Back in the first half of the 20th century, films were mostly made in black and white. But as the color film came into existence, black-and-white movies slowly faded into the background. However, these days, many filmmakers are trying to go back to the black-and-white cinema to accentuate the story or add more aesthetics to their films. This is why many of the old black-and-white movies still hold so much charm even decades later.
Today, we will have a look at some of the best classic black-and-white flicks that have stood the test of time. These old movies may be devoid of the vivid color palettes we are used to seeing in films today, but they are beautiful time-capsuled stories that are not just remnants of cinema’s glorious past but are also immensely entertaining even today.
'It's a Wonderful Life' is an evergreen classic and no black-and-white movie list can be complete without this beloved Frank Capra film. This timeless Christmas tale tells the story of George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart), who, overwhelmed by life's trials, is about to give it all up. That too, during Christmas. However, just as he is about to take his life, his Guardian Angel, Clarence, appears and shows the man how his life would have turned out had he never been born. George sees the positive impact he’s had on his town, family, and friends and looks at his life in a completely new light.
Nothing quite lifts us like the heartwarming and wholesome ending of this film where George runs through the streets of Bedford Falls declaring, “I wanna live, Clarence! I wanna live!”
Even if you haven’t watched the film, it is more than likely that you’ve at least heard of Casablanca. “Here’s looking at you, kid,” is probably one of the most quotable lines from a movie and Casablanca has quite a few memorable ones.
The story is quite simple. Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), who owns a nightclub in the Moroccan city of Casablanca, discovers that his old flame Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) is in town with her husband in the midst of World War II. Ilsa wants to escape to America with her husband, and Rick is the only one who can make that possible. However, Ilsa's feelings for Rick soon resurface and what follows is an intricate play of emotions between the one-time lovers.
Orson Wells' first and greatest movie Citizen Kane is often hailed as one of the greatest movies ever made. Even today, almost eighty years after its initial release in 1941, the movie still stands out because of how innovative the movie was for its time.
The entire film is a flashback and that was considered groundbreaking for the era. It tells the story of Charles Foster Kane, an incredibly affluent newspaper publisher, and industrial magnate. When a reporter is assigned to figure out Kane’s dying words "Rosebud", the investigation eventually reveals a remarkable portrait of a complex man who rose from nowhere to reach astonishing heights. It’s a captivating mystery and a brilliant character study that still gets us hooked.
This comedic masterpiece was a nuanced commentary on the industrialization of the world at the time and the significant differences in wealth during the Great Depression. The plot may sound pretty heavy but it was handled with great lightness and starred Charlie Chaplin as the iconic Little Tramp working in a state-of-the-art factory. Due to an odd set of circumstances, he keeps getting sent to prison. In between his jail visits, though, Charlie befriends an orphan girl (Paulette Goddard) and together they form a fascinating friendship while struggling with the difficulties of modern life.
It’s a delightful film, full of comedy and realism, and has Chaplin delivering an unforgettable performance.
The Master Of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock, made many memorable movies. However, Psycho is still recalled the most often because of how chilling it was. This is the story of Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) who lives with his mother in a worn-out house that overlooks the motel he runs. The motel doesn't see a lot of visitors, though, because of an interstate highway that was built to carry travelers away from the road.
On one rainy night, a woman, who’s on the run from the police, checks into the motel. She interacts with Norman and his mother and what follows is a captivating mystery that unravels in the most terrifying way. The music, the setting, the direction, and the mystery all make Psycho a hair-raising watch even today.
This film was released just after World War II ended in 1946. It centers around three veterans - Fred, Al, and Homer - who return to their shared hometown after the war. When the three of them try and return to their normal lives, they find that their loved ones and the surrounding public don’t understand their perspective of the world. The film did a wonderful job of representing veterans returning home from war and the emotional turmoil many of them go through. The issue was handled delicately and the sentiments of the war veterans have resonated through the years.
Harold Russell, an actual veteran who became disabled during World War II, played the character of Homer. While the veteran had no experience in acting, he did a splendid job and his truly emotional performance earned him an Oscar. He’s one of the main reasons to watch this beautiful and poignant film.
Love musical comedies? Then you simply can’t miss this classic. Top Hat starred Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in leading roles and has the perfect mix of a quirky musical and an Old Hollywood romantic slapstick comedy. The plot of the film centers on the wealthy Rogers who is on holiday in London and Venice and mistakes Astaire as the husband of another friend.
It’s a terrific comedy of errors that's filled with great music and fun performances that will have you smiling from ear to ear. The dance scenes between Rogers and Astaire, especially, are the highlight of the film and have remained eternally enjoyable. The music from legendary composer and lyricist Irving Berlin heightens the fun quotient of the film brilliantly.
This is another Frank Capra classic that is widely considered to be one of the best romantic comedies ever made. The film stars Claudette Colbert as the spoilt heiress Ellie Andrews and Clark Gable as the cynical yet resourceful reporter Peter Warne. Ellie has run away from the clutches of her rich father who had decided to hold her captive after she eloped with a man he believes is after his money. Ellie meets Clark in her travels and the reporter offers to help the young woman reunite with her new husband in exchange for an exclusive story. However, the more he interacts with the feisty Ellie, the more Clark begins to fall for her.
It Happened One Night clinched the "Best Picture" Oscar along with, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Screenplay.
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Fame and fortune are fickle creatures, especially for an actor. The 1950 film Sunset Boulevard depicts this theme amazingly well and is a clever satire on Hollywood's tendency to discard once relevant stars who aren’t as popular as they once were. The film stars Gloria Swanson as the aging silent film queen Norma Desmond. She forcibly hires a young screenwriter to help her get a second shot at fame. The screenwriter tries to manipulate her but fails and the amusing interactions between the two forms the crux of the story.
Sunset Boulevard is a dark and witty comedy that touches on an important and relevant subject while also making us laugh through its novel storyline and brilliant performances.
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The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is a classic western adventure drama that is recognized as one of the first Hollywood productions to be shot on a location outside the United States. Written and directed by John Huston, the movie is an adaptation of B. Traven's 1927 novel with the same name. Set in the 1920s, the film centers on two hard-luck wanderers, Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart) and Curtin (Tim Holt), who head into the Sierra Madre mountains to find gold after teaming up a wise old prospector. In their pursuit of finding the treasure, they encounter ruthless bandits and also battle with their own greed.
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is a gripping adventure film that displays the intricacies of human weaknesses magnificently well. It won the Oscars for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director, and Best Director. It was even selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
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