Welcome back to the nostalgic cinematic way-back machine, you can take a look at the moments that got us here in part 1, so here’s the next 10 moments. Let’s get things started off with a touch of something dark and foreboding…
39). The Opening To Orson Welles ‘Touch of Evil’
Now this is filmmaking, what more could one expect from Orson Welles? One of the first and best uses of the unbroken tracking no-cuts shots, inspiring directors decades afterwards who employ the same stylized technique. The amount of tension conveyed is palpable as the bomb is set and we follow it in the intended target’s car around corners and police stops. The scene suggests that even though normal life around is playing out normally, what lies unseen in the shadows can strike at any time. Not unlike the paranoia generated by the rhetoric and fears of the growing second ‘Red Scare’, especially within Anti-American Committee hearings headed by McCarthy in the early parts of the decade.
38). Introducing Audrey Hepburn
It was in William Wyler’s whimsical, breezy and bittersweet ‘Roman Holiday’ that Audrey Hepburn first graced the screen, exuding pose, innocence and elegance as a Princess trying to escape the suffocating life-style of royalty. Charming and witty she quickly became a symbol of 50’s chic and style. She would continue with more varied roles in comedies like ‘Sabrina’, war epics like ‘War and Peace’ and character studies like ‘The Nun’s Story.’ before the decade ended. Though her more iconic roles would come later in the 60’s, like Holly Golightly in ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’, she nabbed oscar gold with her first role as Princess Ann. Beginning her lengthy and lavish career with a break-through overnight star-making turn in her first role. Not too shabby…
37). The Anti-Religious Tones In ‘The Night of the Hunter’
Robert Mitchum was always an interesting performer in his career, never quite able to land the role that should’ve made him a house-hold name all the way to today. Nevertheless, he was never better in Charles Laughton’s expressionistic journey to the dark-side in ‘The Night of the Hunter’ as the morally corrupt Rev. Harry Powell. The film is made thoroughly anti-zealot as nearly all of the town’s people we meet are completely fooled by the preachings of Powell, hampered by their blind faith. Though the film is not as bleak or dark by today’s standard (the filmmakers went about as far as the Hays Code would permit), one must imagine that an amoral professed man-of-the-cloth on screen in 1955 would be outright shocking and terrifying to most audience members in gated communities. Mitchum creepily owns the role, making humming “Leaning on the everlasting arms” more eerie than should be possible. The film and it’s lead performance have served as influence to the many a director and actor in the decades afterwards who use the theme of darkness simmering beneath the surface in small-town America.
36). “Fasten Your Seat-Belts, It’s Going To Be A Bumpy Ride”
All About Eve is one of the highest regarded and lauded best picture winners in Oscar history. Winning statues for acting, writing, costuming, and Best Picture. Additionally, four actresses were nominated for academy awards in leading and supporting roles. Built around the ambitious and dog-eat-dog nature of show-business, a fanatic theater-goer Eve (Ann Baxter) starts to cling and pal around with her stage hero, Margo (Bette Davis), like a puppy to its master. It is seemingly just to catch the any stray rays off the glowing star that is Margo, but as time goes by Margo begins to suspect that Eve is using her and company to climb the showbiz ladder. Endearing for the depth that the four lead actresses portray, with Bette Davis giving a career defining performance.
35). Giulietta Masina’s Sheer Innocence In ‘Nights Of Cabiria’
Much like Borgnine’s Marty, Giulietta Masina’s earnestness shines no matter the situation or how far she falls. Federico Fellini enlisted the talents of his wife again, as with ‘La Strada’, to portray the ever innocent prostitute with big dreams Cabiria as she searches for an end to her current line of work. As her hopes and dreams as presented to us all we can do is root for this ultimate underdog. Suffering one alienation and humiliation after another, her spirit is hardly ever destroyed. The last bittersweet scene of her walking lonely along a crowded street after a heartbreaking reveal is both disheartening and oddly uplifting, all conveyed by the expressions on Masina’s emotive face.
34). Gregory Peck’s Fury As Captain Ahab
Continuing the theme of vengeful sea captains from Nemo, Gregory Peck’s Ahab is another spirited choice to play an icon of classic literature. Bringing to life in all his fury, anger and resolve Peck disappears (as always) into the infamous role as he and his crew venture into a journey “…round about perdition’s flames”. Directed by the filmmaking legend John Huston, Herman Melville’s timeless tale of vengeance, man’s conflict with nature, and the inhumanity of man comes to life. Showing first hand the destructive and ugly nature of vengeance, ‘Moby Dick’ resonates to this day. In no small part due to the story being propelled by a perfect lead performance from the great Gregory Peck.
33). Ben-hur’s Chariot Chase Scene
Charlton Heston makes another appearance on this list in a big-screen epic in William Wyler’s Ben-hur. Heston again is larger than live in the title role of a rebellious jewish man condemned to lash out against slavery of his people (See any trend with Heston and biblical epics?). It is in the now iconic climatic Chariot Race that is emblematic of the style of epic filmmaking occurring. With dozens of coordinated stunts, practical crashes and an extra nearly killed during its filming, the scene is one of the rousing and exciting races ever put to film. Only equaled in oscar glory with ‘Lord of the Rings: Return of the King’ 11 awards and never surpassed, the film is wall-to-wall male bravado captured on film. Employing hundreds of extras, props and stunts, Ben-hur is as epic as American movies would ever get.
Cinderella was Disney’s first full feature post-war picture and they wanted to be sure they had everything right. So they choose a timeless tale of romance, dreams and musical tunes. The most accomplished in the Disney’s 1950’s animated film releases, Cinderella enchanted audiences young and old on it’s release in 195o and became a landmark in animation as a whole. Magic, hopes and harmony combine in a traditional romantic tale for the ages.
31). Grace Kelly’s On-Screen Charm And Vibrance
We go from a fictionalized animated princess to the real-life cinderella. Yes, kids Grace Kelly was the object of desire of most of the male populace in the 50’s, from her roles in westerns and Hitchcock thrillers alike. She vibrantly commanded the screen from day one as a prime example of pose and elegance. Hitchcock frequently used her as the lovely blond distraction he frequently employed. Though her roles were limited to the ‘Love interest’ for leading men, she was given the opportunity to play somewhat strong (at least for the 1950’s) independent driven career-minded women. Her most prominent roles were in the aforementioned ‘High Noon’ and ‘Dial M for Murder’ along with more work with Hitch in ‘To Catch a Thief’ and another movie ahead on this list. She garnered oscar talk by taking off the make-up with her unglamorous performance in 1954’s ‘The Country Girl’ opposite Bing Crosby, and won the statue famously betting out Judy Garland in ‘A Star is Born’. It was that year she won that she caught the eye of the Prince of Monaco , and they would wed a year later. She effectively retired from acting in ’56 at age 26.
30). The Tension Soaked Sequences In ‘The Wages Of Fear’
Henri-Georges Clouzot is a pretty obscure french filmmaker who had a penchant for creating some of the most nail-biting sequences of all-time in his 1953 critique of greed classic ‘The Wages of Fear.’ Battling sheer boredom, unemployment and conflicting male machismos, frenchmen Mario and Jo are in a South American way-out-of-the-way town. When a Standard Oil Well explodes hundred of miles away the company asks for volunteers to transport Nitroglycerine that will seal the damaged well up, in trucks not designed to carry such dangerous materials. Because just lightly shaking the unstable substance will cause it to explode violently, knowing this they must transverse through desert rocky roads, mountains, and large obstacles in the road. Great care is taken in the first hour or so characterizing the insane crews who volunteer, making the audience realize just how much these guys need the high paycheck. A rare gem of a suspense thriller that tackles themes of greed, clash of male bravados and earning an honest living the ludicrously hard way.
Hey we’re nearing the Half-way point in the countdown, tired of nostalgia? I’m sure not, join me on the next installment for more from Hitchcock, Jimmy Stewart, and a strange artsy romance.