Life in the 50’s: Movies!

Retro Dee is a regular contributor to The Grooveyard’s website, writing about music, fashion and other trends of the 1950s.  Check out her blog, Retro Dee’s Guide to the Best Era Ever here, and her column here every Wednesday.

Hi I’m Retro Dee and Welcome to a segment that I like to call “Life in the 50’s”!

In this post, we will be talking about movies! Like any era, movies were an important part of the 1950’s. Movies in the 50’s were filled with glamour and excitement, iconic stars, great music, wild westerns and creepy monsters. They inspired new trends, brought high school sweethearts closer and went down in History as Hollywood’s Golden Age. Yes, movies in the 50’s were a special time for cinematography and the world at large.

It would be impossible to cover all the great films that came out in the 1950’s in one single blog entry. So I will only highlight some, along with some of the unique aspects of movie-going in that era.

Drive-In Theaters

When people think of the 1950’s, one iconic image that comes to mind is the Drive-In Theater. Although they came to be in the 1940’s, and still exist today, the 1950’s decade was the hey-day for the Drive-In Movie. Folks would park their huge cars in a parking lot in front of a giant, outdoor screen. Stationary speakers at each parking space is how the audio of the movie was heard. At intermission, there would be a cartoon featuring dancing snacks encouraging folks to go up to the concession stand. The concession stands sold hot dogs, candy, popcorn and sodas which folks would bring back to their cars.


The famous Drive-In Movie photo from LIFE magazine


For dating teens, the Drive-In theater was an ideal place to “neck” and spend a romantic evening with your spouse-to-be. Many teens didn’t even watch the movie!

Drive-In Movies have become an iconic part of American Culture and a sentimental symbol of times gone by. However, Drive-In theaters were active way beyond the 50’s. Some remain open today, but are not nearly as popular as they were in years past.


Teens at a Drive-In: A night of movie-going action!


If folks in the 50’s didn’t choose to go to a Drive-In (which was more popular with the teenie boppers) they could see the newest picture at a regular movie theater. Most every town with a somewhat ample population had a theater. The difference from today’s theaters is that back then they were cleaner, you could smoke, and gals would come around with popcorn and candy so you didn’t have to get up to get it yourself.

Movies and Stars

Nothing was more glamorous than Hollywood in the 1950’s! Some of the most beautiful women and the most handsome men to ever live graced the silver screen in the 1950’s era. Some classic 1950’s films were:

James Dean and Natalie Wood in Rebel Without A Cause (1955), Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront (1954), Sophia Loren and Cary Grant in The Pride and The Passion (1957), Tab Hunter in Damn Yankees (1958) , and Pat Boone and Shirley Jones in April Love (1957)

Also during the 50’s, Italian beauty Gina Lollobrigida starred in a total of 22 films including: She Couldn’t Say No (1955), Trapeze (with Burt Lancaster, 1956) and Anna of Brooklyn (1958)

Elizabeth Taylor graced the screen in A Place in the Sun (1951), Father’s Little Dividend(1951), The Last Time I Saw Paris (1954), Elephant Walk (1954), Giant (with Rock Hudson and James Dean, 1956), and, of course, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)


Classic movie poster for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof


Audrey Hepburn


The 1950’s were a big decade for Silver Screen sweetheart Audrey Hepburn who starred in One Wild Oat (1951), Laughter in Paradise (1951), Monte Carlo Baby (1951), Lavender Hill Mob (1951), The Young Wives’ Tale (1951), Roman Holiday (1953), Sabrina (1954), War And Peace (1956),  Funny Face (1957), Love in the Afternoon (1957), and Green Mansions (1959)



But the undisputed icon who ruled the Silver Screen in the 50’s, was undoubtedly Marilyn Monroe.

Marilyn, Marilyn and MORE Marilyn…

Often imitated and never, ever duplicated, Miss Monroe starred in a whopping 23 movies in the 1950’s and she was sexy and gorgeous in all of them. Marilyn Monroe was actually a curvaceous size 10 and in the 50’s, curves were considered very sexy.

The vast majority of Marilyn’s films were released in the 50’s, since she wasn’t well-known yet in the 40’s and she died in 1962.

Her 1950’s films were as followed:

  • A Ticket to Tomahawk (1950)
    One of the most famous photos of all time: Marilyn Monroe in The Seven Year Itch (1955)
  • The Asphalt Jungle (1950)
  • All About Eve (1950)
  • The Fireball (1950)
  • Right Cross (1951)
  • Home Town Story (1951)
  • As Young as You Feel(1951)
  • Love Nest (1951)
  • Let’s Make It Legal (1951)
  • Clash by Night (1952)
  • We’re Not Married! (1952)
  • Don’t Bother to Knock(1952)
  • Monkey Business (1952)
  • O. Henry’s Full House(1952)
  • Niagara (1953)
  • Gentlemen Prefer Blondes(1953)
  • How to Marry a Millionaire (1953)
  • River of No Return (1954)
  • There’s No Business Like Show Business (1954)
  • The Seven Year Itch (1955)
  • Bus Stop (1956)
  • The Prince and the Showgirl (1957)
  • Some Like It Hot (1959)

NOTE: One thing to remember! Regular women of the 1950’s did not go parading around showing cleavage or wearing skin-tight clothing and unabashedly showing off their body parts. That came way, way later. Sexual images of the sultry, breast bearing and scantily clad women that we have from the 1950’s come almost exclusivelyfrom Hollywood Stars and Pin Up magazines from that era. That kind of dress and behavior was strictly limited to the Silver Screen and magazines of that nature. It was not appropriate for the mainstream streets of society. Everyday people of that time dressed extremely conservatively. (I am not condemning or condoning either type of person, I’m just making a historical note.)

Music in 50’s Movies

In the 1950’s, music was a big deal, and it played a big role in movies as well. There were movies like Singin’ in The Rain with Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds (1952), several Bing Crosby films including Anything Goes (1956) and The Bachelor (with Debbie Reynolds again, featuring the hit song “Tammy”, 1957)

But! The most exciting movies were the ones that featured the brand new music genre called Rock n Roll! The first movies to feature Rock n Roll starred Bill Haley and HIS Comets:  Rock Around The Clock (1956) and Don’t Knock The Rock (with Little Richard, also 1956). Bill Haley was also featured in the West German film Heir Bin Ich, Heir Bleib Ich (1959)

Rocker Eddie Cochran also starred in 3 films before his untimely death in 1960: The Girl Can’t Help It (featuring Little Richard, 1956), Untamed Youth (1957) and Go Johnny Go(also with Little Richard and Jimmy Clanton, 1959)

Starring… Elvis Presley!

Of course, the most prominent Rock n Roll star to grace the Silver Screen was The King himself, Elvis Presley. Elvis’ movies in the 1950’s decade were Love Me Tender(1956), Jailhouse Rock (1957), Loving You (also 1957) and King Creole (1958)

Love Me Tender was Elvis’ Big Screen debut and featured the #1 hit song of the same name. The other songs were “Let Me”, “Poor Boy” and “We’re Gonna Move”. Jailhouse Rock featured the #1 hit title song as well as “(You’re So Square) Baby I Don’t Care”. Loving You featured the hit song “Teddy Bear”, among others, while King Creolefeatured the title song and several others.


Another famous Fifties pic: Elvis in Jailhouse Rock!


Westerns & Creature Features 

Two HUGE trends in movies of the 50’s were Westerns and Monster Movies (also known as “Creature Features”)

The Westerns correlated with the overall cowboy trend of the day. Some popular Western-themed films in the 50’s were: Gregory Peck in Only The Valiant (1951), Fess Parker in Thunder Over The Plains (1953),  James Stewart in The Man From Laramie (1955), John Wayne with Sophia Loren in The Legend of the Lost (1957), Gary Cooper in The Man of the West (1958) and many, many more.

Poster from The Man from Laramie (1955)

Creature features were sometimes shown back to back as a “Double Creature Feature” They might not have been award-winning, but they were great films to watch cuddling with that special guy or gal! Mid-century monster movies introduced the world to some great creepy classics such as The Thing (1951), Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954), Godzilla (1954), Tarantula (1955), The Creature Walks Among Us (1956), The Giant Claw (1957) Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957), I Was A Teenage Werewolf (1957), The Blob (1958), The Crawling Eye (1958), The Fly (starring Vincent Price, 1958) and The Mummy (1959)

There were a LOT more so if you like monster movies, I suggest you check ’em out!

Classic poster from Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)


Comedies with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis!

Comedies are always popular at the movies and in the 50’s this was no exception! The most popular comedic team of the decade was Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis (never to be confused with Jerry Lee Lewis, the musician) who starred together in a total of 16 movies during the 1950’s, including: Hollywood or Bust (1956) Most of their films contained slapstick comedy and a silly plot, but back in the day, they were the bees knees.

Hollywood or Bust (1956)


And now… some Mid-Century Movie Trivia!

  • There were no MPAA ratings in the 1950’s. The MPAA did not start rating films until 1968.   (I’m guessing children were not allowed into some movies, like the ones where Marilyn and Liz ran around in their skivvies.)
  • The cost of a movie ticket in 1955 was about 25 cents.
  • Many times there were two movies back to back for the price of one called a “Double Feature”.
  • Some theaters offered raffles and prizes to patrons.
  • Movies in the 50’s were called either “Pictures” or “Movie-Shows”
  • Despite TV being in black and white, movies in the 50’s were introduced in Technicolor. Many ladies began wearing slightly more colorful make-up such as eyeshadows and bright red lipstick when they saw their favorite stars wearing it.
  • The 1950’s was the era in which the 3-D movie came to be. 3-D glasses are still used today in some movies, but lesser so with today’s new technology.
  • Disney released 9 movies in the 1950’s, both animated and live-action. For a list of Disney movies from the 1950’s, check out Life in the 50’s : Disney Style!

Retro Dee writes about the Fifties at Retro Dee’s Guide to the Best Era Ever, and contributes to The Grooveyard every Wednesday.

Tickets are now on sale for “Laughing With the Lions”, a benefit to raise funds to build a playground for kids of all abilities.  Alan Seltzer, the host of “The Grooveyard” will MC the show, taking place March 2nd at Hays Theatre at Molloy College.  The show features Paul Anthony (Long Island Comedy Festival), Jean Kim, (Gotham Comedy Club and Stand Up New York, Stevie G.B. (the world’s funniest accountant) and Rich Walker (Atlantic City, Las Vegas, Foxwoods).  Get your tickets here, and find out more about the plans for the playground here.

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