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DISCLAIMER: All film criticism is extremely subjective and there is no such thing as the definitive list of the Greatest (English-language) Films. Great Films can't be measured scientifically because greatness is extremely subjective. Just because we like a film doesn't mean that you will like it as well. Please feel free to leave us a comment with the films that you think are the greatest which we have not included on our list.

Not only was 1951 a big year for movies but it was also a big year for actors making their film debuts and the deaths of some truly great talent. Here is a snap shot of the American film industry.

Making Their Film Debuts:

  • Ernest Borgnine – China Corsair

  • Jeff Bridges – The Company She Keeps

  • Charles Bronson – You’re in the Navy Now

  • Leslie CaronAn American in Paris 

  • John Cassavetes – Fourteen Hours

  • James Dean – Fixed Bayonets!

  • Lee GrantDetective Story 

  • Audrey Hepburn – One Wild Oat

  • Grace Kelly – Fourteen Hours

  • Leonard Nimoy – Queen for a Day

  • William Shatner – The Butler’s Night Off

  • Robert ShawThe Lavender Hill Mob

  • Rod Steiger – Teresa

 

Top-grossing Films

RankTitleStudioGross
1.Quo VadisMGM$11,902,000
2.Alice in Wonderland*Disney$7,196,000
3.Show BoatMGM$5,533,000
4.A Streetcar Named DesireWarner Brothers$4,800,000
5.David and BathshebaFox$4,720,000
6.An American in ParisMGM$4,531,000
7.The African QueenUnited Artists$4,300,000
8.A Place in the SunParamount$4,213,000
9.Strangers on a TrainWarner Brothers$3,800,000
10.Pandora and the Flying DutchmanMGM$3,500,000

(*) After theatrical re-issue(s)

 

Academy Award Winners

Best Picture: An American in Paris – Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Best Director: George Stevens – A Place in the Sun

Best Actor: Humphrey BogartThe African Queen

Best Actress: Vivien Leigh – A Streetcar Named Desire

Best Supporting Actor: Karl Malden – A Streetcar Named Desire

Best Supporting Actress: Kim Hunter – A Streetcar Named Desire

 

Top Ten Money Making Stars

RankActor/Actress
1.John Wayne
2. (tie)Dean Martin
Jerry Lewis
3.Betty Grable
4. (tie)Bud Abbott
Lou Costello
5.Bing Crosby
6.Bob Hope
7.Randolph Scott
8.Gary Cooper
9.Doris Day
10.Spencer Tracy

 

Among Those Who Died In 1951:

  • Charles W. Goddard, American playwright, screenwriter, 72, The Exploits of Elaine
  • Jack Holt, American actor, 68, Flight, San Francisco
  • Ivor Novello, Welsh actor, singer, composer, 58, The Lodger, I Lived with You
  • Val Lewton, Russian-American director, 47, Cat People, The Body Snatcher
  • Oscar Micheaux, American director, author, 67, The Girl From Chicago
  • Al Christie, Canadian-born director, producer, 70, Charley’s Aunt
  • Stanley Ridges, British actor, 61, To Be or Not to Be, Sergeant York
  • Edwin L. Marin, American director, 52, Fort Worth, Maisie
  • Warner Baxter, American actor, 69, 42nd Street, Crime Doctor
  • Sylvan Simon, American director, 41, The Fuller Brush Man, I Love Trouble
  • Fanny Brice, American entertainer and actress, My Man, Everybody Sing
  • Ernst Pittschau, German actor, 68, The Picture of Dorian Gray
  • Olive Tell, American actress, 57, The Trap
  • Mayo Methot, American actress, 47, Marked Woman
  • Robert J. Flaherty, American documentary filmmaker, 67, Nanook of the North
  • Robert Walker, American actor, 33, Strangers on a Train, The Clock
  • Maria Montez, Dominican-born actress, 33, Arabian Nights, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves
  • Leon Errol, Australian-born actor, 77, Never Give a Sucker an Even Break, Joe Palooka
  • Phil Rosen, Polish-American director, 75, Charlie Chan in The Chinese Cat, Roar of the Press
  • Richard Wallace, American director, 57, Tycoon, Framed

The Greatest Films of 1951

 

***POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT FOR ALL***

 

Poster for the movie "Ace in the Hole"

© 1951 Paramount Pictures − All right reserved.

Ace in the Hole

D: Billy Wilder

A frustrated former big-city journalist now stuck working for an Albuquerque newspaper exploits a story about a man trapped in a cave to re-jump start his career, but the situation quickly escalates into an out-of-control circus.

Learn more and watch the preview here.

 

Poster for the movie "The African Queen"

© 1951 United Artists − All right reserved.

The African Queen

D: John Huston

Based on the 1935 novel by C.S. Forester, the wonderful combination of Hepburn and Bogie makes this a thoroughly enjoyable blend of comedy and adventure. Forester’s story, Bogey’s Oscar®-winning performance, ‘odd-couple’ chemistry, and an exotic locale combine for classic adventure/romance. The boozing, smoking, cussing captain of a tramp steamer, Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart), saves prim, sober, and proper missionary Rose Sayer (Katharine Hepburn), “a crazy psalm-singing skinny old maid,” after her brother (Robert Morley) is assaulted by a German soldier at the beginning of World War I in German East Africa, and dies from insanity. After many quarrels, they survive a treacherous African river journey on a rattle-trap steamer, shoot the rapids, struggle with mosquitos and blood-sucking leeches, and set sail on the Ulonga-Bora in order to sabotage The Louisa, a German warship.

Learn more and watch the preview here. 

 

Poster for the movie "Alice in Wonderland"

© 1951 RKO Radio Pictures − All right reserved.

Alice in Wonderland

D: Disney Studio

On a golden afternoon, young Alice follows a White Rabbit, who disappears down a nearby rabbit hole. Quickly following him, she tumbles into the burrow – and enters the merry, topsy-turvy world of Wonderland! Memorable songs and whimsical escapades highlight Alice’s journey, which culminates in a madcap encounter with the Queen of Hearts – and her army of playing cards!

Learn more and watch the preview here.

 

Poster for the movie "An American in Paris"

© 1951 Loew’s − All right reserved.

An American in Paris

D: Vincente Minnelli

One of the great 50s screen musicals and a Best Picture-winner, colorfully enhanced by the grace and athleticism of Gene Kelly and direction by Vincente Minnelli. Jerry Mulligan (Gene Kelly), a young American G.I., lingers in Paris after World War II to study art and painting. He wants to live the life of the great painters — in a Montmartre garret, starving for his art. When a rich, romance-minded American gallery owner (Nina Foch) offers to support him, he agrees — even if the bargain means joining the benefactress’ entourage of lovers. Then he meets Lise (Leslie Caron), a young, exquisite French mademoiselle, and instantly falls in love. Unfortunately, she’s already engaged to marry her benefactor, music hall star Henri Baurel (Georges Guetary), an older man who saved her from the Nazis. But when Henri discovers that she cares for someone else, he gracefully exits, leaving the young couple to find love together. The film debut for French actress/dancer Leslie Caron, who was discovered by Gene Kelly. With sumptuous sets, charming dance sequences, George and Ira Gershwin’s memorable melodies, and a seventeen-minute, avant-garde ballet choreographed by Kelly – with backdrops representing various impressionistic artists.

Learn more and watch the preview here.

 

Poster for the movie "The Day the Earth Stood Still"

© 1951 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation − All right reserved.

The Day the Earth Stood Still

D: Robert Wise

One of the seminal science fiction films of motion picture history, it is based on Edmund H. North’s adaptation of the short story “Farewell to the Master” by Harry Bates. Much like the “drive in movies” of the 1950’s, such as The War of the Worlds (1952), Forbidden Planet (1956), and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), this influential, fantasy sci-fi film featured state-of-the-art visual effects and salient social commentary on the Cold War and warfare. The film not only examined wider issues of politics and society, but also at human emotions and frailties.

This cautionary science fiction parable begins with the landing of a spacecraft on the White House Mall. A benevolent, interplanetary alien in humanoid form, Klaatu (Michael Rennie), causes a panic when he demands to speak to all of the representatives of Earth’s governments. Although he warns the people of Earth to be non-violent and stop nuclear testing, he is shot by a nervous soldier. His massive robotic companion Gort (Lock Martin) vaporizes the offensive weapons, as Klaatu is hospitalized. He goes into hiding posing as an Earthling named Carpenter while residing with a human family (single mother/widow Helen (Patricia Neal) and her son Bobby (Billy Gray)), in order to observe their lives, and meanwhile to attempt to establish contact with Earth’s leading scientist Dr. Bernhardt (Sam Jaffe). Klaatu’s demonstration of power over the industrial complex — by stopping power everywhere for half an hour — ends up tragically. One of the most famous phrases in science fiction history is recited by Helen to stop Gort’s rampage when Klaatu is killed: “Gort, Klaatu barada nikto.” The film ends with the alien visitor’s resurrection and a warning-proclamation. With a memorable score by Bernard Herrmann.

Learn more and watch the preview here.

 

Poster for the movie "Decision Before Dawn"

© − All right reserved.

Decision Before Dawn

D: Anatole Litvak

WWII is entering its last phase: Germany is in ruins, but does not yield. The US army lacks crucial knowledge about the German units operating on the opposite side of the Rhine, and decides to send two German prisoners to gather information. The scheme is risky: the Gestapo retains a terribly efficient network to identify and capture spies and deserters. Moreover, it is not clear that “Tiger”, who does not mind any dirty work as long as the price is right, and war-weary “Happy”, who might be easily betrayed by his feelings, are dependable agents. After Tiger and another American agent are successfully infiltrated, Happy is parachuted in Bavaria. His duty: find out the whereabouts of a powerful German armored unit moving towards the western front.

Learn more and watch the preview here.

 

Poster for the movie "The Lavender Hill Mob"

© − All right reserved.

The Lavender Hill Mob (UK)

D: Charles Crichton

A meek bank clerk who oversees the shipment of bullion joins with an eccentric neighbor to steal gold bars and smuggle them out of the country as miniature Eiffel Towers.

Learn more and watch the preview here.

 

The Man in the White Suit (UK)

D: Alexander Mackendrick

An altruistic chemist invents a fabric which resists wear and stain as a boon to humanity, but both big business and labor realize it must be suppressed for economic reasons.

 

Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (UK)

D: Albert Lewin

A seductive woman falls in love with a mysterious ship’s captain.

 

Poster for the movie "A Place in the Sun"

© 1951 Paramount Pictures − All right reserved.

A Place in the Sun (1951), 123 minutes, D: George Stevens

A star-crossed melodramatic romance (and social drama), based on Theodore Dreiser’s 1925 novel “An American Tragedy.” Low-born, ambitious George Eastman (Montgomery Clift) hitched a ride to his distant Uncle Charles Eastman’s (Herbert Heyes) place, where he was given an assembly-line bathing-suit factory job. The poor boy was entranced and infatuated by the snobbish, beautiful, well-bred rich socialite Angela Vickers (Elizabeth Taylor) and they fell in starry-eyed love. He also dated and impregnated poor, lower-class co-worker Alice Tripp (Shelley Winters), after which a doctor refused to terminate her unwanted pregnancy (the term abortion was not used). Using blackmail, she also threatened to reveal their relationship and pregnancy, and even mentioned committing suicide. On Labor Day weekend at the Vickers’ lakeside home, Alice arrived to confront George, and insisted that they go to the county clerk’s office to get married – but it was closed for the holiday. During a rowboat ride with Alice on Loon Lake that dark night, George contemplated, planned and willed (if not actually committed) the murder of his fiancee, by overturning the boat and letting her drown. Then, in a twist of fate, she accidentally fell in when the boat capsized, and she drowned, and he was unable (or unwilling) to save her. George faced murder charges and went to trial. He intended to murder Alice, but there were no witnesses that he actually did. There was only strong circumstantial evidence against him. The relentless District Attorney R. Frank Marlowe (Raymond Burr, TV’s future Perry Mason) devastated George on the stand. He even re-enacted the rowboat death in the courtroom, while George failed to credibly answer questions and help to reconstruct the drowning. The most dramatic moment was when Marlowe struck the oar across the boat, implying that George had struck Alice and caused her to fall into the water. George was convicted – and fell from his ‘place in the sun’ when executed (by the electric chair).

Learn more and watch the preview here.

 

Poster for the movie "Quo Vadis"

© 1951 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) − All right reserved.

Quo Vadis

D: Mervyn LeRoy

Set against the back drop of Rome in crisis, General Marcus Vinicius returns to the city from the battle fields and falls in love with a Christian woman, Lygia. Caught in the grip of insanity, Nero’s atrocities become more extreme and he burns Rome, laying the blame on the Christians. Vinicius races to save Lygia from the wrath of Nero as the empire of Rome collapses around them.

Learn more and watch the preview here

 

Scrooge (UK) (aka A Christmas Carol)

D: Brian Desmond Hurst

An old bitter miser is given a chance for redemption when he is haunted by three ghosts on Christmas Eve

 

Poster for the movie "Strangers on a Train"

© 1951 Warner Bros. − All right reserved.

Strangers on a Train

D: Alfred Hitchcock

Another of Hitchcock’s great suspense thrillers – co-scripted by Raymond Chandler and based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith. During a chance meeting on a train enroute from Washington DC, rich psychopathic playboy Bruno Antony (Robert Walker) explains his macabre, morbid theory of the perfect murder – an exchange or swap of murders and victims – to professional champion tennis player Guy Haines (Farley Granger). Bruno diabolically proposes murdering Guy’s clinging, stifling wife Miriam (Laura Elliot) – since Guy wants to marry US Senator’s daughter Anne Morton (Ruth Roman) – in exchange for Guy murdering Bruno’s spiteful father (Jonathan Hale) and his acquisition of an inheritance, without any trace of clues. Haines dismisses the preposterous idea until Anthony kills his wife Miriam by strangulation at an amusement park and he is expected to fulfill his part of the bargain – with threat of blackmail. With a few great set pieces, including the tennis match, the cross-cutting sewer grating scene, the cocktail party scene of how to commit a murder, and the out-of-control merry-go-round in the finale in which Guy was finally cleared of the murder.

Learn more and watch the preview here.

 

A Streetcar Named Desire

D: Elia Kazan

The powerful, frank dramatic adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play, based upon Oscar Saul’s adaptation. The story of two sisters: a neurotic, sensitive southern belle Blanche DuBois (Vivien Leigh) who visits and remains with her sister (Kim Hunter) and her animalistic, earthy and vulgar brother-in-law Stanley Kowalski (Marlon Brando) in a down-and-out New Orleans project in the French Quarter. Mitch (Karl Malden), one of Stanley’s buddies takes an interest in Blanche until Stanley strips and ultimately reveals the secrets of her embarrassing, lurid past. After being ‘raped’ by Stanley in a heavily-censored and edited sequence, the vestiges of her shattered self are led away to a mental institution.

Learn more and watch the preview here.

 

Poster for the movie ""

© − All right reserved.

The Thing From Another World

 D: Christian Nyby

An influential and taut horror and science-fiction B-film hybrid based on John W. Campbell’s 1938 story Who Goes There? This alien invasion film was director Hawks’ sole science-fiction effort. A group of isolated scientists led by military pilot Captain Patrick Hendry (Kenneth Tobey) and lead researcher Dr. Carrington (Robert Cornthwaite) are stationed in a remote Arctic base. They discover a flying saucer UFO buried deep in the tundra, along with an eight-foot alien body (James Arness) in a block of ice. After removing the frozen spaceman from the craft and bringing it back to their research station headquarters, the Thing creature (a chlorophyll-based humanoid) accidentally thaws and escapes, and proceeds to kill the sled dogs and hunt down the scientists themselves for their blood. The film effectively focuses on character interaction, with natural and rapid-fire dialogue, appropriate scientific jargon, and a strong-willed female character named Nikki Nicholson (Margaret Sheridan). The three most memorable moments are the discovery of the shape of the spacecraft, the scene of the alien set ablaze with kerosene, and the final warning/bulletin radioed by reporter Ned “Scotty” Scott (Douglas Spencer) from the North Pole: “…Watch the skies, everywhere! Keep looking, keep watching the skies!”

Learn more and watch the preview here.

 

Did your favorite make our list of the greatest films of 1951?

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