Celebrating the History of Motion Pictures from 1890 to 1960


History of Motion Pictures
1950 – 1960

A Brief Overview of the Decade

The “Cold War” continued to chill the air in both hemispheres during the 1950s, while an array of former colonies forged new identities and created a non–aligned force dubbed, by the Marxist writer Frantz Fanon, the “Third World ”. As the decade began, however, the Cold War suddenly heated up on the peninsula of Korea when the Soviet–equipped North Korean People’s Army crossed the 38th parallel and invaded the Republic of South Korea . Lead by the U.S., the United Nations reacted by sending a multi–national force to repel the North Korean Army in what was nominally called a “police action”. The Korean War had started, and Dwight D. Eisenhower would be elected President in 1952 by promising to end it.

In the U.S. the Communist “Red Scare” was in full flower. Alger Hiss, a former State Department official, was convicted of perjury for denying he had once spied for the Soviet Union. Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were convicted of organizing an international Soviet spy ring. Guy Burgess and Donald MacLean, officials at Britain’s embassy in Washington, escaped to Moscow when it was discovered they were Soviet spies. Then, when U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy claimed that he had a list of 205 Communists who had infiltrated the State Department, he became an unstoppable anti–Communist crusader using his Senate committees to accuse, harass and often destroy many innocent people. (It wouldn’t be until 1954 that the Senate would censure McCarthy and end his Communist witch–hunt.) Meanwhile, in televised hearings, the Senate Crime Investigating Committee, chaired by Senator Estes Kefauver, began exposing America’s criminal underbelly and inaugurated what would become known as “electronic journalism”.

As the “Arms Race” escalated, the threat of a nuclear Armageddon became part of everyday life. The Soviet Union tested their own atomic bomb in 1950, and during the next few years both the U.S. and the Soviet Union developed and repeatedly tested the even more powerful hydrogen bomb. It didn’t take long for the hydrogen bomb tests to create a huge demand for underground fallout shelters and, along with the American family’s mass migration to the suburbs, these shelters came to symbolize the decade.

The ‘50s were the decade of the American Civil Rights Movement; the merging of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) into a labor superpower; the authorization by Congress of a massive 40,000 mile interstate highway system; and the launching by the Soviet Union of the first space satellite, Sputnik, which shifted the “Space Race” into high gear . This was also the decade when the structure of DNA was discovered; when the Salk vaccine proved to be effective against Polio; when the Census Bureau utilized the first computer to use magnetic tape instead of punch cards; when Fidel Castro assumed power in Cuba; and when white–collar workers outnumbered blue–collared workers for the first time in U.S. history. On the lighter side, this ten year span also gave us Elvis Presley, Rock ‘n’ Roll, and the Motown sound; the “I Love Lucy” TV show and Ed Sullivan; beatniks; McDonald’s; hula–hoops; the Barbie doll; Disneyland, Davy Crockett and the Mickey Mouse Club.

For the motion picture industry, this would be the decade of changing technology and competition from television. While the “studio system” fought for survival, foreign films, independent production companies and freelance movie stars undermined the very foundation and power of the old Hollywood studios. By the end of the decade, business executives and accountants had replaced the Hollywood “Movie Moguls”, and virtually all of the early motion picture pioneers had faded away.


During a reception in his honor, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, the president of the Screen Director’s Guild, violently denounces the current policy of “blacklisting”, as well as Cecil B. DeMille’s demand that members of the Screen Directors’ Guild swear an oath of loyalty.   Both Gene Autry and Groucho Marx have…

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Acetate/Safety film, made from cellulose triacetate, has replaced the highly inflammable nitrate film as the standard for 35mm film production, distribution and film preservation.   Roy Rogers receives a temporary injunction preventing the sale of his Republic features to television. He claims that the advertisements shown during the commercial breaks…

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Howard Hughes announces the temporary closure of RKO Studios to facilitate the dismissal of close to 100 employees suspected of having Communist sympathies.   The actor, John Wayne, calls the movie “High Noon”, “The most un–American thing I’ve ever seen in my whole life.” Wayne, Charlton Heston, Marlon Brando and…

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The Academy Award ceremony is broadcast on television for the first time. The show draws the largest single audience in television’s five–year commercial history.   After holding a public demonstration of its new widescreen process called “CinemaScope”, 20th Century–Fox announces that all of its future films will be shot using…

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Paramount introduces its own “big–screen” process that they claim is better than CinemaScope because it is more flexible and produces much better image resolution. Called “VistaVision”, this process does not shoot the film through an anamorphic lens, but rather produces a wide–area negative by exposing standard 35mm film horizontally, thus…

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Most studios have switched from using Technicolor’s three–strip color process to using Eastman Kodak’s “Eastman Color” negative film stock. Kodak’s single–strip color negative film can be used in any camera, and processed and printed by conventional means.   Attempting to match and surpass Cinerama, Mike Todd and American Optical introduce…

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Screen Gems, Columbia Pictures’ television subsidiary, has begun to release its pre–1948 feature films to TV.   Harry and Albert Warner are selling their holdings in Warner Bros. to a group of investors headed by the First National Bank of Boston. Jack Warner, however, is holding on to his stock,…

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Humphrey Bogart dies after a long battle with throat cancer. He was 58 years old.   20th Century–Fox claims that there are now 46,544 CinemaScope installations around the world, with 17,644 in the U.S. and Canada alone. (There are a total of 20,971 movie theaters in the U.S.)   There…

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Paramount has sold the television rights for its pre–1948 film catalogue (750 movies) to the Music Corporation of America (MCA). The price is said to have been $50 million.   The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled against 23 victims of the blacklist who instituted proceedings against the studios that had…

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The Motion Picture Association of America has repealed its 1957 ruling that forbids persons sympathetic to Communism, or those who refused to give evidence to the House Un–American Activities Committee (HUAC), from being nominated for an Academy Award.   Succumbing to a life of alcohol and drugs, the actor Errol…

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The Screen Writers Guild has called for a strike. It is demanding that its members receive a percentage of the television rights for films.   The “King of Hollywood”, Clark Gable, has died at the age of 60 after suffering a heart attack. Gable had just finished filming John Huston’s…

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