The Forgettable Film Year Of 1951

I am still moving back through movie history yet again. Perhaps I will end this trip soon. We are going to be getting back into the ‘40s, when there were good films but the business was not what it is now. I don’t know I will play it by ear. For now, though, I am looking back at 1951, which is 70 years ago. That’s an entirely different world of film. Let’s take a look back, shall we?

This was the time of the historical drama. The highest-grossing film of 1951, by a wide margin, was a movie called Quo Vadis. I have heard of it, but I have never seen it. Has anybody? Has it stood the test of time? Or was this just one of many quasi-biblical epics that littered the landscape back in the day. Movies wanted to be immense, and certainly Quo Vadis seems immense. Peter Ustinov plays Nero! That’s notable!

This is actually a strange list of highest-grossing films. In third was David and Bathsheba, another biblical epic I have not seen, but this one I haven’t even heard of. In fourth? The Great Caruso of course, which I also have never heard of. It’s a biopic of an opera singer. And it was the fourth-highest-grossing movie of 1951! What a world!

That being said, there are three notable movies in the top 10. A Streetcar Named Desire, which helped make Marlon Brando a movie star, came out. It’s definitely very actor-y as a movie. The same goes for A Place in the Sun, directed by George Stevens. The best movie in this top 10 is probably The African Queen, which is good but not great. Katharine Hepburn isn’t at her best for whatever reason, but Humphrey Bogart did win an Oscar. It definitely feels a bit antiquated as a film, though.

Un americano en París (An American in Paris, 1951), de Vincente Minnelli

In the end, the film that won Best Picture was – no surprise for the era – the musical An American in Paris. Ugh, that movie is boring. Oscar Levant is funny, but that movie is such a snooze. I did not like it at all. The only Best Picture nominee I haven’t mentioned yet is Decision Before Dawn, which I have never heard of.

There were some noteworthy films this year, including an Abbott and Costello comedy. Disney released their Alice in Wonderland. Ronald Reagan starred with a chimp in Bedtime for Bonzo. Additionally, Alfred Hitchcock released Strangers on a Train, which has a great villainous turn from Robert Walker.

I certainly can’t look through the films of 1951 and be wowed. Not a single Best Picture nominee is a film I think is anything more than “good.” That’s actually true of every film that came out this year. Sure, I know a few of these movies are considered classics, but they aren’t classic to me. They are just notable movies. If a film that made almost double any other film can be completely forgotten 70 years later, what are we supposed to take away from it all?

Chris Morgan
Author: Chris Morgan

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