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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 1959 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:

  • James Coburn – Ride Lonesome
  • Mia Farrow – John Paul Jones
  • Richard Harris – Shake Hands with the Devil
  • Martin Landau – Pork Chop Hill
  • Martin Scorsese – Vesuvius VI
  • George C. Scott – The Hanging Tree
  • Steven Spielberg – The Lost Guy

 

Top-grossing Films

RankTitleStudioGross
1.Ben-HurMGM$36,992,000
2.Sleeping Beauty*Disney$21,998,000
3.North by NorthwestMGM$12,703,000
4.Some Like It HotUnited Artists$10,128,000
5.Pillow TalkUniversal-International$9,670,000
6.Imitation of LifeUniversal-International$9.618,000
7.Suddenly, Last SummerColumbia$6,375,000
8.The Nun’s StoryWarner Bros.$5,750,000
9.Rio BravoWarner Bros.$5,650,000
10.Anatomy of a MurderColumbia$5,500,000
11.The Diary of Anne Frank20th Century Fox$5,014,000
12.On the BeachUnited Artists$4,803,000
13.Operation PetticoatUniversal-International$3,950,000
14.The Best of Everything20th Century Fox$3,500,000
15.Godzilla Raids AgainWarner Bros.$1,952,000

(*) After theatrical re-issue(s)

Academy Award Winners

Best Picture: Ben-Hur — Sam Zimbalist, Producer

Best Director: William Wyler — Ben-Hur  

Best Actor: Charlton Heston — Ben-Hur

Best Actress: Simone Signoret — Room at the Top

Best Supporting Actor: Hugh Griffith — Ben-Hur

Best Supporting ActressShelley WintersThe Diary of Anne Frank

 

Among Those Who Died In 1959:

  • January 21 – Cecil B. DeMille, 77, American director and producer, The Ten Commandments, The Greatest Show on Earth
  • February 1 – Madame Sul-Te-Wan, 85, American actress, King of the Zombies, In Old Chicago
  • February 4 – Una O’Connor, 78, Irish actress, Witness for the Prosecution, The Adventures of Robin Hood
  • February 5 – Gwili Andre, 51, Danish actress, Secrets of the French Police, No Other Woman
  • February 20 – George Archainbaud, 68, French director, Thirteen Women, Girls of the Big House
  • February 22 – Helen Parrish, 34, American actress, Too Many Blondes, X Marks the Spot
  • March 2 – Eric Blore, 71, British actor, Top Hat, The Lady Eve
  • March 3 – Lou Costello, 52, American comedian and actor, half of Abbott and Costello comedy team, Africa Screams, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein
  • March 26 – Raymond Chandler, 70, American author and screenwriter, The Big Sleep, Double Indemnity
  • March 27 – Grant Withers, 54, American actor, My Darling Clementine, Fort Apache
  • April 12 – James Gleason, 76, American actor, Here Comes Mr. Jordan, The Bishop’s Wife
  • April 17 – Cecil Cunningham, 70, American actress, The Awful Truth, Monkey Business
  • April 18 – Irving Cummings, 70, American director, Louisiana Purchase, The Dolly Sisters
  • May 3 – Troy Sanders, 57, American score arranger and composer, White Christmas, Going My Way
  • June 4 – Charles Vidor, 58, Hungarian director, Gilda, Love Me or Leave Me
  • June 16 – George Reeves, 45, American actor, Gone with the Wind, So Proudly We Hail!
  • June 18 – Ethel Barrymore, 79, American actress, Portrait of Jennie, The Spiral Staircase
  • August 6 – Preston Sturges, 60, American writer, director, Sullivan’s Travels, The Lady Eve
  • September 6
    • Edmund Gwenn, 81, British actor, Miracle on 34th Street, Mister 880
    • Kay Kendall, 32, British actress, Genevieve, Les Girls
  • September 11 – Paul Douglas, 52, American actor, A Letter to Three Wives, It Happens Every Spring
  • September 13 – Adrian, 56, American costume designer, The Wizard of Oz, The Women
  • September 14 – Wayne Morris, 45, American actor, Kid Galahad, Paths of Glory
  • September 25 – Helen Broderick, 68, American actress, Top Hat, Swing Time
  • October 3 – William Bishop, 41, American actor, Harriet Craig, Top Gun
  • October 7 – Mario Lanza, 38, American singer and actor, The Great Caruso, Winged Victory
  • October 14 – Errol Flynn, 50, Australian actor, The Adventures of Robin Hood, Captain Blood
  • October 21 – Olive Blakeney, 60, American actress, Leave It to Blanche, Don’t Get Me Wrong
  • October 30 – Noel Francis, 53, American actress, Blonde Crazy, I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang
  • November 7 – Victor McLaglen, 72, British actor, The Quiet Man, Gunga Din
  • November 20 – Sylvia Lopez, 26, French actress, Hercules Unchained, Son of the Red Corsair
  • November 21 – Max Baer, 50, American boxer and actor, The Prizefighter and the Lady, The Harder They Fall
  • November 25 – Gérard Philipe, 36, French actor, Fan-Fan the Tulip, Beauties of the Night
  • December 22 – Gilda Gray, 58, American actress, Aloma of the South Seas, Cabaret
  • December 24 – Edmund Goulding, 68, American director, Grand Hotel, The Razor’s Edge

The Greatest Films of 1959

 

***POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT FOR ALL***

 

Poster for the movie "Anatomy of a Murder"

© 1959 Columbia Pictures − All right reserved.

Anatomy of a Murder

D: Otto Preminger

Army officer Lt. Frederick Manion (Ben Gazzara) was charged with the murder of the owner of Thunder Bay Inn, Barney Quill. Manion turned himself in after shooting and killing Quill, and was arrested for murder. Manion alleged that Quill had raped his attractive wife Laura (Lee Remick). Country-styled Paul Biegler (James Stewart), more interested in jazz piano and fishing than trying cases, was hired to represent and defend Manion. During questioning, the couple claimed that Quill beat and raped Laura – and afterwards, under an “irresistible impulse,” calmly strode to the tavern and committed the crime. Was Manion legally sane or insane? The tough prosecutor was Claude Dancer (George C. Scott), who tried to paint Laura as a trampy, provocative woman. There was a long debate about “missing panties” (allegedly torn off by Quill) – later verified by the inn manager Mary Pilant (Kathryn Grant), who found them in Quill’s laundry chute, and shockingly revealed that Quill was her father. Manion was found not guilty. He unexpectedly left town with only a note for Biegler, explaining that he was seized by an “irresistible impulse” to leave.

Learn more and watch the preview here.

 

Poster for the movie "Ben-Hur"

© 1959 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) − All right reserved.

Ben-Hur

D: William Wyler

Renowned, Best Picture-winning Biblical epic of enormous scale about friendship and then adult enmity between boyhood pals, filmed in Italy. The winner of 11 Oscars. The 1880 novel by Lew Wallace had previously been made in 1927 as a silent film with Ramon Novarro. A character-driven, action-filled, star-studded extravaganza and one of the cinema’s greatest epics — a compelling human story of revenge, bitterness, redemption and forgiveness. Charlton Heston is the Prince of Judea, Judah Ben Hur, who confronts the conquering Romans and tyrannical boyhood friend Messala (Stephen Boyd). His actions send him and his family (Martha Scott and Cathy O’Donnell) into banishment and slavery – and an inspirational encounter with Jesus. As a galley slave, he saves the life of Roman nobleman/admiral Quintus Arrius (Jack Hawkins), is adopted and becomes a respected citizen and a famed chariot racer under the tutelage of an Arabian horse racer (Hugh Griffith). Heston finally meets his rival Messala in a justly famous chariot race – often regarded as one of the most exciting action sequences ever filmed. Upon his return to Judea, Ben-Hur also rescues his suffering, leprous family and witnesses the crucifixion of Jesus – on his way to Golgotha, and is inspired to convert to Christianity.

Learn more and watch the preview here.

 

Poster for the movie "The Best of Everything"

© − All right reserved.

The Best of Everything

D: Jean Negulesco

Jean Negulesco’s glossy, explosive, and ahead-of-its-time soap opera was an underrated CinemaScopic campy melodrama. Adapted from Rona Jaffe’s 1958 best-selling novel, it was the urban equivalent of Peyton Place. One of its most famous quotes was: “Here’s to men! Bless their clean-cut faces and dirty little minds!” The influential film was advertised as a cinematic work that: “Nakedly Explores the Female Jungle Where Women Fight and Love Their Way to the Top – To Get the Things and Men They Want!” It also stated in the trailer that: “It undresses the ambitions and emotions of the girls who invade the glamour world of the big city, seeking success, love, marriage, and the best of everything…and who often settle for much less.” It was Hollywood’s look at the new sexual morality of the time (“This is a story of the female jungle, of the girls who didn’t marry at twenty, and of the men who wanted them – but not as wives”). It told about three aspiring young starlet-secretaries in the glamorous world of publishing in New York City, at the Fabian Publishing Company. Its social themes included the world of working women and adultery, love vs. career, unwed pregnancy, abortion, casting couch seduction, and alcoholism. The three struggling yet ambitious working women looking for men to marry (and fulfillment) included secretary Caroline Bender (Hope Lange), naive and virginal April Morrison (Diane Baker), and aspiring actress Gregg Adams (Suzy Parker). The film also implied what might happen to a working woman if she never married – the result would be the ruthless, bitter, unhappy, sterile and calculating editor Amanda Farrow (Joan Crawford), who was engaged in an unsatisfying affair with a married man. The chain-smoking Amanda eventually married an old acquaintance, a widower from Illinois, but was dissatisfied with her new life of domesticity and returned to the work world.

Learn more and watch the preview here.

 

Poster for the movie "Compulsion"

© 1959 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation − All right reserved.

Compulsion

D: Richard Fleischer

COMPULSION is one of several retellings of the infamous 1924 Leopold and Loeb killings, a deeply moving psychological courtroom drama. The principals are Artie Straus, the sadistic leader of the duo, and Judd Steiner, Straus’ introverted counterpart. Both boys — gay lovers — are the products of affluent, privileged upbringings, and both consider themselves above conventional structures of morality. Exercising their overwhelming feelings of superiority, the two students decide to kill a young boy. Rather than repenting for their crime, Steiner and Straus then set out to further the experiment by lending aid to the authorities. Inevitably, the duo is captured and prosecuted for the murder. Defense attorney Jonathan Wilk steps in and attempts to save the boys from execution, despite never receiving any explanation from the young culprits of their crime.

Learn more and watch the preview here.

 

Poster for the movie "The Diary of Anne Frank"

© 1959 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation − All right reserved.

The Diary of Anne Frank

D: George Stevens

The true, harrowing story of a young Jewish girl who, with her family and their friends, is forced into hiding in an attic in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam.

Learn more and watch the preview here.

 

Poster for the movie "Imitation of Life"

© 1959 Universal International Pictures (UI) − All right reserved.

Imitation of Life

D: Douglas Sirk

Lora Meredith, a white single mother who dreams of being on Broadway, has a chance encounter with Annie Johnson, a black widow. Annie becomes the caretaker of Lora’s daughter, Suzie, while Lora pursues her stage career. Both women deal with the difficulties of motherhood: Lora’s thirst for fame threatens her relationship with Suzie, while Annie’s light-skinned daughter, Sarah Jane, struggles with her African-American identity.

Learn more and watch the preview here.

 

Poster for the movie "North by Northwest"

© 1959 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) − All right reserved.

North by Northwest

D: Alfred Hitchcock

Hitchcock’s great suspense thriller, another mistaken-identity case involving a Madison Avenue ad executive Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant). He is targeted as a US government agent (who doesn’t actually exist) by international spies, abducted, framed for murder, and chased cross-country. On the run throughout the entire film, he is pursued by the foreign operatives, the head of the spy ring Philip Vandamm (James Mason), the CIA, the police, and a mysterious blonde Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint). A literal plot-twisting cliff-hanger, with superb sequences including the famous crop duster scene in an open field, and the chase across the face of Mount Rushmore.

Learn more and watch the preview here.

 

Poster for the movie "The Nun's Story"

© − All right reserved.

The Nun’s Story

D: Fred Zinnemann

Gabrielle Van Der Mal gave up everything to become a nun. But her faith and her vows are forever being tested: first in the missionary Congo hospital where she assists the brilliant and handsome Dr. Fortunati and then at the mother house in France when World War II has broken out and the nuns are forbidden by the order to take sides.

Learn more and watch the preview here.

 

Poster for the movie "Pillow Talk"

© 1959 Arwin Productions − All right reserved.

Pillow Talk

D: Michael Gordon

A man and woman share a telephone line and despise each other, but then he has fun by romancing her with his voice disguised.

Learn more and watch the preview here.

 

Plan 9 From Outer Space

 

Plan 9 From Outer Space (aka Grave Robbers From Outer Space)

D: Ed Wood

An important film, although universally acknowledged as one of the ‘worst’ films ever made, with an incoherent plot, cheap production design (e.g., cardboard gravestones), inexcusable special effects, and horrible acting. It marked the final role for horror icon Bela Lugosi. The character of director Edward D. Wood Jr. was played by Johnny Depp in Tim Burton’s biopic Ed Wood (1994). Extra-terrestrial aliens in silk pajamas including space soldier Commander Eros (Dudley Manlove) and mate Tanna (Joanna Lee), directed by their Ruler (John Breckinridge), implement a plan known as “Plan 9” (after eight failed plans) to stop humanity from creating a doomsday weapon (“solarite bombs”) and destroying the universe. They land in a flying saucer in a graveyard. The plan would resurrect the Earth’s dead (ghouls), or zombies, from the graveyard as a catastrophic diversion. The graveyard was located in the San Fernando Valley in Southern California. The army of the dead would march and conquer Earth before it destroyed itself. The first to be raised were Vampire Girl (Maila “Vampira” Nurmi), Ghoul Man (Bela Lugosi), and overweight Inspector Daniel Clay (Tor Johnson).

 

Poster for the movie "Ride Lonesome"

© − All right reserved.

Ride Lonesome

D: Budd Boetticher

RIDE LONESOME is a star-studded western filled with drama and action. A wanted murderer, Billy John, is captured by Ben Brigade, a bounty hunter, who intends to take him to Santa Cruz to be hanged. Brigade stops at a staging post, where he saves the manager’s wife from an Indian attack, and enlists the help of two outlaws to continue his journey more safely.

Learn more and watch the preview here.

 

Poster for the movie "Rio Bravo"

© 1959 Warner Bros. − All right reserved.

Rio Bravo

D: Howard Hawks

The sheriff of a small town in southwest Texas must keep custody of a murderer whose brother, a powerful rancher, is trying to help him escape. After a friend is killed trying to muster support for him, he and his deputies – a disgraced drunk and a cantankerous old cripple – must find a way to hold out against the rancher’s hired guns until the marshal arrives. In the meantime, matters are complicated by the presence of a young gunslinger – and a mysterious beauty who just came in on the last stagecoach.

Learn more and watch the preview here.

 

Room at the TopRoom at the Top (UK)

D: Jack Clayton

An ambitious young man from a poor family, gets a job in a mill town in Northern England. He woos the daughter of the richest man in town, but he also falls in love with a married woman with whom he has an intense affair. The married woman commits suicide and he finds himself married to a woman who loves him but whom he does not love.

 

ShadowsShadows

D: John Cassavetes

Cassavetes’ jazz-scored improvisational film explores interracial friendships and relationships in Beat-Era (1950s) New York City.

 

Sleeping BeautySleeping Beauty

D: Disney Studio

After being snubbed by the royal family, a malevolent fairy places a curse on a princess which only a prince can break, along with the help of three good fairies.

 

Poster for the movie "Some Like It Hot"

© 1959 The Mirisch Corporation − All right reserved.

Some Like It Hot

D: Billy Wilder

Wilder’s wonderfully-satirical, funny comedy. Two unemployed, 20’s era Chicago jazz musicians, Joe (Tony Curtis) and Jerry (Jack Lemmon) accidentally witness the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, and must flee from gangsters. They masquerade as women – Josephine and Daphne – and join Sweet Sue’s all-girl band with luscious, voluptuous singer Sugar Kowalczyk (Marilyn Monroe) heading for Florida to elude the pursuit of retaliatory bootleggers. Joe also disguises himself as a wealthy, impotent, Cary Grant-like yacht owner to attract the loving attention of fellow band member Sugar, while Daphne (impressed with his own new sexy image) distracts the real millionaire – a smitten, oft-wed Osgood Fielding III (Joe E. Brown). The Chicago hit men, with dime-flipping, spats-wearing ringleader Spats Columbo (George Raft) arrive at the Florida hotel for a convention, disrupting their gender-bending escapades. With the greatest fade-out line in film history: “Nobody’s perfect.”

Learn more and watch the preview here.               

 

Poster for the movie "Suddenly, Last Summer"

© 1959 Columbia Pictures Corporation − All right reserved.

Suddenly, Last Summer

D: Joseph L. Mankiewicz

The only son of wealthy widow Violet Venable dies while on vacation with his cousin Catherine. What the girl saw was so horrible that she went insane; now Mrs. Venable wants Catherine lobotomized to cover up the truth.

Learn more and watch the preview here.

 

Poster for the movie "The Young Philadelphians"

© − All right reserved.

The Young Philadelphians

D: Vincent Sherman

This bold, lengthy drama was based upon Richard P. Powell’s 1956 novel “The Philadelphian.” Up and coming young lawyer Anthony Lawrence faces several ethical and emotional dilemmas as he climbs the Philadelphia social ladder. His personal and professional skills are tested as he tries to balance the needs of his fiance Joan, the expectations of his colleagues and his own obligation to defend his friend Chester on a murder count.

Learn more and watch the preview here

 

Did your favorite make our list of The Greatest Films of 1959?

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