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Memory Kits: Movies of the 1950s

Memory kits are for people with dementia, memory loss, or cognitive impairment. They are intended to stimulate conversation or reminiscence with a person with cognitive issues

Movies of the 1950s

Cinderella (1950)

Cinderella is a 1950 American animated musical fantasy film produced by Walt Disney. Based on the fairy tale of the same name by Charles Perrault, it is the 12th Disney animated feature film. The film was directed by Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske, and Clyde Geronimi. Mack David, Jerry Livingston, and Al Hoffman wrote the songs, which include "Cinderella", "A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes", "Oh, Sing Sweet Nightingale", "The Work Song", "Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo", and "So This is Love". It features the voices of Ilene Woods, Eleanor Audley, Verna Felton, Rhoda Williams, James MacDonald, Luis van Rooten, Don Barclay, Mike Douglas, William Phipps, and Lucille Bliss.


During the early 1940s, Walt Disney Productions had suffered financially after losing connections to the European film markets due to the outbreak of World War II. Because of this, the studio endured box office bombs such as Pinocchio (1940), Fantasia (1940), and Bambi (1942), all of which would later become more successful with several re-releases in theaters and on home video. By 1947, the studio was over $4 million in debt and was on the verge of bankruptcy. Walt Disney and his animators returned to feature film production in 1948 after producing a string of package films with the idea of adapting Charles Perrault's Cendrillon into an animated film.[5]

After two years in production, Cinderella was released by RKO Radio Pictures on February 15, 1950. It became the greatest critical and commercial hit for the Disney studio since the first full-length animated film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) and helped reverse the studio's fortunes.[5] It received three Academy Award nominations, including Best Music, Original Song for "Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo".[5]; accessed October 2, 2022.; accessed October 2, 2022.

Rashomon (1950)

A riveting psychological thriller that investigates the nature of truth and the meaning of justice, Rashomon is widely considered one of the greatest films ever made. Four people give different accounts of a man’s murder and the rape of his wife, which director Akira Kurosawa presents with striking imagery and an ingenious use of flashbacks. This eloquent masterwork and international sensation revolutionized film language and introduced Japanese cinema—and a commanding new star by the name of Toshiro Mifune—to the Western world.; accessed October 2, 2022.; accessed October 2, 2022.

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

The Day the Earth Stood Still

The Day the Earth Stood Still is a 1951 science fiction film which tells the story of a humanoid alien who comes to Earth to warn its leaders not to take their conflicts into space, or they will face lethal consequences. It stars Michael Rennie, Patricia Neal, Hugh Marlowe, Sam Jaffe, Billy Gray, Frances Bavier, and Lock Martin. Supporting cast includes journalist Drew Pearson. The movie was adapted by Edmund H. North from the story "Farewell to the Master" by Harry Bates, and directed by Robert Wise. The score was written by Bernard Herrmann and is notable for its use of a theremin.; accessed October 11, 2022.


Rear Window (1954)

 Rear Window (1954) is an intriguing, brilliant, macabre Hitchcockian visual study of obsessive human curiosity and voyeurism. John Michael Hayes' screenplay was based on Cornell Woolrich's (with pen-name William Irish) original 1942 short story or novelette, It Had to Be Murder.

This film masterpiece was made entirely on one confined set built at Paramount Studios - a realistic courtyard composed of 32 apartments (12 completely furnished) - at a non-existent address in Manhattan (125 W. 9th Street). Each of the tenants of the other apartments offered an observant comment of marriage and a complete survey of male/female relationships (all the way from honeymooners to a murderous spouse), as the main protagonist watched / spied / and spectated through his 'rear window' on them. Remarkably, the camera angles were largely from the protagonist's own apartment, so the film viewer (in a dark theatre) saw the inhabitants of the other apartments almost entirely from his point of view - to share in his voyeuristic surveillance.

Concurrent with the crime-thriller theme of mysterious activities of apartment neighbors was the struggle of the passively-observant and immobile protagonist (James Stewart), a magazine photographer who was impotently confined to a wheelchair while recuperating in his Greenwich Village apartment and fearful of the imprisoning effects of marriage. He struggled, as he did with his plaster cast, to overcome his noncommittal feelings and reluctance to get married to his high-fashion model fiancee-girlfriend (Grace Kelly). In the midst of the most tense situation in another context, she daringly flashed a wedding ring to him to clue him in with the 'evidence.'

This film - one of Hitchcock's greatest thrillers, especially in its final twenty minutes, received only four Academy Award nominations (with no Oscars): Best Director, Best Screenplay (John Michael Hayes), Best Color Cinematography (Robert Burks), and Best Sound Recording. Un-nominated for her erotically-charged performance in this film as a rich society woman, the glowingly-beautiful Grace Kelly won the Best Actress Oscar in the same year for her deglamourized role in The Country Girl (1954). This was her second of three films for Hitchcock (she had already made Dial M for Murder (1954) and would next star in To Catch a Thief (1955)), before leaving acting in 1956 to marry Prince Rainier of Monaco. And this was Stewart's second of four appearances for Hitchcock (he had already starred in Rope (1948), and would go on to be featured in The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) and Vertigo (1958)).; accessed October 2, 2022.; accessed October 2, 2022.

Jailhouse Rock (1956)

Jailhouse Rock is a 1957 American musical drama film directed by Richard Thorpe and starring Elvis Presley, Judy Tyler, Mickey Shaughnessy, Vaughn Taylor and Jennifer Holden. Adapted by Guy Trosper from a story written by Nedrick Young, the film tells the story of Vince Everett (Presley), a convict who learns the guitar while in prison and later becomes a star following his release.

The film's iconic soundtrack was written by songwriters Mike Stoller and Jerry Leiber. The dance sequence to the film's title song is often cited as "Presley's greatest moment on screen."

Jailhouse Rock premiered in Memphis, Tennessee on October 17, 1957, and was released nationwide on November 8, 1957. It peaked at #3 on the Variety box-office chart and finished #14 for the year, grossing $4 million. The film initially earned mixed reviews, with much of the negative targeted at Presley. In 2004, the film was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress, who deemed it "culturally, aesthetically or historically significant."; accessed October 11, 2022.; accessed October 11, 2022.


Paths of Glory (1957)

Stanley Kubrick's Paths of Glory is among the most powerful antiwar films ever made. A fiery Kirk Douglas stars as a World War I French colonel who goes head-to-head with the army’s ruthless top brass when his men are accused of cowardice after being unable to carry out an impossible mission. This haunting, exquisitely photographed dissection of the military machine in all its absurdity and capacity for dehumanization (a theme Kubrick would continue to explore throughout his career) is assembled with its legendary director’s customary precision, from its tense trench warfare sequences to its gripping courtroom climax to its ravaging final scene.; accessed October 18, 2022.; accessed October 18, 2022.


The Seventh Seal (1958)

Returning exhausted from the Crusades to find medieval Sweden gripped by the Plague, a knight (Max von Sydow) suddenly comes face-to-face with the hooded figure of Death, and challenges him to a game of chess. As the fateful game progresses, and the knight and his squire encounter a gallery of outcasts from a society in despair, Bergman mounts a profound inquiry into the nature of faith and the torment of mortality. One of the most influential films of its time, The Seventh Seal is a stunning allegory of man’s search for meaning and a work of stark visual poetry.; accessed October 2, 2022.; accessed October 2, 2022.

Ben-Hur (1959)

Ben-Hur (1959) is MGM's three and a half hour, wide-screen epic Technicolor blockbuster - a Biblical tale, subtitled A Tale of the Christ.

Director William Wyler's film was a retelling of the spectacular silent film of the same name (director Fred Niblo's and MGM's Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925)). Both films were adapted from the novel (first published in 1880) by former Civil War General Lew Wallace. Wyler had been an 'extras' director on the set of DeMille's original film in the silent era. MGM's Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925), featuring a cast of 125,000, cost about $4 million to make after shooting began on location in Italy, in 1923, and starred silent screen idols Ramon Novarro and Francis X. Bushman. This figure is equivalent to $33 million today - it was the most expensive silent film ever made.

This remake of the novel was inspired by the fact that three years earlier, Cecil B. DeMille and Paramount had remade the 1925 version of his film as a successful 50's epoch Biblical tale titled The Ten Commandments (1956). The heroic figure of Charlton Heston (an iconic and righteous Moses figure) would again be commissioned to play the lead role in this film of a Jewish nobleman (the Prince of Judea) - after the role was turned down by Burt Lancaster, Rock Hudson and Paul Newman. In the plot, prince Judah Ben-Hur was enslaved by a Roman tribunal friend (with a homosexual subtext provided by co-writer Gore Vidal), but then returned years later to seek revenge in the film's centerpiece, a chariot race. Ultimately, he would find redemption and forgiveness in the inspiring and enlightening finale.

The colorful 1959 version was the most expensive film ever made up to its time, and the most expensive film of the 50s decade. At $15 million and shot on a grand scale, it was a tremendous make-or-break risk for MGM Studios - and ultimately saved the studio from bankruptcy. [It was a big dual win for MGM, since they had won the Best Picture race the previous year for Gigi (1958).] It took six years to prepare for the film shoot, and over a half year of on-location work in Italy, with thousands of extras. It featured more crew and extras than any other film before it - 15,000 extras alone for the chariot race sequence.

Ben-Hur proved to be an intelligent, exciting, and dramatic piece of film-making unlike so many other vulgar Biblical pageants with Hollywood actors and actresses. Its depiction of the Jesus Christ figure was also extremely subtle and solely as a cameo - it never showed Christ's face but only the reactions of other characters to him.

It was one of the most honored, award-winning films of all time. It was nominated for twelve Academy Awards, Best Picture, Best Actor (Charlton Heston - his sole career Oscar), Best Supporting Actor (Hugh Griffith), Best Director (William Wyler), Best Color Cinematography, Best Color Art Direction/Set Decoration, Best Sound, Best Score, Best Film Editing, Best Color Costume Design, Best Special Effects, and Best Screenplay (sole-credited Karl Tunberg). It was the first film to win eleven Oscars - it lost only in the Screenplay category due to a dispute over screenwriting credits (Maxwell Anderson, Christopher Fry, and Gore Vidal were all uncredited). Titanic (1997) and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) are the only films to tie this phenomenal record, although unlike this film, they came away without any acting Oscars. Many felt that Heston's performance was inferior to other nominees in the Best Actor category: Jack Lemmon in Some Like It Hot or Laurence Harvey in Room at the Top, and James Stewart in Anatomy of a Murder.

The chariot race sequence in the Circus Maximus (an amazing replica of the one in Rome) is one of the most thrilling and famous in film history. [Homage was paid to it with George Lucas' pod-race in Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (1999).] The site of the race, the Circus Maximus in Jerusalem (Judea), was constructed on over 18 acres of backlot space at Cinecitta Studios outside Rome, and the filming of the sequence took about five weeks. Except for two of the most spectacular stunts, both Charlton Heston and Stephen Boyd did all their own chariot driving in the carefully-choreographed sequence. There are contradictory reports about the fatality of a stuntman during the dangerous scene in the film, yet no published discussions of the film mention the accident, and Charlton Heston's 1995 autobiography In the Arena specifically stated that no one was seriously injured (beyond a cut on the chin) during the filming of the scene.; accessed October 2, 2022.; accessed October 2, 2022.

All About Eve (1950)

In Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s devastatingly witty Hollywood classic, backstage is where the real drama plays out. One night, Margo Channing (Bette Davis) entertains a surprise dressing-room visitor: her most adoring fan, the shy, wide-eyed Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter). But as Eve becomes a fixture in Margo’s life, the Broadway legend soon realizes that her supposed admirer intends to use her and everyone in her circle, including George Sanders’s acid-tongued critic, as stepping-stones to stardom. Featuring stiletto-sharp dialogue and direction by Mankiewicz, and an unforgettable Davis in the role that revived her career and came to define it, the multiple-Oscar-winning All About Eve is the most deliciously entertaining film ever made about the ruthlessness of show business.; accessed October 2, 2022.; accessed October 2, 2022.

Sunset Boulevard (1950)

Sunset Boulevard (1950) is a classic black comedy/drama, and perhaps the most acclaimed, but darkest film-noir story about "behind the scenes" Hollywood, self-deceit, spiritual and spatial emptiness, and the price of fame, greed, narcissism, and ambition. The mood of the film is immediately established as decadent and decaying by the posthumous narrator - a dead man floating face-down in a swimming pool in Beverly Hills.

With caustic, bitter wit in a story that blends both fact and fiction and dream and reality, co-writer/director Billy Wilder realistically exposes (with numerous in-jokes) the corruptive, devastating influences of the new Hollywood and the studio system by showing the decline of old Hollywood legends many years after the coming of sound. The screenplay was based on the story A Can of Beans by Wilder and Brackett - this was the last collaborative film effort of Brackett and Wilder who had worked together on many films since 1938.

This classic, tragic film was highly-regarded at its time, honored with eleven Academy Award nominations and the recipient of three Oscars: Best Story and Screenplay (co-authored by Charles Brackett, D.M. Marshman, Jr., and Billy Wilder), Best Black and White Art Direction/Set Decoration, and Best Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture (Franz Waxman). The eight unsuccessful nominations were for Best Picture, Best Actor (William Holden), Best Actress (Gloria Swanson, who lost to Judy Holliday for Born Yesterday), Best Supporting Actor (Erich von Stroheim), Best Supporting Actress (Nancy Olson), Best Director, Best B/W Cinematography (John Seitz), and Best Film Editing.

The major starring role in the film, an inspired casting choice, was held by legendary silent film diva Gloria Swanson (Mae West was also a possible choice for the role), who "autobiographically" portrayed Norma Desmond - a deluded, tragic, ambitious actress whose career declined with the coming of the talkies. [Note: Her name was a combination of the names of two early Hollywood figures: comedy star Mabel Normand, and silent-film director William Desmond Taylor (Normand's lover), who was murdered in 1922. There was an intensive investigation but his murder case went unsolved.]

The other starring role belonged to a modern day, B-movie hack screenwriter/narrator (William Holden, although Montgomery Clift was once considered for the role) who spoke beyond the grave as a phantom narrator. He recounted how he struggled to produce screenplays to meet the demands of the industry and satisfy the thirsty illusions of immortality of the aging silent film queen in her decaying mansion. After being showered with bribes (clothes, money, flattery and other gifts), he was quickly spoiled and ensnared in her web of delusion - and death trap.

This film was a first, since it mixed fiction with the realities of film-making. Other Hollywood legends, stars, figures, and screen landmarks also appear or are referenced, including:

  • Paramount Studios itself
  • silent-screen director Erich von Stroheim (as the faithful, devoted butler, in his last film) of the severely-edited masterpiece Greed (1924)
  • famous Hollywood director Cecil B. DeMille (playing himself while directing Samson and Delilah (1949))
  • Mabel Normand (a comedienne for Mack Sennett - notice the cryptic reshuffling of Norma's name)
  • columnist Hedda Hopper in a bit part
  • aging silent era stars as themselves, portraying Norma's 'waxworks' card-playing friends: Buster Keaton, Swedish-born Anna Q. Nilsson, and H. B. Warner.; accessed October 2, 2022.; accessed October 2, 2022.

Singing in the Rain (1952)

Though only modestly successful upon release, Singin’ in the Rain rose in critical esteem to become widely considered the best movie musical of all time. A comedic take on the difficult 1920s transition from silent film to “talkies,” the film stars Gene Kelly as a popular silent film star (and dancer, of course), and Jean Hagen as the vain and irritating costar his studio keeps pairing him with romantically. Perhaps the definitive MGM Technicolor musical, the story is adorable and the singing is terrific, but I’m not sure any of its many, many virtues can top the pure explosive vitality and joy that is Gene Kelly in motion. I defy you to watch this and not feel ridiculously happy. —Amy Glynn; accessed October 21, 2022.; accessed October 21, 2022.

Rebel Without a Cause (1955)

If melodrama were high-octane fuel, Nicholas Ray’s emo masterpiece would soar off the end of a rocky bluff and keep flying forevermore. In fact, it’s difficult to not reach the end of the film’s emotionally churning two hours and not declare out loud, as if the room in which you watched it required it, “Well, that was a fucking weird movie.” But then—teenagers are weird creatures, greasy sacs of megalomania, alien to both the demands of adulthood and to the scarier demands of their own bodies. Jim Stark (James Dean, painfully iconic) asks a father he barely respects whether he should prize honor above his own safety, but what he’s really talking about is whether he should care if the cool kids at school like him or not. All is hyperbole to a teenager; even indifference is a world-defining credo. A teenager cares the most about not caring so that when the game of chicken in which he reluctantly participated ends up killing some chump named Buzz Gunderson (Corey Allen), he struggles to determine the course of his own fate rather than what will become of Buzz Gunderson’s loved ones, or even what the metaphysical implications are of a human being wiped prematurely from reality. A teenager will even take the only chance he has, the night of Buzz Gunderson’s death from vehicular explosion, to court Buzz Gunderson’s girlfriend, the self-described “numb” girl next door (Natalie Wood). Add a skin-crawling performance from Sal Mineo as Plato, effortlessly conjuring both pity and revulsion in the viewer, and Rebel Without a Cause channels too perfectly the sociopathy of the American teen, perhaps more than any other movie able to convince even those who’ve already long passed puberty that growing up can be a really terrifying thing. —Dom Sinacola; accessed October 21, 2022.; accessed October 21, 2022.

The Ten Commandments (1956)

There are a lot of major motion pictures from the ’50s that remain eminently relevant and even bizarrely au courant. The Ten Commandments isn’t one of them, But even though it feels dated, from the standpoint of cultural literacy it remains a must-see. Luckily, it hits the airwaves every year around Easter/Passover, and has done since 1973, so it’s easy to catch. Cecil B. DeMille’s remake of his own 1923 treatment of the same story is the dictionary definition of “epic” with its sweeping, massive set, mind-boggling cast, and overall Big Damn Production. It’s overblown, even a little ludicrous, but at the same time, this story of Moses’ liberation of the Hebrews from Egypt has a certain magnificence that only DeMille could have given it. It’s incredibly extravagant and runs four hours, so prepare to arrange some intermissions if you must. You might giggle at some quaint or dated or kind of pompous moments but you won’t be bored. It takes a big story, gives it a cast of stars (Charlton Heston, Yul Brynner, Edward G. Robinson, Vincent Price, Anne Baxter and Debra Padgett for starters), and gives it an opulent, sprawling, color-saturated, mind-blowingly excessive field on which to play that story out. It’s eye-popping and a genuine spectacle. —Amy Glynn; accessed October 21, 2022.; accessed October 21, 2022.

12 Angry Men (1957)

12 Angry Men, by Sidney Lumet, may be the most radical courtroom drama in cinema history. A behind-closed-doors look at the American legal system that is as riveting as it is spare, this iconic adaptation of Reginald Rose’s teleplay stars Henry Fonda as the dissenting member on a jury of white men ready to pass judgment on a Puerto Rican teenager charged with murdering his father. The result is a saga of epic proportions that plays out over a tense afternoon in one sweltering room. Lumet’s electrifying snapshot of 1950s America on the verge of change is one of the great feature film debuts.; accessed October 2, 2022.; accessed October 2, 2022.

The 400 Blows (1959)

The 400 Blows (French: Les Quatre Cents Coups) is a 1959 coming-of-age drama film,[3] and the directorial debut of François Truffaut. The film, shot in DyaliScope, stars Jean-Pierre Léaud, Albert Rémy, and Claire Maurier. One of the defining films of the French New Wave,[4] it displays many of the characteristic traits of the movement. Written by Truffaut and Marcel Moussy, the film is about Antoine Doinel, a misunderstood adolescent in Paris who struggles with his parents and teachers due to his rebellious behavior. Filmed on location in Paris and Honfleur, it is the first in a series of five films in which Léaud plays the semi-autobiographical character.

The 400 Blows received numerous awards and nominations, including the Cannes Film Festival Award for Best Director, the OCIC Award, and a Palme d'Or nomination in 1959, and was also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay in 1960. The film had 4.1 million admissions in France, making it Truffaut's most successful film in his home country.[5]

The 400 Blows is widely considered one of the best French films in the history of cinema; in the 2012 Sight & Sound critics' poll of the greatest films ever made, it was ranked 39th.[6] It ranked 13th in the directors' poll on the same list.; accessed October 2, 2022.; accessed October 2, 2022.


North by Northwest (1959)

When a mild-mannered ad man (Cary Grant, in some seriously natty threads) is mistaken for a secret agent and finds himself in the crosshairs of a dangerous spy, suspense is a given. Add a romantic entanglement with the epically gorgeous Eva Marie Saint, who might or might not be in cahoots with the spies, and you’ve got Hitchcock at his tongue-in-cheek best, turning a surrealist fever dream of a plot into something light-handed and smooth. Saint’s cool and intriguing, and if Grant ever had one day in his life where he wasn’t unbelievably charming, it was not captured on film. This stylish thriller is one of Hitch’s most utterly entertaining and arguably also his most visually stunning, with some of the most iconic scene compositions in film history (particularly, though not solely, the incredibly shot scene at the top of Mount Rushmore). This is definitely a thriller, but it’s also witty as hell (maybe even a little self-satisfied, but this viewer isn’t complaining—if anyone’s earned that, Alfred Hitchcock did). Skillful, clever, charming—if for some reason you don’t already know why Hitchcock is an enduring god of cinema, this film ought to clear it up for you. —Amy Glynn; accessed October 21, 2022.; accessed October 21, 2022.