Why It’s The Best: A totally different kettle of fish to Seven Samurai , Ikiru shows off Akira Kurosawa’s more contemplative side, following a dying civil servant as he endeavours to make something of his life before time runs out. Heartbreakingly melancholy but also uplifting, it’s proof if any were needed that Kurosawa was far more than a simple master of action.
Defining Moment: The scene in which our hero looks wistfully at the children’s playground he has ushered into existence. Bring plenty of tissues.
Why It’s The Best: Hitch hits the high notes once more as Jimmy Stewart’s fearful copper finds himself in over his head when he’s hired to tail Kim Novak. It seems remarkable now to think that Vertigo was released to a mixed response, but over the fullness of time it has been acknowledged as one of Hitchcock’s finest achievements. Strangely enough, the director had initially feared that Stewart was too old for the part. In fact, his advancing years simply add to the character’s sense of frailty.
Defining Moment: The dizzying, rooftop chases scene that kick-starts proceedings, showcasing Stewart’s character at his most vulnerable.
The Night Of The Hunter (1955)
Why It’s The Best: Robert Mitchum is at his most charismatic as devilish preacher Harry Powell in Charles Laughton’s first and only film. A serial murderer with a deep-seated hatred of women, Powell would be frightening enough as a common-or-garden killer, but it’s his pursuit of the children that really takes him into nightmarish territory. Laughton’s direction takes full advantage, with even the more tranquil scenes coloured by a distionctly eerie palette. The children’s otherworldly journey down-river is a particularly unsettling sequence.
Defining Moment: Mitchum’s frantic demonstration of the battle between love and hate , his tattooed knuckles doubling for the two warring emotions, is a chilling indicator of the rage that fuels his character.
Sunset Boulevard (1950)
Why It’s The Best: Billy Wilder takes aim at Hollywood and burns his remaining industry bridges with this scathing satire on the dark side of Tinseltown. Stars William Holden and Gloria Swanson are a perfectly balanced double-act, the locations are fabulous ( Wilder using his credit with Paramount to gain access to the entire studio lot) and the noir-tinged cinematography bewitching. Hollywood has never looked so lustrous and yet so utterly hollow.
Defining Moment: Swanson’s most famous line sees her character railing against an industry that has discarded her. “I am big,” she wails. “It’s the pictures that got small.”
12 Angry Men (1957)
Why It’s The Best: One brave man attempts to cut through the prejudice and vitriol of his 11 fellow jurors in what appears to be an open and shut murder case. Sidney Lumet’s film (incredibly, it was his first) is as talky as they come, but when the performers doing the yakking are of the quality of Lee Cobb, Joseph Sweeney and Henry Fonda, one could listen to them all night.
Defining Moment: The point at which Fonda puts his hand up, sending the room into something approaching total meltdown.
North By Northwest (1959)
Why It’s The Best: Hitchcock casts the dashing Cary Grant as the hapless innocent embroiled in a web of criminality he can barely comprehend. It’s a set-up Hitch has visited in many of his films, but rarely is it carried of with as much aplomb as it is here. From the initial meet-cute between Grant and Eva Marie Saint, to the showstopping conclusion at Mount Rushmore, North By Northwest is a veritable treasure trove of seminal scenes. Truly the Rolls Royce of Hitchcock thrillers.
Defining Moment: Grant’s close encounter with a malevolent crop-duster is rightly hailed as one of the decade’s most memorable moments.
Some Like It Hot (1959)
Why It’s The Best: Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis serve up laughs aplenty as the drag-sporting odd couple on the run from the mob. Meanwhile, Marilyn Monroe provides the sizzle as the heartbreakingly beautiful singer they encounter on their travels. The chemistry between the two leading men is faultless, and whilst she might have been a royal pain in the arse to work with, Marilyn has rarely been sexier.
Defining Moment: The oft-quoted final exchange between Lemmon and Joe E. Brown’s amorous admirer. “I’m a man!” shouts the exasperated Lemmon, “Well,” replies Brown, “nobody’s perfect.”
Touch Of Evil (1958)
Why It’s The Best: Orson Welles directed this superlatively pulpy thriller, and steals every scene he appears in as bloated police chief Hank Quinlan. Police corruption and racial tension are the twin evils firing proceedings, as Chuck Heston competes with a host of big name cameo-stars including Marlene Dietrich and Dennis Weaver, as part of one of the decade’s finest ensembles. A rollickingly exciting yarn, executed to a tee.
Defining Moment: The opening tracking shot, rightly celebrated for its technical proficiency and daring.
Seven Samurai (1954)
Why It’s The Best: Combining the most potent elements of the Western and Samurai genres, Kurosawa’s swashbuckling epic is one of the finest action films of the decade. Balletic, graceful and beautifully choreographed, the battle sequences are as pulse-quickening today as they were more than fifty years ago.
Defining Moment: The rain-soaked finale is the glistening cherry on a deliciously bloodthirsty cake.
Rear Window (1954)
Why It’s The Best: Alfred Hitchcock wrings an immeasurable amount of suspense froma deliciously simple conceit, as recuperating photographer Jimmy Stewart seemingly witnesses a murder in the apartment opposite. The irascible Stewart and a bewitching Grace Kelly make for a delightfully sparky coupling, whilst the stifling New York summer steadily brings the tension to boiling point. Enthralling, romantic and most importantly, thrilling.
Defining Moment: The unbearably nerve-wracking sequence in which Kelly finds herself caught behind enemy lines…