By Brian Saur
The 1950s is a decade that I come to love more and more as a film fan every year. It's during that ten years that some of my all-time favorites came out – things like RIO BRAVO, NORTH BY NORTHWEST, REAR WINDOW, the Budd Boetticher/Randolph Scott westerns, and so many more. It's really a special time for cinema and I highly recommend diving in and exploring. There are some great entertainment films, but also some things that go a little darker and have some idiosyncratic qualities that you wouldn't necessarily expect, and I love that. Anyway, here are a handful of movies from the 50s that I feel are overlooked and under-appreciated. Have a look!
I recall taking note when I saw this film listed among DVD Savant's Favorites of 2009, but didn't get around to watching it until a few years back. Shot right to the top of the pile for me as far as John Ford films go. Ben Johnson, Harry Carey Jr., and Ward Bond really shine. Interesting companion piece to STAGECOACH.
Jet-black ladies' prison noir. Bleak stuff, but potent. Truly one of the most harrowing films from this period that I've seen. Upsetting in parts, but gritty as hell and a film that flies in the face of all the "Women in Prison" films that would come in the ‘70s that play a little campier. This one leaves an impression and very much lives up to its place in the canon of film noir.
Tension-filled story of a young woman (Ginger Rogers) who witnesses a murder by the KKK while visiting her sister in a small town (Doris Day). This one is drenched in dread and quite a ride. Also features one of my favorite Ronald Reagan performances. I caught this on Warner Archive Instant and it is sill available there.
Good looking von Sternberg flick that plays well with HIS KIND OF WOMAN (which also stars Mitchum and Jane Russell). I prefer WOMAN, but my gosh does Russell look gorgeous in this film! Maybe the best I've ever seen her look and she always looks great. The dynamic that she and Mitchum have together here is pretty incredible and it's one of those relationships that starts in a grumpy place and things get warmer and warmer from there which is a lot of fun to watch.
Great, quintessential Wayne. Right up there with RIO BRAVO, THE SEARCHERS, and RED RIVER, as far as I'm concerned. John Farrow makes ‘em lean and mean. Like another favorite of mine, THE TALL T, this one features the lead walking through the desert, carrying his saddlebags with no horse in sight. I saw something similar recently also in Ray Milland's movie A MAN ALONE and it just reminded me how much I'm used to seeing folks on horseback in westerns and that seeing them walking alone in the desert is just such a striking image.
I didn't seen this Billy Wilder gem until a bit later after my initial infatuation with him in college and was not at all surprised by how good it turned out to be. Being that it is the tale of a man alone for the most part, there's a lot for Jimmy Stewart to do just physically and with his face to carry across the impact of his journey here.
THE GIANT CLAW features one of the most ridiculous monsters in the history of cinema and that is definitely part of what endears it to me. The giant turkey creature also makes a very distinct screech that – like the sound of the big ants in THEM! – will forever haunt you once you've heard it. Okay, haunt may be too strong of a word, but the bird's cry is absolutely unforgettable. The rest of the film is very much the kind of comfort food, atomic age 1950s sci-fi that I enjoy very much on a Sunday afternoon and it features all the faux science-y talk that makes me smile. It also features the lovely Mara Corday who I think is kind of a ‘50s version of Gina Gershon or someone (and who was also in TARANTULA, by the way).
Brian Saur is a podcaster and blogger from Los Angeles that specializes in cult and classic films. He is co-host of the Pure Cinema Podcast and also produces and hosts another show called Just the Discs, which focuses on Blu-rays. He has run the Rupert Pupkin Speaks website since its inception in 2009 and continues to highlight obscure cinematic gems there on a regular basis. Follow him on Twitter (@bobfreelander, @justthediscspod, @purecinemapod), Facebook, or Instagram for more film recommendations.