1952 Ten Best Movies

othello4Thought for a few seconds about a tie for #1 this time, with two big “O” movies almost in a dead heat. But no, I’m going with Orson Welles’ Othello, a remarkably inventive and alive Shakespeare adaptation produced in patchwork fashion. Would the film be what it is without its low-budget, stop-and-start production history? Probably not; it seems to be culled from glorious fragments, its choppy dubbed soundtrack especially. (Welles’ Iago, Micheal MacLiammor, kept a diary, Put Money in Thy Purse, which is an incredibly entertaining look at the movie’s making.) And yet what a testament to Welles’ vision and concentration, to create such a focused work under such circumstances. The movie’s a fever-dream, as Othello should be.

The #2 is a great film by Kenji Mizoguchi, The Life of Oharu, which is not as famous as Mizoguchi’s best-known classic, Ugetsu, but ought to be. This account of society’s unblinking degradation of a 17th-century woman is one of the devastating journeys in film, and was part of a brilliant run for this director and for Japanese cinema in general.

The ten best of 1952:

1. Othello (Orson Welles)

2. The Life of Oharu (Kenji Mizoguchi)

3. The Quiet Man (John Ford)

4. Singin’ in the Rain (Gene Kelly & Stanley Donen)

5. Limelight (Charlie Chaplin)

6. Bend of the River (Anthony Mann)

7. Ikiru (Akira Kurosawa)

8. Rancho Notorious (Frtiz Lang)

9. Forbidden Games (Rene Clement)

10. The Sound Barrier (David Lean)

Bunch of movies swimming around those last slots: The Narrow Margin, Le Plaisir, and High Noon, which has its flaws but still conjures up quite a bit of classic-tude about it. Umberto D. might be on there if I’d seen it since the age of fifteen. Also I have a soft spot for King Vidor’s Ruby Gentry, a hothouse flower with Jennifer Jones and Charlton Heston in swampy disarray.

Sort of a strange, what-do-we-do-now? moment in film history. Both joy (Quiet Man and Singin’ in the Rain) and melancholy (Limelight and Ikiru) on display. Maybe Minnelli’s Bad and the Beautiful summed it up, with a poison-pen letter from Hollywood to itself.