1951 in Movies

Movie reviews for movies released theatrically in 1951.


1. Ace in the Hole, directed by Billy Wilder (9/10)

This is mostly a devastating examination of media sensationalism and the US (or Western) obsession with certain types of stories that appears only more relevant today.

However, it suffers from a number of typical Hollywood film problems, though, surprisingly, Kirk Douglas isn’t really one them. (He is relatively good for Kirk Douglas.) The most obvious problem is that Kirk Douglas speaks his feelings to other people, because, I guess, screenwriters didn’t have faith in their actors to convey such feelings without words and / or in their audiences ability to receive those feelings. I know, this was rife at the time. And I can’t really hold it against the movie too much, but it’s still a little annoying (though it is more of a problem in the first act).

But mostly, this is the kind of morality tale Hollywood got right back in the day, even if it’s kind of sanctimonious and hypocritical for the film industry to be lecturing the newspaper industry about sensationalism.

2. A Place in the Sun, directed by George Stevens (9/10*)

Seen as a teen when I had a bit of a thing for Montgomery Clift (not quite on the level of my thing for John Wayne). I have since read the novel and pretty much hated it. So I should watch this again to see what I think now.


3. The Steel Helmet, directed by Samuel Fuller (8/10)

There are a number of glaring things wrong with this film: the American actors pretending to be native Koreans, the ridiculously over-the-top classic-Hollywood score, the very obvious sets in most of the movie (many of which look absolutely nothing like Korea), but there is still a lot to like about it. It is a risky movie, a war movie that deals directly with racism and death. It is one of the best pre-American Film Renaissance American war films that I have seen (which isn’t necessarily
saying a lot since there are so few of them). Well worth watching.


4. Strangers on a Train, directed by Alfred Hitchcock (8/10)

When I was young, this was one of Hitchcock’s masterpieces in my eyes. As an older viewer, I notice how poorly it’s dated a lot – a lot. It’s full of typically brilliant Hitchcockian moments. But more of the story feels contrived than when I was younger, and the film’s plot feels solvable with a phone call.


5. A Streetcar Named Desire, directed by Elia Kazan (7/10*)

Seen when I was a teen, perhaps before I had the historical context to appreciate Kazan as a director and, especially, Brando as an actor. On the other hand, all the Tennessee Williams movies I have seen recently hasn’t done much of anything for me.


6. Scrooge, directed by Brian Desmond-Hurst (7/10)

The definitive version until the Muppets and Richard Donner took it on. Not joking.


7. Abbot and Costello Meet the Invisible Man, directed by Charles Lamont (7/10*)

Huge asterisk, as I saw this in my early teens or even earlier. Cannot trust this rating.


8. Awaara, directed by Raj Kappoor (6/10*)

For reasons I can only guess at, the Toronto Public Library edition of this film does not contain English or French subtitles (not that I would do much better with French subtitles than none, but it would be some improvement). So I was forced to watch this movie as if it was “silent,” following characters’ expressions, and the contexts of each scene, albeit with the added bonus of intonation. I was not willing to go scouring the interwebs for a version of this movie with English subtitles. So everything I am going to say should be taken with a grain of salt.

Read the review.


9. The Red Badge of Courage, directed by John Huston (6/10*)

Starring a war hero, but directed by Huston. I think I should probably watch this again to give you a true assessment.


10. The Day the Earth Stood Still, directed by Robert Wise (6/10)

An overblown message movie posing as science fiction. Maybe that’s too harsh. I haven’t seen it in forever.


11. The African Queen, directed by John Huston (5/10*)

This is, for me, the most outrageous of my teenage ratings. It is indefensible. So much more indefensible than anything else. I think I didn’t like Bogart or Hepburn as a teen, and so probably barely paid this any attention as I judged it.


12. The River, directed by Jean Renoir (5/10)

This is a beautifully shot film and it is certainly the earliest example I know of a Western film being entirely shot on location in a non-Western country. It also is probably the first Western film to have a soundtrack nearly completely made up of non-Western music. As such it is a landmark and a valuable piece of history.

But, as a film, there is a lot to be desired. The child actors are mostly horrible. The lead male has evidently never seen a person with a limp (and one must assume Renoir hadn’t either). I guess the story would be appealing to a young woman who grew up mid century in another country but to a near-middle-aged male like myself who has been brought up at the end of the 20th century to be oversensitive to depictions of other cultures, it doesn’t do anything for me (and made me cringe a little too often).


13. An American in Paris, directed by Vincente Minnelli (4/10*)

Teenage boys who don’t know anything about music shouldn’t judge musicals.


14. Show Boat, directed by George Sidney (4/10)

So I get that the musical itself is important, as the first real musical, and what have you. From what I understand, this isn’t a particularly authentic recreation of that musical, but that’s sort of besides the point. The biggest question I have in my mind is why did people think it was necessary to remake this movie? Maybe in 1950s America, a half-assed pseudo-plea for racial tolerance might have been reasonable, but if that plea was dated (not to mention absurdly cast) isn’t that even worse? And this musical is supposed to have comedy but where is it? The one thing I will give it (besides the few surprising location shots) is that it is a little meta, which is pretty nuts for a 1950s film of a 1920s show.

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