We continue our survey of the twenty greatest movies of the 1950s.
For a complete listing of the greatest movies of the 20, 30s and 40s, click here.
4. Ace in the Hole, 1951
A hand-embroidered motto, “Tell the Truth” sits as a dusty epitaph on the newsroom wall of an inconsequential Albuquerque newspaper where Kirk Douglas, a cynical New York reporter, hustles a job.
Sent out to cover a local rattle snake hunt, Douglas stumbles on a man trapped inside a cave, and turns it into a “human interest” story that explodes on the national scene and becomes — entertainment.
Leo, trapped in the mine, dying by inches, becomes nothing more than a prop for those who seek to exploit and prolong his tragedy for their own selfish ends. Even Jan Sterling, brilliantly playing Leo’s femme fatale wife, reveals her rotten core when she tells Kirk Douglas: “I don’t go to church. Kneeling bags my nylons.”
More than fifty years after the film’s release—not surprisingly the critics murdered the film and it died at the box office—Billy Wilder’s prophetic vision of an immoral press in collusion with a celebrity hungry culture, is more relevant than ever. The screenplay by Walter Newman, Lesser Samuels, and Billy Wilder is studded with brilliance, and implicates everyone in Leo’s suffering. “Why shouldn’t we get something out of it,” says a character. In this single justification, posed as a question, lies the film’s indictment of human greed.
5. The Bad and the Beautiful, 1952
Jonathan Shields, Kirk Douglas, is the most hated man in Hollywood. A brilliant producer, a manipulator of screenwriters, directors and movie stars, Shields is a whirlwind of manic energy, a man driven by demons we cannot see, an artist who is part con-artist.
Modeled on the careers of boy genius Orson Welles, and legendary producer David O. Selznik, this glittering melodrama investigates, through a series of complicated, but beautifully structured flashbacks, why three Hollywood a-listers have come to hate Jonathan Shields, even as they owe their brilliant careers to him.
Dick Powell, a serious novelist, is at first scornful and then seduced by Sheld’s invitation to Hollywood. Barry Sullivan is the untried, but gifted director who is given a boost, and then dropped by Shields. And Lana Turner, in her greatest performance, is the damaged, alcoholic actress, who is molded into a star by Shields. Each character learns their trade under Jonathan’s relentless tutelage. And each character loves and is then cruelly betrayed by Shields. Shot in velvety, film noir tones, The Bad and the Beautiful is a love-hate story that perfectly captures the ruthless cocoon which is Hollywood.
6. Singin’ in the Rain, 1952
Most Hollywood musicals were adaptations of Broadway shows. But Singin’ in the Rain was written and produced as a movie. Perhaps that accounts for the film’s genius. Singin’ in the Rain masterfully satirizes the panic in Hollywood with the coming of sound.
The film’s acrobatic dance sequences, choreographed by Gene Kelly, and performed by Kelly, Donald O Connor and Debbie Reynolds, are a perfect example of the integrated musical, in which characters naturally express their emotions, and move the story along, through song and dance.
Like The Bad and the Beautiful, Singin in the Rain, looks at Hollywood and etches a particular portrait. But these two films are tonally, at opposite ends of the spectrum. Bad is dark and laden with shadows. Shot in wide screen, with vivid, jelly bean colors, Singin‘ is exuberant, optimistic and an affectionate valentine to the movies and to a particular American genius.
To be continued.