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George’s (extended) fourth birthday: pick of the flicks and top of the pops ~ 1950-54

March 25, 2014

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Well, I suppose it had to happen sooner or later… yes, one day yours truly, the man behind George’s Journal, would cave and offer up in a series of (most likely ill-advised, very likely insanity-inducing) posts, his selection of the very best movie and the very best song from each of the years his blog likes to concern itself with.

And, yay, it seems the stars have so aligned themselves at this very point in time and space – following this blog’s celebration of its fourth anniversary with a pair of posts (1 and 2) dedicated to both ‘Legends‘ and ‘Talent‘ for each year of 40 years of retrospective greatness (namely, 1950-89) – that there now is the perfect excuse… sorry, perfect opportunity to ‘extend’ these self-anniversary celebrations by (hugely indulgently) bringing you good people a rundown of, yes, the pick of the flicks and the top of the pops from each annus of that quartet of decades.

In which case then, like it or not, here we go – here’s George’s (that’d be me) choices for best movie and best tune from 1950-54. Don’t blame me, peeps, some higher power forced me to undertake this venture, that great Retro God in the sky, no less. Er… yep, let’s go with that…

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.CLICK on the film and song titles for video clips…

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1950

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Korean War begins; Truman orders construction of hydrogen bomb;
McCarthyism kicks-off; Uruguay wins second World Cup; first organ transplant

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Film:

Sunset Boulevard

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Directed by: Billy Wilder/ Starring: William Holden, Gloria Swanson, Erich von Stroheim, Nancy Olsen and Cecil B DeMille/ Country: USA/ 110 minutes (Film noir comedy-drama)

What George says: A near seamless marriage of classic Hollywood noir with scathing critique of Tinseltown itself, Sunset Boulevard was critically acclaimed from the very start, if (understandably) not entirely embraced by all and sundry in its home town. A beautifully crafted yet deliberately skewed classic from the Golden Age’s master of satire, it’s Billy Wilder at his very best, eliciting a performance for all-time as the monstrous, Miss Havisham-esque, faded silent-era star Norma Desmond from real-life, faded silent-era star Gloria Swanson.

What the critics say: “The fusion of writer-director Billy Wilder’s biting humor and the classic elements of film noir make for a strange kind of comedy, as well as a strange kind of film noir. There are no belly laughs here, but there are certainly strangled giggles” ~ Julie Kirgo

Oscar count: 3

Oscar’s Best Picture pick this year: All About Eve

The public’s pick this year: Cinderella (US box-office #1)

George’s runners-up: 2. Rashomon; 3. All About Eve; 4. Harvey5. D.O.A. 

And the rest: The Asphalt JungleBorn YesterdayCinderellaFather Of The Bride; Gun Crazy (Deadly Is The Female); Stage FrightStromboli

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Song:

The Third Man Theme ~ Anton Karas

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Writer: Anton Karas/ Released: 1949 (UK)/ 1950 (US)

What George says: Alternatively known as The Harry Lime Theme, Anton Karas’s zither-tastic instrumental isn’t just brilliant because it’s instantly recognisable (although admittedly that doesn’t hurt in the least), but because, just like the all-time classic film it soundtracks, it’s terribly seductive, sort of romantic, not-quite-sure eerie and, overall then, a work of off-kilter genius from that fascinatingly blurry, what-the-hell’s-going-on, European early post-war period.

What the critics say: “Has there ever been a film where the music more perfectly suited the action than in Carol Reed’s The Third Man?” ~ Roger Ebert

Chart record: US #1 (for 11 weeks)

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George’s runners-up: 2. Someone To Watch Over Me (Ella Fitzgerald)/ 3. Mona Lisa (Nat King Cole)/ 4. Let It Snow! Let It Snow ! Let It Snow! (Frank Sinatra)/ 5. But Not For Me (Ella Fitzgerald)

And the rest: Bewitched (Bewitched, Bothered & Bewildered (Doris Day)/ Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo (Verna Felton)/ A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes (Ilene Woods)/ Get Happy (Judy Garland)/ Mambo #5 (Perez Prado)

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1951

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Churchill and the Tories return to power; South Africans forced to carry ID cards;
The Goon Show begins; USA and Japan sign peace treaty – officially ending WWII (at last)

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Film:

The African Queen

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Directed by: John Huston/ Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn, Robert Morley, Peter Bull, Theodore Bikel, Walter Gotell, Peter Swanwick and Richard Marner/ Country: USA/ UK/ 105 minutes/ (Action-adventure)

What George says: An utter delight from start to finish, this isn’t a swashbuckling adventure in the breathless manner of Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981), but a warm, evergreen, should-be-arduous-but-isn’t-at-all trip through the African jungle with mature, mismatched pair Bogie and Kate, throughout which the whiff of these opposites attracting one another is in the steamy, mosquito-filled air. A two-hander then for this hugely charismatic, starry duo it may be (Bogart deservedly won an Oscar; Hepburn’s even better), but much credit must go to fellow seasoned legends Huston and cinematographer Jack Cardiff for their expert work.

What the critics say: “A ripping, gripping yarn, a surprisingly erotic love story and, as it happens, a premonition of Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo (1982). Humphrey Bogart plays the boozy riverboat captain in German East Africa who with the outbreak of war in 1914 grumpily agrees to help British national Miss Sayer escape the enemy. Just as their downriver journey looks like being a metaphor for sexual initiation, it becomes an actual sexual initiation. The courage and lip-quivering vulnerability of Hepburn are tremendous” ~ Peter Bradshaw

Oscar count: 1

Oscar’s Best Picture pick this year: An American In Paris

The public’s pick this year: Quo Vadis (US box-office #1)

George’s runners-up: 2. A Streetcar Named Desire3. The Lavender Hill Mob; 4. Strangers On A Train; 5. An American In Paris

And the rest: Alice In Wonderland; The Man In The White SuitA Place In The SunQuo Vadis; Show Boat

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Song:

Unforgettable ~

Nat King Cole

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Writer: Irving Gordon/ Released: 1951

What George says: Let’s be honest, if you’ve got the cojones to give your tune this title, you’ve got to be sure it lives up to it, nay defines it. Just as well then that this simple but sublime melodic dream does exactly that, delivered with the velvet-to-a-tee vocal verisimilitude of Nat King Cole. It would go on to become his signature hit, of course, and to listen to it seems to sum up the performer himself perfectly. Pure bliss.

Chart record: US #1

Recognition: Inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame (2000)

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George’s runners-up: 2. Our Love Is Here To Stay (Gene Kelly)/ 3. I Got Rhythm (Gene Kelly)/ 4. The Glory Of Love (The Five Keys)/ 5. Rocket 88 (Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats)

And the rest: Because Of You; Cold, Cold Heart (Tony Bennett)/ One For My Baby (Frankie Laine)/ The Thrill Is Gone (Roy Hawkins)/ Too Young (Nat King Cole)

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1952

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Elizabeth becomes Queen; Eva Perón dies; fog over London kills an estimated 12,000;
polio vaccine created; Jacques Cousteau discovers Ancient Greek ship in the Mediterranean

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Film:

Singin’ In The Rain

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Directed by: Stanley Donen/ Starring: Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Donald O’Connor, Jean Hagen, Millard Mitchell and Cyd Charisse/ Country: USA/ 103 minutes/ (Musical)

What George says: Easily one of the greatest movie musicals ever made, Singin’ In The Rain (unlike Sunset Boulevard; see above) lovingly embraces and celebrates everything Hollywood, with its nostalgic retelling of the industry’s bumpy transition from silence to sound, throwing over its players – Kelly the über-hoofer, O’Connor the consumate clown and Reynolds (mother of Carrie Fisher) the breakout star – all the style, panache and Technicolor colour Tinseltown could possibly muster. A rich, joyous experience with terrific tunes and stupendous routines, it’ll plaster a grin across your chops many times before the final reel.

What the critics say: “Compounded generously of music, dance, colour, spectacle and a riotous abundance of Gene Kelly, Jean Hagen and Donald O’Connor on the screen, all elements in this rainbow program are carefully contrived and guaranteed to … put you in a buttercup mood” ~ Bosley Crowther

Oscar count: 0

Oscar’s Best Picture pick this year: The Greatest Show On Earth

The public’s pick this year: The Greatest Show On Earth (US box-office #1)

George’s runners-up: 2. Jeux Interdits (Forbidden Games); 3. Ikiru; 4. The Bad And The Beautiful; 5. High Noon

And the rest: Monkey Business; Moulin Rouge; OthelloThe Quiet ManViva Zapata!

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Song:

Singin’ In The Rain ~ Gene Kelly

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Writers: Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed

What George says: Forever synonymous with the film that took its name and used it for the terrific sequence in which H20-pelted singer Gene Kelly tap-dances his way into cinematic immortality, this has to be one of the perfect show tunes, not least when it opens up into full orchestral instrumental to allow space for Kelly’s rain-related chicanery. Its blend with the dance routine feels like kismet; a tune and routine that together express unbridled exuberance straight after the realisation you’ve fallen in love – after all, why else would you sing (and dance) in a downpour?

Recognition: Ranked #4 for 1952, #127 for the 1950s and #1582 for ‘all-time’ on allmusic.net‘s cumulatively ranked ‘top songs’ lists/ ranked #3 on the American Film Institute’s ‘100 Years… 100 Songs’ list (2004)

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George’s runners-up: 2. Good Morning (Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor)/ 3. Tenderly (Rosemary Clooney)/ 4. I Only Have Eyes For You (Billie Holiday)/ 5. Night Train (Buddy Murrow and his Orchestra)

And the rest: Because You’re Mine (Nat King Cole)/ Botch-A-Me (Ba-Ba-Baciami Piccina) (Rosemary Clooney)/ Delicado (Percy Faith)/ Here In My Heart (Al Martino)/  Make ‘Em Laugh (Donald O’Connor)/ Moses Supposes (Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor)/ When I Fall In Love (Doris Day)

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1953

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Eisenhower inaugurated; Elizabeth II coronated; Stalin dies;
DNA discovered; Hillary and Norgay climb Everest; debut of Playboy magazine

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Film:

Le Salaire de la Peur (The Wages Of Fear)

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Directed by: Henri-Georges Clouzot/ Starring: Yves Montand, Charles Vanel, Peter van Eyck, Folco Lulli and Véra Clouzot/ Country: France/ Italy/ 131 minutes/ (Melodrama-thriller)

What George says: Overlong it may be, but this Franco-Italian-made, South American-set tale of desperate Europeans looking for any way to get out of the middle of nowhere and back home deceptively develops from a watchable melodrama into a taught thriller as the four most intriguing of them take on a death-defying job of driving trucks loaded high with nitroglycerine across 300 miles of wild roads to prevent an oil corporation’s bottom line taking a bit of a hit. Which of them will turn yellow and which dig deep and prove himself the ruthless ‘hero’? As much a study of testosterone-fuelled blokes under intense pressure as a thrill-ride in the face of high explosives, it’s thoroughly absorbing entertainment.

What the critics say: “The film’s extended suspense sequences deserve a place among the great stretches of cinema” ~ Roger Ebert/ “The excitement derives entirely from the awareness of nitroglycerine and the gingerly, breathless handling of it. You sit there waiting for the theatre to explode” ~ Bosley Crowther

Oscar count: 0 (but did win Best Film at 1953’s BAFTA Awards, the Palme d’Or award at 1953’s Cannes Film Festival and the Golden Bear award at 1953’s Berlin Film Festival)

Oscar’s Best Picture pick this year: From Here To Eternity

The public’s pick this year: Peter Pan (global box-office #1)

George’s runners-up: 2. From Here To Eternity3. Roman Holiday; 4. Peter Pan; 5. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

And the rest: GenevieveHow To Marry A Millionaire; NiagaraThe Robe; Stalag 17The War Of The Worlds 

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Song:

Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend ~

Marilyn Monroe

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Writers: Jule Styne and Leo Robin

What George says: Fair dues, poor old Norma Jean was never a great chanteuse, but her performance of this subsequent standard from wonderful musical comedy Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is perfectly realised froth that’s rightly become the stuff of iconoclasm. A terrific on-screen tease throughout the ’50s, Monroe here delivers the ideal tease of a show number, being presented as both a (for her) traditional sexual fantasy object and a pseudo feminist gold-digger from Little Rock who’s more interested in big rocks than the male of the species. With its clever lyrics, Marilyn’s mostly coquettish singing and all-round irresistibility, it instantly became her high-glamour high-point.

What the critics say: “Marilyn Monroe’s … upbeat Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend, with Monroe clad in a bright pink ballgown and evening gloves, comes with an aching sense of decay and disillusion: ‘Men grow cold/ As girls grow old/ And we all lose our charms in the end/ But square-cut or pear-shaped/ These rocks don’t lose their shape/ Diamonds are a girl’s best friend’ … [It’s an assertion] of female independence; women choosing reliable diamonds over unreliable men” ~ Felicity Capon

Recognition: Ranked #12 on the American Film Institute’s ‘100 Years… 100 Songs’ list (2004)

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George’s runners-up: 2. That’s Amore (Dean Martin)/ 3. Secret Love (Doris Day)/ 4. Mess Around (Ray Charles)/ 5. Rags To Riches (Tony Bennett)

And the rest: Dragnet (Ray Anthony)/ Hound Dog (Willie Mae ‘Big Mama’ Thornton)/ I’m Walking Behind You (Eddie Fisher)/ Never Smile At A Crocodile (Henry Calvin)/ Pretend (Nat King Cole)/ Street Scene (Alfred Newman)/ Takes Two To Tango (Louis Armstrong)/ Young At Heart (Frank Sinatra)/ Your Cheatin’ Heart (Hank Williams)

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1954

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The first nuclear submarine, USS Nautilus, is launched; report declares cigarettes cause cancer;
West Germany wins first World Cup; Roger Bannister breaks the ‘four-minute mile’

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Film:

Rear Window

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Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock/ Starring: James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Wendell Corey, Thelma Ritter and Raymond Burr/ Country: USA/ 118 minutes/ (Psychological  thriller)

What George says: Lighter and less challenging than Vertigo (1958) and Psycho (1960) it may be, but Rear Window is Hitch at the peak of his powers. Setting himself the challenge of making a top-notch movie set entirely in a limited space (merely the larger room of a two-room apartment), the ‘master of suspense’ achieves it with bells and flashbulbs on, turning his tale of James Stewart’s wheelchair-bound amateur sleuth and his glorious fashion model girlfriend Grace Kelly suspecting and then trying to solve a murder, while spying on the neighbours, into an exercise of embroiling the audience into unwitting voyeurism too – it’s arguably one of the great coups of cinema. A sardonic delight throughout, with an astonishingly well realised and well filmed apartment-block set; Stewart’s hero may not agree, but frankly we never want him to have that leg cast removed.

 What the critics say: “[Rear Window] develops such a clean, uncluttered line from beginning to end that we’re drawn through it (and into it) effortlessly. The experience is not so much like watching a movie, as like … well, like spying on your neighbours. Hitchcock traps us right from the first … And because Hitchcock makes us accomplices in Stewart’s voyeurism, we’re along for the ride” ~ Roger Ebert

Oscar count: 0

Oscar’s Best Picture pick this year: On The Waterfront

The public’s pick this year: White Christmas (US box-office #1)

George’s runners-up: 2. Shichinin No Samurai (Seven Samurai); 3. On The Waterfront; 4. White Christmas; 5. Hobson’s Choice

And the rest: Animal Farm; The Caine MutinyThe Country Girl; Dial M For Murder; Sabrina; A Star Is Born20,000 Leagues Under The Sea

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Song:

The Man With That Got Away ~

Judy Garland

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Writers: Harold Arlen and Ira Gershwin

What George says: As torch songs go, it don’t get much better than this. We’re talking Edith Piaf territory here – and then some. Written for A Star Is Born, specifically the scene in which would-be-svengali James Mason discovers Judy Garland’s talent in an after-session nightclub, this slow, jazzy, melancholic, remorseful and eventually – as it builds and builds – searing tune is the one that convinces him she’s he’s the one he’s looking for. Let’s be honest, thanks to her impassioned, outstanding performance, we’re all James Mason sitting in the dark instantly falling for her.

Recognition: Nominated for the Best Original Song at 1954’s Oscars/ ranked #11 on the American Film Institute’s ‘100 Years… 100 Songs’ list (2004)

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George’s runners-up: 2. Mambo Italiano (Rosemary Clooney)/ 3. Sway (Dean Martin)/ 4. My Funny Valentine (Sarah Vaughan)/ 5. Someone To Watch Over Me (Frank Sinatra)

And the rest: Almost Like Being In Love (Gene Kelly)/ Count Your Blessings (Instead Of Sheep) (Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney)/ Earth Angel (Will You Be Mine) (The Penguins)/ The Gal That Got Away; I Get A Kick Out Of YouMy Funny Valentine; They Can’t Take That Away From Me (Frank Sinatra)/ Sisters (Rosemary Clooney)/ Embraceable YouSeptember Song (Sarah Vaughan with Clifford Brown)/ La Vie En Rose (Audrey Hepburn)/ Snow; White Christmas (Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Trudy Stevens)

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And coming soon…

George’s pick of the flicks
and top of the pops ~ 1955-59

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