When I was a youngster growing up in Brooklyn during the 50s and 60s there were two ways to watch movies: go to my local movie theater and see the latest studio release, or catch an old movie on late night television. Thus, your choices were pretty limited. As I grew older, I would schlep into Manhattan and watch movies at arty revival houses. In this way I educated myself about motion pictures. I screened a fair number of movies by the time I entered college but I realize now I was pretty ignorant. Basically, access to movies was severely limited.
We continue our survey of the twenty greatest movies of the 1950s.
For the Twenty Greatest Movies of the 1940s, click here.
For a listing of the greatest movies of the 20s and 30s click here.
18. Vertigo, 1958
In 1962, Sight & Sound magazine, a British publication, launched a ten-yearly poll to evaluate the top ten films of all time among critics. Every year the top film of all time has been Citizen Kane, 1941.
Which tells you more about the film elites than about Orson Welles’ technically marvelous, if shallow and boring movie.
This year, the Sight & Sound poll came in with a new winner: Vertigo.
The major studios had a staff of artists who designed posters and lobby cards. These talented men and women toiled in relative obscurity, but the sophistication of their graphic designs are simply jaw dropping. Major films usually had several versions of posters that went out to theaters.
In a long and exhausting story conference at the dawn of my screenwriting career, as Brian De Palma and I wrestled with the Byzantine plot of Body Double (1984) I asked Brian what on earth was the motivation for our main character’s line of action.
“There are only two valid dramatic motivations for anything,” said Brian with a chuckle, “sex or money, and they usually go together.”
Of course, in Brian’s movies, this dramatic reductivism is usually at work.
Over the years, I’ve refined Brian’s cinematic philosophy to an even simpler and more stark formulation: Every great movie is, at the core, a love story.