The Power of Hindsight: 1954 at the Movies

Time changes things; there’s no denying that it’s true. Movies are no different, and with each passing year, an individual film’s legacy is altered by how it is remembered and revered. Sometimes a film that is extremely popular upon its initial release tends to lose some of its glory. The Country Girl (1954)On the other hand there are many films that go unnoticed until years, sometimes decades later, and then suddenly we all seem to realize this brilliantly crafted masterpiece that has been staring us in the face the whole time.

For the most part, it is this idea that is the inspiration for this series I’ve entitled, “The Power of Hindsight”. I’ve already written on the year that was 1963, but this time I will go back to one of my favorite years in film, 1954. In order to make the definitive Lasso the Movies “Best of” list, I have carefully examined the films released in that year and have picked up to ten that I consider the very best- much in the same fashion that the Academy Award Best Picture nominees are chosen. The major difference in my selection process is that I am looking at a list of all films released in 1954, and not just released in America. (The foreign market is so often overlooked, especially during the 1950’s, but luckily we can now appreciate these films as well.)

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954)

What I knew about 1954 is that I loved several films released in those short twelve months. What I didn’t know was how many amazing movies there would be vying for the coveted ten spots. In 1954, the Academy Awards only chose five Best Picture nominees. These films were:

“The Caine Mutiny”, “The Country Girl”, “On the Waterfront”, “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”, and “Three Coins in the Fountain”

On the Waterfront (1954)

All of these films are good in their own right, but when you examine the other releases, things become crowded… quickly.The Barefoot Contessa (1954)

Another big award winner that year was “The Barefoot Contessa”, with Humphrey Bogart, Ava Gardner, and Edmond O’Brien (who did win Best Supporting Actor). Director Otto Preminger released two musical films, the well liked “Carmen Jones”, staring Dorothy Dandridge and Harry Belafonte, and the financially successful “River of No Return”, with Marilyn Monroe and Robert Mitchum. Other musicals that year were the holiday favorite, “White Christmas”, the Frank Sinatra/Doris Day drama, “Young at Heart”, “Brigadoon” with Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse, and George Cukor’s remake of “A Star is Born”. The latter of which earned Academy Award nominations for both of its stars: James Mason and Judy Garland (in her comeback role).

A Star is Born (1954)

The foreign language market in 1954 is one of the greatest of all time as well, with many of the biggest names in directing history appearing one right after another. Japanese filmmaker Kenji Mizoguchi released one of his greatest films, “Sansho the Bailiff”, in March, Jean Renoir’s “The French Cancan” came out in April, Roberto Rossellini’s “Journey to Italy” in September, and Luchino Visconti’s “Senso” came out in December. Seven Samurai (1954)Also coming out that year were two films that always seem to find their way towards the top of everyone’s “greatest all time” lists, Federico Fellini’s “La Strada” and Akira Kurosawa’s epic masterpiece, “The Seven Samurai”. I haven’t even mentioned Ishiro Honda’s “Godzilla”, which might not be considered the “highest quality” film ever made, but it’s legacy and significance can’t be overlooked, especially when examining a specific year.

Back in the English-speaking world, the great films were just as plentiful. Disney released their adaptation of the Jules Verne classic, “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”, to both critical and financial success, Dial M for Murder (1954)John Wayne starred and produced in the disaster drama, “The High and the Mighty”, not to mention the emotional and inspiring drama, “Salt of the Earth”. Alfred Hitchcock released two films that year: “Rear Window” and “Dial M for Murder”. I happen to think these are two of his finest films, which says a lot considering how much I admire his career. Grace Kelly appeared in both of those Hitchcock films (and won an Academy Award for “The Country Girl”), but she also starred alongside William Holden in well received “The Bridges at Toko-Ri” released in December.

Rear Window (1954)

Nicholas Ray directed the western “Johnny Guitar” that year, Douglas Sirk made “Magnificent Obsession”, the mystery/noir classic “Black Widow” came out, David Lean released “Hobson’s Choice”, and Edward Dmytryk (who also directed “The Caine Mutiny”) released his western, “Broken Lance”, starring Spencer Tracy.Sabrina (1954) Just in case all of these titles aren’t enough to make your head spin, Billy Wilder also released one of his all-time greats, “Sabrina” in 1954, which with star power and pitch-perfect writing has remained just as entertaining as ever; even almost 60 years later.

So how does someone only pick ten of these films? There are so many worthy choices, but with only ten spots, someone is going to get left out of the party. Looking at the five films that did get Academy Award nominations in 1954, “On the Waterfront” La Strada (1954)was the Best Picture winner that year, and deservingly so. It is hands-down one of the top twenty American films ever made, and will definitely make my final cut. I have decided that “The Caine Mutiny” and “The Country Girl” are still both deserving of being called “one of the best” also. They both are marvelously crafted, were directed and written extremely well, and offer some of the best acting performances you will ever find. The other two nominees, “Three Coins in the Fountain” and “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”,Hobson's Choice (1954) however, are going to be replaced on my list. I see why they were loved in 1954, but I don’t think they have won the test of time.

Continuing on, “Rear Window” is a film that seems to improve with time. It is widely considered Hitchcock’s third best film, behind “Vertigo” (1958) and “Psycho” (1960), and is ranked the 48th greatest American film on the last AFI poll. Akira Kurosawa’s “The Seven Samurai” was ranked the 17th greatest film of all time on Sight & Sound’s director’s poll and their critic’s poll in 2012. It was ranked above any other film from 1954 on both lists, thus securing itself a place on mine. Another film ranked highly on the Sight & Sound director’s poll was “La Strada”. The Caine Mutiny (1954)Although this isn’t a film that I would personally consider a favorite, I do see its importance and significance.

With the more “obvious” choices out-of-the-way, things got really tricky, but finally I was able to narrow it down to ten. Here they are, the ten films that I think represent the best in motion pictures 1954- and what a grouping it is, too.

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0 thoughts on “The Power of Hindsight: 1954 at the Movies

  1. Patricia Nolan-Hall (Caftan Woman) says:

    Your analysis is practically unassailable. Personally, I would keep “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” on the list, but could forego the dubious charms of “Sabrina”. However, the thought that all of these films came to fruition at the same time is astounding. How fortunate are film fans? Excellent article.

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    • Paul says:

      I’m surprised by the overwhelming support for “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”, and am thinking I might have to watch it again just to be sure of my assessment. With all the great films released that year, it’s amazing that everyone seems to be able to agree on so many.

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  2. Rick says:

    A fun idea for a series of posts! I wholeheartedly agree with your selections of “On the Waterfront,” “Rear Window,” “The Seven Samurai,” and “La Strada.” I would add “Hobson’s Choice,” “White Christmas,” and “The Naked Jungle” for certain.

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    • Paul says:

      I do love “Hobson’s Choice” and “White Christmas” for that matter, but just couldn’t put them above any of these other films. I have never seen “The Naked Jungle”, but am intrigued that someone of your cinematic intelligence would include it with these others. Thanks for adding your thoughts.

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  3. R.A. Kerr says:

    This truly was a remarkable year for film. I think my fave from this year is “The Country Girl” which I consider to be almost a perfect movie.

    “The Caine Mutiny” is another fave. I admire the performances by all, but especially Fred MacMurray and Jose Ferrer.

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    • Paul says:

      Glad to see someone else think highly of “The Country Girl” and “The Caine Mutiny”. I love both of these films and often think that they are overlooked because everyone in them made so many accomplished movies, and now these ones have faded into the background of their respective careers. Obviously I think that the performances in both of these movies are outstanding, and deserving of a place on my list. Thanks for adding your thoughts on this one.

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  4. John says:

    I just rewatched the Hitchcock film over the weekend called I Confess. But the two movies you mention, Rear Window and Dial M For Murder I agree are real classics.

    I also saw three classic Reds/Dodgers games over the week-end as well. I will just leave you with four words, how sweep it is, 🙂 . See you in October, buddy.

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    • Paul says:

      I am a huge fan of Montgomery Clift, so “I Confess” has always been a film that I admire. There is something about Clift’s character that makes me keep coming back for more.

      IT’s funny that you saw three classic Reds/Dodgers games this weekend because I didn’t see any; and I really looked! I’d say, “see you in October”, but if things don’t pick up soon for my offense, I don’t know that I will stick around long enough to meet the Reds in the second round. Good luck as I certainly think our teams would be fun to see in the postseason.

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  5. John says:

    Here are some sleeper picks from 1954: The Glenn Miller Story, Human Desire, Private Hell 36, Rogue Cop, and Red Garters.

    IMO if I had to pick one flm to watch from this year it would be Frank Sinatra in Suddenly. To me it is his finest performance on screen. You certainly have highlighted some great movies with The Cain Mutiny being my favorite among your picks. Bogey does play the crazy type characters very well. The Desperate Hours is another classic Bogey film where he plays a nut. My favorite Bogart film!

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    • Paul says:

      As a Jimmy Stewart fan, I also have a fondness for “The Glen Miller Story”, even with its flaws. “Human Desire” is a great Fritz Lang film that I could watch again and again, and “Private Hell 36” is also a film I enjoy quite a bit. (Especially Lupino’s performance.) I haven’t seen “Red Garters” or “Rogue Cop” yet. I’ll have to keep my eyes open for those.- Thanks for the recommendations.

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  6. The Lady Eve says:

    A great recap of 1954 in film – and you’ve compiled a most worthy list of the 10 most representative films of the year. I would’ve probably included “Seven Brides” and dropped “The Country Girl” (it hasn’t aged well) . “Hobson’s Choice” may not be emblematic of the year’s movies, but it is surely one of the best.

    I recently watched “Dial M for Murder” in 3D in a theater. I’d never considered it one of Hitchcock’s very best but seeing it as it was originally intended to be seen, I was completely enchanted. Hitchcock not only thoroughly understood the process but used it brilliantly.

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    • Paul says:

      YES YES YES! I’m glad to see someone else who’s on my “Dial M for Murder” bandwagon. I’m not typically a “3D” fan, but Hitchcock really knew how to use it well.

      Everybody keeps saying “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” so I am going to have to re-examine that one. I just never saw what made it so great, but I am willing to give it another try, since all of you able minded movie buffs are in agreement.

      Thanks for stopping by , and sharing your thoughts on what has proven to be a truly memorable year.

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