In this day and age, it is hard to recommend a film that someone has not seen or heard of. However, it can happen given how many films are made each year and released each week; many not even making it into the cinemas, just ending up on straight-to-video release.
The following 20 suggestions to y’all, my fellow cinephiles, are to check out either for yourselves or to recommend to someone looking for something different, or a film that is not CGI heavy and/or light on plot. And here we go:
1. Freaks (1932)
Directed by Tod Browning, clocking in at a length of 1 hour, 4 minutes and released in February 1932, this is undoubtedly has to be one of the most controversial films ever made in American cinema. Using real circus performers-complete with deformities and all-Browning directs a social commentary about prejudice and justice set in a circus and centered on a marriage between the dwarf leader and a beautiful woman of “normal” size.
This perfect Halloween film was released not too long after Browning had had huge success with a little film called Dracula starring Bela Lugosi. Unfortunately, Freaks suffered studio interference and Hays Code censorship, and wasn’t really given proper appreciation until beginning in the 1960s.
2. Dark Passage (1947)
Directed by Delmer Daves, clocking in at a length of 1 hour, 46 minutes and released in September 1947, this noir may be overlooked by more well- known Bogie and Bacall outings like The Big Sleep and To Have and To Have Not, but here is its story: a convicted murderer escapes from prison and heads into the city.
Enlisting the aid of a female friend, he changes his face and sets out to prove his innocence-though both find that working so close produces results and a killer neither expected. This film was the third of the four films that husband and wife Bogie and Bacall made together before Bogie’s death from throat cancer.
3. In A Lonely Place (1950)
Directed by Nicholas Ray, clocking in at a length of 1 hour, 34 minutes and released in May 1950, this noir features Bogie in a performance that sees him as a screenwriter battling alcoholism, jealously, a violent temper, and a murder charge, all beaten with the help of his beautiful neighbor and new love, Laurel. But as time moves on, and events occur, and Bogie’s character of Dixon Steele acts out, Laurel starts to have misgivings, leading to a climax that rests all one phone call.
Nicholas Ray, the director who would also direct Rebel without a Cause, was married to Gloria Grahame (Laurel) at the time but since their marriage was on the outs, Ray would sleep on the set, citing a busy work schedule.
4. Affair in Trinidad (1952)
Directed by Vincent Sherman, clocking in at a length of 1 hour, 38 minutes and released in July 1952, this noir stars the siren of the silver screen Rita Hayworth as a nightclub singer whose husband is murdered and his brother arrives to help find out who pulled the trigger. Between the tropical climate, the parties, and the beautiful sister-in-law, soon everything becomes tangled to a tropical beat.
It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Costume Design, Black-and-White (due to films still being shot in both traditional black and white film stock and the relatively new color film stock, the Academy had two separate categories for Costume design depending on whether a film was in black and white or in color).
5. The Night of the Hunter (1955)
Directed by Charles Laughton, clocking in at a length of 1 hour, 32 minutes and released in September 1955, this noir showcases Robert Mitchum as evil personified while he pursues two young children who know the location of stolen money their father hid before his death.
The legendary actor Laughton stepped behind the camera for this tale, which includes Mitchum charming everyone but a wily widow and the orphan boy, and a chilling to the bone moonlight serenade by Mitchum as he gets closer to his goal. Charles Laughton never directed another film after this venture, which is a shame given that this is such a gem.
6. The Killing (1956)
Directed by Stanley Kubrick, clocking in at a length of 1 hour, 25 minutes and released in June 1956; this film noir owes a lot to the influence of masters such as Orson Welles’ The Lady From Shanghai and Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity.
A race track holds a lot of money, and a group of crooks plan to rob it, but there are always hiccups. A love affair, racial tensions, an unforeseen escape, and the tension within the group all keep the viewer intrigued as to what will, or will not, happen next.
7. Sweet Smell of Success (1957)
Directed by Alexander Mackendrick, clocking in at a length of 1 hour, 36 minutes and released in June 1957, this stark film looks at the non-so-subtle power wielded by J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster), who uses his columns to make or break people, collecting power and abusing it. His latest pawn is the equally sleazy Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis), a press agent hard on his luck and abusive to his female assistant.
All Falco wants is to get his latest client in Hunsecker’s column. Hunsecker agrees…if Falco convinces Hunsecker’s vulnerable sister to break-up with a hot-headed jazz musician. With Hunsecker trying to control the one person he can’t and Falco running out of time before his own mistakes catch up with him, it is only a matter of time before the perfect storm erupts. J.J. Hunsecker is based off the real life gossip columnist Walter Winchell, who used his column and information on powerful people to wield and collect his own power.
8. Bigger Than Life (1959)
Directed by Nicholas Ray, clocking in at a length of 1 hour, 35 minutes and released in August 1959, this drama stars James Mason as a schoolteacher in declining health who must decide what can be done for his family after his death. After being offered a miracle drug, Mason’s character begins to act in an erratic fashion; speaking condescendingly to parents at a school event, nearly starving his son, and verbally abusing his wife.
It all boils down the breaking point when Mason’s sanity goes and he decides there is only one way to save his son-thru the unforgiveable sin of a parent. Both Marilyn Monroe and Jerry Mathers had cameos in this film, but only Monroe’s was cut due to a contract fear by her studio.
9. The Day of The Jackal (1973)
Directed by Fred Zinnemann, clocking in at a length of 2 hours, 23 minutes and released in July 1973, this assassin/thriller procedural is based off the Frederick Forsyth novel of the same name. Upset that Charles de Gaulle has taken over the Presidency of France, a group of radicals have enlisted the employment of an assassin named the “Jackal.” Left to his own devices, the French authorities race to stop him before he assassinates the President, while trying to avoid inter-department politics and blaming.
Put in charge of the hunt is the unassuming, hen-pecked detective who proves looks are deceiving. Despite this being a fictional story, the situation is quite accurate in the historical sense, for after de Gaulle took power the second time, many attempts and plots to assassinate him were commonplace.
10. A Woman Under the Influence (1974)
Directed by John Cassavetes, clocking in at a length of 2 hours, 35 minutes and released in November 1974, this heart-wrenching tale showcases a husband and wife with three children dealing with everyday issues as the American family with one hitch…the wife, Mabel (portrayed by Gena Rowlands), is mentally unstable. Pure and loving at her heart, she tends to go off on tangents and embarrassing actions that prove uncomfortable for her patience-tried husband, Nick (portrayed by Peter Falk).
As friends and family both help and hinder the situation, Nick and Mabel must figure out whether the situation is maintainable through their devout love for one another and for their kids. Gena Rowlands received four nominations and won three awards for Best Actress from various events for her portrayal as Mabel.