Top Ten 1956

1. Friendly Persuasion
2. Giant
3. The Searchers
4. The Burmese Harp
5. Moby Dick
6. The King And I
7. Forbidden Planet
8. The Silent World
9. The Girl Can’t Help I
10. Gervaise


Legends are often legendary for a reason; James Dean only made three films (noticeably), but all three were terrific and, in all three, he did a wonderful job of embodying more than just a pretty face. East Of Eden and Rebel Without A Cause hit deep emotional chords of teen angst, while Giant sees him give a glorious, comedic, sometimes even hammy performance as the dirt-poor ranch hand who goes on to become a mean old oil tycoon. He never got to live the years he portrays in the film, but had he not died so young we probably we wouldn’t have so many airheaded actors running around thinking they can be him either.


William Wyler’s Friendly Persuasion is one of the most potent and inspiring films about sticking to your principles even when it is the least convenient option. This is embodied beautifully by Dorothy McGuire as the morally strong but not intolerant wife to Gary Cooper’s fun-loving Quaker husband. The scene where she trusts to her beliefs and welcomes southern marauders into her home despite the possibility that they will rape and murder her never fails to bowl me over

Honour Roll: Carroll Baker, Baby Doll; Joan Crawford, Autumn Leaves; Maria Schell, Gervaise; Hideko Takamine, A Wife’s Heart


One of Douglas Sirk’s juiciest melodramas, Written On The Wind, also provided two of the juiciest, campiest performances in the 1950s: the first of them is Robert Stack as the maniacal, self-destructive heir to an oil fortune who marries Lauren Bacall and then slowly destroys her soul. It’s terrific stuff, on the level that Stack was never again able to make so easy to swallow.

Honour Roll: Tony Curtis, Trapeze; Jeffrey Hunter, The Searchers; Eli Wallach, Baby Doll


The other grand turn in Written On The Wind is Dorothy Malone‘s Oscar winning role as the ungrateful daughter who takes her father’s oil millions and spends them on destroying her own reputation. The closing scene, where she grabs a tower model while weeping, is camp delight, but it is ridiculousness of the most entertaining kind.

Honour Roll: Marie Windsor, The Killing


It tackles racism, materialism, the spotty nature of American history and features Elizabeth Taylor in her first tough, classy, uppity role. George Stevens gives Giant all of its intelligence and class, keeps the soap opera histrionics to a minimum and keeps it bouncing along for a very short-feeling, completely entertaining three and a half hours. A real classic.

Honour Roll: John Huston, Moby Dick; William Wyler, Friendly Persuasion; Mikio Naruse, A Wife’s Heart