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30 Best 50s Movies

Sweet Smell Of Success (1957)

Why It’s The Best: Scottish-born director Alexander Mackendrick cuts to the quick of Manhattan’s seedy side with this tale of media sleaze in the Big Apple. Burt Lancaster is excellent as the morally bankrupt shock-jock who recruits slippery agent Tony Curtis to break up his sister’s relationship. As scuzzy a portrayal of Americana as you could ever hope to find, it’s a thoroughly unwholesome treat.

Defining Moment: Lancaster’s earthy assessment of Manhattan: “I love this dirty town.” Amen to that.

Singin' In The Rain (1952)

Why It’s The Best: You’d do well to find a film with a more prominent sense of joie de vivre than Gene Kelly’s song and dance spectacular. From the toe-tapping dance moves to the crowd pleasing showtunes, everything is delivered with a gleeful exuberance that would leave Tigger floundering to keep up. Throw in a devilishly witty script and you’ve got all the ingredients for a gold-plated feelgood classic.

Defining Moment: What do you think? It’s the bit where they sing in the rain, isn’t it? The clue’s in the title.

Tokyo Story (1953)

Why It’s The Best: A wonderfully calming alternative to the CGI excesses of modern cinema, Yasuhiri’s slow-moving drama puts family life under the microscope to expose the tensions and dramas at play in the most placid of settings. A triumph for less-is-more filmmaking!

Defining Moment:
The touching exchange between Shukichi and his daughter-in-law Noriko, in which he acknowledges that her kindness towards him has greatly outweighed that of his own children.

The Wages Of Fear (1953)

Why It’s The Best: As set-ups go, they don’t come more squirm-inducing than driving a truck full of nitroglycerine across treacherous, mountain terrain. However, director Henri-Georges Clouzot ups the stakes still further by explaining why our four heroes are desperate enough to take the job in the first place, thus ensuring emotional investment is guaranteed. Watch out chaps, sharp bend coming up!

Defining Moment:
The nail-biting cross-country sequence in which every pothole could precipitate an untimely and explosive end.

The Seventh Seal (1957)

Why It’s The Best: Ingmar Bergman controls this meditation on faith and mortality with a master’s grip, ensuring the pace remains perfectly measured throughout it’s relatively brief running time. Disillusionment with the human condition has rarely seemed so compulsive.

Defining Moment: The chess game is obviously the film’s most memorable element, but we’d put forward the bleak finale as the moment that best encapsulates Bergman’s vision. As Death claims Max von Sydow’s knight for his own, he does so with the simple proclamation, “noone escapes me.” Cheery stuff.

The 400 Blows (1959)

Why It’s The Best: Francois Truffaut’s new-wave masterpiece charts the classic anti-establishment fantasy of a young man’s rebellion. As Antoine Doinel attempts to give childhood the flick, thwarting various authorities at every turn, a template was set foe cinema’s angry young men to follow for years to come. Few however, would carry it off with Jean-Pierre Leaud’s smart-mouthed aplomb.

Defining Moment: The exhilaration of rebellion collides head on with the realities of adulthood when Doinel catches his mother kissing another man whilst bunking off school.

High Noon (1952)

Why It’s The Best: Gary Cooper has never been grittier than as Will Kane, the principled lawman who chooses to face down a gang of violent criminals on his wedding day. As the townsfolk he has resolved to protect begin to up and leave, the suspense steadily builds, with audiences left to ponder whether Kane’s stand is foolish, brave or both. The understated performances from both Cooper and chief varmint Lloyd Bridges only serve to make proceedings even more involving.

Defining Moment: The final scene in which Kane tosses his Marshal’s star into the dirt. The man has given more than enough in the name of keeping the peace.

Paths Of Glory (1957)

Why It’s The Best: Stanley Kubrick casts a scathing eye over the military’s structures of power, placing Kirk Douglas on a collision course with his commanding officers in this bitterly angry mash-up of war film and courtroom drama. At just 87 minutes, it’s a lean, mean affair, but as such allows Kubrick to home in on his targets with military precision. Compulsive, exciting and relevant filmmaking.

Defining Moment: The post-execution face-off between the revolutionary Colonel Dax and his sneering superior, General Broulard. Needless to say, there’s little love lost between them…

On The Waterfront (1954)

Why It’s The Best: Whilst the showy grandeur of Vito Corleone might be his best remembered performance, and the raging masculinity of Stanley Kowlaski might have been the turn that initially made people sit up and take notice, Marlon Brando has never been better than he is in On The Waterfront . As Terry Malloy, an ex-boxer determined to stand up to the mob, he embodies the human cost of the corruption choking the life out America’s working class. It’s the electrifying core of a truly heartbreaking film.

Defining Moment: Brando’s taxicab confession. “I could have been a contender,” he tells his brother, forlornly. “I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am.”

The Searchers (1956)

Why It’s The Best: The Searchers can boast all the key attributes required for a classic Western: staggeringly beautiful cinematography, a cast of morally ambiguous characters and a towering performance from John Wayne at the peak of his powers. His Ethan Edwards is one of the greatest anti-heroes of any genre, whilst Frank Nugent’s punchy script crackles with gallows humour amid the predominant landscape of violence.

Defining Moment:
Edwards randomly picks off buffalo, hoping to kill the hated Native Americans by starving them to death. It sums up the bitterness of the man perfectly.

George is GR's resident movie news person, based out of London. He understands that all men must die, but he'd rather not think about it.