‘The iconic movies celebrating 60 years (or more) of popularity’

60-something-year-old films that are still popular today: Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart in 'The African Queen'; Grace Kelly and James Stewart in 'Rear Window'; Gene Kelly dancing in 'Singin' in the Rain'. Source: Getty

I happened to be scrolling through my news feed earlier this week when something caught my eye … Alfred Hitchcock’s classic thriller Rear Window marked its 65th anniversary. Full disclosure, Rear Window would have to be my most favourite film. I watch it at least once a year, usually on my birthday. It set up my life-long affinity for Grace Kelly, but I genuinely loved the cast of characters and it made me appreciate just how much Hitchcock was a genius of the genre (North By Northwest, To Catch A Thief and Dial M for Murder are also in my collection).

The film was about wheelchair-bound photographer, LB ‘Jeff’ Jefferies (played by the handsome James Stewart), who passes the time cooped up in his apartment by spying on his neighbours and becomes convinced one of them is a murderer. Thelma Ritter also appears as the quick-witted Stella. By watching the film through Jeff’s eyes the audience becomes voyeurs in their own right, and until Jeff witnesses the conflict and danger occurring between two of his neighbours, we don’t think too much about the impact these voyeuristic activities can have.

If I considered such behaviour in a 2019 setting it’s not that dissimilar to society’s obsession with reality television and trashy tabloid magazines. But I digress …

Sixty-five years ago this film was released. Sixty-five years! In my (perhaps biased) opinion, I’d say it holds up as well today as it did in 1954. It got me thinking about other films that would be marking 60 years (or more) of popularity, films that have stood the test of time. Would any of these make your list?

Singin’ In The Rain (1952)

I don’t think I could make a list without adding the little gem that is Singin’ In The Rain. Gene Kelly not only starred in this film (he played Don Lockwood), but he directed it too. I’d consider Singin’ In The Rain a masterpiece of classical Hollywood musicals. While everyone knows Kelly’s singing and dancing in the film’s title number, it is just one of the many magical musical moments.

They don’t make films like this anymore, which maybe is a testament to the film’s theme and narrative. It’s set in a time when silent films were being replaced by ‘talkies’ with sound. There have been other musical movies since Singin’ In The Rain, but few of them have me humming their tunes just by looking at the title.

The African Queen (1951)

Set in Africa around World War I, The African Queen brings together two of the biggest names of Hollywood — Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart. Hepburn is a strait-laced missionary who uses the gin-swilling riverboat captain that is Bogart to get revenge on the German’s after her brother is killed. It’s probably the finest of Bogart’s performances I’ve seen, while Hepburn provides more evidence of why she was such a powerhouse of film acting (in case anyone was having doubts).

I wonder if this was one of those early ‘odd couple takes a trip together’ films because the two spend much of their journey down the river fighting with each other rather than the enemy Germans, but we all know what happens in those situations …

Ben-Hur (1959)

I was disappointed some years ago when Hollywood tried to resurrect this epic drama about an aristocratic Jew living in Judaea who incurs the wrath of a childhood friend, now a Roman tribune. The 2016 version isn’t a patch on the ’59 version in my opinion. What makes Ben-Hur so wonderful is the subtle life lessons along the way. It is one of the most successful films of all time, with 11 Oscar wins and I feel even today it remains inspirational.

Charlton Heston is Judah Ben-Hur, a wealthy and kind Jew whose life was plunged into chaos when he is falsely accused of crimes against Rome. After years as a slave heroics ensure he is restored to a high standing.

Sixty years on, Ben-Hur can still teach us something.

Rebel Without A Cause (1955)

Some say this movie defined a generation, when teenage rebellion against authority was in abundance. The movie featured James Dean in one of his final roles (I think he died before the movie was released). He played the troubled but sensitive teen, Jim, who was looking for his life’s purpose. Though it might not have been the first film to have the theme of juvenile delinquency, Rebel Without A Cause is certainly one of the better movies to deal with the topic. An interesting thing about this film — in my mind anyway — is that all three of the lead actors, Dean, Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo, met untimely deaths. Dean died in a car crash aged 24; Mineo was stabbed to death at 37; and everyone knows that Wood drowned amid some mysterious circumstances aged 43. Perhaps that’s another reason why this film still has a cult-like following today…

The King And I (1956)

The Rodgers and Hammerstein Broadway musical hit of 1951 was based on Margaret Landon’s book Ann and the King of Siam. In 1946, 20th Century Fox made a film version of the book, which gave the studio first rights on the movie adaptation of The King And I. Deborah Kerr plays Anna Leonowens, an English widow who arrives in Siam in the 1860s to tutor the many wives and children of the country’s progressive king (Yul Brunner). It’s the role that made Brunner a star (he went on to win an Oscar) and certainly the part he is most remembered for. The songs that were in the Broadway version ‘Getting To Know You’, ‘A Puzzlement’, ‘Shall We Dance’ etc. also make it to the film.

The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)

If movies with the theme of ‘war’ are your interest, you cannot go past The Bridge on the River Kwai. The film was heavily criticised when it was released, largely by veterans who had lived through the events on which the film is loosely based. However, the message about the futility of war is still as relevant today as it was in 1957. I feel as though this is one of Alec Guinness’s most memorable performances, he played Lieutenant Colonel Nicholson. The cinematography beautifully captures the environment and the performances of the cast, which also includes William Holden, are outstanding.

Do you remember watching any of these films in the ’50s and ’60s? What was your favourite movie from this era?

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