The Top Ten Films of 1955
At the end of the year, as we do every year, we’ll be counting down the Top Ten Films of 2015 according to Flickchart’s global rankings. In the months leading up to that, we’re going to be taking a look-back and seeing what Flickchart users think are the best movies of ten, twenty, thirty years ago, and so on.
If you made it through that list of previous year posts, you’ll realize that we’re coming to the end of our retrospective of decade anniversary Top Ten lists. We’ve had a great time looking back at 90 years of film history, and we hope you’ll join us next year, too, as we continue the project with films hitting decade anniversaries in 2016. But first, we travel back to the mid-20th century for a Top Ten of Americana, foreign classics, and the height of Method acting.
The 1950s exist in popular American nostalgia as the epitome of the American dream – breadwinning men bringing home solid salaries to loving wives and fresh-faced children in a suburban home with a white picket fence. The truth, of course, is more complex. 1955 displayed great hope for the future – nuclear power was used for good, powering submarines and electricity plants; the polio vaccine was approved by the FDA, the first step to essentially eliminating a previously devastating disease; Disneyland, with its quintessentially hopeful Tomorrowland, opened to the public; and a young Jim Henson made the first version of Kermit the Frog. But 1955 also saw the first rumblings of the Vietnam War, which would last over two bloody decades; the signing of the Warsaw Pact, which consolidated power over the Communist bloc in Soviet hands until 1991; and growing unrest over civil rights. Apartheid was instituted in South Africa, and in Montgomery, AL, the refusal of Rosa Parks and other African Americans to tolerate Jim Crow policies sparked a civil rights battle that would come to a head a decade later.
Even without all that history, the movies of 1955 show that all is not well in Pleasantville. As Mark Cousins put it in his epic documentary The Story of Film: An Odyssey, the decade was “bursting at the seams” and a “pressure cooker of pent-up emotions.” Certainly iconic American films like Rebel Without a Cause exemplify this melodramatic tendency. We’ll also see signs of cinema’s shift toward more realistic cinema – Marty focuses on a romance between two decidedly unglamorous people, foreshadowing New Hollywood’s emphasis on the ordinary by fifteen years – and the continuing struggle of people around the world to deal with the horrors of World War II in films from the US, France, and, in our blogger’s choice section, Japan. By 1955, film noir had also exploded well beyond its Hollywood B-film roots, making its way over to France, leaping into the atomic age, and being combined with poetic realism for one of the most truly unique films ever made. It’s not all angst, though – Flickchart users also love To Catch a Thief, the fluffiest of all of Hitchcock’s suspense films.
Interestingly, there is no overlap between the Flickchart Top Ten of 1955 and the top grossing films from that year (though two of the top grossing films, Mister Roberts, and Oklahoma! do appear as blogger’s choices). The audiences of 1955 were blown away by the technical achievements of Cinerama, with glorified demo film This is Cinerama far and away the top money maker of the year. Military action movies Battle Cry, To Hell and Back, and Strategic Air Command were also big hits, as were pure escapism like Guys and Dolls, The Seven Year Itch and Lady and the Tramp. Academy Award winners fare a bit better, with Best Picture Marty and Best Supporting Actress winner East of Eden both appearing prominently on the Flickchart Top Ten. Perhaps it shouldn’t surprise us that the films that have endured are the ones that explore the dark side of the 1950s, the ones that prod at the seams of the idyllic conception of the decade.
10. Night and Fog
Easily the dourest film on this list, Night and Fog is an essential documentary which puts a face on the horrors of the Holocaust. A mixture of color footage, black-and-white, and archival recovery, Night and Fog focuses on the detention and death camps rather than the horrors which preceded, forcing its viewers to grapple with the awful ways death can be institutionalized. The film makes an effort to focus more on how any totalitarian government could perform these crimes rather than demonizing the Germans specifically, making the film a controversial work of political activism. Night and Fog maintains a powerful reputation beyond its year; it is currently the second highest ranked Short Film on Flickchart, and the fourth highest ranked Documentary. – Alex Lovendahl
Currently ranked #694
Ranked 7702 times by 406 users
Wins 60% of its matchups
If there’s injustice in need of a stern staredown, Spencer Tracy is your guy. He shows up in an isolated desert town because he thinks something very wrong happened there once, and there can be no doubt that he’s right. I’m reluctant to spoil even a 60-year-old movie, because the script takes its time revealing just what happened. Suffice it to say, it concerns race in America during the Second World War. Bad Day at Black Rock may be set in the mid 20th century, but it has the aesthetics and structure of a Western. Robert Ryan fills the role of chief outlaw, and Ernest Borgnine and Lee Marvin play two heavies below him on the totem pole. Also seemingly complicit in rotten doings is a young woman played by Anne Francis. The straight-edged Tracy is aided by a kindly doc (Walter Brennan), but even in a Neo-Western things always come down to one man standing firm. With eight acting Oscars between the cast (none, however, for this film) and a dark, frighteningly credible subject matter, Bad Day at Black Rock is a certifiably “important” film, but it’s also a good one. – David Conrad
Currently ranked #638
Ranked 9421 times by 517 users
Wins 60% of its matchups
Sixty years after its release, Marty remains one of the most powerful Best Picture Oscar winners of all time because it’s able to convey more that just a story, but emotions that we’ve all felt deeply. Marty’s story is one of heartbreak, disappointment, and loneliness – emotions so overwhelming that no matter how hard he tries, he can’t escape them. Marty feels far ahead of its time in terms of storytelling thanks to Paddy Chayefsky’s screenplay. Twenty years later, this could’ve been a John Cassavetes film or nowadays this type of script would be relegated to an indie film. But thanks to Ernest Borgnine‘s incredible performance at the eponymous Marty and nuanced direction from Delbert Mann, Marty came out at the perfect time to influence decades of filmmakers into telling wonderfully realistic and more emotional stories that get to the heart of every person that watches. – Ross Bonaime
Currently ranked #594
Ranked 13740 times by 685 users
Wins 54% of its matchups
7. East of Eden
In a period often associated with conformity and heteronormativity, Elia Kazan made big, beautiful, star-studded movies about perversity, broken marriages, and crippling discontent. East of Eden has endured primarily because it is one of icon James Dean‘s very few credits, and Dean’s characteristically introverted performance — eyes peering up shyly and accusingly from under a tortured brow — is undoubtedly the prime reason for its placement in Flickchart’s top 500. Compared to Dean’s other two films, though (one of which is also featured in this list), East of Eden benefits from Kazan’s visual and tonal prowess. While Dean is at the center of the family drama that drives this Steinbeck adaptation, his angsty perspective does not overwhelm it; Julie Harris‘s character faces her own bouts of youthful confusion against the backdrop of agrarian California, and Jo Van Fleet steals her scenes as the enigmatic Madam of Cannery Row. The sweaty, stinking locations from Steinbeck’s novel are perhaps overly sanitized in Kazan’s glossy CinemaScope, but the film certainly looks good. Even if you know the Biblical reference of the title, if you haven’t read the novel it’s hard to predict exactly how this 20th century Cain and Abel story will pan out and what role the estranged parents will play. – David
Currently ranked #476
Ranked 14859 times by 849 users
Wins 59% of its matchups
Kiss Me Deadly was possibly the first film noir I saw – it was certainly the film that cemented my love for the genre. Adapted from Mickey Spillane’s mystery novel of the same name, it features a tough private eye named Mike Hammer (played by Ralph Meeker) who finds himself tangled in a web of cops and criminals all searching for an atomic-age mystery box (perhaps the greatest MacGuffin since The Maltese Falcon). I’ve been a fan of detective fiction since I first read the exploits of Sherlock Holmes and most detectives are known for their intelligence and wit. Mike Hammer is a different breed of gumshoe – one who likes to get his hands dirty – and is equally likely to use his fists or his lips to crack a case. Kiss Me Deadly is rife with femmes fatales and Mike Hammer seems to have an angle on every woman he meets (played by Cloris Leachman, Maxine Cooper, Marian Carr, Gaby Rodgers). Released near the end of the classic noir period (generally regarded to end with Touch of Evil in 1958) the film is edgy, subversive, and captivating. – Ben Shoemaker
Currently ranked #392
Ranked 13307 times by 837 users
Wins 52% of its matchups
5. To Catch a Thief
To Catch a Thief is a Hitchcock film that sometimes slides under the radar. It doesn’t get a lot of love compared to his more classic pictures like Vertigo, Rear Window, Psycho, and North by Northwest, but it is delightful. More lighthearted mystery than tense thriller, the movie stars Cary Grant as a former jewel thief who must prove his innocence when a series of burglaries point toward him as the culprit. Joining him on his quest to catch the real thief is Grace Kelly, and the two of them have a marvelous chemistry as they trade wit and banter that would be right at home in a screwball comedy. The mystery itself is fun, but as a reason to watch the movie it ranks a distant third after the cleverness of the script and the watchability of the leads. This playful adventure also serves as a good introduction to Hitchcock for younger viewers, as it avoids the darkness or tension of his more well-known work. It was one of my favorites growing up, and I’m happy to see it made it to this list. – Hannah Keefer
Currently ranked #297
Ranked 35921 times by 2689 users
Wins 49% of its matchups
In some ways, it seem as though this iconic depiction of teenage angst hasn’t stood the test of time – James Dean‘s Method-inflected performance comes across as over the top (“you’re tearing me apart!” now has a life of its own), his problems seem overly petty, and he’s not even that much of a rebel. Yet, the film is #4 on Flickchart’s 1955 chart, indicating that something about it still resonates. In 1955, the very idea of “teenagers” had only begun to be commonplace, and films like Rebel were in the vanguard of appealing to the newly designated youth culture, one of several sides of 1950s culture that threatened to burst through the seams of the squeaky-clean facade of the Eisenhower era. Jim Stark’s middle-class, all-American, two-parent home doesn’t seem too bad on the surface, but his father’s ineffectual and his mother’s a nag (and his new friends will prove to have even more dysfunction in their homes), leaving Jim without the role models he’s smart enough to know he needs, and of course, everything is amplified during the teenage years. The film tends toward the didactic, it’s true, but it’s notable especially for the time period that it isn’t really a social problem film; Jim’s problems aren’t societal (the law, crime, social or economic inequality, political issues), but personal and existential, an encapsulation of the kind of internalized conflict that would dominate dramatic cinema for the next two decades. The film was released a mere month after James Dean’s death in a car accident. What shudders must have gone through the audience at the climactic game of chicken played with cars and cliffs? Dean’s legend outweighs his films, but this one comes closest to capturing the essence of his power. – Jandy Hardesty
Currently ranked #245
Ranked 64428 times by 5663 users
Wins 48% of its matchups
The old pro comes back for one last job, assembles a team, and pulls off the score: it’s the heist movie! It’s been done countless times, but Jules Dassin did it best in his 1955 noir masterpiece Rififi. The middle act of the film is a marvel, a 30-minute sequence of sustained tension as four men wordlessly execute a bank robbery, making creative use of such pedestrian tools as a fire extinguisher and, famously, an umbrella. Though the caper is the pièce de résistance, the film has much more to offer. In the final act, everything inevitably goes wrong, becoming surprisingly harrowing and emotional in the process. Jean Servais is perfect as the stoic lead, and Dassin himself gives possibly the most memorable performance as the Italian safe-cracker with a weakness for the ladies. This is bleak film, as efficient and ruthless as the heist at its center. If there’s a fault it must be that the themes are too tidy, too readily summed up by the screenplay. The visuals, though, are beautiful high-contrast black and white compositions deserving of their Criterion Blu-ray treatment. Upon seeing Rififi, it immediately became my favorite heist movie; and hey, François Truffaut called it the greatest crime film he’d ever seen, so I’m in good company! – Daniel Stidham
Currently ranked #214
Ranked 14408 times by 676 users
Wins 62% of its matchups
Rarely are we asked to root for murderers, but Paul Meurisse’s loathsome Michel is so cruel to Véra Clouzot’s Christina and Simone Signoret’s Nicole that we not only sympathize with them, but actively root for their success. In his 1999 essay for The Criterion Collection, Danny Peary concedes that “Like Psycho, Diabolique has been imitated so many times that its twist ending probably won’t surprise first-time viewers”; Terrence Rafferty’s 2011 essay for Criterion, however, maintains that it has withstood the test of time “…ultimately on the pleasure of realizing how cleverly you’ve been played.”
Flickchart users affirm Rafferty’s admiration, ranking it the second highest film of its year despite six decades of imitations. Diabolique doesn’t rely exclusively on its twist ending, though; it is suspenseful from the beginning, as the abusive, mistrusting, and miserable relationship dynamics of its three principle characters are established. Director Henri-Georges Clouzot (who co-wrote its adapted screenplay) manipulates us at every turn, both using and mirroring his characters’ own machinations – and leaves us nearly giddy at having been taken for such a ride. – Travis McClain
Currently ranked #181
Ranked 23824 times by 921 users
Wins 60% of its matchups
If I had a concern that surreal, disturbing filmmaking didn’t truly reveal itself until filmmakers like David Lynch took more inspiration from Buñuel than Hitchcock for their thrillers, Charles Laughton‘s sole directorial effort puts that concern back into a small town in a dark attic. This story is a layered and complex tale, in which two children work to protect their parents’ legacy from an honest-to-goodness boogeyman. The cinematography and production design are astounding, a sort of fable involving everything from turning a broken home into a dark dollhouse to ghosts under the lake.
Robert Mitchum‘s performance is a powerful and incomparable portrayal of smug evil, his preacher clearly as disturbed and menacing as any character in film history. When “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” returns as more than a whistle, the world of the film stops to allow a moment of filmic bravery; the tense standoff of the film is highlighted not by an exchange of witticisms or bullets, but by prayer, used both as a weapon and as salvation.
Few films seem so obvious a landmark of inspiration while still taking advantage of film’s legacy; it’s for fans of everything from Rian Johnson‘s Looper to Brian De Palma‘s Carrie, from Wes Anderson‘s The Royal Tenenbaums to Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt, from David Lynch’s Blue Velvet to Terrence Malick‘s Badlands. – Alex
Currently ranked #41
Ranked 61446 times by 3268 users
Wins 57% of its matchups
The above list is the top films of 1955 on Flickchart, as decided by rankings of all its users. We wanted to showcase our own personal favorites, so a few of us have chosen a favorite film that falls outside of Flickchart’s global Top 10.
Alex – Pather Panchali
Satyajit Ray‘s debut has for a long time stood as the pinnacle of Indian cinema; its story of an impoverished family, framed through the perspective of the struggling mother Sarbajaya and the innocent young boy Apu, was so popular as to lead to a full trilogy. Ray’s trilogy had previously only existed on questionable home media, and when I tried to watch it earlier this year, I gave up because the DVD transfer was so muddy. Criterion and Janus Films have recently issued a 2K restoration, now available on DVD and Blu-Ray and playing in classics theaters across the country, and the new version is absolutely gorgeous. Where the old edition was muddy, the power of the film’s beauty and often silent performances becomes easy to spot. The soundtrack, also remastered with care, is the breakthrough work of sitar player Ravi Shankar. Pather Panchali offers some of film history’s greatest amateur performances and some unforgettable filmmaking; now that it has been restored to clarity, it is a must-see film.
Currently ranked #993
Ranked 4275 times by 224 users
Wins 57% of its matchups
Jandy – Oklahoma!
I watched a lot of films over and over and over as a kid, as most kids probably do – we rented Disney’s Justin Morgan Had a Horse and the Danny Kaye Hans Christian Anderson so many times we could’ve bought several copies of each (I’ll never know why my mom didn’t just do that). But there was only one that I watched so often I had it memorized from back to front, songs, dialogue and all, and that movie was Oklahoma! It’s kind of the perfect storm of things I loved at age 10, and you know, I still love most of them – westerns (especially the era just when trains were starting to cross the country and civilization was overtaking lawlessness), musicals (especially Rodgers and Hammerstein), ensemble casts with fun and light subplots (I wanted to play Ado Annie so badly), and a bit of dancing mixed in with all the singing. At the time, I wasn’t aware of many of the external things that I now find fascinating – the prominent place of Oklahoma! in theatrical history for its use of integrated songs and ballet, the use of the Todd-AO widescreen process (the first film shot in it, and they had to shoot everything twice since not every theatre could show it), not to mention the extensive careers of Gloria Grahame and Rod Steiger that I wouldn’t discover until I was older. I now realize how supremely uncomfortable Grahame was in her role as Ado Annie, but I still love her in it anyway. I worried for a while it wouldn’t hold up, but I watched most of it last year, and of course it does – I mean, I remembered every moment of it with perfect clarity. How could it not?
Currently ranked #3289
Ranked 6583 times by 591 users
Wins 41% of its matchups
David – Mister Roberts
Jack Lemmon and Henry Fonda normally play likable, upright characters, and maybe their disgruntled seamen characters in Mister Roberts were once seen that way, too. Nowadays, though, it’s hard to watch Mister Roberts and not be shocked by the shameless lecherousness — veering often into rapaciousness — and self-serving bloodlust they display. This World War II film was released just ten years after the cessation of that conflict when its veterans were still in their prime of life. Was this how they remembered their service, and did it seem halcyon? It may, at least, have seemed true; co-director John Ford (Mervyn LeRoy and Joshua Logan also worked on the picture) had spent time in the Navy during the war. The film, based on a 1946 novel and 1948 play, depicts a psychotic hobgoblin of a captain (James Cagney) and a chafed crew simmering with undirected frustration. This isn’t a drama, though, or if it is it’s in the guise of a comedy. It plays like a kind of proto-M*A*S*H, with Lemmon trying to take advantage of nurses, Fonda stopping at nothing in pursuit of a transfer, and a doctor (William Powell) dispensing more booze than medicine. Mister Roberts unfolds as a series of wry vignettes in which nobody emerges spotless, but nobody feels any shadow of guilt. The war itself remains decidedly off-screen, just a looming idea in the minds of the stir-crazy sailors. I’m not at all certain that Mister Roberts is a great movie or even a particularly good one, but it is a distinctive and probably distressingly authentic classic war film with a potent cast and crew.
Currently ranked #886
Ranked 8969 times by 633 users
Wins 46% of its matchups
Ross – I Live in Fear
Postwar Japanese films are always fascinating in how they portray World War II – most notably Godzilla’s overwhelming metaphor for the atomic bomb. But Akira Kurosawa‘s I Live in Fear is a haunting, dark look at the emotional trauma that likely occurred to those in the area. Of course, Toshiro Mifune stars in one of his more powerful roles, and who at the age of 35 played a man twice his age who is overwhelmed by the idea that another bomb could be dropped at any time. The fear that lives within is understandable, since who could imagine such horror could come true, and it’s clear that Mifune’s Kiichi Nakajima will never quit looking at the skies for the next attack that will never come. Made directly after Kurosawa’s iconic classics Ikiru and Seven Samurai, I Live in Fear is much smaller in scale, yet gigantic in emotional heft and power.
Currently ranked #4063
Ranked 1716 times by 124 users
Wins 45% of its matchups