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The 1950s Movies & TV

Rebel Without a Cause (1955)

The generation gap wasn't invented in the Fifties, but the chasm between parents and children had never been so wide. This film graphically depicts that distance and features the actor who was to become the symbol of youthful rebellion, James Dean.

On the Beach (1959)

This film version of the popular 1957 novel captures the sense of impending doom that hung over the Fifties. For many, it was not if but when an apocalyptic nuclear war would begin. This film takes place after an atomic holocaust has destroyed most of the world. Australia has been spared for now, but radiation sickness is beginning to kill off the survivors. The stars, Ava Gardner and Gregory Peck, try to find some meaning in it all. Bleak? You bet. But it gives a taste of the anxiety of the era.

Revolutionary Road (2008)

Not a great piece of filmmaking, perhaps, but this movie does a great job recreating both the look and the sense of alienation that was typical of the Eisenhower years. Titanic stars Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio depict a young couple trapped in the dull suburbs. They want something more, but what?

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

Science Fiction was big in the Fifties and this is a B-movie classic of the genre. Ordinary people are turning into imposters. Is it a case of mass hysteria? You wish. In fact, alien "pod people" are taking over the human race, killing humans and replacing them with exact duplicates. The film resonated with the times, when the paranoia of McCarthyism and its claims of Communist infiltration were still in the air.

New York in The Fifties (2001)

This documentary offers archival footage of New York during the Eisenhower era. It shows that the decade was marked by plenty of excitement in spite of its reputation as a cultural backwater.

Mad Men (premier 2007, AMC cable)

This popular series, set in the early 1960s, is an interesting recreation of the Eisenhower era. The setting is a fictional advertising agency, and series depicts the sexual and social realities of the Fifties with a hint of the change that is coming in the Sixties.

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