(Just for fun, here's my 1950s discoveries list from 2018.)
If the 1940s and 1970s are my favorite decade for films, the 1950s are beginning to come on strong. 2019 was the year I began watching even more Westerns from a greater variety of directors, and many of those films were made in the ‘50s. Yet you’ll find a fair amount of variety in this list, including drama, comedy, horror, science fiction, international films, and even Elvis. Let's get started:
Rancho Notorious (1952) Fritz Lang
Fritz Lang, Marlene Dietrich, Arthur Kennedy, Mel Ferrer. What else do you need?
Track of the Cat (1954) William A. Wellman
A very strange western with Robert Mitchum and Tab Hunter as brothers in a dysfunctional family led by a boozed-up father (Philip Tonge) and a religious zealot mother (Beulah Bondi). With a screenplay by A.I. Bezzerides (based on a story by Walter Van Tilburg Clark) and directed by William A. Wellman, Track of the Cat is both intriguing and a head-scratcher.
The Tarnished Angels (1957) Douglas Sirk
I am in love with Dorothy Malone, so I knew I would love this movie. I am also a big fan of William Faulkner, and this film is based on his novel Pylon (which I have not yet read). Robert Stack plays Roger Shumann, a once-great pilot now working as a stuntman and berating his wife (Malone) in his spare time. Rock Hudson (quite miscast, but he makes it work) plays a reporter who wants to do a story on the former great, but he’s disgusted by Shumann and attracted to his wife.
The Left Handed Gun (1958) Arthur Penn
An early film from Paul Newman, directed by Arthur Penn, scripted by Leslie Stevens based on a story by Gore Vidal. I need to see this one again and someone needs to release it on Blu-ray.
Day of the Outlaw (1959) André De Toth
Day of the Outlaw may look like a Western, but it’s as bleak and brutal as any film noir. Director André De Toth’s final Western stars Robert Ryan as Starrett, a harsh, unyielding cattleman embroiled in conflict with homesteaders in a snowy Wyoming town. To make matters worse, Starrett’s lover (Gilligan’s Island star Tina Louise) is married to Hal (Alan Marshall), the leader of the homesteaders. As their dispute begins to escalate, a band of thugs arrives, terrorizing the town and holding everyone in it hostage. The gang leader, a rogue cavalry officer named Jack Bruhn (Burl Ives), can barely keep his troops from violating the women and destroying the town, and when Bruhn’s health begins to deteriorate, so does his control over his men. Day of the Outlaw clouds the concepts of heroism and turns typically black-and-white areas of morality into gray. I consider this one of Ryan’s best performances and highly recommend it.
Godzilla (1954) Ishirô Honda
Although I’ve seen many Godzilla movies, I’d never seen the original before 2019. Now I know what all the fuss has been about. A stunning film.
The Smallest Show on Earth (1957) Basil Dearden
The Captain’s Paradise (1953) Anthony Kimmins
A wonderful comedy with Alec Guinness as the captain of a ship that journeys between Gibraltar and North Africa on a regular basis. Sound boring? Consider that the captain has a different life (and woman) at each port.
Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957) Frank Tashlin
I knew I’d fall for this movie as soon as I saw Tony Randall playing drums in the opening shot with the 20th Century Fox logo. Although Jayne Mansfield squeals a bit too much for me in this one, I love this satirical look at television and advertising.
Gunman’s Walk (1958) Phil Karlson
One of my favorite Westerns from all the ones I saw this year. Gunman’s Walk is the tale of two brothers: the volatile Ed (Tab Hunter) and Davy Hackett (James Darren), both sons of a rancher named Lee (Van Heflin). Directed by one of my favorite directors, Phil Karlson, the film also contains what may be Tab Hunter’s finest performance.
Jubal (1956) Delmer Daves
Even if you don't like Westerns, just listen to the David Raksin score, which is brilliant.
Ashes and Diamonds (1958) Andrzej Wajda
World War II is over in May 1945, but not in Poland, where Polish resistance fighters are still working out the details in “liberated” Poland. A young man (Zbigniew Cybulski) is ordered to kill a Russian soldier he was fighting alongside just days before.
Senso (1954) Luchino Visconti
Visconti’s Italian melodrama is set in Venice during the Italian-Austrian war of unification circa 1866. Alida Valli plays Livia Serpieri, an Italian countess trapped in a loveless marriage to the much older Count Serpieri (Heinz Moog). Upon departing the opera (Verdi’s Il Trovatore, by the way), Livia meets a young Austrian officer named Franz Mahler (Farley Granger). The two are instantly attracted to each other, despite the fact that Livia is married and Franz represents the invading force of the enemy. We might think we know where this is going and perhaps we’re right, but we’re also in the hands of Visconti, a director who isn’t afraid to show the best and worst in human nature. He also isn’t afraid to treat the audience to lavish colors and gorgeous cinematography. It seems appropriate that Senso begins with an opera; you might say the entire film is one.
Tarantula (1955) Jack Arnold
The Tingler (1959) William Castle
Bucket of Blood (1959) Roger Corman
For some reason, I got on a ’50 science fiction and horror kick this year (which accounts for the fact that, to my utter surprise, William Castle is my most-watched director in 2019) and I’ve loved every minute of it. All three were enjoyable, but my favorite from these three has to be Bucket of Blood. How can you not love Dick Miller?
King Creole (1958) Michael Curtiz
Michael Curtiz directing Elvis? Yes, and it’s surprisingly good.
Did you see anything interesting from the 1950s? I’d love to hear about it. Please share.
Photos: DVD Beaver, Lasso the Movies, Just Watch, Forgotten Filmcast, IMDb, Alamo Drafthouse, Empire, Memphis Flyer, RareFilm