Thanksgiving break is fast approaching, and you might be wondering how you’ll spend your days off. After painfully excluding classics like “A Streetcar Named Desire” (1951) and “Schindler’s List” (1993), I compiled a list of my six favorite black and white movies and possibly provided an enjoyable way to spend the holiday. I hope you’ll love these movies just as much as I do!
6. “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” (1966) directed by Mike Nichols
Four words: Elizabeth Taylor. Chicken drumstick. I had watched “Cleopatra” (1963) the day before I saw “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and both Taylor and Burton were disappointing. I am pleased to say that the on-again, off-again couple redeemed themselves before my eyes with their performances as an assertive drunk and a history professor. The supporting cast of George Segal and Sandy Dennis is also superb. This movie is only one of two to have been nominated for every Academy Award it was eligible for, and I liked it more than “A Man for All Seasons,” that year’s Best Picture-winner.
5. “The Night of the Hunter” (1955) directed by Charles Laughton
Who knew that singing could be so creepy? I watched “The Night of the Hunter” several years ago, but I still remember how my heart hammered every time Robert Mitchum sang “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.” He plays Reverend Harry Powell, a serial killer who seduces a widow in hopes of gaining money. Thrilling from the beginning to the end, Powell then follows her children until a dramatic climax with excellent cinematography and eeriness throughout.
4. “The Best Years of Our Lives” (1946) directed by William Wyler
“The Best Years of Our Lives” is easily one of the most heartwarming movies. Three veterans are returning home after World War II, but all of them face difficulties in adapting to civilian life. One has a wife whom he doesn’t love, the second’s children have grown up without him to watch them, and the last lost his hands and struggles to communicate with his girlfriend. The cast is excellent; all of the actors deliver touching performances. “The Best Years of Our Lives” will make you both laugh and cry.
3. “Roman Holiday” (1953) directed by William Wyler
Before creating this list, I was determined to limit myself to only one movie per director. Luckily, rules are made to be broken. “Roman Holiday” follows the story of Princess Ann, played by Audrey Hepburn, and an American journalist played by Gregory Peck as they fall in love while concealing their identities. It’s a feel-good film with a great story, great acting, and great costumes. I have seen “Roman Holiday” countless times, and it never gets old.
2. “City Lights” (1931) directed by Charlie Chaplin
City Lights was the first silent film I had ever seen, and, expecting it to be like one of Don and Lina’s movies in “Singin’ in the Rain” (1952), I was impressed. Charlie Chaplin conveys so much through mere facial expressions and body language that words are unnecessary. There is nothing I would change about “City Lights;” it is the perfect balance of comedy and tenderness. All I can say is that everyone should watch this masterpiece at least once in their lives.
1. On the Waterfront (1954) directed by Elia Kazan
Marlon Brando plays Terry Malloy, a well-meaning but somewhat dull dockworker in “On the Waterfront.” Its simple but powerful plot centers on him after he unwittingly causes a fellow dockworker’s death. Everything – from its screenplay to its score – was well-done. And who can forget Brando’s heart-wrenching acting as he delivers those immortal lines: “You don’t understand! I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody instead of a bum, which is what I am.” In addition to my choice for the best black and white movie, On the Waterfront is in my top ten list of greatest American films.
“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,” “The Night of the Hunter,” “The Best Years of Our Lives,” “Roman Holiday,” “City Lights,” and “On the Waterfront” are some of my favorite black and white movies. All of them are entertaining, but also so impactful that I was thinking about them for days after watching them. It’s easy to dismiss black and white movies for not representing reality accurately, but shooting in only black and white can also be a stylistic choice to elicit certain emotions — like in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”. If you look past the monochrome, you can understand why “Citizen Kane” (1941) and “Casablanca” (1942), though they were filmed in black and white, are some of the best movies of all time.