop the Japanese, VJ-Day. Celebrations were held around the world. America was the Superpower in the world. Pretty heady for a country less than ten years earlier had been known as the "breadbasket".

 

But by 1945, the studios were no longer in the same place they were in 1939 nor were we as a society.

 

The Atomic Age was born above the white sands of New Mexico and on the ground in Japan.

 

A Cold War with Russia quickly followed when they tore away our confidence by detonating an atomic bomb.

 

Americans wanted something different from their movies than propaganda and good times. They wanted the movies to reflect their lives. They wanted movies that reflected adult themes. It was the beginning of the death knell for the Production Code. Film Noir was on the rise.

 

The Justice Department and the Supreme Court handed the studios a major body blow, the Paramount Decree, which forced the studios to divest themselves of their movie theaters. It would also change the way Hollywood movies were produced, distributed, and exhibited.

 

The studios would no longer have their own theaters in which to show their product. It was a major blow to the way business was done.

 

Added to that, GIs returning from Europe and the Pacific wanted to start families. Levittown announced the birth of the suburbs. Initially, homes, schools and churches were more important to a community in the suburbs than movies. Going to the movies meant going into the city and suburban families often didn't want to make the trek. Then movie theaters came to the suburbs spelling a death knell for the larger movie palaces in the cities.

 

Television, hawked at the 1939 World's Fair, arrived finally in family homes and provided another death knell to the business as usual of making movies.

 

Over the next thirty years, America and society would change faster than ever before. From the Cold War to the Space Race to JFK's assassination to the counter-culture to Watergate and beyond, everything moved quicker than it ever had before.

 

And the movies tried to keep up, not always successfully.

 

Before it was over, we became a people that doesn't trust our government, doesn't trust the media, doesn't trust each other.

 

But 1939 still stands as the year before any of that happened. With so much change happening so quickly, we tend to find comfort in simpler times and so critics, historians and movie buffs began to look back on that year and give it more significance than it had when it was unfolding.

 

Thanks to that, even movies that had failed at the box office when they were released in 1939 got a fresh look and many were declared classics that hadn't been described that way on their initial releases.

 

And so, 1939 became a touchstone of a year not only for historians but film buffs, too.

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1951 saw a big dropoff in the number of truly exceptional films. In hindsight, 1950 was truly the best year ever for non-escapist fare.

 

1. The Racket - one of Robert Ryan's most convincing roles, and that's saying a lot

2. The Steel Helmet - the military brass didn't like it, but I did

3. A Streetcar Named Desire - didn't care much for it myself, but there's no denying its greatness

4. I Can Get It For You Wholesale - my favorite Susan Hayward film

5. The Lavender Hill Mob - Guinness at his most sublime

6. Cry Danger - Dick Powell at his best

7. His Kind of Woman - Vincent Price once again steals the show

8. Payment on Demand - one of Bette Davis's best domestic roles

9. M - the Joseph Losey remake wasn't up to the 1931 original- - - no remake could possibly have matched Peter Lorre's performance- - - but it still packed a punch

10. Another Man's Poison - another great Bette Davis performance

 

Best of the rest: Detective Story, Ace in the Hole, My Forbidden Past, Tomorrow Is Another Day, Night Into Morning, The Prowler, A Place in the Sun, The House on Telegraph Hill

 

Underrated: M; I Can Get It For You Wholesale

(Way) Overrated: The African Queen

Biggest Disappointment: The Company She Keeps - - - Liz Scott is a great femme fatale in many movies, but a horribly miscast goody two shoes social worker in this one

Biggest confirmation of my anti-Bob Hope bias: The Lemon Drop Kid

Have to Watch: Diary of a Country Priest

 

Best actor: Marlon Brando (A Streetcar Named Desire)

Best actress: Susan Hayward (I Can Get It For You Wholesale)

Best supporting actor: George Sanders (I Can Get It For You Wholesale)

Best supporting actress: Lee Grant (Detective Story)

 

Total films viewed: About 60

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Great post, lzcutter!

 

>The movies of that year were not of a country in transition but of a country hanging on to illusions of an era that was passing into history faster than most realized.

 

And I would add that some of the illusions continued even after the war, if you can believe that! The mogul of 20th Century Fox, Daryl Zanuck, who had served in the war, was green-lighting films like MARGIE and MOTHER WORE TIGHTS and CHICKEN EVERY SUNDAY, that seemed to usher in a new wave of nostalgia. In 1947, MGM produced GOOD NEWS, in which June Allyson and Peter Lawford appeared in a story about college sweethearts, set many years earlier. The same year, Warners released LIFE WITH FATHER. In 1948, RKO released I REMEMBER MAMA. In 1950, Doris Day and Gordon MacRae costarred in TEA FOR TEA, which was also set in the rosy past. So even as the country was faced with the reality of the atomic age, it was also still trying to cling to those earlier values, those sentimental times of days gone by.

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The movies of (1939) were not of a country in transition but of a country hanging on to illusions of an era that was passing into history faster than most realized. History was changing too fast on the world stage for the movies to keep up with and the films of 1939 remind us of that. It was a safe year when the world had yet to blow apart and America's role on the world stage changed forever....

 

But by 1945, the studios were no longer in the same place they were in 1939 nor were we as a society.

 

The Atomic Age was born above the white sands of New Mexico and on the ground in Japan.

 

A Cold War with Russia quickly followed when they tore away our confidence by detonating an atomic bomb.

 

Americans wanted something different from their movies than propaganda and good times. They wanted the movies to reflect their lives. They wanted movies that reflected adult themes. It was the beginning of the death knell for the Production Code. Film Noir was on the rise.

 

I think with those paragraphs you very well express the split between those of us who tend to like the postwar movies much better than the ones that came immediately before the war. It's the conflict between realism and what can loosely be called "entertainment". To put it in concrete terms, Bicycle Thieves vs. Gone With The Wind, or The Search vs. The Wizard of Oz. I don't necessarily see that the two can't be combined, and they often are, but if I have to choose one or the other, it'll be realism every time. I realize that this may be a minority opinion, and of course it's a purely subjective one.

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My list for 1951:

 

1. STRANGERS ON A TRAIN

2. A PLACE IN THE SUN

3. A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE

4. ACE IN THE HOLE

5. PEOPLE WILL TALK

6. THUNDER ON THE HILL

7. STORM WARNING

8. THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE

9. KIND LADY

10. THE BROWNING VERSION

 

Honorable Mentions: ANGELS IN THE OUTFIELD; THE RACKET; LIGHTNING STRIKES TWICE; ON THE RIVIERA; THE STEEL HELMET; LET'S MAKE IT LEGAL

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