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Thursday, May 16, 2019

Five Favorite Films of the 1950s

Today is National Classic Movie Day and to celebrate Rick of The Classic Film and TV Cafe is hosting the Five Favorite Films of the 1950s Blogathon, an event that is sure to perplex all of its participants for how can any movie lover narrow down their 1950s favorites to five?! 

What makes it so difficult is determining the criteria that constitute calling a film a favorite. The first thing I eliminated was thinking in terms of Best Pictures or Most Important Films of the 1950s and, instead, I picked only the ones that really made me happy. If just the title of a film makes you happy than it is worth more than ten Best Picture winners. But, even then, it was hard to narrow down because so many of those happy-favorites are seasonal and day/time dependent, such as Favorite Film on a Friday Night ( The Bat, Here Come the Nelsons ), Favorite Film to Watch When the Magnolias Bloom ( Picnic, Giant ), Favorite Saturday Morning Breakfast-in-Bed Musical ( Kiss Me Kate, Annie Get Your Gun ), Favorite Week-Before-Halloween Must-See ( Harvey, The Trouble with Harry ) or Favorite Meaty Drama ( A Catered Affair, A Place in the Sun ). 

Ultimately, it boiled down to the pictures that I enjoy the most because I have fond memories of all the times when I viewed it....those titles that hold a so-dear-to-my-heart place. And, not surprisingly, only two could be considered important films of the 1950s. 

Here are the top faves....in no particular order ( Goodness gracious, ordering them would have been impossible! ).

Gigi ( 1958 ) 

The Arthur Freed MGM classic. One of the last great musicals that MGM made. It was based on the book "Gigi" by Colette that tells the story of a young girl named Gigi ( Leslie Caron ) who - upon her blossoming into a woman - becomes the love interest of an old and dear family friend, Gaston ( Louis Jourdan ). As was the custom in Paris, she was instructed in the ways of becoming a good mistress to him for marriage was rare among the rich and influential bachelors of the city. But she does not want to be his mistress and plainly tells him so!

Gigi is not only a personal favorite but a three-generation favorite in our family. My dear Oma Rozi lived for many years in France and always talked fondly of Paris, so this film was especially dear to her and we loved watching it with her. All of us have our favorite scenes. For my father, it is Gaston's walk in the park when he turns from being upset to being in love. For my sister, it is the scenes in Trouville and, for myself, Gaston's visit to Mamita's for camomille tea and a game of cards. 

Journey to the Center of the Earth ( 1959 )

Jules Verne's classic tale of exploration was beautifully adapted to film in 1959 featuring James Mason heading the expedition to the center of the earth. Along for the journey is Pat Boone, Arlene Dahl, Peter Ronson, and Gertrude the Duck. This is one of those adventure films you can never tire of. From the opening at Edinburgh University to their kidnapping in Iceland and their descent into the volcano, each and every scene is a favorite. The film has a beautiful color scheme, great music by Bernard Herrmann and Mason and Dahl's slowly growing romance throughout the expedition also make this film extra charming. 

You're Never Too Young ( 1955 )

Like Abbott and Costello, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis are a comedy duo that you either love or hate. Personally, I love them, even though they did make a number of film duds. You're Never Too Young is a musical remake of The Major and the Minor ( 1947 ) which starred Ginger Rogers and Ray Milland. That film was about a young woman who has to spend a week at a boy's military academy and - in order not to put one particular major in a jeopardizing position - pretends she is a little girl. For the Martin/Lewis film, the gender was changed and the setting is now a girl's private school in Washington state. To make things a little more interesting, the screenwriters tossed in a jewel robbery incident with Raymond Burr playing the thug on the hunt for Lewis. 

The film has its moments of silliness, but overall it is never tiresome. Dean Martin croons some wonderful tunes, the colorful pinewoods/lake setting is fantastic, the gangster addition adds to the merriment, and Diana Lynn ( the leading lady ) is cute as a button. 

The Bat ( 1959 )

Cornelia Van Gorder ( Agnes Moorehead ), a famous mystery writer, rents a secluded mansion in the country in order that she can work in peace on her next novel. But a mysterious killer known as The Bat is on the loose in the neighborhood. His face is cloaked in a black mask and he wears gloves with metal claws to slay his victim's throats! Along with her faithful maid Lizzie ( Lenita Lane ), she attempts to unmask this culprit before he murders them both. 

The first time I saw The Bat was a good 17 years ago when it aired on Cleveland's popular "The Big Chuck and Little John Show" on a Saturday morning. It's a cheaply made film ( from Allied Artists ) but Agnes Moorehead and Vincent Price's presence make it so entertaining. Price was a master in the horror/sci-fi genre but I always thought he was particularly good at mysteries, too. This film, often mistakenly classified as horror, gives him a chance to show just how good he is at keeping the audience baffled as to whether he is a murderer or not. And to tell you the truth, after 20+ viewings, I still don't know the answer to who really was "the Bat" in each scene! 

Picnic ( 1955 )

Picnic is one of those movies that you watch once and then feel a need to re-visit. It is when you go back to it the second time that you find an even deeper meaning in the film, messages of hopes, dreams, failures and successes, change and constancy. It is all about a drifter ( William Holden ) who comes to a small town in Kansas looking for a job. He falls in love with Madge ( Kim Novak ), the most popular girl in town, much to the chagrin of her mother ( Betty Field ) who hopes to see her married to Alan ( Cliff Robertson ). Interwoven in their struggle is the life of a lonesome schoolteacher ( Rosalind Russell ). During the annual Labor Day picnic, each of them feels a sense of desperation to open a new chapter in their life. 

William Holden claimed that he was too old for the part and turned it down initially, but thankfully he was convinced otherwise. His role was supposed to be that of a youth in his mid-20s, but because Holden was indeed older ( 37 years old ) he made the character seem all the more pitiable. 

This is one of my favorite films to watch in May/early June and for years I always thought the picnic was a Memorial Day event because it looked so much like May in the film. If you watch the picnic sequence you'll notice the beautiful cottonwood seeds falling - a clear giveaway that Picnic was indeed filmed in May. 

Want to see more picks of Five Favorite Films of the 1950s? Click here to check out the full roster of classic film bloggers who participated in the event! 


13 comments:

  1. PICNIC is such a good movie! The scene where William Holden and Kim Novak dance to "Moonglow" (transforming into the movie's love theme) is one of the most romantic of the 1950s. Another delight is JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH with its endless wonders, visual delights, and big dino--all anchored by James Mason. THE BAT is a really fun choice. Love your list!

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    1. Thanks for hosting this blogathon, Rick! Now you'll have to do one on 1960s films, too ( really tough! ). If I had to choose noteworthy films of the 1950s, this list would look really different...but favorites are favorites because they are so loved.

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  2. I used the same criteria for choosing my favorite films as you did. And I'm not a bit sorry, even if they aren't considered critical successes.

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    1. Yes, I think only Gigi was a hit at the box office. It wouldn't be a favorite film to you if it didn't bring you happiness. And I liked your list a lot too! Our tastes run very similar.

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  3. These are fabulous faves! I can understand the pleasure they hold with each viewing.

    Moonglow was my parents' song. That is a movie to get lost in. Diana Lynn is adorable, and I too love the James Mason/Arlene Dahl chemistry. Years ago Louis Jourdan toured as Honore in a production of Gigi. He was wonderful. You could feel the charm from the stage.

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    1. How nice that Moonglow was your parents' song! They made a good choice. I'd be happy to see ANY live-production of Gigi - but one with Louis Jourdan in the cast! [swoon]

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  4. Yay - we share Gigi! What wonderful choices.They are are all fun and fantastic movies - truly the joy of film in each one.

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  5. This is a very interesting list presenting some unusual choices! I must admit I've only seen 2: Gigi and Picnic but I'd definitely be curious to see the other you presented. I must admit I'm not really a fan of Gigi. Picnic was a great surprise (liked it much better than I would have thought.)

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  6. I like your thinking: choosing films that make you happy. After all, isn't that a big part of loving the movies?

    Also, thanks for the introduction to The Bat. I've not heard of this film, but you can believe I'll be scouting around for it.

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  7. I never realized that PICNIC would have been filmed in the spring because of the trees, but I'll notice that from now on. I like your criteria of remembering the happiness of all the times you'd seen a film.

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  8. Interesting and eclectic list! I like the fact that you went purely for genuine old favourites and weren't dazzled by fame or reputation.

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  9. Great choices, especially Picnic - it's so heart-wrenching!

    The last time I watched Gigi, it was with the ex-head of MGM Studios, at his home. Just he, I, and his wife. He chose the film. As many times as he'd seen it, when it finished he turned and said, "It's a perfect film." And coming from the head of a studio that meant a lot!

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  10. Your unusual choices made me think. I also had a difficult time narrowing my list down to five, and I read many lists from the blogathon, but I haven't found Martin and Lewis so far! They deserve the recognition and any film from theirs could be added in my list of matinee favorites.
    Thanks for tthe kind comment!
    Kisses!

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