Top Ten 1951

1. Early Summer
2. Strangers On a Train
3. Ace In The Hole
4. The Day The Earth Stood Still
5. Scrooge
6. Decision Before Dawn
7. Bellissima
8. The Browning Version
9. A Streetcar Named Desire
10. The African Queen


The most exciting performance of the year and definitely one that could not have been appreciated for its sang-froid subtlety at the time, is Robert Walker as the impetuous strangler in Alfred Hitchcock’s masterful Strangers On A Train. Walker is as excited about killing an old lady as he is about getting into Farley Granger’s pants, and Hitchcock makes it all so much fun to watch.

Honour Roll: Humphrey Bogart, The African Queen; Marlon Brando, A Streetcar Named Desire; Montgomery Clift, A Place In The Sun; Michael Redgrave, The Browning Version


Lots of great choices here, including Vivien Leigh’s Oscar win for Streetcar and Setsuko Hara being brilliantly beautiful in Ozu’s family drama Early Summer as well as Kurosawa’s adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot. Most impressive, though, is the firebrand energy of Anna Magnani in Visconti’s wonderful Bellissima; Magnani was an unstoppable force on film, and sometimes her constant Mamma Mia shouting could be tiresome (watching her wring her hands in English in Williams’ The Rose Tattoo, for which she won the Academy Award, is a good example). Visconti makes it all count, however, and her passion never wears you out, her emotional journey towards self-realization in the way she exploits her daughter for fame instead making for a very moving melodrama (which Almodovar later sublimated into his delicious all-female Volver).

Honour Roll: Setsuko Hara, Early Summer/The Idiot; Vivien Leigh, A Streetcar Named Desire; Eleanor Parker, Detective Story; Thelma Ritter, The Model and the Marriage Broker


It’s a hammy choice, but I just love watching Peter Ustinov preen around giant Biblical epic sets as a crazy Nero in one of worst of the junky sagas, Quo Vadis. A film so bad even the great Deborah Kerr comes off slightly idiotic in it, Ustinov seems to embrace the kitsch and has a marvelous time playing the silliness for all it is worth.

Honour Roll: Toshiro Mifune, The Idiot


Hollywood honoured Jan Sterling with an Oscar nomination once in her career, but it seems that she went unrewarded for the power and verve she brought to the big screen.  Watching her performance in Ace In the Hole, it’s possible she was a bit too much for the industry to handle, a femme fatale without a weak point and a lot of unapologetic ambition.  Decades later, the portrayal burns the screen to ashes.

Honour Roll:  Lee Grant, Detective Story; Cathy O’Donnell, Detective Story; Thelma Ritter, The Mating Season


Early Summer treads on many of the same themes as the majority of the films by Yasujiro Ozu: family, the passage of time and the way in which maturity and marriage can also have a detrimental effect on family life. What makes this one so special among his best films is a lightness and bright humour that is as effective as the pathos in his masterpiece, Tokyo Story. The scene where the girls make fun of provincial accents is just one example of its endless charms.

Honour Roll: Elia Kazan, A Streetcar Named Desire; Vincente Minnelli, An American In Paris; Luchino Visconti, Bellissima; Billy Wilder, Ace In The Hole