by Guy Belleranti
The 1950’s featured great variety and change in the American
movie industry. Some was without doubt due to the emergence of
television as a main competitor for viewers.
Prior to the early 1950’s, films had been made in an approximate
4 to 3 width and height differential, ie. the picture was 1.37 times as
wide as it was tall (1.37:1). This was virtually identical to
television’s 1.33 to 1 aspect ratio (1.33:1). However, as television
viewing grew in popularity the motion picture industry found it needed
to recapture viewers.
So within a few years most films were being made in the far wider
aspect ratios of 2.35:1, 2.55:1, and, in a few cases (Ben-Hur in 1959
for example), even 2.76:1. Today, widescreen aspect ratios of 1.85:1 and
2.35:1 are the most common.
Color productions also increased in the 1950’s, and, for a short
time, 3-D movies became an experimental fad.
Another change was in the number of theaters. From 1948 to 1958
indoor theaters decreased in number from 17,000 to 12,000. This was
definitely not positive for the motion picture industry; however, during
this same period the number of outdoor
increased - from fewer than 1,000 in 1948 to close to 5,000 in 1958. So,
as with wide screen, the motion picture industry was once again standing
out with something different from television.
As for the films themselves, there was more variety than ever. First,
there the old standbys:
1) Musicals – An American in Paris (1951) and Gigi (1958) both
won Academy Awards as best pictures, and Singing in the Rain (1952) and
A Star is Born (1954) are now classified as true classics.
2) Westerns - John Ford directed new and successful John Wayne
westerns including Rio Grande (1950), The Searchers (1956) and The Horse
Soldiers (1959). Director Anthony Mann, meanwhile, also entered the
western field. Five of his 50’s westerns featured the popular, though
now grittier, James Stewart - Winchester 73 (1950), Bend of the River
(1952), The Naked Spur 1953), The Far Country (1954) and The Man from
Laramie (1955). Mann also directed several other westerns during the
decade including Devil’s Doorway (1950) and Man of the West (1958).
Alfred Hitchcock suspense films - Strangers on a Train (1951),
Rear Window (1954), Vertigo (1958) and North by Northwest (1959) among
4) Epics – The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), and Ben-Hur
(1959) both captured Academy Awards as best pictures.
But new types of movies also came into prominence. The
fiction genre is a great example. Some of the 1950’s most famous:
The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), The Thing from Another World
(1954), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) and The Incredible
Shrinking man (1957).
New and exciting actors and actresses also lit up the screen. Four
Marlon Brando - made his screen debut in 1950’s The Men. He later
starred in Elia Kazan’s A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) and On the
Waterfront (1954). Brando won a Best Actor Oscar for Waterfront and the
movie won best picture.
Dean - became a teen idol playing rebellious youths in East
of Eden (1955), Rebel Without a Cause (1955) and Giant (1956).
Unfortunately, his life and career was cut short when he died in a car
Paul Newman – Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956), The Long Hot
Summer (1958) and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) were three of his notable
1950’s starring roles.
Marilyn Monroe – became THE sex symbol starring in such movies as
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), The Seven Year Itch (1955) and Some
Like it Hot (1959).
Finally, the new music, Rock and Roll, entered the movie scene.
The Blackboard Jungle (1955) became the first major picture to use R & R
on its soundtrack with (“We’re Gonna) Rock Around the Clock” (courtesy
of Bill Haley and His Comets).
Indeed the 1950’s were a notable period for Hollywood and the
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