What are Your Favorite Films from the 1940s and 50s?


With my local movie theater charging $12.50 per ticket, and with all of the expenses that come with planning my upcoming nuptials (as I commented below on C.J.’s post, I wish we had opted to elope), I’m determined to avoid the cinema this summer.  Instead, I’m raiding the public library for every 1940s and 50s film I can get my hands on and plan to write a series over at Acculturated on the selections I watch.  While plenty has changed in the sixty to seventy years since these films were produced, the basic human themes of love, truth, happiness, meaning, forgiveness, and mutual understanding are as relevant now as ever.

My first selection, which I write about here, was the 1947 film Gentleman’s Agreement, directed by Elia Kazan and starring Gregory Peck.  It’s a great movie, if at times a bit on the preachy side, that treats the subject of anti-Semitism.  Not the blatant, kill-the-Jews strain of anti-Semitism of Hitler’s Germany or Ahmadinejad’s Iran, but rather the passive and incredibly pernicious strain of anti-Semitism prevalent in postwar America. 

My next selection will be on the 1950 film Sunset Boulevard, starring William Holden and Gloria Swanson.   Member Adrian has already sold me on Elia Kazan’s On the Waterfront, which I plan on reviewing as part of my series, but I welcome your recommendations for other outstanding films from the 1940s and 50s that stand the test of time and remain relevant for today’s generation.

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    1. Great Expectations 1946 and 

    2. How Green was my Valley 1941

    • #61
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    The Phaledelphia Story. Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, Katharine Hepburn in a great comedy.

    • #62
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    Matt Blankenship: Was this the best era for the movies?  I know that the correct film snob answer is the ’70s, but in which period’s movies would you prefer to immerse yourself for a week?  Me, I’d prefer a week straight of nothing but ’00s and ’10s super hero sequels and reboots and remakes and movies based on video games.  Oh, my.  Where is Hitchcock?  Grant?  Lean?  Bogart?   · 2 hours ago

    I think before the Pauline Kael ‘s came around and the new directors it would be imo 1936-1946 if you had to pick a ten year period, with 1939 the Golden Year.

    • #63
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    I know Where I’m Going (1945) once seen is never forgotten. Scorsese was influenced by the films of Powell  and Pressburger.. and that train trip to Scotland with Wendy Hiller to marry for money and British chemicals.. or will she..

    • #64
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    Just barely out of the time frame – 1961 – The Hustler. Paul Newman, George C. Scott, Piper Laurie and Jackie Gleason. It lost to West Side Story for best picture.  Scott notoriously did not appear to accept an Oscar for Patton because he thought his role in The Hustler was a better performance.

    Most of my favorites are black and white. Sparse sets, stark emotions and great dialogue. 

    Another favorite is Twelve Angry Men. Fonda was his customary wooden self but the rest of the cast, ubiquitous character actors all, were fascinating. Most of them appeared in many more films than the major stars. Most stars were type cast, the supporting actors played a far greater range of roles.

    • #65
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    I finally convinced my 21 year old daughter to watch The Philadelphia Story last weekend. She watched it three times in two days. The musical remake High Society is fun, too, but should be watched second.

    In Humphrey Bogart’s final movie, The Harder They Fall, he’s a journalist of flexible morality who discovers that there are limits to quite how flexible he can be. Watch out, though, there is a very brutal scene, shocking even today I thought.

    Someone has mentioned High Noon, but I second or third it. There aren’t many movies that gradually screw up the tension, the sense of foreboding, as this one.

    Except, perhaps, for Les Diaboliques.

    • #66
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    And the underrated Beat The Devil ( 1953) John Houston and Truman Capote’s Italian bit of fun with Bogart and crew off to East Africa to get the uranium.. Jennifer Jones is a real comedic treat.. in point of fact.. Bogart hated it but then he had money in it and wasn’t well by then.. A forgotten gem. Ahh the Amalfi coast.. even in B/W looks great. What fun they had..

    • #67
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    Just realized no one had mentioned Ace In The Hole. It’s a great reflection on media and all the more impressive considering it was done in 1951. It includes one of my favorite lines: “even for Albuquerque, this is pretty Albuquerque.”

    • #68
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    ManBearPig: The Phaledelphia Story. Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, Katharine Hepburn in a great comedy. · 36 minutes ago

    Yes. And a reminder that women, before feminism, actually used to appear as interesting characters in films.

    • #69
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    “Yes. And a reminder that women, before feminism, actually used to appear as interesting characters in films.” Davis, Crawford, Hepburn, Loy,

    Harlow, Arthur, and Stanwyck with Fonda in The Lady Eve.. it’s the writing not the feminism.. 

    • #70
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    At this point, most of the best have been mentioned. Maybe I can offer some of what I consider the best lesser known classics from the 40’s and 50’s?

    Foreign Movies:

    47 Ronin (1941), Japanese — an unforgettable story of betrayal, revenge, sacrifice and honor.


    Silk Stockings (1957), Staring Fred Astaire and Cyd Charrise—a Cold War musical of all things!


    You Can’t Take It With You (1938–just outside your parameters) Directed by Frank Capra, staring Jimmy Stewart. An often forgotten classic comedy by Capra.


    Ox Bow Incident (1947) Directed by William Wellman. Two drifters (Henry Fonda and Harry Morgan) arrive in a town just as a lynching party is being formed. They join in order not to be suspects, themselves.

    War Movies:

    Paths of Glory (1957), Directed by Stanley Kubrik, staring Kirk Douglas—a story about the 1916 French Mutiny in the trenches during WWI, and the subsequent trial of a handful of scapegoats.

    Pork Chop Hill (1959), Starring Gregory Peck and all-star cast—a story about a new commander arriving to his unit just in time to lead it on an ill-fated assault, set during the Korean War.

    • #71
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    And of course the ever beautiful and charming Greer Garson singing and dancing She’s ma daisy in Random Harvest .. oh those legs and that short  tartan skirt.. They had talent.. 

    • #72
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    Check out the original Cape Fear then watch the one with deniro. Some actors carry over playing other roles. Cool.

    • #73
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    Best not leave out Fred and Ginger and all the joy they gave which for my mind can best be seen in Swing Time nothing’s impossible I have found.. the look of Joy on Ginger’s face, look ma, no hands.. Tom Cruise, eat your heart out..

    • #74
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    Gojira’s Hejira: I married my wife because she correctly cried at the end of Godzilla.

    ~Jimm · 13 hours ago

    I recently saw the original Japanese (though subtitled) versions of Godzilla and Rodan on TCM, and I was blown away at how good they are. Way different from the American-edited releases. I grew up loving Godzilla movies (I even have some in my collection), but I never knew just how different the Japanese versions were. Godzilla, in many ways, is a completely different film, and the Raymond Burr version was pure butchery in comparison. 

    • #75
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    And who could beat Kim Novak and William Holden dancing to Moonglow in glorious color in Picnic.. she is sex on legs.. He couldn’t dance to save himself so he really is half gone.. she really was hip..

    • #76
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    Treasure of the Sierra Madre: one of Bogies’ best. “Badges? Badges?? We don’t need no steenking badges!”

    The Searchers. One of John Wayne’s laconic best (and based on a true story). “That’ll be the day.”

    • #77
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    And then there was Rosalind Russell here getting the humanitarian award at the 73 Oscars.. different times..

    • #78
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    Charles Rapp


    Charles Rapp: All About Eve, The Great Dictator, 12 O’Clock High,Roman Holiday,Mister Roberts,Life with Father …

    Al Kennedy: Roman Holiday,Love Is A Many Splendid Thing, Double Indemnity, Winchester 73, Shadow of a Doubt, Laura, The Defiant Ones, Anatomy of a Murder, A Place In the Sun, High Noon, Strangers On a Train, Giant, The Paleface, Witness For the Prosecution, Written On the Wind, Dial M For Murder.

    Since you guys obviously have an Audrey thing- what about Sabrina?· 4 minutes ago

    Edited 0 minutes ago

    I enjoy Sabrina but it not one of my favorites. Bogart and Audrey just didn’t click for me. Same with Charade and Cary/Audrey. · 7 hours ago

    Cary was already an oldie by the time he starred in Charade.  By 1963, he’d lost his youthful charm.

    • #79
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    “People will Talk” is one of my favorites — Cary Grant & Jeanne Crain; the first time I saw it, I couldn’t understand how she could be so far aling she could feel the baby kick, and still have that 22″ waist! So many complicated & interesting issues were raised, and I enjoy the faculty meeting. Jeanne Crain was one of the most beautiful women in Hollywood at the time– not flashy, just beautiful.

    • #80
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    Haven’t read the comments, so these were probably listed already, but I like The Third Man and Citizen Kane.  

    • #81
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    Oops!  How could I forget “Hail the conquering hero!”(1944). ‘ Awright, Capra.  When it comes to comedy, you ain’t got nothin’ on Preston Sturges!’  What a grand comedy!  

    • #82
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    Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) – a wonderful British comedy, with Alec Guinness playing nine different roles.

    • #83
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    To Have and Have Not, the semi-sequel to Casablanca, is brilliant.

    Bacall: Give her my love.

    Bogart: If she wore that dress, I’d give her my own.

    We’re No Angels, with Bogart, Ustinov, Aldo Ray, Basil Rathbone, one of the Bennett sisters, certainly proved Bogart could do comedy.  He always looked a little lost, to me, in Beat the Devil.  Of course, for the guys, it has Lollobrigida.

    Kind of obscure (for a long time it wasn’t available on video) is The Young Lions.  Brando, Montgomery Clift, Dean Martin (back when he wanted to be a serious actor) … I may be misremembering, but I think Ms. Dietrich made a cameo appearance.

    • #84
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    Look to Japan for cinematic perfection:  Late Spring (1949), Early Summer (1951), and Tokyo Story (1953), all directed by Yasujiro Ozu, “the quiet master.”

    • #85
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    Gotta second Best years of our Lives.  It deserves all the accolades.  A perfect screenplay. P E R F E C T.  I think Mr. Long weighed in on that once…

    • #86
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    Steven Den Beste of USS Clueless recommended the anime series Mouretsu Pirates. He gave it 4/4 stars. I’m watching the series right now.

    • #87
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    I cannot recommend Arsenic and Old Lace enough. I first read the play when I was of single digit age, and the movie is still one of the funniest things I’ve seen in decades, even if Carey Grant does overact a bit (but it works!)

    That, The Return of the Pink Panther and Murder by Death (both from the 70’s) are the three movies we all default to when my family cannot agree on which movie to watch.

    • #88
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    Oh my gosh, I just saw Preston Sturges’s The Great McGinty (1940) last night.  Hilarious because it presciently depicts the state of the rotten, corrupt Democratic Party of 2012.  It’s also oddly comforting to know that some things just never change.

    • #89
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