There isn’t a tremendous amount of mainstream Americans or Canadians that enjoy a good black and white motion picture. Indeed, it would be safe to assume that most are abecedarian and neophytes when it comes to old films, like a John Huston picture, a Frank Capra epic or an intense Alfred Hitchcock movie.
Nevertheless, the appreciation for movies made prior to the 1960s has become evanescent. An oppugn can be made to promote the idea that some of these James Cagney, Barbara Stanwyck or Humphrey Bogart movies actually surpass neoteric films in terms of quality and the entertainment value.
Of course, many view black and white movies as hebetudinous, supercilious and even aphotic. With that being said, there are just too many black and white pictures made to prove the critics of modern times wrong. Whether it’s a Charlie Chaplin comedy, an Edward G. Robinson gangster flick or a Bette Davis romance, those who have just been introduced to the world of black and white cinema have a lot to choose from.
Here is a list of 10 of the greatest American black and white movies ever made (does not include foreign films and in no particular order):
“Casablanca” (1942) – Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid and Claude Rains
Rick Blaine (Bogart) runs a popular cafe in Casablanca, Morocco. He unexpectedly meets Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman), his former love from Paris, who is now with underground Czech leader, Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid). They rekindle their love, but Blaine is the hero of the resistance and helps Laszlo and Ilsa escape Casablanca in one of the most famous endings Hollywood has ever produced.
“Maltese Falcon” (1941) – Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet
Quick-witted, fast-talking and slick private detective, Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart), gets entangled in the mysterious Maltese Falcon hunt after his partner, Miles Archer (Jerome Cowan), gets killed on an assignment.
This was actually a remake of a 1931 film.
“The Roaring Twenties” (1939) – Starring: James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, Priscilla Lane and Gladys George
The 1920s are roaring, WWI has just come to end, prohibition is in effect and it seems everyone in the United States is getting rich, well, nearly everyone, anyway. Eddie Bartlett (Cagney) turns into the king of New York by running a bootlegging business. When he bumps into his old “friend” from the war, George Hally (Bogart), they become partners until a power struggle ruins the empire.
“12 Angry Men” (1957) – Starring: Henry Fonda, Jack Klugmann, E.G. Marshall, Jack Warden and Lee J. Cobb
This film tells the story of 12 male jurors arguing and yelling at each other to decide the fate of one adolescent, who was accused of murdering his father. This classic Sidney Lumet movie is a tense and gripping emotional drama that has some of the greatest shots and incredible acting talents that will always be remembered as their respective juror number.
“Three on a Match” (1932) – Starring: Bette Davis, Joan Blondell, Humphrey Bogart and Ann Dvorak
A lot of people don’t know about the era of pre-code. Hollywood tries to forget about that time in which most of its pictures dealt with sex, sin, crime, drugs, alcohol and sleaziness. If anyone wanted to see a film that is the definition of pre-code then “Three on a Match” is it.
It’s a story about three childhood friends who take three different paths in their adult years. One (Dvorak) marries a wealthy lawyer, another goes through reform school (Blondell) and the other (Davis) becomes a typist. Unfortunately, the one who had the easiest in life by entering the world of privilege turns into a drug addict, abandons her son and leaves her husband.
“Double Indemnity” (1944) – Starring: Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck and Edward G. Robinson
A calm and cool insurance sales representatives (MacMurray) falls in love with a married femme fatale (Stanwyck), who wants to murder her husband for an insurance, which contains a large sum of money, but a pesky insurance investigator becomes suspicious after the crime is committed.
“Modern Times” (1936) – Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Paulette Goddard and Stanley Blystone
Chaplin’s well-known character, The Tramp, struggles to survive in modern day society that has been advanced through industrialism. He finds success, though, by the help of a homeless woman (Goddard).
“Citizen Kane” (1941) – Starring: Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Agnes Moorehead and Everett Sloane
News reporters try to find out the meaning of tycoon Charles Foster Kane’s (Welles) last word before he died: rosebud.
“The Third Man” (1949) – Starring Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli, Bernard Lee and Trevor Howard
American crime novelist, Holly Martins (Cotten), finds out that his best friend, Harry Lime (Welles), has died. He travels to post-war Vienna, Austria, but discovers that there is more to his death than what appears. In a beautiful shot city with an unforgettable score, Martin realizes Lime was a black market opportunist.
“Suspicion” (1941) – Starring: Cary Grant, Joan Fontaine and Cedric Hardwicke
A lonely and timid woman (Fontaine) of privilege and wealth falls in love with an outgoing, handsome, lavish and sometimes mysterious man (Grant). They get married, but as their marriage progresses the wife begins to suspect him of trying to murder her.