1950 Ten Best Movies

1950 offers a number of film classics in its ranks, so my #1 movie is not the Greatest film of the year, merely the best. What does that mean? Well, my #1 does not boast the long profile of, say, Sunset Boulevard or All About Eve, a couple of indisputable Hall-of-Famers. It’s more modest than that; Wagon Master rolls in quietly, does its thing, and then rolls out again.

Wagons west: Carey and Johnson

A story of two horse-traders who hitch on with a Mormon wagon train going West, Wagon Master would be a textbook exercise in film directing, but it has too much heart and humor to be a textbook. That director is John Ford, and his repetition of rivers, Monument Valley mesas, and communal dances becomes an index of progress and movement as the film goes on. The zen practice of whittling is not ignored, either. And the fact that Ford elevates members of his supporting company to the lead roles on this one – Ben Johnson, Harry Carey Jr., Ward Bond – gives the picture a wonderfully laid-back quality, as though the grown-ups were on holiday and the kids were in charge (distinguishing themselves mightily in the process) and the movie thus not beholden to the heavy-duty melodrama of a star vehicle. It rolls in, and then it rolls out.

None of which should take anything away from the following films, all of which deserve their places in the ten best of 1950:

1. Wagon Master (John Ford)

2. Sunset Boulevard (Billy Wilder)

3. In a Lonely Place (Nicholas Ray)

4. La Ronde (Max Ophuls)

5. The Asphalt Jungle (John Huston)

6. Gun Crazy (Joseph H. Lewis)

7. All About Eve (Joseph L. Mankiewicz)

8. Orpheus (Jean Cocteau)

9. Los Olvidados (Luis Bunuel)

10. Winchester 73 (Anthony Mann)

Ford’s Rio Grande just misses, and a clutch of excellent films noir are close at hand: Jules Dassin’s Night and the City, Elia Kazan’s Panic in the Streets, and Otto Preminger’s Where the Sidewalk Ends among them. (Starring in those first two, Richard Widmark is the actor of the year.) Italians too: Stromboli, the first one between Roberto Rossellini and Ingrid Bergman, and Antonioni’s Chronicle of a Love Affair.

A lot of noir on the Ten already. Even Orpheus and Winchester 73 are kind of noirish. And next Saturday I will publish a long piece on Sunset Boulevard, that nauseated tribute to Tinseltown.