Movie Moments: 1950s
This month sees the start of another of my series of meanders through the past seven decades. In the previous two series we’ve looked at books and songs that bring back memories for me and, hopefully, for you too. And this time we’re off to the movies. We’re going to take a look at what was topping the charts at the box office, some of the biggest names around, and which films mean the most to me when I look back in time. And there will even be a spot of music each time to bring back memories. This month, we’re starting by going right back to the 1950s.
Of course, in those days, we didn’t talk about movies, at least not in this country. We went to the pictures, or the cinema, or ‘the flicks’. Apparently that latter term originated in the 1920s, due to the flickering appearance of the film on screen.
In the 1950s, Hollywood was still the front-runner in movie production, although Ealing Studios was producing such classics as The Lavender Hill Mob and The Ladykillers. Across the industry, there was a concerted effort to compete with radio and, increasingly, with TV for audience numbers. Blockbusters such as The Ten Commandments and Ben Hur were produced in cinemascope; and there were even a few 3D movies.
Although the popularity of science fiction was rising, there were a lot of war movies; and westerns were still very popular. John Wayne, a great favourite of my parents, never seemed to be off the screen. I was never very fond of cowboys films, but The Duke, as he was known, also starred in The Quiet Man, set in Ireland. With a theme that might be considered politically incorrect these days, it tells the tale of an American returning to his native Ireland and fighting to secure the dowry of the woman he loves, played by Maureen O’Hara. The soundtrack is beautiful, especially for someone like me with Irish roots.
The director of the decade was Alfred Hitchcock, making suspense movies such as Rear Window and The Man Who Knew Too Much, both starring James Stewart. And it’s with James Stewart that I want to finish. One of the other 1950s films he starred in was Harvey, about a wealthy drunk whose best friend is a giant invisible rabbit. I wasn’t born when the film was first released and it was many years before I saw it on television. But in 1975, I spent a magical afternoon watching James Stewart recreating the role of Elwood P Dowd on the London stage. And even though it was in a theatre, not a cinema, that has to count as one of my all-time movie memories.