American Cinema of the 1950s

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  1. American Cinema of the 1950s

We conclude a series of fourteen programs entitled “American Cinema of the 1950s,” with weekly Tuesday lecture/discussions by Fred Camper, artist and longtime art and film critic for the Chicago Reader and many other publications. The series is presented in cooperation with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Department of Art History, Theory, and Criticism. Additional screenings of the films on Friday or Saturday do not include Fred Camper's lecture. Admission to all “American Cinema of the 1950s” programs is $4 for Film Center members (available only at the Film Center box office; increases to $5 after January 1, 2013). Usual admission prices apply for non-members.

Watch for our next series, “Revolution in the Air: The Long Sixties,” beginning January 25, with weekly Tuesday lectures by visual artist, video-maker, and School of the Art Institute of Chicago professor Mary Patten. The series brings together key films and experimental videos that emerged from the revolutionary moment of the “long 1960s” (1955-1975), including explicitly political works by Emile de Antonio, Gillo Pontecorvo, Tomás Gutiérrez Alea, Chris Marker, and Jean-Luc Godard.

—Martin Rubin

American cinema of the 1950s expressed both celebration and disillusionment toward such subjects as consumerism, popular culture, the American Dream, and even the American family. Deliberately differentiated from the new medium of television, Hollywood film style of the 1950s was uniquely rich in ways that were designed specifically for celluloid and do not translate well to video. In this series, films by a wide variety of the greatest Hollywood filmmakers--including John Ford, Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock, Nicholas Ray, Douglas Sirk, and Orson Welles--will be accompanied by experimental and independent films to illuminate key themes of the period: the family, the Bomb, corruption, materialism, and cinema itself as a metaphor for lived experience.

—Fred Camper

TOUCH OF EVIL

Showtimes

Fri, Aug 31st at 6:00pm
Tue, Sep 4th at 6:00pm
Average: 4.7 (3 votes)
  1. TOUCH OF EVIL
  1. 1958, Orson Welles, USA, 111 min.
  2. With Orson Welles, Charlton Heston

From its legendary opening camera movement to its haunting Marlene Dietrich envoi, TOUCH OF EVIL is Welles's most spectacularly stylized film. The plot pits a corrupt border-town sheriff (Welles) against a Mexican narc (Heston) and his vulnerable American bride (Janet Leigh). The film’s gargoylish supporting characters (especially Akim Tamiroff’s toupeed drug lord and Mercedes Cambridge’s leather-jacketed bull dagger) and sensationally seedy setting (filmed in Venice, California) contribute to an exhilarating sense of baroque overload. 35mm. (MR)

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THE SEARCHERS

Showtimes

Fri, Sep 7th at 6:00pm
Tue, Sep 11th at 6:00pm
Average: 4.7 (3 votes)
  1. THE SEARCHERS
  1. 1956, John Ford, USA, 119 min.
  2. With John Wayne, Jeffrey Hunter,
  3. Natalie Wood

When his nieces are kidnapped by Comanches, an Indian-hating loner (Wayne) embarks on a five-year quest motivated by rescue, revenge. . . and something much darker. Considered by many to be the great American movie, John Ford’s western, spectacularly filmed in Monument Valley, is not only an exciting adventure story but also a profound treatment of primal American themes of race and wilderness, with Wayne’s Ethan Edwards a complex, twisted titan in the vein of Captain Ahab or Mr. Kurtz. 35mm. (MR)

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KISS ME DEADLY

Showtimes

Fri, Sep 14th at 6:00pm
Tue, Sep 18th at 6:00pm
Average: 4 (1 vote)
  1. KISS ME DEADLY
  1. 1955, Robert Aldrich, USA, 1955, 106 min.
  2. With Ralph Meeker, Gaby Rodgers

“Va-va-voom! Pretty pow!” This legendary Atomic Age detective thriller nukes the mystique of the private-eye hero. Retaining little of Mickey Spillane's pulp novel, Aldrich’s flamboyant direction and A.I. Bezzerides's hip screenplay recast macho superdick Mike Hammer as a self-centered smartass on the girls-and-gangsters-filled trail of a treasure chest that turns into a fiery Pandora’s Box. 35mm. (MR)

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VERTIGO

Showtimes

Fri, Sep 21st at 6:00pm
Tue, Sep 25th at 6:00pm
Average: 4.3 (4 votes)

Archival print!

  1. VERTIGO
  1. 1958, Alfred Hitchcock, USA, 128 min.
  2. With James Stewart, Kim Novak

“One of the landmarks--not merely of movies, but of twentieth-century art.”
—Dave Kehr, Chicago Reader

Initially received as a failure, this intensely personal, eternally haunting film was recently voted the Greatest Film of All Time in Sight & Sound’s decennial critics’ poll. A psychologically crippled San Francisco detective (Stewart) on the trail of a mysterious blonde (Novak) develops a passion for her that becomes hallucinatory, fetishistic, and necrophiliac. 35mm print courtesy of the Academy Film Archive. Please note: We are showing a rare IB Technicolor print of the 1958 release version, with the film’s original color and soundtrack, both of which were altered in the 1996 restoration that is now widely circulated. (MR)

UPDATE 9/24:
Tuesday's show is now SOLD OUT.

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GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES

Showtimes

Fri, Sep 28th at 6:00pm
Tue, Oct 2nd at 6:00pm
Average: 4 (3 votes)
  1. GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES
  1. 1953, Howard Hawks, USA, 91 min.
  2. With Marilyn Monroe, Jane Russell

Howard Hawks’s legendary, gorgeously garish musical updates Anita Loos’s gold-digging flappers into Fifties va-va-voom vixens launched into the soft underbelly of unsuspecting Europe. The colors are loud, the songs brassy, the choreography (by Jack Cole) audacious, the bodies bodacious (and not just the women!), and the men generally helpless in this tuneful tale of two "little" girls from Little Rock on an ocean cruise to Paris in search of love (Russell) and diamonds (their best friend Marilyn). 35mm. (MR)

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THE GIRL CAN'T HELP IT

Showtimes

Fri, Oct 5th at 6:00pm
Tue, Oct 9th at 6:00pm
Average: 3 (1 vote)
  1. THE GIRL CAN’T HELP IT
  1. 1956, Frank Tashlin, USA, 99 min.
  2. With Jayne Mansfield, Tom Ewell

"Wildly entertaining."
—Dave Kehr, The New York Times

THE GIRL CAN’T HELP IT was the first great rock ‘n’ roll movie, with Tashlin’s gaudy vulgarity--the visual equivalent of amped-to-the-max--providing the perfect packaging for the exuberant new music. The plot cleverly incorporates the clash of generational icons, as a washed-up gangster (Edmond O’Brien) hires an agent (Ewell) to turn his reluctant girlfriend (Mansfield) into a pop star. The parade of prime early rock acts includes Little Richard, The Platters, Fats Domino, Gene Vincent, and Eddie Cochrane. 35mm widescreen. (MR)

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FIXED BAYONETS!

Showtimes

Fri, Oct 12th at 6:00pm
Tue, Oct 16th at 6:00pm
Average: 5 (1 vote)

Archival print!

  1. FIXED BAYONETS!
  1. 1951, Samuel Fuller, USA, 92 min.
  2. With Gene Evans, Richard Basehart

Infantry veteran Fuller brought to the war film a punchy poetry all his own, keyed on rat-a-tat editing and flamboyant tough-guy dialogue. FIXED BAYONETS! is the second of his Korean War films, following THE STEEL HELMET, with Gene Evans once again brilliant as a tough-as-nails sergeant. When a large American force retreats, they leave behind a small rear-guard to fool the enemy. It’s only a matter of time before the Commies get wise; meanwhile, a responsibility-averse corporal (Basehart) sees his superiors picked off one by one, bringing him ever closer to the dreaded position of command. Archival 35m print courtesy of 20th Century-Fox. (MR)

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NIGHTFALL

Showtimes

Fri, Oct 19th at 6:00pm
Tue, Oct 23rd at 6:00pm
Average: 4 (2 votes)

Archival print!

  1. NIGHTFALL
  1. 1957, Jacques Tourneur, USA, 78 min.
  2. With Aldo Ray, Anne Bancroft

Tourneur's skill with atmosphere made him a master of both the horror film (CAT PEOPLE) and the film noir (OUT OF THE PAST). Here he effectively counterpoints the snowy white expanses of Wyoming and the oily black confines of Los Angeles, as a hunted man (Ray) crosses paths with a disillusioned model (Bancroft), a dogged investigator (Paul Gregory), and two ruthless bank robbers (Brian Keith, Rudy Bond). Archival 35mm print courtesy of Sony Pictures Entertainment. (MR)

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REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE

Showtimes

Fri, Oct 26th at 6:00pm
Tue, Oct 30th at 6:00pm
Average: 5 (1 vote)
  1. REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE
  1. 1955, Nicholas Ray, USA, 111 min.
  2. With James Dean, Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo

"An unmissable film, made with a delirious compassion."
—Dave Kehr, Chicago Reader

Still the definitive youth movie, REBEL revolutionized the treatment of teenagers on screen as radically as “Rock Around the Clock” and “Hound Dog” revolutionized the pop music of the same period. Filled with legendary scenes and performances, this intensely romantic film compresses its action into little more than a day, during which a troubled middle-class boy (Dean) experiences a harrowing initiation into a new neighborhood. 35mm widescreen. (MR)

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BIGGER THAN LIFE

Bigger Than Life

Showtimes

Fri, Nov 2nd at 6:00pm
Tue, Nov 6th at 6:00pm
Average: 4 (2 votes)
  1. BIGGER THAN LIFE
  1. 1956, Nicholas Ray, USA, 95 min.
  2. With James Mason, Barbara Rush

"A key movie, one of the films that’s meant the most to me over the years.”
—Martin Scorsese

Ray followed up REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE with this even more devastating critique of the confines of Fifties conformity. Felled by illness, a hard-working family man (Mason) is given a new wonder drug whose unforeseen side-effects include dementia and delusions of grandeur. The film’s specific anti-drug message is the pretext for a far-reaching statement on the demons haunting middle-class America. 35mm widescreen. (MR)

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SOME CAME RUNNING

Showtimes

Fri, Nov 9th at 6:00pm
Tue, Nov 13th at 6:00pm
Average: 5 (1 vote)
  1. SOME CAME RUNNING
  1. 1958, Vincente Minnelli, USA, 137 min.
  2. With Frank Sinatra, Shirley MacLaine

“Minnelli’s fluent, intense direction makes it a marvel to behold...Wonderful stuff.”
—David Jenkins, Time Out London

Intelligently adapted from James Jones’s lengthy second novel, Minnelli’s thunderous late melodrama centers on an embittered author (Sinatra) who returns to his despised Indiana hometown, where he hooks up with a big-hearted floozie (MacLaine) and a superstitious gambler (Dean Martin). Minnelli’s control of color and widescreen is masterful, moving from the muted desolation of the opening scenes to the garish, cluttered chaos of the sensational carnival finale. 35mm widescreen. (MR)

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ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS

Showtimes

Fri, Nov 16th at 6:00pm
Tue, Nov 20th at 6:00pm
Average: 4.5 (2 votes)
  1. ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS
  1. 1955, Douglas Sirk, USA, 89 min.
  2. With Jane Wyman, Rock Hudson

“A masterpiece by one of the most inventive and recondite directors ever to work in Hollywood.”
—Dave Kehr, Chicago Reader

Critically dismissed at the time of its release, Sirk’s melodrama is now regarded as one of the key films of the Eisenhower era, richly fascinating from sociological, feminist, and formalist viewpoints. A middle-class widow (Wyman) falls in love with a nonconformist gardener (Hudson); family and community disapproval leads her to sacrifice love for respectability, with bitterly ironic results. The soapy material is transformed by surprisingly subtle performances and by Sirk’s baroque use of décor, imagery, and color. 35mm. (MR)

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WRITTEN ON THE WIND

Showtimes

Fri, Nov 23rd at 6:00pm
Tue, Nov 27th at 6:00pm
Average: 4 (1 vote)
  1. WRITTEN ON THE WIND
  1. 1956, Douglas Sirk, USA, 99 min.
  2. With Robert Stack, Rock Hudson

“The most violent and hyperbolic of family melodramas, WRITTEN ON THE WIND may be the quintessential American movie of the 1950s… In its delirious pessimism, it’s the Hollywood corollary to Allen Ginsberg’s ‘Howl.’”
—J. Hoberman, Village Voice

The most spectacular of Douglas Sirk’s great Fifties melodramas, WRITTEN ON THE WIND focuses on a powerful Texas oil family torn apart by rivalry, violence, and sexual dysfunction. Dorothy Malone’s unrestrained performance as a sports car-driving, mambo-dancing nymphomaniac won an Academy Award; Robert Stack is equally impressive as her heavy-drinking, sexually tormented brother. 35mm. (MR)

1950s Avant-Garde Program

Showtimes

Fri, Dec 7th at 6:00pm
Tue, Dec 11th at 6:00pm
Average: 5 (1 vote)
  1. 1950s Avant-Garde Program
  1. 1953-59, Stan Brakhage, Maya Deren,
  2. Christopher Maclaine, Marie Menken,
  3. USA, 95 min.

This program of four American avant-garde films illuminates key themes of the era in ways that compare and contrast with the Hollywood films previously shown. Included are Marie Menken’s lyrical stroll GLIMPSE OF THE GARDEN (1957, 5 min.), Maya Deren’s starry dance THE VERY EYE OF NIGHT (1959, 15 min.), Stan Brakhage’s “first-person cinema” breakthrough ANTICIPATION OF THE NIGHT (1958, 40 min.), and Christopher Maclaine’s hipster apocalypse THE END (1953, 35 min.). 16mm. (MR)