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Spend the Night in Black & White

by Drew Phillips

Created 08/09/12

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One of my biggest cinematic guilty pleasures are those early suspenseful, American and European thrillers that make for great popcorn flicks, laying on your couch on a Friday or Saturday night. Some are good to kick off Sundays as well. This is my grand homage to my favorites and to the essentials in the collection that can put you on the edge of your seat in the edge of your living room.


A special shout out to Charade, Shallow Grave, and Hopscotch, if they weren't in such luminous and beautiful color, they would have been on here in a heart beat.

  • The penultimate European thriller! A masterpiece.

  • Reed's WWII spy flick with the pacing of an out of control locomotive makes for endlessly rewatcheable joy

  • Welles' pulpiest thriller! Pure fun and mystery

  • Allister Sim doesn't get funnier (okay, he's pretty hilarious in the Ruling Class) and the tension couldn't be thicker. Such a great, lost gem!

  • Finally, my all time favorite early Hitch joins the collection. McCrea and Sanders are a riot and it's a perfectly constructed thriller

  • Hitch's classic thriller shining a deliciously dark light on Peter Lorre for the first time for english language audiences. I love it so much more than the Jimmy Steward remake.

  • Hitchcock's first great, roaming adventure of mistaken identity. Like a British North by Northwest

  • Surprisingly the most light hearted of Hitch's early career, it's pure fun and has never made me want to ride the train more!

  • A perfect film from top to bottom. Olivier and Fontaine are brilliant, until George Sanders sneaks in through a window to diabolically steal the show! (btw, can't wait for Foreign Correspondent!) The darkest romance tale of them all, as we fall in love with a killer

  • My favorite Hitch that has had the honor of being welcomed into Criterion. Gregory Peck has never been better, Dali hasn't been felt so strongly on film since the 20's, and no one can make the word "liverwurst" sound more tantalizing than Ingrid Bergman!

  • More Bergman, more breathtaking camera work from the Master of Suspense, another great story from Ben Hecht, and to top it all off, great performances by both Cary Grant and Claude Rains.

  • The best film ever made told from a child's perspective. Perfectly balancing between dark and light like only Reed can.

  • Not to mention Killer's Kiss (also included on the Criterion release). Kubrick really knew how to tell a taught tale. And Sterling Hayden always looks cooler in black and white!

  • Burt Lancaster really came across the screen in Siodmak's great adaptation of Hemingway's short story (the '64 film is also great)

  • Lancaster again on top, but this time being rivaled by the great Tony Curtis for master of cool. Some of the most quotable dialogue ever.

  • Charles Laughton really spun a terrifying web of deceit and terror for his first and only film. Who better to be a child's worst nightmare than Robert Mitchum?

  • The Birdman of...oh wait, wrong Lancaster prison flick. This is the better one.

  • These two make for one heck of a double feature

  • A little Fuller can go a long way. Whether its insanity, prostitution or just plain theft there's pulpy goodness for hours

  • Polanksi wasn't just yet to the point of horror, more of unsuspecting suspense

  • A nice weekend alone? Not on your life.

  • Fritz Lang is a master and I can freely spend hours in front of one of his early pictures and just lavish in the grand scope of the story. Metropolis, Spies, and Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler are also ones to mention.

  • A little bit more on the camp factor, yet still wholly taught and genuinely suspenseful, Arthur Crabtree's gory horror classic is a cult treasure

  • Getting lost in another world is the whole purpose of film, in my eyes and no other film has ever executed it so thoroughly. It's like an Outer Limits episode gone wrong. Somewhere in the middle of the film you can feel that safety pealing away, like the safety bar on a roller coaster coming off in the middle of the ride, ever so slowly as you begin to lose that feeling of security until you're plunged head first into the world of the dead and left with one of the best twist endings of any horror film. Dark, moody, and even artful, this is a Halloween and weekend classic found on your tv somewhere between channels...

  • There's no suspense, but there's an abundance of beauty and in front of this is where I want to spend all my saturdays

  • A wonderful WWII era "wrong man" flick as fun as it is paranoid.

  • Stark paranoia of the darkest and highest order. Both Frankenheimer and Hudson put their stardom on the line for this chilling odyssey into humanity.

  • The epitome of cold war espionage and stark bitter reality clash just beyond the Iron Curtain

  • More thrills and chills with Mr. Milland taking on ghosts with both feet firmly on the ground

  • A modern monochrome masterpiece!

  • A nightmare on celluloid!

9 comments

  • By endo
    August 28, 2012
    02:49 AM

    Great list. I love the B&W's too. Doesn't get much black and whitier than Carnival of Souls. Just picked up Brute Force, and Fiend Without a Face.
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  • By David MacDonald
    September 02, 2012
    08:25 AM

    This list has a lot of my favorite Criterion movies on it (especially Sweet Smell of Success), but it's also missing two of the greatest black & white movies I've ever seen: 12 Angry Men and Letter Never Sent. If you haven't seen those, you HAVE to check them out.
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    • By Drew Phillips
      September 02, 2012
      12:26 PM

      Oh I've seen 12 Angry Men. I actually saw it only a few days before it was announced last year out of blind luck. It's one the best movies ever, with out a doubt, but it doesn't really match the same feel that the rest of these have. It's very real and dramatic while the rest of these are escapist fantasies or mysteries. If you liked 12 Angry Men, you should check out Lumet's The Fugitive Kind. It got me liking Brando again. It's magnificent. I have yet to see LNS, but it's at my library so I'll pick it up one of these days
  • By oz-rob
    November 12, 2012
    01:13 AM

    Must recommend Jacques Becker his elegant imagery in black and white is among the best..Casque d `or, etc..
    Reply
  • By Sidney
    November 14, 2012
    07:40 PM

    Amazing list. I agree, you can't go wrong with black & white films. Unfortunately, many people do not take b&w films seriously anymore. Thank you for showing the upmost important reasons why b&w films matter too.
    Reply
  • By futurestar
    December 18, 2012
    11:16 PM

    how could anyone but admire a list so engaging also one that stretches the night into infinity? well done friend. thank you.
    Reply
  • By Eric Levy
    April 29, 2013
    02:49 PM

    Terrific list! Just watched another last night that totally fits: von Sternberg's UNDERWORLD.
    Reply
  • By Brown
    October 10, 2013
    04:57 PM

    Great list. I once spent what seemed like a year watching nothing but black and white, and most of these films were on the list.
    Reply
  • By endo
    December 05, 2013
    08:26 PM

    Cool list. Love your description of Carnival of Souls "the safety bar on a roller coaster coming off in the middle of the ride". Thanks for putting Green for Danger in, one of my faves. I would have added Seven Samurai; there's some cool atmospheric stuff in that film: the woman waking up in the fire! The samurai running into the fog.
    Reply

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