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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

And the Winner Is...

Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman in Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious*

My offhand question the other day about great black-and-white movies quickly racked up a near-record number of comments. I've tallied the results (no trivial task, either—see what I do for you?) which are presented below. Note that readers made what they wished of the question; I'm sure some people nominated great films, some people nominated favorites, and others paid more attention to the actual cinematography and the use of monotone. It's all good.

I've arranged the results in order of the number of mentions a film got, and then, within each category, alphabetically. In some cases I added the year of release to avoid confusion with remakes or other films of the same title, and for consistency I've generally listed the titles in their original languages with the common English-language title, if it's known by one, in parentheses. For simplicity's sake I haven't italicized all the titles in the main list. You should be able to find all of the titles on the Internet Movie Database ( I've added a few Amazon links here and there, but not to everything, as it would have taken me all day.

Of special mention are Sunrise, a silent film that got two votes, and In Cold Blood, which is B&W but also in Cinemascope. A few "finds" among little-known films may be Eric von Stroheim's Greed (although it's not available on DVD yet), Alphaville, and The Battle of Algiers. For obvious reasons I disallowed movies shot partly—or all!—in color; however, the runaway runner-up not on the list is no doubt Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Samouraï, which got a whopping three votes despite the fact that it was shot in very subdued Eastmancolor. And, finally, the Special Lifetime Achievement Award goes to Louis Malle's Ascenseur pour l'échafaud, which is not only in B&W, but has a plot that turns on a B&W photograph—and the movie includes a scene in a darkroom! Can't beat that.

My only personal comment is that I see a subscription to Netflix in my future—I've seen nine of the top ten (gotta go rent The Third Man) and I consider myself fairly cinematically "literate," but haven't seen anywhere close to half these films.

Thanks to everyone who participated. And if you see any mistakes in the list, please let me know.

The T.O.P. Readers' List of
Great Black-and-White Films

Citizen Kane (14)
The Third Man (13)
Casablanca (7)
Dr. Strangelove (7)
Breathless (6)
Raging Bull (6)
Shichinin no samurai (The Seven Samurai) (6)
Schindler’s List (5)
Der Himmel über Berlin (Wings of Desire) (4)
Manhattan (4)
Nosferatu (4)
Touch of Evil (4)
La Dolce Vita (3)
Eraserhead (3)
Good Night and Good Luck (3)
M (3)
The Maltese Falcon (3)
Paths of Glory (3)
Psycho (3)
Rashomon (3)
Le Salaire de la Peur (Wages of Fear) (3)
Sin City (3)
Stagecoach (3)
Stranger than Paradise (3)
Throne of Blood (3)
Alphaville (2)
Ascenseur pour l'échafaud (2)
The Battle of Algiers (2)
La Belle et la bête (Beauty and the Beast) (2)
Creature from the Black Lagoon (2)
The Day the Earth Stood Still (2)
Double Indemnity (2)
Down By Law (2)
Ed Wood (2)
Elephant Man (2)
High and Low (2)
High Noon (2)
Hud (2)
Ikiru (2)
Jules et Jim (2)
Ladri di biciclette (The Bicycle Thief, Bicycle Thieves) (2)
Metropolis (2)
Night of the Hunter (2)
Nóz w wodzie (Knife in the Water) (2)
One, Two, Three (2)
To Kill a Mockingbird (2)
Pather Panchali (2)
pi (2)
Rebecca (2)
Some Like It Hot (2)
Sunrise (2)
Them (2)
12 Angry Men (2)
Yojimbo (2)
Young Frankenstein (2)
El Ángel exterminador (The Exterminating Angel)
Angels with Dirty Faces
Az Én XX. századom (My Twentieth Century)
Battleship Potemkin
The Big Sleep
The Blob
Bob le Flambeur
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
C'est arrivé près de chez vous (Man Bites Dog)
Dead Man
D.O.A. (1950)
Double Indemnity
8 1/2
Les Enfants du paradis
Fort Apache (cited for innovative IR photography)
Frankenstein (1931)
The Grapes of Wrath
The Great Dictator
La Haine
A Hard Day’s Night
Hidden Fortress
Hiroshima Mon Amour
The Hustler
Ibun Sarutobi Sasuke (Samurai Spy)
In Cold Blood (cited for being in Cinemascope)
Key Largo
The Killing
King Kong (1933)
Kiss Me Deadly
Kurutta kajitsu (Crazed Fruit)
The Lady from Shanghai
The Ladykillers (1955)
The Last Picture Show
The Long Voyage Home
Lord of the Flies (1963)
Lost Horizon
The Magnificant Ambersons
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
The Man Who Wasn’t There
The Manchurian Candidate
Meshes in the Afternoon (short)
Mighty Joe Young (1949)
Misummer Night's Dream (1935)
Modern Times
My Darling Clementine
Night of the Living Dead
Night Mail (1936)
Of Mice and Men
On the Waterfront
Ostre sledované vlaky (Closely Watched Trains)
Les Quatre cents coups (The 400 Blows)
Rocco e i suoi fratelli (Rocco and His Brothers)
Såsom i en spegel (Through a Glass Darkly)
The Scarlet Empress
Scrooge (1951)
Soy Cuba / Ya Kuba
La Strada
The Stranger
Stray Dog
A Streetcar named Desire
Sunset Boulevard
Sweet Smell of Success
Tokyo Monogatari (Tokyo Story)
Tsubaki Sanjûrô (Sanjuro)
The Wrong Man


*The uncredited still photographer on Notorious was none other than Robert Capa, although I don't know if he took this particular picture. Thanks to robert for this information.


Blogger dingbat said...

I can't help linking to a great article about the best-photographed rarely-seen noir movies (and BW cinematographers) in one respected reviewer's opinion. I've seen only a couple, but unfortunately can't find any of these on DVD.

12:43 PM  
Blogger robert said...

I must point out that, by luck or by judgement, your number one choice has a pretty unassailable photographic connection. Robert Capa took the stills photographs and was the female leads good can it get ?


[I came across this by mistake as I remembered that Capa has a bit part in a movie of the period - he played an Egyptian market seller or something. I forget the name of the movie, and don't think it qualifies as a "great movie" but it's in the BLOOD AND CHAMPAGNE biography.]


1:06 PM  
Blogger Player said...

"Mighty Joe Young," I loved that movie when I was a kid.

Better late than never; I needed to mention this classic b&w flick.

2:08 PM  
Blogger Will said...

No 39 Steps? I can't believe it...

2:58 PM  
Blogger Eolake Stobblehouse said...

Holy cow, some list!

A great film which is partly in B/W and where the use of color and B/W is essential to the story is "Pleasantville".

3:01 PM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

"No 39 Steps? I can't believe it..."

Hey, you had your chance. I'm just listing what everyone suggested.


3:04 PM  
Blogger Jim Natale said...

Sorry to have been busy and, thus, late to this party. Mike, you (and any others yet to view it) will get quite a great enjoyable visual workout watching Carol Reed's movie set in post-WWII Vienna. Here's a short blog entry, with screen shots: The Third Man.

Also, for pure B&W cinematography, keep an eye out on Turner Classic Movies for three films by director Jacques Tourneur. One of these, Out of the Past, with Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer, is considered a prime example of film noir style.

Tourneur also made two psychological horror films that are highly regarded for their visuals. Now, seriously, don't laugh. They were low budget movies, and the studio forced him to accept exploitation titles, but Cat People and I Walked With a Zombie are well-crafted and a pair of treats for photographers' eyes.

In addition to these, and many of the fine films that made the TOP readers' list, I'm constantly "re-amazed" at how well the ordinary B&W films of the '40s were shot. The look might have been monochrome, but, photographically speaking, it was a golden age.

4:03 PM  
Blogger chantal stone said...

One of my favorite old movies is Imitation of Life...there are two versions, one in b&w filmed in 1934, and another in the subdued Eastmancolor from 1959. Both versions are excellent, but how anyone can resist Lana Turner and Juanita Moore from the 1959 version is anyone's guess. Although not b&w, there's a scene in the 1959 version where Lana Turner is talking to her soon-to-be ex-bf on the stairs...the lighting is sublime, and the color is nearly monochromatic. The shadows create a mood that is simply exquisite. Add this to your list of must-see's, Mike, if you haven't seen it already.

5:06 PM  
Blogger chantal stone said...

So I was just talking to my husband about Imitation of Life, and he reminded me that in the scene I previously mentioned, the guy Lana Turner's character was getting ready to dump was a photographer, and one of the reasons she was dumping him was because she didn't feel his work was serious enough. Poor guy!

5:16 PM  
Blogger expiring_frog said...

Mike: "Pather Panchali", not "Panther..." -- it's not abt big game hunting :P. It translates to "Song of the Little Road". Similarly, "Jalsaghar", not "Jhalsaghar", which translates to "The Music Room".

5:55 PM  
Blogger robert e said...

Thanks, Mike, for the question and the tally, and thanks to the gallery for the suggestions. I've seen maybe half these films, which means I've a lot to catch up on!

I added Beauty and the Beast and Young Frankenstein to my Netflix queue, as well as The Seventh Seal and Seven Beauties (the last two are not on the list, but the thread led me to them, so due credit).

8:05 PM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

Seventh Seal is great. See it in a burned-out basement when you're a little high, not long after your girlfriend who you still love has left you.


8:31 PM  
Blogger bjorke said...

After you watch the Third Man, dig out your directory of podcasts and start listening to the radio show....

8:54 PM  
Blogger Carl Dahlke said...

Annother nomination late to the party

Hara Kiri by Masaki Kobayashi

Wonderfully formal camerawork - like a minuet. Intense examination of the concept of honor and how it can be corrupted. Timeless issues even though set in feudal Japan.

10:04 PM  
Blogger Stephen said...

This was a great topic. I love the connecton between B&W photography and some of the best films ever made. For me, many of these films meet Stanley Kaufmann's criteria...he was asked by Dick Cavett as to what makes a great film, and his reply was "If it transforms your life..." Certainly I will never be the same for having seen many of these films, the were transformative experiences. I remember seeing that incredible scene in "Throne of Blood:" when Toshiro MIfune tries to escape a hail of arrows at the end of the movie...I first saw it when I was seventeen, and it had a profound effect on me. I had never seen anything like it. To this day, I think it is one of the most incredible sequences on film.

11:49 PM  
Blogger Scott Kirkpatrick said...

Is it too late to mention "Band a Part" (Band of outsiders) which I have always found better than Breathless? It's got everything, the Parisian suburbs, the two minute dash through the Louvre, recovering the record from the Americans, three minutes of the Madison, and even a minute of silent film.

What I really like about this list is its long tail. So many movies with a fanbase of 1 or 2.


10:07 AM  
Blogger Tom Fiddaman said...

Don't forget Rumble Fish directed by Francis Ford Coppola (just a tiny bit of color). Unfortunately the marketing geniuses at Universal Studios decided to release the DVD cover and official stills in color.

10:41 AM  
Blogger Will said...

OK, I have to mention "The Spiral Staircase" and Siodmak as well since someone brought up Tournier. Written by the same guy who wrote "Out of the Past", Cornell Wollrich. I was lucky enough in college to see a great many on the big screen because I had a prof who was the executor of Woolrich's estate. This brings back some memories: "Out of the Past" "The Killers" "The Stranger" "Double Idemnity" and "Scarlet Street" with Edward G Robinson. I haven't thought of these in years. Now I'm beginning to remember why I prefer b&w photography!

11:25 AM  
Blogger robert e said...

"Seventh Seal is great. See it in a burned-out basement when you're a little high, not long after your girlfriend who you still love has left you."

Not if I can help it! Mike, so glad you made it through *that* scenario intact, more or less.

And I see the list just keeps growing! Some great last minute suggestions, folks.

6:35 PM  

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