40's and 50's films that stood the test of time

Some films, even though they are (very) high up the IMDb Top250, just can't keep me interested. And although it makes you feel guilty to yawn during a film that is way up in the ranks and praised by everyone, the inevitable conclusion is that, at least to your personal viewing experience, some films just stand the test of time a lot better than others. Some older films, as revolutionary and shocking as they may have been at the time, really do feel awfully outdated.

But every now and then you come across a film that within 15 minutes makes you forget you are looking at a black and white classic made decades before you were even born. I must admit this is very personal. Anyway, this is my list of those films so far. The result is (I hope) a list of 50's and 60's films that even young film enthousiasts (like myself) that are used to watching more contemporary films, will be able to enjoy.

To keep the list somewhat coherent and compact, I've limited this collection to the period 1940-1960. New films may be added over time as I work my way through the Top250. ;)
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12 Angry Men (1957)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.9/10 X  
A jury holdout attempts to prevent a miscarriage of justice by forcing his colleagues to reconsider the evidence. (96 mins.)
Director: Sidney Lumet
“ This may be my first answer if anyone asks me "Recommend one must-see vintage film that even I will like."

This is the first black and white film that made me go "Wow, I didn't realize old films could be this cool." ” - RagingR2
Psycho (1960)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.5/10 X  
A Phoenix secretary embezzles $40,000 from her employer's client, goes on the run, and checks into a remote motel run by a young man under the domination of his mother. (109 mins.)
“ Especially Norman Bates' role is timeless. Anthony Perkins' acting makes you forget you are looking at a 50 year old movie. ” - RagingR2
Day of Wrath (1943)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.0/10 X  
The young wife of an aging priest falls in love with his son amidst the horror of a merciless witch hunt in 17th century Denmark. (97 mins.)
“ A Danish film. Maybe because the actors for me (coming from the Netherlands) feel a little more familiar than the average Hollywood film, this film gripped me by the throat.

I was especially impressed (or scared the hell out of?) by the bishop's mother (Sigrid Neiiendam) and Herlofs Marte (Anna Svierkier). Well actually the leading star (Lisbeth Movin) and the bishop (Albert Høeberg) are about equally impressive... ” - RagingR2
Rebecca (1940)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.2/10 X  
A self-conscious bride is tormented by the memory of her husband's dead first wife. (130 mins.)
“ This is an early one in this list. Released in 1940 it still has a bit of the "gothic" feel of 20's/30's horror films; maybe because of the big mansion "Mandalay". Also, Laurence Olivier reminded me of Norman Kerry in "The Unknown" and "The Hunchback of Notre Dame".

Anyway, the whole cast makes the film be able to stand the test of time, but it was especially Judith Anderson as Ms. Sanders who makes the film memorable. ” - RagingR2
Double Indemnity (1944)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.3/10 X  
An insurance representative lets himself be talked into a murder/insurance fraud scheme that arouses an insurance investigator's suspicions. (107 mins.)
Director: Billy Wilder
“ Fred McMurray reminded me a bit of Humphrey Bogart in "Casablanca", probably because both characters are kind of "Film-Noir".

Barbara Stanwyck and Edward G. Robinson are also excellent in this film; the highest ranking "Film-noir" on IMDb. ” - RagingR2
Rear Window (1954)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.5/10 X  
A wheelchair-bound photographer spies on his neighbours from his apartment window and becomes convinced one of them has committed murder. (112 mins.)
“ This film struck me as awfully simple... in a good way!

Just the simple question of whodunnit? No unnecessary side-story, no irrelevant hocus-pocus, just a simple plot and a few really good actors keep it exciting.

Somewhat like "12 Angry Men", the majority of the story unfolds in a single room... for some reason that kind of film has a special kind of impressiveness.

And you can add Grace Kelly to the list of classic Hollywood celebrities that you've seen at work. :) ” - RagingR2
Casablanca (1942)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.5/10 X  
In Casablanca in December 1941, a cynical American expatriate encounters a former lover, with unforeseen complications. (102 mins.)
Director: Michael Curtiz
“ One of those classics that *everyone* talks about, and then when you finally watch it, it proves to be even better than you expected.

Same goes for Humphrey Bogart; you must have heard that name like a 100 times and not know who the heck it was; and when you first see one of his films you go "Well, granted, he IS kinda cool." ” - RagingR2
North by Northwest (1959)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.4/10 X  
A hapless New York advertising executive is mistaken for a government agent by a group of foreign spies, and is pursued across the country while he looks for a way to survive. (136 mins.)
“ Here it was Cary Grant who impressed me by making me forget I was looking at a black and white classic.

I think he acts his role in a timeless way, and makes the film into something that is still suprisingly watchable for the modern film audience. ” - RagingR2
Sunset Blvd. (1950)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.5/10 X  
A screenwriter is hired to rework a faded silent film star's script only to find himself developing a dangerous relationship. (110 mins.)
Director: Billy Wilder
“ I originally watched this film because I read it apparently inspired David Lynch for "Mulholland Drive" which I had watched shortly before that. I couldn't really make sense of "Mulholland Drive", but later understood that that may have been Lynch's intention in the first place... Anyway, in "Sunset Blvd.", Gloria Swanson is impressive as the faded Hollywood star, and the film made me get a better feeling for what "Mulholland Drive" was about, or how to watch it. Although as a film "Sunset Blvd." is much more conventional and easier to understand, the eery atmosphere of tension and mystery in both films is pretty much alike. ” - RagingR2
Paths of Glory (1957)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.4/10 X  
After refusing to attack an enemy position, a general accuses the soldiers of cowardice and their commanding officer must defend them. (88 mins.)
Director: Stanley Kubrick
“ The frustration of Collonel Dax (played by Kirk Douglas, Michael Douglas' father) when his superior (cpl. Phillipe Paris) gives him the order to send his men into an impossible misson, is timeless. ” - RagingR2
Some Like It Hot (1959)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.3/10 X  
When two male musicians witness a mob hit, they flee the state in an all-female band disguised as women, but further complications set in. (121 mins.)
Director: Billy Wilder
“ Judging only by the poster and description, this wouldn't necessarily have ended up in my "want to see" list. But it was in my local theater a few years ago as part of a serie of "film classics" (together with "Rear Window" amongst others) so we thought oh well, let's go see what the fuss is about. And hey, what do you know, it was actually pretty good, and one of the first pre-1960 films I ever watched.

It is I think the highest rated film with Marilyn Monroe in it, so that alone should be reason enough to at least give it a try. ” - RagingR2
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  
A small-town doctor learns that the population of his community is being replaced by emotionless alien duplicates. (80 mins.)
Director: Don Siegel
“ One of the best Horror/Scifi films from this era.
It has the pleasant "pulp" feel to it that characterizes those old Horror and Scifi films (I mean, just look at the title and the poster...), but at the same time some pretty decent acting. The acting really makes the film more than just one of those goofy horror/sci-fi films from back in the day. And a horror/scifi film that has an average 8.0 on IMDb, that's pretty impressive for either of these genres! ” - RagingR2
Vertigo (1958)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.4/10 X  
A San Francisco detective suffering from acrophobia investigates the strange activities of an old friend's wife, all the while becoming dangerously obsessed with her. (128 mins.)
Diabolique (1955)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  
The wife and mistress of a cruel headmaster conspire to kill him; after the murder is committed, his corpse disappears, and strange events begin to plague the two women. (117 mins.)
Director: H.G. Clouzot
On the Waterfront (1954)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.2/10 X  
An ex-prize fighter turned longshoreman struggles to stand up to his corrupt union bosses. (108 mins.)
Director: Elia Kazan
Neighbours (1952 Short Film)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.9/10 X  
A surreal story of two neighbours' destructive feud over a flower. (8 mins.)
Director: Norman McLaren
Strangers on a Train (1951)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.0/10 X  
A psychotic socialite confronts a pro tennis star with a theory on how two complete strangers can get away with murder - a theory that he plans to implement. (101 mins.)
Fantasia (1940)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  
A collection of animated interpretations of great works of Western classical music. (125 mins.)
Citizen Kane (1941)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.4/10 X  
Following the death of a publishing tycoon, news reporters scramble to discover the meaning of his final utterance. (119 mins.)
Director: Orson Welles