At the beginning of this Billy Wilder film, Sabrina Fairchild is an unassuming chauffeur’s daughter who has plain looks (OK – as plain as Audrey Hepburn can get!) and an intense infatuation with the employer’s son, David, played perfectly by William Holden (with blond hair!). After a stint in Paris at cooking school, she returns as a sophisticated woman, but still retains her crush on David. Enter David’s older and less carefree brother Linus, played by Humphrey Bogart, to muck up the ideal love affair Sabrina has in mind for she and David. Basically, that’s the plot in a nutshell. The performances make this film more than just your typical romantic comedy. Holden is perfect as the lollygagger David, who is much more interested in the ladies than in the family business. Bogart combines the right mix of stiffness and lovability to be a Linus we can actually imagine Sabrina being attracted to. Apparently, Hepburn and Holden did not get along well with Bogart while making this film. That lack of chemistry does not show up on screen…all of the characters’ interactions with each other seem natural and unforced. It is a little odd seeing the much older Bogart with the young Hepburn, but that’s Hollywood. Even back in 1954!

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A comedy about a prisoner of war camp in Germany? With Nazis we can laugh at? Is this possible? Well, since nothing was impossible for director Billy Wilder, he (and co-writer Edwin Blum) took this stage play (by Donald Bevin and Edmund Trzcinski) and adapted it with comic brilliance for the screen. William Holden plays Sefton, one of the screen’s best love-to-hate-‘um/hate-to-love-‘um characters. Why does the audience feel this way about him? Well, Sefton is a curmudgeon and crook. He makes friends with the Nazis in order to get special perks. He has a foot locker filled with contra-band items that the other men would kill for. He basically is a guy who uses his time in the Army and in the prison to hone his schmoozing skills to get what he wants or needs. But, he’s funny. He’s like the class clown that you find yourself laughing with even though you think he’s distasteful and inappropriate. I like Holden and have seen most of his films. This is, in my opinion, the role Holden was born to play. He becomes Sefton…you forget that you’re watching an actor and you get caught up with the shady deals and craftiness. When the other men of Sefton’s barracks believe he is the “stooge” (or snitch) who is telling the Nazis about the escape plots, we feel sorry for him even though we are not quite sure whether we believe he’s innocent. He has proven he deals with the Nazis so maybe he is the snitch…or maybe not? Wilder’s filmmaking (along with Holden’s performance) seals this film as one of the best war films of its kind—or of any kind. Look for film director Otto Preminger as Colonel von Scherbach, who steals the few scenes he is in.

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Gregory Peck stars as a gruff, hungry reporter who lucks out one day when he discovers the woman he found sleeping at the side of the road was princess Audrey Hepburn (in her Oscar-winning debut performance). He will do anything to get her story but cannot let her know what he does for a living. And, of course, as he does get to know her, they fall in love. Can they be together, though? Is she willing to give up her life as a princess? Is he willing to settle down? For a first starring film role, Hepburn shines as the naïve dreamer who craves more freedom. Peck is right on target as a hard-edged reporter who eventually finds his softer side.

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After watching this film, saying “good morning” to folks takes on a whole new meaning. You say it and then just want to burst into song… “Good mornin’, good mo-o-ornin’… We’ve talked the whole night through…” etc. OK – maybe that’s just me. Maybe you won’t feel compelled to dance and sing around but I sure did after seeing this classic for the first time…and even subsequent times. Singin’ in the Rain is addictive. Yes, it is corny and hokey, but name a musical from the first part of the 20th Century that wasn’t. At least this one is poking fun at the movie industry and, in turn, itself. Unlike most of the Lerner/Loewe and Rogers/Hammerstein musicals of this same period, Singin’ in the Rain is more of a comedy than a drama. Well, OK, it does get pretty melodramatic but add Donald O’Conner to anything and comedy usually ensues. So, if you haven’t seen this one…or even if it has been a long time…check it out. When you walk into work tapping your toes, just sing “Good mornin’” to your co-workers and they will understand!

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A classic Tracy/Hepburn comedy. Katharine Hepburn plays an athlete who excels in a variety of sports. Spencer Tracy plays a shady sports promoter who sees a perfect financial opportunity to be made with Hepburn. As their business relationship grows weary, their attraction increases, even though Hepburn is engaged to a dominating man who does not want her to keep playing sports. Not the best of the duo’s films, but it’s still one you should see.

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A great screwball comedy from one of screwball masters, Howard Hawks. Not as good as Hawks’ 1940 classic His Girl Friday, this one is still better than most. Featuring Marilyn Monroe in one of her big roles, this film, like Friday, also stars screwball master Cary Grant in one of his goofiest roles ever. Parts of this film get way too silly but over-all, the combination of Hawks and Grant is just too much to resist.

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Based on Theodore Dreiser’s classic novel, An American Tragedy, director George Stevens weaves a tale of love, sex, money and the trappings of all three. Montgomery Clift stars as George, a young man with dreams of power and success, but who has lived his life in a lower middle-class environment…up until now. He decides to “hit up” a distant, very prosperous relative for a job and once he gets his foot into the door of the life of luxury, there is no turning back for him. Elizabeth Taylor shines in her role as Angela, a beautiful socialite who falls for George, almost as hard as he falls for the life of extravagance. Clift really brings George and all of his greed and passions alive here. In some movies I always found him kind of stiff. But, here he’s so determined and tragic…yet sympathetic at the same time. Look for Shelley Winters in a key role as George’s non-upscale girlfriend…this is one of her first big roles and she does a brilliant job of capturing the desperation of her character.

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This film is another one of the Ealing Studios comedies of the 1950s with their star Alec Guinness in the main role. It begins slower than the others, and a little more confusingly, but then quickly catches up to the usual comic pace of the other Ealing films. Guinness is charming and very subtle as the chemist who creates the perfect clothes fabric. This film is not AS funny as some of the other Guinness films of this period, but it still will satisfy an urge for a good, cute comedy.

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Narrated by a dead man (something we learn right upfront), this film is one of the most biting, harsh commentaries ever filmed. Attacking Hollywood (which for a Hollywood movie is a risk) had been done before this film and has been done since but nothing packs the same kind of punch as the decline of the old, washed-up silent movie star Norma Desmond, played perfectly by another washed-up silent star Gloria Swanson. William Holden plays Joe Gillis, a down-on-his-luck screenwriter who becomes Ms. Desmond’s personal screenwriter and “companion.” Director Billy Wilder uses the screen here to make a film as dark and dismal as the plot…and this only enhances the story. An example would be the house Norma lives in…Wilder shoots it like a funeral home. It’s always dark and shadowy, just like Norma and her dreams of a “comeback.” There are some things in this film that seem to be just added for “dark” comic effect…like the burial of the monkey. Yes—monkey. These little oddities add to Norma’s dark and foreboding feel…she’s not only a has-been but Wilder wants us to also know she’s mentally unstable. Holden does a great job as the “sane” character in the film. His performance is crucial since it has to be the glue that holds all of the insanity together. But, it also has to be strong since we know he’s a doomed man. After all…it is his character floating in the pool, dead, at the beginning of the film…

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No Way Out is a hard film for me to watch. It is raw and unrelenting in its depiction of racism in the 1950s. The n-word is tossed around very casually and other derogatory words and stereotypes as well. So, wondering why I love this film so much? Well, just as it’s tough to watch, it is also essential to watch, especially for someone like myself who did not grow up with that level of intense racism. This film teaches tolerance and acceptance. It shows that the difference between black and white (or whichever color) are inconsequential and even non-existent. For its time, this must have been a much more shocking film that it even is today…I mean I was “shocked” at some of the racist language, etc. but in 1950, I’m assuming the level of shock was concerning different aspects of the film. Like the fact that Sidney Poitier plays a doctor. Black physicians are commonplace now, but in the early 50s, I’m sure they were not filling the halls of medical schools. The message of this film is essential, though, so matter what your shock value, try your best to put it aside. It’s a must-see example on how ignorance and intolerance can drive a person to ruin and about how a by-gone era and mentality (thankfully) viewed successful African Americans and the people who persecuted them.

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