By The Decade: 5 From The Fifties

Here we are again then, with the latest By The Decade piece to help expand my cinematic horizons and discover new films from eras I might not be overly familiar with.

Following on from my 3 From The 30s and 4 From The 40s entries, you wonderful readers made loads of great suggestions on films to check out from the 1930s and the 1940s. You might already have noticed I’ve created a special little section of the site so they’re all bunched together, make it easier to find them all in one place too.

Here we go then, with a few of my favourites from the fifties…

Dracula (1958)

I’ve spoken before about my love for creaky old British horror, and make no apologies for loving a bit of Hammer every now and then.

While I adore 1957’s The Curse Of Frankenstein, I think I probably return to Dracula more often because of the two movies I think it offers the biggest improvement on the book.

Christopher Lee is a brilliant Dracula – suave and dashing, but with an air of menace that is a step up from Lugosi’s Universal Count – and Peter Cushing is still my favourite Van Helsing, not just because of the amazing table leap in the final battle, but because he’s charming enough that I reckon he could convince cowardly old me to follow him into a crusade against an undead despot.

Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954)

This is a bit of an oddity on the list to be honest because, quite frankly, I don’t love the movie. I like it just fine, but it’s not even my favourite Universal monster movie.

The reason I’ve added it is because as a film geek, I love what it tried to do and what it actually achieved. Honestly, I can take or leave a 3-D film, which this was, but whatever you think of the film as a whole there’s no denying the design of the creature is absolutely iconic.

What makes the creature design even more impressive is the fact that it not only hides special breathing apparatus, but that it still gives Ricou Browning chance to swim with an almost balletic grace during the underwater filming.

I find this underwater stuff far more thrilling than, say, the underwater action of Thunderball from a few years later, where you’re supposed to be on the edge of your seat as wetsuited redshirts fight for their lives to a John Barry score – that’s fine, but I’d watch the creature swimming underneath an oblivious beauty any day, it’s simply stunning.

Rear Window (1954)

In last week’s post, I chose Hitchcock’s Rope despite being convinced for a time it was actually released in the 1950s. Well, I pretty much thought Rear Window was released later than it was, but was happy to discover it’d fit in this week’s post.

Like Rope, Hitchcock has given himself a single location to set himself a challenge (though he’s eschewed the long takes and hidden edits for this one), but again from a technical point of view the set is fantastic – not just the apartment James Stewart is stuck in thanks to his broken leg, but the entire courtyard and building opposite which becomes the focus of his voyeuristic gaze.

The tension builds as he begins to suspect his neighbour of murder, and it doesn’t let up until the final act. It’s a taut thriller, it’s got humour, scares, Grace Kelly and a joke about a bra. It’s another great Hitchcock experiment which I think really pays off.

The Searchers (1956)

I’m aware I haven’t chosen the most iconic shot of this movie, but just look at that gif and tell me that’s not a beautifully shot film.

Of the list, this is probably the one I’ve seen the least, but elements of it have stuck with me. John Wayne’s Ethan Edwards is probably my second favourite performance of his, as his angry, obsessed racist undertakes a five-year journey to find his niece. He puts everything into the role, and there’s a lot of hurt there as well as the hate – even on the first watch, it’s clear there’s a lot going unsaid between Edwards and his brother’s wife, and it’s done brilliantly.

I’ve never been a huge fan of early Westerns, and always tended to prefer those made after the mid-Twentieth Century. I’d never been able to put my finger on why, but watching The Searchers made me realise just how incredible they could look (even an idiot like me can see John Ford really knew what to do with a camera), and how much more there could be to them than just white hats and black hats.

That’s the reason I’m putting these lists together – anything that can open someone’s eyes to a genre they don’t think they like is worth sharing, right?

Some Like It Hot (1959)

I don’t know many Billy Wilder films, I don’t know many Jack Lemmon films, I don’t know many Tony Curtis films, and I don’t know many Marilyn Monroe films. What I do know is that if they work as well separately as they did together, I really owe it to myself to rectify that.

It was a famously difficult shoot, but like many of those famously difficult shoots, it turned out brilliantly – Some Like It Hot is fast, frothy and funny, with unforgettable gags, shots and more charm than many comedies of the era.

Tony Curtis doing a Cary Grant impression. Jack Lemmon shaking his maracas to give a beat for a laugh, “it’s me, Sugar”, “well, nobody’s perfect” – it’s all great stuff, and that’s before we even get to the nods to the gangster genre and Marilyn being Marilyn.

Truth be told, Some Like It Hot is on the Late Review pile, as it’s been a while since I’ve seen it, but I can still remember the smile on my face as the credits rolled the first time I watched it, and that’s a kind of magic that only cinema can deliver.

What else?

As always, I’d love to know what films from the 1950s you’d recommend to someone who wanted to give cinema from that decade a try, so please get in touch on Twitter, Facebook or in the comments section and let me know!

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