1959 is the greatest of the last days of The Golden Age of Hollywood. Many of the films we now consider to be classics were released during this age and many of them came during the last twenty years were going to look at (1939-1959). With such films as North by Northwest, Some Like It Hot, and Ben-Hur, 1959 gave the Golden Age an incredible finale before things slowly trickled off towards what we now know as Blockbuster Hollywood, an era fueled by the bottom line.
Several records were set and broken during the 50s, as film expanded. With the film industry competing with the television boom sweeping not only the United States but the world as well, studios realized they had to make some big changes to draw people away from their homes and get them into the theaters. Thus we received a decade of epics, comedies, and a series of some of the best Disney animated films ever to hit the big screen.
In 1950, All About Eve, my favorite movie about the theater, set a record for most nominations with 14. The record wasn't matched until 1997 by Titanic. All About Eve featured a number of classic scenes including my favorite, the memorable ending which featured Barbara Bates standing in front of three mirrors as the scene transformers and makes it seem as though there are thousands of her in a stunning cinematography feat. The scene is as powerful as it is awe-inspiring.
1950 also saw Cinderella, a major gamble by Disney as they invested $3,000,000 into the film and felt it wouldn't return any of it. However, Cinderella did very well and became the highest grossing film of the year. This would also be the first of five animated films released over the next decade, all of which did very well.
In 1952, the Cinerama Widescreen System was introduced with the film This is Cinerama. The system became a staple in the movie industry's battle against television. More could be seen on the big screen and people wanted to experience more than just a "bigger TV set". This paved the way to the film experience we know today, with films available in full screen and widescreen format. In 1953, The Robe was the first film to debut with anamorphic, widescreen CinemaScope format.
In 1959, the greatest leap in film since Gone With The Wind happened with Ben-Hur. What Gone With The Wind did for films in 1939, Ben-Hur took it up another notch, bringing us some of the most iconic scenes of all time with the most famous being the chariot race. The chariot race took five weeks to film and three months to complete. George Lucas created an almost frame for frame remake of the race for his famous podrace scene. I saw The Phantom Menace opening weekend and am still in awe of the power and intensity the race gave me. As I wasn't born when the original was released, I can't say much about it. I've seen it many times, but there is something about seeing it on the big screen that makes you stand and cheer.
Ben-Hur was a rather expensive film, costing $15,000,000 which equals about $109,000,000 in today's terms. Sure, there are films that cost two or even three times that much, but that's an incredible amount fifty years ago. The film featured 300 sets, just over 1,000,000 props, with 15,000 extras for the chariot set alone. It was the largest scale film done up to this time.
The 50s had the second greatest affect on the film industry, following the 70s. It also made the biggest leaps in terms of visualization since 1939. Much the same way Star Wars, Toy Story and Avatar all did in the way we see things when we go to the theater. With how far we've come, we're definitely heading for something incredible in the future.