10 Films From The Fifties Every Man Should See

They're called classics for a reason

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It's surprising how many of us modern day moviegoers still have a blindspot when it comes to the out and out classics of cinema so we thought we'd begin a regular series attempting to rectify that, starting with the Fifties, a decade when movies hit new heights of style and sophistication and some of the all-time greats were in their heyday.

Frankly it's a thankless job to pick just ten films from cinema's golden era but here goes – a cinematic smorgasbord spanning countries, genres and directorial styles to illustrate just how good it used to be:

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Touch Of Evil (1958, Orson Welles)

From the opening sequence in which the camera follows a bomb in the boot of a car for over three minutes, the direction of this seedy tale of corruption on the US-Mexican border is definitely the star. Not in a showy or intrusive manner, just a consistently sophisticated and 'modern' marriage between camera and story. That it was Orson Welles' last film says much of what might have been, but enjoy it for what it is, specifically in the form of the recently re-edited director's cut which features 50 changes as per the very detailed instructions Welles left behind.

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On The Waterfront (1954, Elia Kazan)

The story of boxer-turned-dockyard worker Terry Malloy caught up in mob and union corruption carries even more weight when you factor in the parallels with director Elia Kazan's own experiences of McCarthyism. It's Brando's film of course, in a performance that brings subtlety to what might have been melodramatic, and who you can never keep your eyes off.


Sunset Boulevard (1953, Billy Wilder)

From the devastatingly dark opening scene, there’s only one way this tale of thwarted dreams and faded glory is heading but the way it unfolds is extra special. Arguably Billy Wilder’s best (a big statement given he did Some Like It Hot in the same decade), it's also one of the finest satires on Hollywood itself, but that didn’t stop it picking up three Oscars. 

The Ladykillers (1955, Alexander Mackendrick)

Brilliantly odd and atmospheric comic caper that invokes another London of not so long ago but also another era of British filmmaking in which Alexander Mackendrick was a master, and for whom this would be a comic swansong for Ealing studios. The ensemble cast of criminals and eccentrics are all perfect but Katie Johnson as their landlady nemesis quietly steals the show. A film to save for an afternoon sickie and a packet of teacakes.

Pather Panchali (1955, Satjayit Ray)

Director Satjayit Ray is spoken in the same breath as Kurosawa and Fellini and this first part of his 'Apu' trilogy shows you why. Following the travails of a struggling family in rural Bengal, it's a simple and universal tale told unsentimentally and with flashes that indicate you're in the hands of a major directorial talent. At the time, it introduced Indian arthouse and non-Bollywood cinema to the West and still has that ability today.

Seven Samurai (1954, Akira Kurosawa)

There are plenty of other Kurosawa films that some would pick instead but in terms of pure cinematic enjoyment, Seven Samurai is hard to beat. Expertly structured and never flagging in three hours, it's the benchmark for action epics and it's not surprising it's considered the most imitated and referenced film ever made.

Rear Window (1954, Alfred Hitchcock)

While Vertigo and North By Northwest get most of the plaudits, there’s an argument that Rear Window is the tightest and purest execution of Hitchcok's filmmaking philosophy. It’s impossible to not be drawn into this voyeuristic murder mystery set in a suffocatingly hot New York City summer. And from the performances to the pacing, it’s pretty much perfect. (Okay with one exception. No one's buying James Stewart would be reluctant to marry Grace Kelly.)

Night Of The Hunter (1955, Charles Laughton)

A genuinely dark and disturbing psychological horror with Robert Mitchum at his menacing best as a preacher turned serial killer terrorising a young widow, it's frequently cited as an influence on a generation of directors from David Lynch to Martin Scorsese, despite being the only directing credit for British actor Charles Laughton.

Paths Of Glory (1957, Stanley Kubrick)

Stanley Kubrick’s ironically-titled fourth feature (made when he was only 28) still has claim to be one of the most powerful films about the first world war, highlighting the appalling tyranny and incompetence among the entitled leadership, where bureaucracy and arse-covering are more important than soldier’s lives. Stirring stuff from a director already showing signs of genius.


Wages Of Fear (1953, Henri-Georges Clouzot)

A brilliantly simple premise - four desperate men sign up to drive trucks full of nitroglycerine through the dusty roads of South America – is executed brilliantly as both a pressure cooker action thriller and combustible character rivalry between the drivers involved, with the imperious Yves Montand setting the bar high. Dark and foreboding throughout, it crackles with atmosphere and is a reminder that in the 50s, there was no pressure to deliver a happy ending.

Too good not to be mentioned: Bridge On The River Kwai, Singin' in the Rain, High Noon, Sweet Smell Of Success, The Seventh Seal, 12 Angry Men, Vertigo, Some Like It Hot

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