National Classic Movie Day Blogathon: Five Favorite Films of the 1950s

Every year, in celebration of National Classic Movie Day, Rick over at the Classic Film and TV Café hosts a blogathon, and when I found out that this year’s theme was “Five Favorite Films of the 1950s,” I was all over it like white on rice! I can never turn down an opportunity to indulge in a list, and what better list than one for which I can identify some of my favorite films!

Of course, all of my selections are from the film noir era, although I’d like to give a quick, well-deserved nod to some of my beloved non-noir favorites from the decade, including Singin’ in the Rain (1952), From Here to Eternity (1953), 12 Angry Men (1957), and Some Like It Hot (1959). Also, in order to be included on my final list for the blogathon, the films had to be noirs that I haven’t previously covered here at Shadows and Satin, so that put the instant smack-down on a number of features that would have otherwise been in heavy contention, like Gun Crazy (1950), Sunset Boulevard (1950), The Asphalt Jungle (1950), The Big Heat (1953), The Big Combo (1955), and The Sweet Smell of Success (1957).

All in all, I must confess that it wasn’t really that difficult to come up with these five favorites – they’re noirs that I’ve seen numerous times, each offering unique and distinct characteristics to recommend them. If you’re not familiar with them, take it from me, you’ll want to check ‘em out!

 Night and the City (1950)

What it’s about:

Richard Widmark stars as Harry Fabian, an opportunistic hustler and con man living in London, who is constantly in search of the next get-rich-quick scheme, certain that Easy Street is just around the corner. When he serendipitously gains the favor of famed Greco-Roman wrestler Gregorius (Stanislaus Zbyszko), he attempts to parlay the relationship into a career as a wrestling promoter. A couple of major monkey wrenches get tossed into Fabian’s plan, though, including the fact that Gregorius’s son, Kristo (the always-great Herbert Lom), runs the wrestling game in town and is no Fabian fan, to say the least.

Who else is in it?

Gene Tierney plays Harry’s long-suffering girlfriend, Mary, and Googie Withers is a standout as the wife of corpulent nightclub proprietor Phil Nosseross, who pins her hopes on Harry as her ticket out of her loveless marriage and the means of her opening her own establishment. Nosseross is played to the hilt by Francis Sullivan, who treats Harry with utter contempt, despite his habit of referring to him as “dear boy.”

Why I like it:

Withers and Sullivan are memorable additions to the cast.

From the first scene, Widmark’s Harry Fabian embodies a pervading sense of disaster that’s a hallmark of film noir. “I wanna be somebody,” he tells his girlfriend, who only wants to live “peacefully and quietly.” But that’s not for Harry. And it doesn’t matter what he has to do or who he has to bulldoze in order to achieve his goals. You want to root for Harry’s success, but you know that he’s got a one-way ticket to Doomsville – and he’s on the express train.

Trivia tidbit:

There are two versions of the film – a British version and an American version. The British version has a slightly more upbeat ending. I don’t think I need to tell you that I like the American release better.

Favorite quote:

“You could have been anything. Anything. You had brains, ambition. You worked harder than any 10 men. But the wrong things. Always the wrong things.” – Mary Bristol (Gene Tierney)

Robert Walker gives the performance of a lifetime.

Strangers on a Train (1951)

What it’s about:

A couple of strangers meet on a train – tennis star Guy Haines (Farley Granger), who is unhappily married and having an affair with a senator’s daughter, and Bruno Antony (Robert Walker), a wealthy psychopath who shares with Guy his idea for a perfect crime. Proposing that the two men “swap” murders – Bruno could kill Guy’s wife while Guy would kill Bruno’s father – Bruno secures what he considers to be Guy’s blessing, and proceeds to carry out his part of the bargain. And then, of course, he expects Guy to fulfill his.

Who else is in it?

Laura Elliott (who years later, under the name Kasey Rogers, would appear as Larry Tate’s wife on TV’s Bewitched) was only in a couple of scenes, but she made the most of them as Guy’s shrewish, ill-fated spouse. Guy’s true love, played by Ruth Roman, was not only beautiful but clever as well, as was her little sister, played by director Alfred Hitchcock’s daughter, Patricia (who is still with us at age 90). Also, playing Bruno’s mother, was Marion Lorne, another Bewitched alum; she played the ditzy Aunt Clara.

Hitchcock’s cameo.

Why I like it:

My favorite part about this film, other than the story itself, is the performance of Robert Walker. He was in fewer than 25 movies before he died at the age of 32, and I was surprised to realize that I’ve only seen him in two other films – Since You Went Away (1944) and The Clock (1945). Still, for my money, Walker gives the performance of his career in Strangers on a Train, bringing to life a fascinating, frightening character who would literally charm you one moment and choke the life out of you the next. He was, in a word, riveting.

Trivia tidbit:

Alfred Hitchcock’s patented cameo in this feature came near the beginning of the movie, where he’s seen boarding a train carrying a double bass fiddle.

Favorite quote:

“I may be old-fashioned, but I thought murder was against the law.” – Guy Haines (Farley Granger)

The Narrow Margin (1952)

What it’s about:

A no-nonsense detective, Sgt. Brown (Charles McGraw) is charged with covertly escorting a gangster’s widow (Marie Windsor) by train from Chicago to Los Angeles, where she’s slated to testify about the mob before a grand jury. Before the journey even gets started, Brown’s partner is murdered, which is a sign of things to come, as he’s faced with a cohort of mobsters looking to prevent the widow from blowing the lid off the mob’s nefarious activities.

Who else is in it?

Jacqueline White – who was featured in the 1947 noir Crossfire – has a sizable role in this film, but I can’t tell you what character she plays! Instead, I’ll just tell you that The Narrow Margin was her last film – and she is also still with us, at age 96.

No love lost between these two.

Why I like it:

Except for a handful of scenes, the entire film takes place aboard the train, making for an appropriately tense and claustrophobic atmosphere. And together, Marie Windsor and Charles McGraw comprise one of my favorite noir duos. Every single scene they’re in together fairly crackles with rancor – they spit their lines at each other as if they taste like curdled milk.

Trivia tidbit:

The Narrow Margin was remade in 1990 with Gene Hackman and Anne Archer. I’m not a fan.

Favorite quote:

“Sister, I’ve known some pretty hard cases in my time; you make ’em all look like putty.” – Det. Sgt. Walter Brown (Charles McGraw)

Sudden Fear (1952)

The salad days. (And yet another film with scenes aboard a train!)

What it’s about:

San Francisco heiress and playwright Myra Hudson (Joan Crawford) falls in love with Lester Blaine (Jack Palance), an actor who auditioned (unsuccessfully) for one of her productions. After their rocky introduction and a whirlwind romance, the two get married and are blissfully happy (at least, Myra is), but when Lester runs into an old flame (Gloria Grahame), all bets are off. And the honeymoon is REALLY over when Myra learns that Lester and his chick-on-the-side are plotting to kill her.

Who else is in it?

The cast is rounded out by Bruce Bennett – who played Crawford’s husband, Bert, in Mildred Pierce (1945); Mike Connors, perhaps best known for his role as TV’s Mannix; and Virginia Huston, who was memorable as Robert Mitchum’s good-girl gal pal in Out of the Past (1947). Huston can also be seen in another Crawford vehicle, Flamingo Road (1949), as the wife of Zachary Scott, who played Monte Beragon in Mildred Pierce!

Everything’s better with Gloria.

What I like best:

Gloria Grahame is sheer femme fatale perfection as Lester’s the sexy, cold-blooded mistress, who is completely devoid of a conscience, whether she’s fooling around with a married man or trying to come up with ideas for the perfect murder. I also love what Joan Crawford’s character does after she finds out that her husband just isn’t into her anymore. (I mean, after she finishes freaking out.)

Trivia tidbit:

Both Crawford and Palance earned Oscar nominations for their performances; Crawford lost for Best Actress to Shirley Booth in Come Back, Little Sheba, and Palance lost for Best Supporting Actor to Anthony Quinn in Viva Zapata!

Favorite quote:

“I was just wondering what I’d done to deserve you.” – Myra Hudson (Joan Crawford)

The Killing (1956)

The best laid plans . . .

What it’s about:

Career criminal Johnny Clay (Sterling Hayden) assembles a motley crew of everymen to plan and carry out a racetrack heist. Like the best laid plans of mice and men, though, this intricately designed plot goes tragically awry.

Who else is in it?

The film’s rich cast includes Ted deCorsia as a crooked cop with a gambling problem; Timothy Carey as a slightly unhinged sharpshooter; Coleen Gray as Johnny’s loyal girlfriend; Elijah Cook, Jr., as a racetrack cashier and Marie Windsor as Cook’s not-so-loyal wife.

What I like best:

Marie Windsor and Elijah Cook, Jr., as Sherry and George Peatty, make for a definite odd couple with some of the film’s best lines. George is dutifully devoted to his spouse, willing and ready to do whatever’s required to make her happy, and Sherry is all disdain and wisecracks. You gotta love ‘em.  Speaking of love, I also love the way that the plot is presented in a non-linear fashion by Stanley Kubrick, in one of his first outings as a director. It makes for fascinating viewing.

The endlessly watchable George and Sherry Peatty.

Trivia tidbit:

Marie Windsor was reportedly cast in the film after Stanley Kubrick saw her performance in The Narrow Margin.

Favorite quote:

“Alright sister, that’s a mighty pretty head you got on your shoulders. You want to keep it there or start carrying it around in your hands?” – Johnny Clay (Sterling Hayden)

And that’s it! What are your five favorite films from the 1950s? Leave a comment and let me know! And be sure to celebrate National Classic Movie Day by reading the other fabulous entries for the Classic Film and TV Café blogathon!

You only owe it to yourself.

~ by shadowsandsatin on May 16, 2019.

31 Responses to “National Classic Movie Day Blogathon: Five Favorite Films of the 1950s”

  1. The 1950’s was a rich cinematic decade. Selecting five was tough! Great choices.

  2. As always, you have me diving in the black pool with no bottom and not caring. Great list!

  3. To me, late 1940’s noir is introverted – it’s about WWII war-damaged vets and their psychological struggles. 1950’s noir is extroverted – it’s about the external threats of crime and Communism. I prefer the psychological vulnerability of late 1940’s noir, but one of my favorites from 1950’s noir is ‘Pickup on South Street’ (1953). Richard Widmark’s incredulous “Are you waving the flag at ME?” is one of my favorite lines ever, and the rest of the movie is like a fever dream. Perhaps more like a fever nightmare.

    • Pickup on South Street is SO good. I haven’t seen it in years, and I think I’ve only seen it once, but I still remember the great performances. I think it’s time for a re-watch.

  4. I like Strangers on a Train
    The Big Heat and
    The Bad Seed with the 8 year old murderer
    My favorite movies are 40s and 30s
    50s had some great tv shows
    How old are you?

    • Love The Big Heat — in fact, it’s going to be the focus film for my flim noir newsletter this Christmas! The Bad Seed is a good one, too — I remember it well from my childhood, but I haven’t seen it in forever.

  5. THE KILLING is one of Kubrick’s finest and deserves to be shown more often. NIGHT AND THE CITY is an excellent noir. STRANGERS is one of Hitch’s best. And NARROW MARGIN is considered one of the best “B” pics ever made. Hey, this is a pretty good list!

  6. Strangers on a Train is one of those movies that I keep recording on the ol’ DVR but keep deleting before I watch it. I’ll try to end that streak the next time it circles back to TCM.

  7. I knew I’d get some good noir leads over here! The Killing and Night and the City are now on my list. As for Sudden Fear, Joan totally rocked it. Truly loved your post.

    • Thank you so much, Marsha! You are a sweetheart. I hope you’ll let me know what you think of Night and the City and The Killing after you get a chance to see them.

  8. Do I love your choices, Karen, and do you nail these films! However, I realized as I got into your breakdown of it, I haven’t seen Sudden Fear. How did THAT happen? Well, that’ll be remedied soon enough.

    I particularly like your take on Night and the City, Strangers on a Train…oh never mind – all four of the films I’ve seen. And I’m a big fan of them all. Wonderful stuff.

    • Thank you so much, Patty! I discovered the other night that Sudden Fear is on YouTube — I’m planning on showing it to my daughter first chance I get.

  9. I love how you presented all these films! So glad to see Strangers on a Train and The Killing on this list. I think this one deserves to be as much discussed as some of the better-known Kubrick’s. I realize the other day that he was only 28 when he made that film. The little genius! I have to see Night and the City again it didn’t become my favourite Jules Dassin film (I prefer Brute Force and The Naked City) but there are definitely interesting elements here that would make it worthy of a second viewing.

    • Hi, Virginie! Thank you so much. I hope you’ll give Night and the City another try (and I will give The Naked CIty another try!) — I watched Night and the City again the other night while I was working on this post, and it is just SO good to me. I had no idea that Kubrick was so young when he made The Killing. Amazing.

  10. Wonderful noir-infused list! I’m always happy for any acknowledgement of The Narrow Margin. It represents all that is so alluring about the low-budget B noir of the 40s and 50s. So much quality here from beginning to end.

    • Thank you! And you are so right about The Narrow Margin. There is truly not a dull moment. I looked up the actor who played the little boy and I see that he’s still with us. I’d love to hear his take on the filming.

      • Yeah, that’d be cool! The scenes on the train are wonderful. I’ve also looked of Jacqueline White in the past and I think she might still be with us. Another great noirish train film is The Tall Target!

  11. […] Will Talk, The Narrow Margin, The Earrings of Madame De…, It’s Always Fair Weather, The Burmese Harp, and Night of […]

  12. SUCH a great list, although I have to say I haven’t yet seen Sudden Fear or The Killing. Like another commenter said, I knew there would be excellent noir choices here. 🙂

  13. Great list! All terrifically entertaining films. I will admit that Strangers on a Train is my favorite Hitchcock (even though I included To Catch A Thief in my post), for all the reasons you mention, the top one being Robert Walker. And I just saw The Killing for the first time a few months ago–that one became an instant classic in my book. The Narrow Margin and Night and the City are brilliant, too.

    • Thank you, Jocelyn! I re-watched Night and the City for the post and was struck all over again at how great it is. And The Killing will always be on any favorites list that I have!

  14. A great list with some noirtastic films that I love and adore. Always been a huge fan of The Narrow Margin, and great to see Charlie McGraw as the tough cop. Gloria Grahame is such a tempting femme fatale in Sudden Fear and great to see an often underrated Hitchcock film in your list. Love your work!

  15. I think you made me think what I have against ‘modern’ movies, namely they don’t have scenes on trains anymore. Great blog by the way.

  16. Cracking films, one and all. The Narrow Margin is my favourite. I can’t get enough of sassy and strong Marie Windsor or that priceless dialogue. Great choices here, Karen.

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