[film] From James Stewart to “Stellla!” we bring you the continuation of our four-part overview of some of the best movies of the last century. Whether you want to be a film buff, have an interest in film history or just enjoy watching movies, these fantastic films will be a great start to a more interesting Saturday night.
The movie vaults from the 1940s and ’50s are home to some of Hollywood’s best films and most recognized movie stars. Gene Kelly, Bette Davis, Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman and Marlon Brando give performances that made them famous in these classic films. The films themselves demonstrate a battle between idealism (like that of movie-musicals) and the breaking-free of that impracticality (as shown in some of the new-wave and foreign films of the late 1950s). Rather than being outdated, the films of the ’40s and ’50s are the epitome of what it meant to have elegance and style in old Hollywood.
[casa] The classic 1942 film Casablanca is well-known to contemporary audiences as a romantic flick, but is just as much a commentary on U.S. involvement in World War II. Directed by Michael Curtiz, the film features Humphrey Bogart as the morally ambiguous protagonist Rick Blaine and Ingrid Bergman as his love, Ilse. The exotic backdrop of Casablanca beautifully blends a timeless love story with themes of war, heroism, politics and choice. It is a perfect introduction to the films of the 1940s and a must-see for any film lover.
Many films of this era gave an insight into their time period. A Streetcar Named Desire, Elia Kazan’s adaptation of Tennessee William’s acclaimed play, is a perfect example of censorship in the 1950s. With such powerful stars and such controversial topics, much of this 1951 drama lies in the subtlety of the acting – what cannot be shown on screen is merely implied through restrained gestures and bits of dialogue. A Streetcar Named Desire showcases some of the best acting put to screen, with outstanding performances by Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh. Historically, this culturally relevant film will open your eyes to just how little mainstream audiences of the ’50s were allowed to see.
Watching 1945’s Spellbound or 1958’s Vertigo, it’s easy to see why Alfred Hitchcock is still considered a master of suspense. Spellbound is a beautifully crafted story about a delusional man posing as a certain Dr. Edwards at a mental asylum, who falls for another doctor, played by Ingrid Bergman. When she finds out his secret, she is left questioning the whereabouts of the real Dr. Edwards. Featuring a dream sequence done by artist Salvador Dali and dealing with Freudian theories of psychoanalysis, this Hitchcock classic is one of the best psychological films to date.
[vertigo] Hitchcock’s Vertigo revolves around a man, played by James Stewart, with an extreme fear of heights. He is led into a world of chaos, passion and death when asked to watch a friend’s wife. The film is stylish and suspenseful and considered to be one of Hitchcock’s best.
If you’re in the mood for a stunning drama, consider William Wyler’s The Little Foxes. This 1941 adaptation of the Lillian Hellman play stars Bette Davis as the heartless Regina Giddens, who will stop at nothing for a place in her husband’s will – risking the love of her husband, daughter and brothers. Regina is one of Ms. Davis’s most memorable and convincing roles, a villain whom the audience loves to hate. Watch this for the haunting performances, a powerful storyline and the famous Bette Davis glare.
One of the most distinguishing aspects of the ’40s and ’50s in terms of film was its picture-perfect musicals, such as 1952’s Singin’ in the Rain. This film, starring Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor, revolves around a period in Hollywood when silent movies turned into “talkies” with the invention of sound. Along with the wonderfully-composed music, Singin’ in the Rain is also a classic love story and contains bits of hilarious physical comedy not found in film today.
[sleeping] Though Disney films, like 1959’s Sleeping Beauty, tend to be overlooked by older audiences, they are still perfect for all ages. When watching Sleeping Beauty, one of the best fairy-tale romance stories ever, you will find yourself relating to aspects of the story just as much as you did when you were a child. This is the beauty of many older Disney films; they are not only great children’s stories, they make for great pieces of timeless cinema. This was the last of the Disney films to have cells inked by hand – each background painting took seven to 10 days to paint. The color is bolder and the scenes have much greater detail than you can find in any Disney film since.
If fairy-tales don’t appeal to you, consider Vittorio De Sica’s 1948 foreign masterpiece The Bicycle Thief. The plot is simple: a man becomes employed with the help of his bicycle, but it is stolen. Unable to support his wife and child, he tries to search for the man who stole his bike. Beautifully shot and brutally honest, its effectiveness lies in its ability to portray real, complex emotions without giving the audience any easy answers.
Though the definition of beauty in Hollywood has changed throughout the years, it is hard to deny the grace and elegance of the leading men and women of the 1940s and ’50s. Some directors were at their best, and it was a defining era for Hollywood. Whether you revisit some old Disney favorites, experiment with foreign cinema or become enthralled with a psychological thriller, make sure to dust these reels off at next week’s movie night.

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