One of my colleagues asked me yesterday about my favourite black & white movies – and it got me to thinking about how many vintage movies I truly love and admire.
I struggled a bit with picking an all-time fave but of course it’s King Kong, the first movie I remember making me cry. It is wholly responsible for my adult obsession with giant beasts trampling cities and people like ants.
I’m inspired now off the back of this conversation to share my top 5 favourite B&W movies because it’s been so fun thinking about them.
King Kong (1933)
A film crew goes to a tropical island for an exotic location shoot and discovers a colossal ape who takes a shine to their female blonde star. He is then captured and brought back to New York City for public exhibition
The King of the Beasts is King Kong as far as I’m concerned and I don’t care what Godzilla says or does to try and sway me. The original (and best) giant ape movie stars my childhood idol Fay Wray as Ann Darrow, an ordinary girl chosen to star in a motion picture filmed on a remote island.
Here, KK falls in love with Ann and is doomed from the start when the over-zealous filmmaker Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) decides to capture and bring him back to the Big Apple. Even thinking about Kong’s fate makes me feel teary – why couldn’t they just let him live? The moral of this story rings true even today – what the hell are we doing to this planet and who the hell do we think we are?
A Phoenix secretary embezzles forty thousand dollars from her employer’s client, goes on the run, and checks into a remote motel run by a young man under the domination of his mother.
I re-watched this masterpiece not long ago and it is perfect. I cut my teeth as a teenager on Hitchcock’s films and this is his most overtly horror-esque. Norman Bates is such a classic villain and a somewhat sympathetic one (IMHO).
The story kicks off when Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) steals $40k from her workplace so she can bugger off with her debt-ridden boyfriend and marry him. On the run, she winds up checking into the Bates Motel which is a big mistake – huge – and when she overhears Norman (Anthony Perkins) arguing with his mother, things take a turn. When our boy opens up about their toxic mother/son relationship, Marion has a change of heart and decides to return home and hand the money back.
Will she get the chance? I think we mostly all know the answer to this one. The suspense in Psycho is second to none and it obviously contains one of the most iconic death scenes of all time. I really recommend reading the ‘shower scene’ section of this Wikipedia page for some of the technical aspects of filming the segment, it is fascinating.
Wizard of Oz (1939)
Dorothy Gale is swept away from a farm in Kansas to a magical land of Oz in a tornado and embarks on a quest with her new friends to see the Wizard who can help her return home to Kansas and help her friends as well.
I don’t think anyone needs me to summarise this film any further. It’s a story as old as time. I don’t even know if it’s cheating to include this on the list given that only some of it is filmed in black & white but screw it.
While in Kansas, Dorothy (Judy Garland) and friends are subdued in black, white and grey but as soon as she’s whisked away to The Wonderful Land of Oz, everything changes and we’re treated to glorious Technicolor, which is handy because those ruby slipper really pop in full colour. This is one of my favourite films of all time because it has everything; friendship, adventure, a good dog – and witches.
Mildred Pierce (1945)
A hard-working mother inches towards disaster as she divorces her husband and starts a successful restaurant business to support her spoiled daughter.
Mildred Pierce is one of the first films I saw when we studied film noir in Media Studies at college and I fell in love with it immediately. The whole sub-genre is the best, centering around beautiful, often nefarious chain-smoking dames. It was hard not to put way more noir on the list to be honest, it is always so entertaining.
A former child star torments her paraplegic sister in their decaying Hollywood mansion.
“Baby Jane” Hudson (Davis) is a former vaudevillian child star whose fortune has turned significantly. Once the talk of the town, she now lives in the shadow of her film star sister, Blanche (Crawford). After a horrible car accident, in which Blanche is left paralyzed from the waist down, Jane is blamed for everything, turning up steaming drunk a few days later.
Fast forward to ’62 and the sisters live together in a mansion paid for by Blanche’s film career. Jane is officially a lush who psychologically tortures her wheelchair bound sister out of sheer jealousy. Baby Jane is a thriller/horror with the most wonderful aesthetic. Throw into the mix the lead actresses’ notorious feud which was at its height during the filming of this movie – and it takes on a whole other level.
Jealousy and murder are on the menu and I eat it up.
And a very special mention to:
Bringing Up Baby (1938)
While trying to secure a $1 million donation for his museum, a befuddled paleontologist is pursued by a flighty and often irritating heiress and her pet leopard, Baby.
What are your favourite black & white movies?
Meghan shares her favourites here.