I love movies, especially old movies. I think movies from different decades tend to be of different flavors. I’d break them down 1920s-1940s, 1950s-1970s, and 1980s on to today. I previously post 32 of my favorite movies from the 1980s on , I did the 1920s-1940s and now I’m back to the 1950s-1970s.
The list is not in any particular order, but as I thought of them. I’ll finish the other decades another time. This is specifically focused on theatrical releases, no TV series, TV movies, miniseries, or straight to video releases were considered. I’m not giving full reviews of the movies, I’m just tossing out why they made my list.
They might not be the best movies and I certainly haven’t seen every movie, but this is my list of movies I could watch again and again.
What movies would be on your list?
Most Favorite Movies from 1950s-1970s
- Hot Lead, Cold Feet (1979) – I moved this to the top of the list after I wrote it up because if you’re only going to watch one movie off this list you haven’t seen, this should be it. Anyone who is interested in acting (either as a performer or a fan) needs to watch this movie. This is not only a great western, but it is a masterpiece of acting. Jim Dale, who had an illustrious Broadway career and was narrator of the Harry Potter audiobooks, makes a tour de force appearance as three separate characters. He plays a rich old man (Jasper Bloodshy) who faked his death to watch over his twin sons as they compete to see who will win his fortune. Eli Bloodshy is a missionary from Boston and Wild Billy Bloodshy is the worst of gunslingers in their namesake town of Bloodshy. Unlike most films where one actor plays twins, all three characters are completely different down to their expressions and body language. I don’t think you’d realize they were all the same guy if I didn’t tell you. Be sure to click on the TCM link above for clips to see what I mean. There is one spot where a canoe pretty obviously transforms into a kayak and back while it went over rapids and a couple of short green screens that could be better, but overall the technicality is nothing short of impressive too.
- Star Wars aka A New Hope (1977) is the only movie from this period I could name the year it was made off the top of my head. As I mentioned in the 1980s through present movies post, Return of the Jedi is by FAR my favorite one of the series, but the original has lots going for it too. I especially loved Princess Leia in this one, the relationship between Ben (Obi-Wan) and Luke, and the building of the friendship between Han and Luke. Additionally it was the FIRST time the franchise blew up a round, bigger than anything imagined before weapon. It might be getting repetitive now, but then it was a new idea.
I’ll also mention that at this point I was a big Luke-Leia fan instead of a Han-Leia fan and the later reveal they were siblings really crushed me – seriously I remember where I was standing in our elementary art room when I found out.
- Guys and Dolls (1955) – I have recently found out that there is a group of movie buffs who think that Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra should have switched roles in this one which is inconceivable to me. Brando wasn’t the singer Sinatra was, but he was such a better actor and looked like a solid guy. He looked like someone who could bet which raindrop would be fastest down a window pane and still have respect with that crowd. I think Sinatra was perfect for Nathan Detroit in build and everything else. Nathan Detroit would definitely have been a possible outcome for Sinatra if the singing thing hadn’t worked out and is one of only two roles I’ve ever enjoyed him in (movies-TV-radio) so I can’t believe there are people who would want him out of it.
It’s written in that marvelous world that only exists in the creative mind of Damon Runyon. Although it borrows from several of Runyon’s stories, the main core of the story comes from “The Idyll Of Miss Sarah Brown” where Sister Sarah of a Salvation Army type organization unknowingly wins Skye’s soul using crooked dice. The main storyline of the movie is that a man goes from thinking a “doll is a doll” to knowing there’s only one in the world for him even if he has to reorganize all of his life to have her. It’s just a beautiful story, set to lovely music that convinces you it could really happen. Sister Sarah is one of the roles I’d do in play if I had 3 wishes. Walking over dreamily – SLAP! and Skye knowing the Bible better than her. 🙂 My grandmother used to sing “Bushel and a Peck” to me when I was little. It’s in the stage show, but was replaced by the inferior (in my never humble opinion) “Pet Me Poppa” in the movie.
- The Parent Trap (1961) – This is one of my all time favorite movies. I’ve loved it since I was a kid. I love all three parts of the movie. Between the fun of making one actress play two roles, the kids pulling a scheme to get their family back together, and how they submarined Vicki from the beginning to the end, it’s just perfect. I try to watch it every year on my birthday – that’s nothing to do with the story just that I consider it a treat. I may OR may not have bought a photo of Hayley Mills as each twin so I could have them in a hinged picture frame. I may OR may not have bought a laser disk even though I didn’t have a laser disk player. The only thing I like about the Lindsey Lohan remake is that “Vicki” has a small role as the mother of Meredith who takes the position in the story that Vicki has in the Haley Mills version. They kind of give a wink that she’s the same Vicki from the original, but if that’s so she must have amnesia as she doesn’t find anything familiar about the set up. Although it could have been REALLY cool if she was Vicki and DID remember and wanted revenge – oh, what might have been…If you look at the TV special sequels to the original only bother with Parent Trap IV where they finally figured out it took more than twins swapping places to really make a similar type of movie.
- My Fair Lady (1964) – I always say there are two different types of musicals. In one music just naturally arises as part of the story and the world. This is the other kind. I discussed my concept of the two types when I reviewed the play Anne and Gilbert. This is the kind of musical that is like an abstract artwork. It’s not suppose to accurately represent life, but an exaggeration. My Fair Lady is the perfect representation of this type of musical and it’s the one I use to explain my theory. ♪♫♪ “I could have danced all night.” ♫♪♫
- The Music Man (1962) – ♪♫♪ “He’s a what? He’s a what? He’s a Music Man.” ♫♪♫ The Music Man is the perfect representation of the kind of musical where the music just starts as you listen to a train, as you are talking about your hometown, or as you’re are convincing someone about a dream. That rarely happens in life, especially now days, but The Music Man convinces you that it can. On top of that this brilliant musical by Iowa native son and musical genius Meredith Willson, gives you a detailed peek about life in a large town at the turn of the 19th century. Pay close attention and see how many details you can catch. Where did they say the pest house is in town? Do you know what a pest house is? 🙂 And did you catch where two songs are really one? If you don’t know, you’ll stand out like a button hook in the well water. PLUS one of the characters is a super cool librarian in a pretty convincing Carnegie style library.
- Support Your Local Sheriff (1969) – I absolutely love James Garner. He’s on my short list of people I’d pay to hear read the phone book, but he’s a wonderful actor too. I think this is about his best comedic performance as he comes into a wild town and becomes sheriff. He confounds everyone’s expectations and tames the town. Favorite bits are when the female lead strips to her underwear (it’s long johns don’t worry), dumps a bucket of water over her hair, and climbs a tree, the jail without bars, and sticking your finger in the end of my gun. If you haven’t watched the movie, rush out and do so now. Watching it recently I’d forgotten about the bit with Madame Orr’s house so you might want to watch it to judge for yourself before you show your kids if they are too little, but it’s by implication and not explicit. There is also a sequel to the side where James Garner plays a similar character with the majority of the supporting cast returning in other roles called Support Your Local Gunfighter, but while it’s worth watching once, it’s a much weaker film.
- Move Over Darling (1963) -This is a James Garner/Doris Day film, but sadly I don’t think it really lives up to that casting. It’s a remake of My Favorite Wife which starred Cary Grant and Irene Dunn and the story makes a lot more sense set in the 1940s period of that film rather than the 1960s. The wife half of a happily married couple was traveling by ship when it went down and she’s lost at sea. The husband and their 2 children think she’s dead, but she’s alive on a desert island. She is rescued… just as the husband intends to be married to a new bride which is a shock, but not as much of a shock as the fact that she wasn’t on the island alone…. Like I said I like the earlier version much better as a whole, but this makes the list for some of the dialogue. The dialogue is better in this version all through it and see my previous comment about Garner and the phone book. Check out:
“She’s a bride not a wife.”
“What’s the difference?”
AND my favorite “What if she comes back like Irene Dunn done?” I just love to say that to myself when I need a laugh “like Irene Dunn done”. Gets me every time.
- Apple Dumpling Gang (1975) – I’ve mentioned I love westerns and this is a good one. People tend to either love Disney movies because they are optimistic and sentimental or they hate them… because they are optimistic and sentimental. I fall into the former group which you can tell from the rest of the post. In this story Bill Bixsby (who doesn’t love Bill Bixsby?) is a good guy who has gotten on the wrong track in life. He’s a professional gambler and they imply he’s something of a womanizer. He gets tricked into agreeing to take care of three children for an undetermined amount of time. He tries to push them off on anybody else, but he does his best to take care of the kids while he’s responsible for them. The kids soon decide they want Donovan (Bixsby) for keeps. Unfortunately they get into trouble over and over while trying to get the gold their late father always told them was in the mine they inherited. Dusty, the tomboy of a stagedriver, slowly develops a romantic relationship with Donovan. Meanwhile someone had the genius idea to pair two of the best physical comedians of all time Tim Conway and Don Knotts as an incompetent pair of outlaws in the main supporting roles. I can’t do justice in words to describe their brilliance. You have to watch this one. Clovis, the middle kid, doesn’t like to be touched so when anyone even pats him on the back or the head he kicks them in the shins – HARD. His older brother always explains “Clovis don’t like to be touched.” Surprisingly that’s become a very useful and commonly used expression in our family.
- Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again (1979) – This is more of a sequel on the side since the only returning characters are Amos and Theodore (Conway and Knotts) and this time they are the A story of the movie and the romantic plotline is the B story. They are wrongly accused of bank robbery. They end up with the loot by mistake and in their attempt to return it they accidentally take out the sheriff (knock him over and seriously injure him). He chases them until they wind up at an army post, but can even the army out last the Apple Dumpling Gang? The romantic storyline involves a spy, the army, and a gang that hides in a prison. “He loves you…I hear it in his voice every time he says Miss Gaskell.” Sigh. This is a great movie to start your kids on westerns if they don’t know much about them. It has outlaws, marshals, the cavalry, a bank robbery, a train robbery, a small Native American attack which they are shown completely justified in, etc. all the basic parts to show them how westerns work. And Conway and Knotts are still two of the best physical comedians of all time. Why haven’t you watched this yet?
- Pollyanna (1960) – This novel/movie gets a bad rap. Everyone says “don’t be a Pollyanna” when all the character does is say make the best of a bad situation because that’s the only thing that will make it better. It had effects all across the country. There were even real life clubs promoting that philosophy after the novel was published. I don’t see why people are so cruel to this character in pop culture. This particular movie version stars Haley Mills as Pollyana, Jane Wyman as her aunt, and Kevin Corcoran as the younger brother type he plays in almost every 1960s Disney movie as her friend. It’s a lovely movie. Pollyana wins over everyone in town, let her win you over too. Remember to think about WHY you’re doing something. (Avoid the much later Masterpiece Theater production like the plague. It’s like they set out to see just how bad a movie they could possibly make.)
- The Love Bug (1968) – One name – Herbie. To young people in the second half of the 20th century that would bring up the image of a Volkswagen bug with a slightly off center red and blue racing strip and the number of 53. Herbie was a very special car. He didn’t talk, but was clearly a sentient being. He could do impossible things, drive places he shouldn’t be able to, drive by himself, open doors and squirt people with oil at will. Can Herbie take his driver Jim to the winner’s circle? Will Jim redeem himself? Will they create a family? It stars Dean Jones, Michelle Lee, and Buddy Hackett. They did three more Herbie movies with different casts, but this is the best by far. The second, Herbie Rides Again is the best of the three sequel films and is headed up by Helen Hayes. They’ve tried to reboot it a couple of times. The best reboot was the short run TV series version with Dean Jones returning as Herbie’s human back in 1982. However, the later version introduced on The Wonderful World of Disney by Michael Eisner is worth seeing just for his hilarious introduction (Fair warning, not every car painted like Herbie IS Herbie and some belong to wealthy sheikhs).
- Pillow Talk (1959) – Pillow Talk is by far the best of three films that starred the trio of Rock Hudson, Doris Day, and Tony Randall. Randall is a comic genius and doesn’t get the credit he deserves. He’s just a wonderful comic talent which he shows here being a third person in a romantic movie. The movie doesn’t make sense unless you know about this situation in the development of telephones. Originally a neighborhood shared a telephone line and anybody on the line could listen when you talked and only one phone on the line could call out at a time. Next they streamlined it down to sharing a line between two homes. That meant that either household can hear the other when they use the phone and only one of you could call at any given time. For some reason – and honestly I still don’t understand why – the two houses or apartments sharing the line didn’t have to be very geographically close. When I was a very little kid my great-grandmother still had a party line. They still called them party lines even if there was just 2 of you. That’s why their phones work the way they do which is key to the plot.
- Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967) – It’s a musical starring Mary Tyler Moore and Julie Andrews. Right there you know it’s a winner, but I must admit some people don’t understand the joke and take offense. It’s a satire of the 1920s and a commentary on how 1960s pop culture reflected it in a world were memories of the 1920s were a lot more complete than today. Unfortunately some people seem to miss the satire part and assume that they should take the blatant racial and gender stereotypes seriously or as if the film were advocating them. No. They’re saying how terrible they are. They are winking at you as obviously as they possibly can. Open your eyes, see the joke, and I think you’ll enjoy it as much as I do. ♪♫♪ “Tap-Tap-Tap – TTTTAAAPPP – Tapioca!”♫♪♫
- Sound of Music (1965) – Much like a Olivia de Haviland/Eryol Flynn movie, this one shows you history like you wish it was instead of how it was. (Just as a big visual example, those mountains they climb in the end? In real life they lead you straight into Germany pretty close to Hitler’s summerhouse, not Switzerland.) It’s a beautiful fantasy though with a family drama in the first half and a Nazi escape movie in the second half. These songs are some of the best known in the world. Enjoy the fantasy and the songs for what they are and check out books for the real story. Some fun facts. It was mostly filmed on location and you can tour the locations today. The original puppets from the goat-herder scene are in a museum in Mason City, Iowa. The Von Trapp family didn’t make a dime off the movie directly. Maria wrote a book and sold the movie rights for a pittance in Europe. The buyers then resold them in Hollywood as a major movie for a fat price. The family instead earned their living by singing (a life that was a lot more brutal than it sounds – seriously read the books) and ended up creating a ski resort in Vermont.
- Oklahoma! (1955) – Oklahoma is my mother’s favorite musical. It is also a love song to the Midwest and the Great Plains. It’s famous for revitalizing the American musical and its creativity by including a ballet section in the middle among other things. While I think this ballet segment is probably more like the kind of thing people actually dream (where someone doesn’t look like someone you know, but you know that’s who they are) than any other dream depiction on film, personally I still don’t overly care for the ballet and think it could have easily been clipped with Laurie waking up with a shudder saying Curly to find Jud standing over her and gotten the same point across. The music is about the best in any musical though, even if you’ve never seen the movie, you’ll want the soundtrack.
- Bye, Bye Birdie (1963) – My mother says she’ll never watch a high school production of Bye, Bye Birdie again. It’s an extremely funny show, but you have to be up on 1960s pop culture to get about 80% of the jokes/references. For example, there is a riff on “Promise her anything, but give her Arpege” – which is a perfume. Honestly I didn’t get it the first time either, but I got enough of the other jokes to realize this must be another one so I looked it up. In a clear sign the movie is going to be hilarious both Dick Van Dyke and Paul Lynde have major roles. The story is loosely based on the fact Elvis Presley was drafted into the army and the bobby soxer’s habit of going so nuts, screaming, and fainting at the sight of their idol. Bobby soxers were young teen fans who wore bobby sox (think anklet length sweat sox) over their nylons as was in fashion then. My brother took the comedy crown in our high school production as the absolutely unmovable bartender that Rose tries to flirt her way into going bad. My grandmother put my name in to the bridge tune “I love you, Conrad” and would sing the chorus to me all the time. For a funny, sentimental journey, wave goodbye to Conrad Birdie.
- Sting (1973) – ♪♫♪”Now the curtain is going up, the entertainer is talking his bow, does his dance step and sings his song, even gets all his audience to sing along.” ♫♪♫ That, as an instrumental, is the theme song. It is about a sting, or a con, and a big con at that involving tons of people. Now that big a con isn’t all that new an idea, you’ve seen them on TV shows like Maverick and Alias Smith and Jones, but this is known as the biggest con in the movies. The relationship between Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman) and Johnny Hooker (Robert Redford) was important too, but I think what people come back for is the con itself, its 1930s setting, and the theme music. People just LOVE that theme. They don’t sing the words in the show, but I loved it so much I learned both the words and how to play it on the piano.
- Charade (1963) – This is one of the last times that Cary Grant appears as a Gary Grant type character the ultimate cool, suave, debonair gentleman in a suit. He is pared with the also iconic, but much younger Aubrey Hepburn. Grant himself said it was ridiculous for him to chase after such a young girl, so he had them set up the movie so she chased after him. It’s a movie where you don’t really know what’s happening until we get to the end. Audrey Hepburn is trying to figure out what’s going on after her older husband has died and mysterious things keep happening. Who is the good guy? Does Cary Grant want to kiss her or kill her?
- Son of Paleface (1952) – It’s a sequel to Paleface (1948). The story isn’t as good as in the original movie and they really don’t use that first movie as a reference to what the father (played as a ghost by Hope) was like, but it’s flat out funnier including Roy Rogers and Trigger in their most humorous roles. But the real star is Bob Hope playing another version of his usual movie character, warm-hearted, yellow clear through, and always with an elaborate plan to get out of trouble – which usually doesn’t work, but things work out an well anyway and he’s such a lovable mug. Honestly you’ll laugh your way through this one. Plus there are jokes I can tell are there that I don’t get about Harvard-Yale culture so it’s even funnier than I know.
- Lemon Drop Kid (1951) – This is one of our favorite Christmas movies although you can enjoy it any time of year. It’s based on the Damon Runyon story which means it takes place in his unique world along with such films as Little Miss Marker or the Hope version Sorrowful Jones or Guys and Dolls. In this one Hope plays a tout (someone who gets someone to change which horse they are betting on so they’ll give them part of their winnings if they win). He touts the wrong guy and comes up with a plot to raise the money to pay the mobster back. He gets the help of everyone on Broadway by claiming to raise money for Nellie Thursday, an old doll who had helped out everyone at some time. His plot to keep the money for himself is uncovered, but when someone else takes the money will Hope make it right and will Hope himself be opened before Christmas? The year before the movie was released a song from it was released in a cover by Bing Crosby, Silver Bells, and it was immediately a huge hit. So they went back and expanded the Silver Bells sequence in the movie. It’s a darling – if very stereotypical – take on ethnic city life as a back drop for one of my favorite Christmas songs.
- White Christmas (1954) – This was originally intended to be a follow up of Holiday Inn. I’m not sure how they could rework the plot for the characters in the original to be the same, but it was supposed to be a re-teaming of Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. For some reason Astaire couldn’t do it and ultimately Danny Kaye took up the second male lead. Frankly I think that is all for the best because while Astaire is a better dancer, Kaye is overall a better actor and definitely is more at home in the role of the genial, pushing, pluser than Astaire would have been. It very cleverly plays on the words to White Christmas which was the break out hit of Holiday Inn. Part of the plot involves a ski lodge that isn’t going to make it if it doesn’t snow by the end of the season so they are “dreaming of a white Christmas.” I also want to stress that the song “White Christmas” was actually introduced in Holiday Inn and they just build this movie on the established song. I won an argument onetime over that once. Don’t mess with me on movie musicals.
- Bells Are Ringing (1960) – This musical was written for Judy Holiday and it makes full use of both her talents and the fact that as it was never intended for the stage so it could be expansive in its sets. It centers around Sus-Answer-Phone (pronounced with the “an” being in both Susan and Answer) a phone answering service where people answer your phone for you while you are out. Judy Holiday’s character gives out love and kindness to all kinds of clients and people she bumps into everyday, but is afraid to reach out to the guy she’s fallen in love with over the phone. Add in songs based on living life to the fullest and her insecurity and you’ve got a great time. It also has a very clever “simple little system” involving illegal betting and a connection of “The Midas Touch.” There’s a venerable who’s who of the best of classic television in supporting roles. “Hello, Sus-Answer-Phone. It’s for you!”
- Hello, Dolly (1969) – ♪♫♪”Well, Hello Dolly!” ♪♫♪ Frankly there is way too much plot to fully summarize for the movie which is partly a con for Dolly to get the man she picked out for herself from the ranks of her match making service and partly it’s about a bunch of people picking today to go after their dreams in a lot of complicated ways. However, it’s the music that’s the main thing we are there for and every single song in this is top notch. You have to be familiar with musical comedy acting to really appreciate the performances, but if you enjoy the jokes, “the laughs, the sweetness, and the sorrows” you’ll enjoy this show.
- Sleeping Beauty (1959) – Sleeping Beauty was produced while Walt Disney was alive, but he had moved his focus on to Disneyland and he wasn’t too pleased with the results when Sleeping Beauty was finished. The castle in Disneyland was originally supposed to be Snow White’s Castle, but they changed it to Sleeping Beauty’s Castle in an early act of synergy since the movie was coming out. (The Castle in Walt Disney World is Cinderella’s.) Walt was disappointed in Sleeping Beauty because he didn’t feel it did anything to stretch animation in a new direction and so seemed derivative. Interestingly Sleeping Beauty was kind of another go at Snow White. A lot of stuff that was cut from the original Snow White storyboard, for example the longer romantically humorous interaction between the prince and princess at the beginning and the prince being held captive and having to fight his way out, were used here now that animation techniques had caught up to make a more convincing looking prince. Personally I like Sleeping Beauty because until Prince Eric of The Little Mermaid, Prince Phillip had the most to do and fight to get his lady love and you have to love him. Aurora was also a very sweet princess and the three good fairies were loads of fun. If you’ve never seen Sleeping Beauty then SKOL!
- Unidentified Flying Oddball (1979) – This is a Disney movie you probably haven’t heard of, but it is a combination of several of my favorite things including Disney, actor Jim Dale (see Hot Lead, Cold Feet at the top of this list), actor Dennis Dugan (TV show Shadow Chasers and a stand out episode of MASH), twin swap plots, the space shuttle, AND Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court which I’m a little obsessed with. So you can see there is just too much goodness going on in this movie for me to describe so just hunt it up and go see Disney make our favorite Connecticut Yankee with a NASA robot.
- Pete’s Dragon (1977) – SO much better than the remake, this version had the always amazing Mickey Rooney and Jim Dale, pretty fun special effects for the time, a beautiful love song ♪♫♪”I’ll Be Your Candle On the Water,”♪♫♪ the stick in your head hummable ♫♪♫”I Love You Too,” and a ton more heart than the CGI heavy remake. SOOOO much better than the remake.
- Magnificent Obsession (1952) – My only complaint with this great Jane Wyman/Rock Hudson film is that I still haven’t figured out what they meant by the two times they talk about how was he was using it all up. A young man’s hedonistic risking death lifestyle (in response to his parents’s deaths) led to an accident. The local doctor sent a medical instrument on to revive him, not knowing he would soon be needing it himself. The doctor dies and seeing the doctor’s widow Rock Hudson’s character falls instantly in love, but in chasing after her he inadvertently caused an accident that takes her eye-sight. Determined to stay with her and make it up to her, he befriends her without her knowing who he is. She teaches him her late husband’s philosophy. By the time Jane Wyman’s character realizes who he is, she’s in love with him, too. Rather than be a burden to him, she takes off. Unable to find her he returns to medical school to balance the scales from having hurt her and taken her husband’s life. He espouses her husband’s philosophy and runs himself into the ground doing good. When he finally discovers her again the problem that caused her blindness has shifted and will now take her life unless he operates on her. Will he be able to do it and will it finally let him pay that old debt? Just as a note this movie is where I learned to tie false knots which is a fun finger fiddling thing to do.
- Swiss Family Robinson (1960) is just marvelous all the way around, whether it’s the book, the movie, or the walk through attraction at Walt Disney World. This movie is no exception. A family of immigrants survives a shipwreck after the ship’s crew abandoned ship. They scavenge everything they can and work together to create a tree house complete with running water. After many island adventures they are attacked by pirates. Will they be able to think their way out and survive? If they do, how will they move forward with three sons and only one unrelated girl?
- Blackbeard’s Ghost (1968) is an amazing movie that was the last live action film Walt Disney oversaw himself. A stellar cast of leads and supporting characters careen through a combination adventure and romp. The new track coach in town accidentally casts a spell to bring to his eyes and ears one who lives in limbo — Blackbeard’s Ghost. Blackbeard’s been stuck in this world since he died and can’t pass over. No one else can see him, but he can move things and even get drunk which leads to some great ghostly escapades until the coach and the ghost team up to save a group of old ladies from a mobster’s evil scheme. Fun Fact: The spell to bring to your eyes and ears one who dwells in limbo is also featured in the book in The Haunted Mansion seance scene.
♪♪♫ Come cheer up my lads, it’s to glory we steer….♪♫♪
- Mary Poppins (1964) What can you say about one of the all time great movies? It takes a children’s classic book and makes it so much better. SO MUCH BETTER than the book, only a handful of movies can say that. It’s got a good drama storyline, great comedic licks, and amazing music. It was the very first pre-recorded VHS tape we owned so for awhile we watched every single weekend and even after all of that, it still holds up. (I should mention that for people who actually know British accents well, Dick Van Dyke’s cockney is painful, but I love it.)
- Peter Pan (1953) is the inspiration for Peter Pan’s Flight, my very favorite ride at Walt Disney World. How do you explain the sheer joy of the boy who never grew up to someone who has never flown over Never Never Land in a golden pirate ship over a mermaid lagoon underneath a magic moon? Also, Tiger Lily rocks! I honestly don’t understand why she doesn’t get more traction as one of the Disney princesses. I mean if your choice was to be Wendy, Tinkerbelle, or Tiger Lily which would you choose? I mean is there any question? (Tiger Lily)
- Candleshoe (1977) is one of the most underrated movies on here. It has an amazing cast including Jodie Foster, Helen Hayes, and David Nivens. Part small r romantic romp/caper, part dramatic mystery where someone ends up in the hospital or maybe worse. It’s a treasure map scavenger hunt set against a young girl learning the real meaning of family. It’s just a great movie where we learn “the paths of glory lead but to the grave….”
- North by Northwest (1959) – I’d heard about this film for a long time before I actually saw it (on the big screen thanks TCM!). Besides having Cary Grant at his Cary Grantiest it does a great job of taking an outrageous situation and making each part of it seem at that moment perfectly reasonable. They did an excellent job (except for scale) in recreating Mt. Rushmore and many other places (without the scale issue). They even filmed bits where it was illegal to film. The set ups in this movie have inspired many, many others so you need to see it at least once. My biggest problem was with the end where they quite literally leave you hanging.
- Court Jester (1956) – After White Christmas this is my very favorite Danny Kaye film. In a King Arthur like world he’s tasked with helping to overthrow an evil ruler and restore the rightful monarchy. There’s lots of broad humor from the fact that he’s very easily hypnotized and falls in and out of the spell at the wrong moment every time. This is Danny Kaye so of course there is physical comedy, but there is also clever word play with “vessel with the pestle/chalice from the palace/flagon with the dragon/brew that is true” having somehow taken on a life of its own – even though I bet most people couldn’t tell you what film it was from. I also love the sword play. Kaye worked very hard on his swordsmanship to be convincing he did so well that Basil Rathbone, who played the villain, couldn’t keep up with him in the fight scenes. The fencing master fought Kaye instead with them dropping in some shots of Rathbone drawing back looking pained. Once you realize that’s what’s going on it becomes the SECOND best movie sword fight ever (see The Princess Bride for the first one).
- Darby O’Gill and the Little People (1959) – This movie is the happiest you’ll ever see Sean Connery. Set in Ireland it features a world where leprechauns, banshees, and the death coach are all too real. When a young man from out of town is brought in by the absentee English Lord who owns the town to take Darby’s job, Darby decides his best plan is to get the young man, who is kind, bright, and handsome, to marry his daughter thereby allowing them both to remain in the only home his daughter has ever known. (“Darby retired about 3 years ago, he just never bothered to tell me.”) Darby captures King Brian of the Little People and uses his 3 wishes to make his plan come true. The movie was amazingly shot with forced perspective for the little people instead of green screen so it still holds up perfectly. I don’t know how they ever did it. If you watch this you HAVE to pair it with the Disney show episode “I Captured the King of the Leprechauns” where Walt himself travels to “Ireland” to learn about Irish culture and to arrange with King Brian of the Leprechauns to get real Leprechauns to play parts in his movie. Conveniently it comes on the same DVD.
- Barefoot Executive (1971) – Sneaking on to the list as an addition after I thought I was done is one more Disney film The Barefoot Executive. This is one of Kurt Russell’s films where he plays a likable young man who gets into trouble and has to figure his way out of it. In this case he discovers a chimp that can correctly predict which TV show will win every time slot. Instead of sharing this discovery, Russell’s character claims to be doing the predictions himself and parlays it to a high network job. It will make everyone who sees it suspect you have just found out how networks really select programs. His own idea is to make a TV show about the 3 most consistently popular topics, Abraham Lincoln, Doctors, and Dogs so the new show would be “Abraham Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog” which actually could have been kind of awesome.
- Follow Me Boys (1966) – You know what I just said about adding another Disney movie, well, ditto. This is a movie that always is getting me singing at odd times – the titular song “Follow Me, Boys!” is a great marching song – and the movie normally gets me crying at the end when I watch it which I recently did again. This is another Disney movie that’s kind of more like a collection of short stories about these characters than a novel, but it really is great fun, clever, and my only real complaint is that they didn’t film Kurt Russell when he was the right age so they could drop him in where the guy who SO is not Kurt Russell grown up taking over the character at the end.
- Annie Get Your Gun (1950) – Betty Hutton was second choice for lead in this movie, they’d actually started filming with Judy Garland who had to drop out. I think Hutton is a great choice. My only real problems with the whole movie is that periodically “Annie” drops her mouth open as she stares at “Frank Butler” who she eventually marries and that she eventually lets Butler win a shooting contest because he’d only marry her if she stroked his male ego, hardly a good message to preach. This is particularly bad in a movie that had literally written a song about how women were at least just as good if not better than men. It’s kind of annoying and not really in keeping with the rest of her can-do character. I’m thinking maybe the mouth thing was a holdover from how they had Garland do it. This is the movie that introduced ♪♪♫ “Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better” ♪♫♪ beloved by duetists everywhere. It’s full of heart-warming bits, glamour, and glitz although it is another version of history of how you wish it was and sadly a bit of how you wish it wasn’t. Some people might object to the portrayal of Native Americans in this film and while I get where they’re coming from I think even the worst critic would at least have to admit that Sitting Bull, a major character, is a fully developed character with both admirable qualities and foibles who takes charge and drives plot.
- Jet Pilot (1957) – This is my favorite John Wayne movie which is a little odd because it’s definitely not in his normal style. It’s the story of a top jet pilot (Wayne) who ends up helping a Russian woman pilot who defects. But what is she really up to? It’s got adventure, quick, clever banter, and romance. He’s risking his life that he’s not wrong about her. Is she worth the risk? Take a risk yourself and watch the movie.
- The Quiet Man (1952) – John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara two great actors make what is really a fairly quiet movie about respect. This is my third favorite movie set in Ireland, but it is what I think a lot of people think – or at least WANT – Ireland to be like. The film was shot in Ireland and the Quiet Man Cottage was really built. It’s currently in ruins, but there is a movement going to restore it. (What are my other two favorite Irish movies? Tied for number one are Darby O’Gill listed above and The Luck of the Irish – the one from the 1940s.)
- Run Silent, Run Deep (1958) – Submarine movies can be really cool as anyone who’s seen The Hunt for Red October can attest. Run Silent, Run Deep was another really cool story on a submarine chase, this one set during World War II. It’s Clark Gable cool.
Honorable Mentions and Why
Marty (1955) – Marty is a sad movie and Ernest Borgnine deserves every award he won for. Marty (Brognine) meets a girl. They are both kind of wallflowers that for various reasons have been sidelined by life. They meet and form a strong connection and mutual understanding, but she isn’t pretty or his religion and everyone in his life says she’s not good enough for him. Will Marty listen to everyone else or for the one important time in his life will he make his own decision? This one started out on the list above, but when I thought about how sad it is, I realized I wouldn’t want to watch it over and over again. Watch it once for the story, watch it once for admiring Brognine’s top notch acting, and only again after that if you want to cry your eyes out – again.
Alias Jesse James (1959) – It’s a Bob Hope movie. It’s hard to find a bad one even though a couple near the end of his studio run gave being bad a dang good try and depending on your willingness to overlook things maybe they succeeded at being terrible. This one is a pretty typical Bob Hope movie – where he basically always plays a similar character, swapping out names and professions to feed different jokes and a different girl. This time Hope is set up as a duplicate for Jesse James and gets the girl, which he doesn’t always. So this isn’t a bad movie, but nothing jumps out and says it’s special, except for the last gun fight at the end. Hope’s character can’t shoot straight to save his soul so other people show up to save him — pretty much every star of a western TV show at that time as their TV character even though they kill people in this which most of them never did on TV. If you don’t want to watch all of it look up the end online anyway.
Cold Turkey (1971) – is really a great dark comedy about a tobacco company that bet no entire town could go Cold Turkey from cigarettes for a month for a large cash reward. An Iowa town (the film was shot in Iowa) takes them up on it. Will they make it? What can the company do to stop them? It’s got a great cast including Bob Newhart and Dick Van Dyke. It’s also the reason that Terrace Hill became the Iowa Governor’s Mansion. With all that going for it I should really love it, but honestly I just don’t.
McClintock! (1963) – This one is on my list not because I have any great fondness for it, but because it’s one of my Mom’s top favorites. While it’s always great fun to see John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara “duke” (pun intended) it out, frankly I don’t think they treat each other very well in this particular movie and while I think she needed a good setting down SPOILER ALERT! having her stripped down to her underwear and be chased through the entire town was a bit much. I always worry about what people will do after the movie ends and while I see their marriage being much better from this point, I don’t see how she could hold her head up in town after that. Also the throwing his hat on the weather vane bothers me. First, I doubt he could really do it. Second, if he did, who had to shinny up on the roof and get it down because yesterday’s hat is never there? However, as I say, if you just love Wayne and O’Hara together this is a good one.
There You Have It
And there you have it. There’s my lists of the best movies from the 1950s thru the 1970s and 1980-the present. What films would be on yours?
Sarah S. Uthoff is the main force behind Trundlebed Tales striving to bring the History, Mystery, Magic and Imagination of Laura Ingalls Wilder and other greats of children’s literature and history to life for a new generation. Uthoff is a nationally known Laura Ingalls Wilder authority and has presented at five of the Wilder homesites, many conferences and numerous libraries, museums, and events around the Midwest. Attend one of her programs, schedule one yourself, watch her videos, listen to her podcast, and find her on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Academia.edu. Professionally she is a reference librarian at Kirkwood Community College and director of the Oxford (Iowa) Public Library.