I am certanly glad that movies today are in color. However, I grew up on seeing everything in black and white even the television.
Remember back in the 1980s when Ted Turner bought many of the black and white classics with the intention of colorizing them--- actors, directors, critics--- and all were traumatized by the idea. Leave the movies as they were intended. There are so many great "black and whiters":Citizen Kane; Casablanca; Where the Lilies Bloom, and...
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I love Citizen Kane and Casablanca, so I see those are taken. I have always enjoyed Pleasantville, for its creative use of black and white and then color. I also like the old version of Great Expectations. The 1940s version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is awesome too!
For me, I'd have to say that it was "The Best Years of Our Lives" from 1946. This was a movie about the trials of men coming back from World War II. I am a history teacher and my maternal grandfather served in the US Navy in WWII (my paternal grandfather was Filipino and had his own hardships in WWII not captured in American movies). Watching this movie gave me more of a sense of the sorts of things that my grandfather and his generation went through not just in the war, but as they tried to re-adapt to a normal life after the war.
My favorite black and white (at the moment) is Fred Astaire and Ginger Roger's Follow the Fleet. It co-stars Randolf Scott and Harriet Hillard. There is a scene in which Astaire, smaller by half, is supposed to slug Scott ... and he does ... laying a resounding punch on Scott's jaw. Harriet Hilliard later became the beloved mother of the Nelson family on "The Ozzie and Harriet Show." They are the parents of teen idol singer and actor Ricky Nelson. The story is a cute but simple one: two sailors try to get the girls and cause mayhem while doing so.
The singing and dancing has some of Astaire-Roger's best moments in it. Ginger sings a couple of numbers without Fred:
"Come! Get together! Let the dance floor feel your leather. Step as lightly as a feather. Let yourself go ... Let yourself gooo. Relax ... You got yourself tied up in a knot. The night is cold but the music's hot! So, cooome! Get together ...."
Well you get the idea! The dramatic dance number is remarkable for is elegance and intensity and for the fact that, on one of the initial triple-spins Fred twirls Ginger through, her heavily beaded funnel-shaped sleeve whacks Fred upside the head! He tells that he was knocked a little loopy but, as he was still on his feet, he continued the dance. It turned out that after more than a handful of takes (I think it was 17 takes!) that first one (with the whack!) was the best and now part of movie eternity.
Why do I like it? It is Fred and Ginger, for starters. The songs are lots of fun. The dances are most enchanting. I can identify the film by its story instead of by Ginger's dress (which is a great dress nonetheless). "Let's see Top Hat!" "Which is that?" "It the feather dress." "No, let's watch the twirly-up-the-stairs dress." "That's Swing Time." "Is it?"
There are so many GREAT black and white movies! Choosing a set of favorite black and white movies, for me, is a lot like just generally making a list of great movies. Some of my all-time favorites are black and white: Hiroshima, Mon Amour; Fail-Safe; The Big Sleep and Raging Bull.
Raging Bull was not made in the "b&w" era. (Though the delineations of that era are quite flexible. Color movies were being made in the 1940s and earlier, though black and white continued to be made into the 1960s.)
Made in the early 1980s, Raging Bull was made in black and white for aesthetic and thematic reasons. Breaking out of the more contemporary mode of color film making, Scorcese was able to tell a story in a color (b&w) context that heightened the sense of tragedy and of nostalgia, while also making a stylistic comment on the character in the story, Jake LaMotta - a man who had two quite different careers and two sides to his personality.
The choice to use black and white really helped make the film what it is - a classic.
It's certainly not as old at the other movies previously discussed in this thread, but Shindler's List is my all time favorite black and white movie (I guess that still counts even though it was produced in black and white by choice rather than necessity). This movie presented the holocaust to the world in a whole new light, and reminded people about the horrors of which mankind is capable. The scene where the children are hiding in the pits of the commodes to avoid extermination still has a nightmarish effect on me. On the other hand, it shows that even in the darkest places, the good of humanity can shine through and impact the world for the better.
I have to admit to being a sappy, sentimentalist. My choice is a tie, but both involve the holiday season. The obvious first choice for me would be the Frank Capra classic It's a Wonderful Life. It is a holiday Christmas eve tradition at our house. My other choice, which is hardly ever televised would be Bachelor Mother starring Ginger Rogers and David Niven. Not much dancing in it for Rogers, but it is a delightful comedy.
Since I grew up in the 1960s, there were still B&W films being made (for example, To Kill a Mockingbird in 1960) and the movie reruns on TV were mostly viewed in B&W since color TVs were not available (or affordable) until that time. Citizen Kane is certainly one of the best, and most of the old Humphrey Bogart movies immediately come to mind, especially The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca.
My favorite black and white film is Wild Strawberries by the late, great Swedish film director Ingmar Bergman. First off, I love the story line of this film, about a professor of medicine who embarks on a journey from his home to receive an honorary degree from the University of Lund. On his journey he revisits his life, both in the physical sense, by visiting old places of his youth, and in the mind, through memories and recollections that cause him to analyze his life.
Secondly, I love the fine and elegant black and white cinematography of Gunnar Fischer. His photography sets the mood perfectly for each scene, with its contrasts of light and shadow. He is especially effective in the desolate, deserted street scene sequence in the first part of the film.
The film deals with man's search for meaning in life amongst all his endeavors. It just seems that black and white is the perfect film stock for this type of story, unique to its time when it was made in 1957 and released internationally in 1958. The Swedish premier of the film was on December 26, 1957.
Additional source: BFI Film Classics, "Wild Strawberries", Philip & Kersti French, Palgrave Macmillan, 1995, 2008, 2009.
One of my favorite B&W movies is Double Indemnity. This is a fast-paced, violent, and sexy film for its time, and tells the story of a brutal love affair and its terrible consequences. Another great one is The Third Man; Orson Welles was never as scary as in this film. Invasion of the Body Snatchers is very good and very scary; you wouldn't think it, but the film leaves me paranoid and jittery for hours.
Young Frankenstein is always amusing, no matter how many times you've seen it. So are many of the Hope/Crosby "Road" films. Modern-day B&W films tend to be pretentious, but The Artist was absolutely fantastic, well deserving of its Best Picture Oscar. The Man Who Wasn't There, from the Coen Brothers, is a very good throwback film.
The best thing is, many old B&W films are out of copyright and so can be found free online! Check the Internet Archive from some free B&W films.
I see so many good arguments for Citizen Kane so i'm not going to throw in why I loved it.
But I have not seen anyone mention Psycho. Psychpo is a cinematic masterpeice that has changed the corse of movies for all time. The black and white cinematography of that movie helps with the overall visual stuningness (I think that's a word) which is why the remake sucked.
Another fantastic one is The Godfather which... Wait what do you mean it's not in black and white? Of course it is! Oh wait... Well it's still a good movie.
One that IS in black and white is Mr. Smith Goes To Washington And Fights The Corrupt Politicians And Talks For Twenty Four Hours Straigt Now In Shocking 2D! I love that movie. Jimmy Stuart is at his best for this movie and so is Frank Capra! If you don't know who they are then you should look them up.
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