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The 20 Greatest Black-and-White Films Ever Made

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There’s been a recent debate as to the validity of black-and-white films. Many of the youngsters say, “I just don’t get it.” Well, don’t feel like the Lone Ranger young children. Ted Turner has similar thoughts on the supposed curse of black and white.

Whether one would like to admit it or not, the greatest films in history, to include horror, science fiction, suspense and drama, have been made in the breathtaking anti-color of black and white. According to film director John Carpenter in his inventive opus They Live, the reason films are now in color is because of an invasion of aliens during the 1950s. Nice going John, for you are not far from the truth.

I have compiled an unquestionable list made up of the 20 greatest black and white films in the history of mankind. And mind you, I have added a bonus of five Honorable Mentions. For those of you unacquainted, this list is as good a place to start as any. Enjoy some of the greatest films ever made, and they are all in glorious black and white.

1. Sunset Boulevard (1950)
Billy Wilder’s film noir classic about the decay of Hollywood is alternately hilarious, shocking and extraordinary. William Holden plays a broke screenwriter who literally stumbles into the driveway of a seedy mansion owned by Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson), a forgotten silent movie star. The old movie diva is trapped in the past. Poor Norma dreams of making a comeback and Holden becomes her screenwriting gigolo. One of the greatest films ever made and certainly the greatest black-and-white film in history.

2. Touch of Evil (1958)
Orson Welles’s film noir masterpiece elevates in classic status year by year. Its brilliantly choreographed opening shot (lasting well over three minutes) will be studied as long as there are lovers of cinema. This seedy tale of murder and corruption is highlighted by Welles as a love-struck cop matching wits with narcotics officer Charlton Heston. The entertaining plot twists and turns like a ride at the carnival. A great example of Welles’ matchless directorial style.

3. The Seventh Seal (1957)
Ingmar Bergman’s breathtaking Swedish film is one of the universal classics of cinema history. Max Von Sydow plays a knight returning from the Crusades to eventually play a game of chess with Death (Bengt Ekerot). En route, we see witches, flagellants and victims of the Plague. Allegorical Medieval tale questions the meaning of life like no other film in history. A dreamlike, brilliant work.

4. Raging Bull (1980)
Martin Scorsese’s fierce biography of self-destructive boxer Jake LaMotta is tour-de-force filmmaking. Robert De Niro plays LaMotta, a man tormented by demons both in and out of the ring. Jake is a frightening, unforgettable character unable to control his basic instincts. The fight scenes are brutal black-and-white ballets.

5. My Darling Clementine (1946)
Called one of the most perfect Westerns ever made, John Ford’s poetic version of the gunfight at the O.K. Corral is a beautiful masterpiece. Ford’s direction of a Sunday church social framed against the open sky is one of the great scenes in cinema history.

6. Schindler’s List (1993)
Filmed in Poland, Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece ranks among the greatest films ever made about the Holocaust. It’s a haunting motion picture about heroism and despair. Spielberg doesn’t flinch from the horror of this subject matter, and the result is a stark examination of the eventual strength of the human spirit.

7. Sullivan’s Travels (1941)
Writer-director Preston Sturges’s classic film remains his most unforgettable screen effort. Sturges combines romance, Hollywood satire and a social message into a screwball package. John Sullivan (Joel McCrea), is a successful director of Hollywood fluff, but he’s now determined to create cinematic art. Sullivan hits the road disguised as a tramp. His journey eventually leads to a darker, depressed world having little use for the socially realistic movies our hero wishes to make. Sturges’ profound conclusion reveals a surprising emotional truth about filmmaking art.

8. Night of the Hunter (1955)
This grim masterpiece – the only movie directed by actor Charles Laughton – mixes German expressionism, religion and fantasy in an intensely furious brew. Robert Mitchum plays a demented preacher who stalks a boy and his sister because he suspects the kids know where a stash of stolen money is hidden. Unforgettable imagery includes the preacher’s ominous shadow, a magical boat ride down a teeming river and the sinister tattoos of LOVE and HATE. A haunting, influential work of art.

9. Metropolis (1926)
Fritz Lang’s legendary silent sci-fi is a classic example German expressionism. Brilliant, vibrant images of a futuristic society and an oppressed workers’ revolt are amazing for their time. Symbolic and disturbing, this film is a cautionary tale about a future where machines dominate man.

10. Psycho (1960)
No film has ever really matched the impact of Alfred Hitchcock’s horrifying masterwork. More than just a demented shocker, Psycho is also a creepy character study where Hitchcock skillfully fools you into identifying with Norman Bates, and then pounds us with the shower scene – the most famous moment in cinema history. Anthony Perkins is brilliant as Bates, the awkward manager of the Bates Motel. The blood runs black in this film, and it has never been more terrifying.

11. Pandora’s Box (1928)
This German silent classic was so erotic it was banned for many years. The beautiful Louise Brooks stars in director G.W. Pabst’s expressionistic tale of an openly sexual woman headed down a path of eventual destruction, and a date with Jack the Ripper.

12. Top Hat (1935)
Grace, elegance and talent highlight one of the greatest musicals ever made. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing to the music of Irving Berlin provided art deco escapist entertainment for a Depression-era audience. Director Mark Sandrich gave us the perfect screen couple dancing “Cheek to Cheek.”

13. On the Waterfront (1954)
Marlon Brando’s greatest performance in Elia Kazan’s electric account of life on the New York waterfront. Incredible performances by some of the greatest actors in history highlight this extraordinary example of old fashioned filmmaking. Boris Kaufman’s photography and Leonard Bernstein’s music set the standard.

14. To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
Gregory Peck gives one of the ultimate performances in film history in Robert Mulligan’s moving drama about racial unrest in the Deep South. Spectacular sets and crisp dialog highlight this classic version of Harper Lee’s novel.

15. The Haunting (1963)
Robert Wise’s moody film is based on Shirley Jackson’s brilliant novel. A repressed women must deal with the ghosts of Hill House, and like her, we are terrified by dark whispering shadows in the dark. Intense terror, aided by the eerie black-and-white photography. One of the great horror films ever made.

16. The Big Sleep (1946)
Film noir at its finest, guided by the great director Howard Hawks. Based on Raymond Chandler’s novel, Humphrey Bogart gives one of his most memorable performances as detective Philip Marlowe. Moody and fascinating tale, with the legendary chemistry of Bacall and Bogart. Trust me, this foggy mystery could have only been made in black and white.

17. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
Stanley Kubrick’s scathing black comedy examines a Cold War between the U.S. and Russia gone deadly wrong. Stunning performances by Peter Sellers, George C. Scott and Sterling Hayden. One of Kubrick’s finest films (which says a lot) is also one of the most perceptive satires in history.

18. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
One of the great science fiction films of all time, director Don Siegel gives us a near-perfect examination of a paranoid Cold War America circa the 1950s. Brilliant performances highlight the story of small town residents being duplicated by pods. A terrifying film.

19. Manhattan (1979)
Arguably one of Woody Allen’s greatest films shows New York as you have never seen it before. Brilliant Gordon Willis cinematography simply adds to the terrific story of friends finding and losing love in the Big Apple.

20. Night of the Living Dead (1968)
George Romero’s zombie classic set the standard for hundreds of horror films to come. Unlucky folks are trapped in a Pennsylvania farm house, trying to fight off flesh-eating zombies and eventually each other. Incredible tension with an authentic feel. A nightmare come to life.

21. The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
William Wyler’s heartbreaking and moving ode to WWII veterans returning home from combat. A near perfect film, with a nostalgic portrayal of suburban America leading in to the 1950s. Hugo Friedhofer’s musical score is one of the greatest in film history.

22. Young Frankenstein (1974)
Mel Brooks hit the jackpot with this puppy, one of the great box office hits of all time. But Brooks respected his subject matter, making a near-perfect parody of old-time Universal horror films – including Bride of Frankenstein – which could only be created in glorious black and white.

23. The Defiant Ones (1958)
Stanley Kramer’s insightful story of two escaped convicts (Sidney Poitier, Tony Curtis) chained together while on the run in the Deep South. Symbolic tale is highlighted by fantastic supporting performances and an unforgettable ending.

24. The Bicycle Thief (1949)
Italian director Vittorio De Sica’s moving masterpiece tells the seemingly simply story of a man who loses his bike, and the difficult week he spends with his son. One of the most beautiful films ever made.

25. Portrait of Jennie (1948)
Director William Dieterle’s haunting tale of lost love told from the viewpoint of tortured artist Joseph Cotten. He meets a ghost in Central Park (in the form of the lovely Jennifer Jones) and eventually paints her mysterious portrait, the final shot in Technicolor. One of the most underrated films of all time.

My apologies to Citizen Kane, Casablanca and The Seven Samurai, films which frankly would have been better in color.

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About Chris Wilson

  • Lauren Lee

    Night of the living dead and metropolis are grate movies if you guys try any of thes I recommend (1959) House On Haunted Hill starring Vincent Price its one of my favorites XD

  • Bob

    Fred Zinneman’s “The Search” (1948), Montgomery Clift

    Have hankies at hand, especially at the end.

  • Gunther Fenz

    I don’t take anyone seriously who doesn’t have 12 Angry Men on the list, heck it’s even the highest rated B&W movie on IMDB.

  • Moviefan

    12 Angry Men

    • Gunther Fenz


  • Sasquacht Yeti

    Hi, to watch classic movies check this site : http://publicdomainmoviesonline.blogspot.com

  • androphiles

    Citizen Kane in color??? Ah, no.

    • Zach

      I know! Seriously?! Casablanca in color?

  • Yousaf M. Shaikh

    “The 20 Greatest Black-and-White Films Ever Made” lists *25* films.

  • Bob

    HOW COULD YOU NOT PUT CASABLANCA??????? I thought it was amazing.

  • better-in-black-and-white

    Fantaaaastic list! but I disagree that Casablanca would have been better in color….Two other movies I would add are the black-comedy Kind Hearts and Coronets and Ed Wood.

  • Black&white-movie-lover

    What happened to gaslight? 1944 Ingrid Bergman? Classic.

    • androphiles

      I agree with you, but there are people who think the earlier British version is better, and in fact it is very good.

  • R Taylor

    Where was Brighton Rock?

  • Kyle

    What about the seven samurai? My all time favorite B&W

  • Igor

    Kurasawas “Drunken Angel” debuting Toshira Mifune in a startling portrayal of postwar Japan.

  • Moviecritic

    Nice list, but where the F*** are “It’s a Wonderful Life”, “12 Angry Men”, “Modern Times”, plus many more?!

  • saldo


    Man with the Movie Camera
    The Hustler
    Invisible Man

  • saldo

    The Third Man should be number 1

  • stuart senior


  • Jeff Sneaie

    Here’s a good black and white film, Irish I think

  • Maria

    does anyone know of a black/white movie where a man is a butler and he writes a book about the family he works for or the town he lives in? that’s about all the info i have on this. any help appreciated! thx

  • WillyWillWill

    There are 25 films on the 20 best films list, dingus

  • lee alllen

    Am I the only person in the world who thinks STALAG 17 was a great B&W movie?

  • Ned Mackey

    I’m surprised that nobody mentioned The Third Man and Baby Doll.

  • mike

    movies were made in b/w for finacial reasons not artistic choices, except for say manhattan, schindlers list, raging bull ect,which all should have been made in color or not at all, the first real color movie was becky sharp 1935…it cost an extra, $500,000! in 1938 dollar values to film gone with the wind in color, why did they do that? because they knew it would be better in color ,that movie,along with, red shoes ,black narcissus, leave her to heaven,the river , lawrence of arabia,ect ect, would all be shadows of what they are if they were made in b/w,just watch any great color movie and turn off the color,theres no comparison at all,imagine dorothy stepping out into munchkinland with no color , a b/w emerald city,see what i mean reality is in color not b/w

  • mike

    your list is missing the greatest b/w movie ever made…beauty and the beast 1946 by cocteau

  • Bergman’s Seventh Seal was and remains one of my favorites. However, I consider Bergman’s The Devil’s Eye to be right up there with the best as well.

    It was released in 1960 and I saw it while a college freshman in 1960 or perhaps it was the following year. It is a comedy (as I recall his only comedy) and extraordinarily funny, from the concept that the Devil gets a sty whenever there is a virtuous woman on Earth through and beyond the seduction scene in Don Juan’s luxurious suite in Hell; the Devil summons Don Juan and sends him on a mission to deal with his sty. Don Juan uses all of his powers and succeeds by causing a preacher’s daughter, whom he had been sent to seduce, to tell a fib. There is also lots of luscious cinematography of the countryside.

  • Austin personal trainer

    Some of the choices on the list I love. I’d add:
    The Hustler
    The Last Picture Show
    The Day The Earth Stood Still
    Red River

  • Chris Kent

    Bravo David! I had to go back and read this again as I do not remember writing it in 2004. I recall throwing a few curveballs in there for the enjoyment of the reactions. Truth be told, I haven’t visited this website in several years but am impressed such dated material would cause such passion. Keep up the good fight…:)

  • David

    PS. I looked at the list again, (unfortunate for me, not because I proved to be wrong, but because the list is SO shite). Okay, so there is about 2 more “foreign” films in the list than I first saw. My point still stands, 100%. How about using the original titles!? How about, a list without obvious yankee-philia would include AT LEAST HALF films from other countries!
    Yes, Kurosawa, where!??!?!

  • David

    Calling it a list of ‘Greatest’ without the My could be all good and well if the writer wasn’t a belly-button gazing, anti-intellectual, RACIST and I am not kidding: people’s subtlest, simplest choices always reveal MUCH bigger sentiments. Yet another loser ZIONIST here! Are you completely out of your mind with emotionally manipulative, typical Hollywank trash like ‘Schindler’s List’ on a ‘Greatest List’!?
    ‘Ladri di Biciclette’ is 1 of only 2 “foreign” films in there? AND WAY DOWN THE BOTTOM! Said film came at such a time, was so powerful and came to such popularity, I would argue that it had the single greatest influence on film NARRATIVE, ever.
    ‘La battaglia di Algeri’ is probably still, the best political film ever. But oh, using those local Algerians in the cast probably just worsens the deal, for you.
    NOT that you are a racist for explicit reasons, but yes, for what you EXCLUDE!
    PS. I am an anti-zionist Jew, and love what Aaron said – “Cannibal Holocaust reference” 🙂

  • I would like to know are your thoughts on the German black and white film, The White Ribbon. I found the lighting and shots very reminiscent of Citizen Kane which is my quintessential black and white film in terms of using the medium. Surprised you left it off your list, but still agree with many of your choices.

  • Tom Cutter

    B&W Cinemascope, sterling B&W photography by Wong Howe, the medium fits the story, and some of the best acting of the generation = HUD

  • matt

    My list would have to include “Hud” and “A Face In The Crowd”

  • Good deal, John. 🙂

  • John J. Bautista

    You were right Cindy, that’s the film I am
    after. Possibility that the film was distributed
    in Europe under another title. A mega thanks.

  • There’s a link. Probably should watch it again. It is about a ‘triangle’. As they are the last three people on earth.

    I don’t find a film with Sidney Poitier with that theme, nor with ‘Triangle” as part of the title. Good luck with your search. 🙂

  • John J. Bautista

    Many thanks Cindy. It could very well be,
    but the title does not sound familiar – think the title contained the word “triangle”.

  • Harry Belafonte in The World, the Flesh and the Devil, I think is what you’re after.

  • John J. Bautista

    Apologies, actor’s name should read Sidney

  • John J Bautista

    Does anyone remember a black and white film
    starring Sidney Poiter(?) in which he finds
    himself alone in New York(?) after a nuclear
    war ?

  • Great black and white movies! These are my favorite:
    The General
    All Quiet on the Western Front
    Night of the Living Dead
    Young Frankenstein
    No Time For Sergeants
    Panic In The Streets
    Woman on the Run
    Three Came Home

  • Now we just need 9 more angry comments insisting that it be put on the list and one resolutely dissenting one.

  • Chris Kent

    You’re right. “12 Angry Men” should be on this list!

  • How could you not have 12 Angry Men on that list, that’s my favourite movie 🙁 all in all great list

  • Chris Kent

    Ah the eternal Audrey Hepburn. I suppose her two finest films in B&W are “Roman Holiday” and “Sabrina,” both with great merits. The two films of hers I actually own on DVD are “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and “Wait Until Dark,” color films from the 1960s that remain memorable for me to this day. Thank you Theresa.

  • Theresa

    Well I won’t take time to diss your B&W picks Chris. I’m 18 and having not been around B&W movies very much for my short life, I found your list very helpful.
    I started my old movie obsession at 14 years old when I found and old copy of the royal wedding in my parents VHS stash. I loved the simple beauty of it. The next day I went to blockbuster…you get the rest.
    Your List helped me find some really great movies that I hadn’t even heard of. I found them on torrent sites and downloaded them. Dvds would be better but you take what you can get right?
    I’m kinda miffed you didnt include any Audrey Hepurn films I know there were a few in b&w and I think she just looks even more breathtaking without color.

  • simon

    No one has mentioned Rebecca which is definitely more effective more scary in black and white from the first shot going down the drive to the entrances of Mrs Danvers. Has to be in my list of favourite films and not just for Laurence Olivier

  • Lindy

    Googled “obscure movies ‘Ride the Pink Pony'” and ended up at this web page; in fact it is the only site that came up!

    Problem is, I don’t see anything on this page (other than an appreciation of really well made movies)that alludes to the movie I am seeking info on.

  • Purukivel

    Mr. and/or Ms. Lauraine, it sounds like your movie might be “Mister Sardonicus”.

  • lauraine

    remember this B&W horror? old dad buys lottery tickets-dies shortly after-once buried the son realize it was winning ticket & ticket is in the suit pocket dad was buried in-son’s goes and digs grave-opens casket and the dead father has this horrible scary face-son screams and turns out he gets same face as dead father..i think the title was something like this–smile of death or even mask of death…not sure but would love to see that movie again. used to scare me silly as a teenager and everytime it came on tv i had to wake up my mom to watch with me because i was scared to be alone. Now my mom is gone and it’s more as a great memory value to me….any help or suggestion would be greatly appreciated.

  • sheila

    can anyone identify a B&W horror film that would have been pre 60’s. It is set in an old castle, the man walks into a bedroom chamber and sees a girl brushing her long hair. He approaches her and she turns around to be an OLD woman. Very scary. I would love to see it again. Help, thanks.

  • Marcus Wellington

    Thank you, that is it! I checked amazon.com and netflix and all I could find was a vhs version but there are not any copies available. If anyone knows where I can get one or has one, shout!

  • Chris Kent


    It’s “Cry Terror,” a 1958 film directed by Andrew Stone and starring James Mason and Inger Stevens. You were right about “The Odd Couple” connection – but it’s actually Jack Klugman in the film. He plays a thug….


  • Vern Halen

    Jim Jarmusch’s early 80’s film Stranger Than Paradise, with a soundtrack that seems to consist solely of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell On You.”

  • “The Last Picture Show”–sorry if this has been mentioned, but I thought the b&w aptly evoked a mood and time that color would not have captured.

  • Marcus Wellignton

    Experiment in terror was close. I will watch that but that is not the movie. This movie is with a little girl and her father as hostages. The sitcom star is a grumpy guy that I believe might be from the Odd Couple but the name Walter Mathau does not seem to fit.

    Destry Rides Again is not it.


  • “Destry Rides Again” was B&W.

  • Chris Kent


    Sounds like “Experiment in Terror,” a 1962 film directed by Blake Edwards and starring Glenn Ford and Lee Remick….


  • Marcus Wellington

    Chris, I have been looking for a black and white film but have yet to find it. It is about a woman whose daughter and husband are held hostage and she is asked to steal money from a bank (I think) and delivery it. Along the way there is voice over of her thoughts. She runs late but reaches the place and presents the money. The boss leaves with the money and a psychopathic associate watches the lady. The husband and the child are kept in a hotel by a man and a woman. The husband sneaks out in the elevator shaft and plans to bring the police to the room while the child is asleep. The man who is watching them is a famous sitcom star.

  • Chris Kent

    Interesting sheri. That’s the first time I have heard that but it does make sense. Thanks!

  • sheri

    Crime scene investigators will request black and white photos of the scene, because of a unique clarity of details. So there could actually be a real cause for black and white film enjoyment other than sentiment.

  • Chris Kent

    I agree.

  • Sorry. My mistake.

  • Chris Kent

    lol……You wish for fiber Rodney, go try some Bland Flakes…..

  • I didn’t say he was closed off to criticism; I said he had chosen his format and it wasn’t B&W. If other cinematographers want to explore the so-called boundless opportunities of the format, that’s their game, not his. But this is all beside the point; I was hoping for something with a little more intellectual fiber than an anti-Italian rant.

  • Chris Kent


    I am well aware as to who Storaro is and still think it a “NUMBSKULL” comment. Just because these guys are successful filmmakers does not make them Gods closed off to criticism. In addition, ALL Italian filmmakers should always be open to criticism because their country is the MOST overrated in the entire history of filmmaking mankind. I would also like to add Francis Ford Coppola to this list, the biggest bag of hot air in filmmaking history. Will someone please slap Francis in the face with a a huge sock filled with cold Ragu……*splat*

    Thank you. Now Francis, shut the fuck up….

    Anyway, I think most substantial cinematographers will fully admit the boundaries when making a B&W film are just as endless as the realm of Technicolor….To say otherwise is the result of one too many glasses of bad Merlot….

  • Chris, First off, I’d hold off on calling Storaro numbskilled — he’s widely regarded as the world’s greatest cinematographer, based largely on how much he can do with color, and I think he was just speaking for himself. B&W isn’t his preference, just as color wasn’t, say, the first choice of Ansel Adams or Diane Arbus. His IMDB profile indicates he’s worked with B&W at least once, so he probably comes by that opinion honestly. As to your other points, it’s valid to say both that B&W is financially risky and that movies don’t always call for it. But what’s even more interesting to me is how B&W went from becoming the only game in town to an artistic choice to a sign to the unsophisticated that a movie is “old.” As you know, movies were still shot in B&W long after the color process came into play, but I doubt in the 1950s and 1960s there was any kind of a stigma attached to it because people were used to seeing it on TV well into the decade. (Color TV didn’t really take over until about 1966 or 1967.) Bergman, Bunuel, and Antonioni’s greatest films — arguably — were shot in B&W. So was On the Waterfront, so was an old favorite I rented the other night Suddenly, Last Summer. So were a lot of movies, and I doubt it kept audiences away. When did it become daring or risky to shoot in B&W? I’m not old enough to say whether anyone in 1966 cared that much that Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was in B&W — although I doubt it — but I do recall very definitely that when Peter Bogdanovich shot The Last Picture Show (1971) using B&W in a major motion picture was seen as a brave artistic choice, and critics were quick to defend it by saying the movie wouldn’t have been the same without it. Since then, B&W has always been seen as arty, like in Jim Jarmusch’s early movies or Lynch’s Eraserhead.

  • Chris Kent

    I think a lot of the kids’ refusal to watch B&W may be related to what they were raised on. Growing up I used to watch Dick Van Dyke and Lucille Ball on TV, and can remember watching the old Universal horror films with my Dad. I was speaking to a poster in here who loved zombie films, but had never bothered to see Night of the Living Dead because he simply did not like B&W films. It stunned me. There will always be the few who watch a film, and then decide they want to see the best films have to offer, leading inevitably to B&W classics. It’s like eventually reading Moby Dick or Paradise Lost. If one wants to understand the process, then one must view/read the classics. The artistic possibilities with B&W are numerous, and Storaro’s comment is rather numbskulled. There is an equal amount of B&W still photography as there is color photography. But moviemaking is such a HUGE business, producers take the least amount of chances to guarantee, as much as possible, a financial success at the box office. There’s not the same kind of money in still photography, thus more experimentation.

    I think most talented directors would prefer to work in B&W ocassionally. But the business is such that unless a director has huge clout, B&W will not see the light of day. But are most of the films made today even appropriate for B&W? Do we really want to see Daredevil or Hulk in B&W? I also think it depends on the subject matter of the film as to whether or not it will be improved by B&W….

  • I don’t know that it’s neccessarily true that kids — whoever they may be — simply reject B&W out of hand, although of course many do. But I don’t think it will ever go out of style, if only because color is so ubiquitous and B&W simply looks different and therein is part of its lasting appeal. I know I’m not the only one who stops, if only for a moment, when I’m channel-surfing and chance upon a B&W image. It’s very arresting. That’s why commercial-makers love it. I think it can almost be argued that it improves almost any movie shot in that format — the movie may well look deeper and more poetic and dreamy and artful than it really is. I think it may appeal to filmmakers technically as well; I referenced a documentary above called “Visions of Light” — in there a cinematographer, Allen Daviau I think, said he would jump at the channce to work in B&W; on the other hand, I read an interview some years back with Bertolucci’s DP, Vittorio Storaro, who said he no interest in it at all because color offers so many more creative possibilities.

  • fussyfreddy

    I dunno, Duke…

    “Schindler’s List,” I recall, was a borderline blockbuster (about $100 m b/o in 1993/94). I doubt ANY kids saw it, except those dragged into the cineplexes by their parents, and the inevitable, innumerous Yale and Bryn Mawr types.

    “Schindler’s List” was an “adult movie” in the literal sense. So were “The Elephant Man,” “Ed Wood,” Woody Allen’s experiments and a handful of other B/W features of the past quarter-century (exceptions include indies like Spike Lee’s debut, “She’s Gotta Have It,” which were B/W because their directors lacked $$$).

    Kids just don’t get black-and-white movies. Many middle-aged grownups don’t get black-and-white movies. Perhaps my previous note didn’t adequately explain why. I’m not entirely sure myself, although I’ve suggested that I have a clue.

    My ultimate point is that establishment movie criticism (including my point of view) may have to ditch its entrenched and increasingly sentimental critique of black-and-white photography as a general enhancement of cinema.

    I’m 41, just old enough (because I was one of the aforesaid teenaged nerds who liked B/W) to have enrolled in those movies like a mutt in a garbage can. That doesn’t make my paroxysms over Gregg Toland or Charles Lang any more defensible to a generation raised on color cinematography whose excellence is taken for granted.

    More than half a century ago, Hollywood drove a spike through the heart of silent pictures with “Singin’ In The Rain,” whose implicit criticism of the era said more than any critic dared (until critics like Pauline Kael later deemed it the greatest movie musical of all time).

    We may be near that inflection point for the black-and-white motion picture.

  • RE – The “kids” and their reluctance towards the monochrome. I think maybe the thing here is more to do with marketing than just the fact that young uns dont want to see those greys all over the place. For example, Schindlers List. Black And White (with a touch of red, but only for a second), marketed like hell. Best film you ever seen + also worthy, says the telly, and lo and behold folks go and see it.
    They say the same thing about subtitles. Kids don’t wanna read the damn movies, they say. They go to libraries to read, and they go to the picture house to see Van Damme fuck up a terrorist.
    What happens? Passion of the christ gets the bollocks marketed off it (and probably sold as a touching necklace memento) and the cinemas are filled with folks that are terrified of the words close captioned.
    Lesson – if films are marketed right, folks will see them, be they black and white or tartan.

  • fussyfreddy

    Well, Chris, seems that questioning your praise of “Pandora’s Box” merely opened one.

    Now that we’ve all flamed out (or grudgingly praised!) each other’s choices, I hope to draw out your stated motivation for beginning this thread: the resistance of young’uns to B&W movies.

    I agree with Rodney’s comment #11 about the dreamy power of black-and-white photography. Moreover, it encourages the viewer to suspend the disbelief that rules our full-color world. Therein lies some of the charm of “La Belle et La Bete”; some of the creepiness of “Night of the Living Dead”; and some of the larger-than-life grandeur of “Citizen Kane.”

    I’m tempted to conclude this is why modern audiences have no time for black-and-white movies.

    Our saturated world of “reality” media makes it clearer than ever that truth is stranger than fiction (and implicitly, more entertaining). Fiction as we once knew it is fighting for relevance.

    Then again, the success of “The Matrix” and the LOTR trilogy proves that modern audiences are as willing to switch off their cynicism, if the story kicks and the special effects are convincing.

    Might it just be that black-and-white movies, born of technological limitations, are artistically obsolete and inevitably meaningless today?

    I invite all comments…

  • I think the title of Luis Bunuel’s comeback film, Los Olvidados, translates as “the forgotten ones.”

  • Chris Kent

    HW, an excellent list and hard to argue with.

    Shark, inclusion of Beauty and the Beast is also a good choice. Rashomon we discussed earlier….everyone has their favorite Kurosawa….

    Vidor’s The Crowd is highly touted in some stuff I read yesterday, though don’t believe I have ever seen it anywhere…..I think of Vidor, I think War and Peace and Duel in the Sun, neither of which I particularly liked. Saw Our Daily Bread I believe on PBS one night many years ago and it was fascinating……He seemed to spend a large part of his career directing silent films, with The Crowd evidently one of several highlights…..One learns something everyday…:)

  • Shark

    re: Saxton’s list – marry me! No, wait…

    Great list, man.

    Los Olvidados! — I once asked a hispanic friend to translate that title for me; he shuddered, looked at me like I was Lucifer, and said, “Oh man… oooh… oooh..”

    Haven’t seen Rashomonanywhere. Probably should be added.

    Also Beauty and the Beast ~!!! (Cocteau)

    PS: Chris – re. King Vidor: YOU BLASPHEME! anyway, check out “The Crowd” — an astonishing silent film.

  • i think any film with “pink” in the title should definatel be in colour

  • HW Saxton Jr.

    I might as well add my two cents here.
    My favorite B & W movies are as follow:
    1 “Los Olvidados”
    2 “Sunset Blvd.”
    3 “Pursued”
    4 “M” (Fritz Lang version)
    5 “Cabinet Of Dr Caligari”
    6 “Down By Law”
    7 “The Third Man”
    8 “Baby Doll”
    9 “Night Of The Hunter”
    10 “Freaks”
    11 “Out Of The Past”
    12 “Yojimbo”
    13 “High Noon”
    14 “Ride The Pink Pony”
    15 “A Touch Of Evil”
    16 “His Kind Of Woman”
    17 “The Testament of Dr. Mabuse”
    18 “Red River”
    19 “Kansas City Confidential”
    20 “Kiss Of Death”
    Anyone who deigns to see fit that any of
    these movies need “colorizing”,should be
    laughed at,ignored or both.

  • Of course i knew it was a joke! Ha! You imagine the duke would be duped by such nonsense. (cough)
    Enough! I knew it was a joke you motherfuckers! You cannot play such a trick on me!
    Actually you got me.
    As to chaplin, Modern Times and Great Dictator are my faves, even though i mentioned Gold Rush above. Gold Rush is a better film than GD, just happen to prefer the latter. Crazy times, man.
    The DVD release of the chaplin films recently has resulted in gorgeous, spotless prints as mentioned above.
    And as for that cheeky Cannibal Holocaust reference…

  • Chris Kent

    Thanks Shark for the fully expected obscure listings. Since I have seen neither I will not comment, though would like to mention King Vidor’s work, for the most part, rings with the crystal clear tune of breaking wind….Though I will not knock him too much as he was born in Texas, and he did give us Our Daily Bread…..

    I loved The Great Dictator though have not seen it in a long time. I was lucky enough to see both Modern Times and City Lights for the first time at the theater, and am still amazed by how extraordinary those films are. Chaplin was a genius equal to Welles in many ways.

  • I saw Modern Times last Friday evening at the theatre; the restored version that played last year at Cannes and to my eye a near-perfect restoration job. I didn’t see a pockmark on it; no fades, no watery tones. I think it’s my favorite Chaplin, with The Great Dictator; here again is the Little Tramp, stuck in Depression-era America, wandering into one pitfall after the next, always happily going wherever he’s kicked, always bearing with guileless dignity each new indignity that comes his way. Of course, that’s a little easier when you’ve got Paulette Goddard at your side, playing the “gamin” — surely the leggiest over-aged orphan in cinema history. It’s a critique of capitalism that is as scathing as it is sentimental, and — as a basically silent film with title cards that also employed sound and spoken dialogue — it’s a fond farewell to an era of cinema. It’s still hilariously funny, and eventhough I’m always the first one to say Keaton is better than Chaplin, and that the ending of City Lights is the corniest thing I’ve ever seen, I found myself overcome with renewed admiration. It has one brilliant sequence after the next: that Kafkaesque Feeding Machine is still just an absolute laugh riot.

  • Shark

    I would add:

    Cranes are Flying (Russia, 1957 or 58)

    The Crowd (1928, King Vidor)

    Two of the greatest films ever made, regardless of arbitrary color vs b/w categories.

  • Chris Kent

    Someone once asked Orson Welles for his 10 favorite films. He included 12:

    1. City Lights
    2. Greed
    3. Intolerance
    4. Nanook of the North
    5. Shoeshine
    6. Battleship Potemkin
    7. The Baker’s Wife
    8. Grand Illusion
    9. Stagecoach
    10. Ninotchka
    11. The Best Years of Our Lives
    12. The Bicycle Thief

    For what it’s worth…..

  • Chris Kent

    lol….HW is a sly one. I’m all for colorizing the first half of Wizard of Oz and making the second half in B&W…..

    Perhaps a list of the 20 greatest Color films that should be in B&W? No. 1 would be Gone With the Wind, followed by The Godfather and, of course, Cannibal Holocaust…..

  • Chris Kent


    Glad someone mentioned Charlie Chaplin. I prefer City Lights over Modern Times and Gold Rush, and that would be in top 30. Left off Chaplin because the beauty of his films is Chaplin himself, not really having much to do with angles, lighting, etc…..

  • HW Saxton Jr.

    Duke,In regards to the colorization of
    “The Wizard Of Oz”.’Twas only a joke.
    I wouldn’t put it past Ted Turner to do it though.

  • First 10 minutes of Oz colourised? what kind of stupid shit is that? Are the remaining hour and a half now black and white, then? This si nonsensical nonsense. Why don’t the replace the soundtrack with Dark Side Of The Moon while they’re at it, so as we can all join in on those online debates and go “oooh, the guitar starts just as Dorothy sneezes!”

  • HW Saxton Jr.

    I’ve just heard that Ted Turner is going
    to re-release “The Wizard Of Oz” later
    on this year on DVD.The first 10 minutes
    of the film have been colorized.

  • Chris, just remembered another couple of B&W masterpieces – Modern Times and The Gold Rush. Modern Times has the edge as far as The Duke is concerned, and a very sharp one at that, so best get an adult to supervise.

  • Juliette

    Ah well, each to their own..

  • Chris Kent


    It’s all a matter of taste. I respect Citizen Kane and Magnificient Ambersons. I love Touch of Evil and Lady From Shanghai, and watch those films repeatedly.

    I don’t think anyone can dispute Citizen Kane as being one of the most important films ever made. Every Welles film has a devoted following. Citizen Kane’s greatness absolutely is related to the strange angles and lighting, almost all of it Welles’ doing……He told a story through editing, lighting and sets, in addition to utilizing Mankiewicz’s screenplay contributions. It is the classic of all films.

    But if trapped on a desert island with Veronica Lake and one video, I’m going to have sex with Lake (multiple times) and then pop in my copy of Touch of Evil and kick back and get a suntan….

  • Chris Kent


    I would have included Wilder’s Sunset Blvd and Double Indemnity long befoe Some Like it Hot. Not even sure Some Like it Hot would make my top 50.

  • We’ll just have to part company on this. You sound as if you yearn to see something glaringly repulsive. What I fail to understand is why you want to see the Casablanca airport in color — why, for God’s sake, WHY? — but you apparently don’t want to see Janet Leigh bleed in color or William Holden drown in color or Louise Brooks do her little erotic dance in color (think of the costumes!)

    Why do people love black and white to begin with? Very simple. It creates a certain haunting, dream-like mood, and you simply cannot tell me that the mood of the three films under discussion would have in any way been sustained — or improved — with color; it would have turned them all into vulgar spectacles.

    Also, I think you (and many others) grossly overrate
    i Touch of Evil —
    a set of great shots, no doubt, but that’s all anyone ever remembers about it. The story itself is shallow, and doesn’t really connect with the viewer emotionally quite the way either Kane or — despite their problems — Magnificent Ambersons or Lady from Shanghai do.

  • Juliette

    I know it’s cheesy, but where is Some Like It Hot on the list?!

    One of my favourite black and white films ever…!

    (slopes back off to corner)

  • Chris Kent


    There is nothing more I would like to see than Toshiro wage battle in Technicolor. With the exception of Ikiru, Kurosawa’s films were made for color……The battles would have been extraordinary.

    Yes, Casablanca, to include the aiport scene, the gin joint scenes, Dooley Wilson playing the piano, would have been fascinating in color and the film would not have suffered for it.

    Citizen Kane also would not have suffered significantly had it been filmed in color. Sure, Welles and company were mimicking the German Expressionist style and we all get a hardy chuckle out of that. Welles and Toland, they are a real lulu…..I would have liked to have seen Xanadu’s expansive rooms in color, I would have liked to have seen Xanadu in color, I would have liked to have seen Kane’s childhood in color, I would have liked to have seen the opera in color…..

    I can’t even remotely visualize Touch of Evil or even The Lady From Shanghai in color. I can Citizen Kane. Thus, I dropped it from the list like a bad habit…..

  • No, Chris, you misunderstand me. I didn’t mean you thought they should be colorized. I meant I thought it perfectly completely totally 100 percent insane that you thought they would be better in color at all. I simply fail to understand why in the world you think Sunset Boulevard or any of those films you name are great black and white films, and Citizen Kane, Casablanca and The Seventh Samurai should have been shot in color. It makes no sense whatsoever. The black and white ambience is every bit as indelible in those three films as it is in the films you list, if not more so. The richness and depth of B&W photography that Gregg Toland achieved in Kane was vastly influential; in terms of depth of field and composition, it’s a virtual textbook of what can be achieved using the format. This is something the cinematographers in Visions of Light (1992) point out over and again. People have admiringly joked ever since that this American film is the greatest German Expressionist film ever made. And do you really honestly think that a film like Casablanca could have been improved in color? How? Do you want to see the airport scene in anything but B&W? Or Mifune wage battle in Technicolor?

  • Chris Kent


    I never said Citizen Kane, Casablanca and The Seven Samurai should be colorized. I think we all know what a disaster that was……I said they would have been better films had they been made in color, thus they did not make my list.

    I made this list in response to a poster who claimed he did not watch black-and-white films because he thought them boring. Thus I made a list of personal favorites to serve as a starting point for anyone who has never seen a black-and-white film. These are films I feel most appropriately utilize black and white and I tried to cover all boundaries, and included some favorites that do not normally make lists of this type.

    If it is bland, then I suppose I am a bland person. All Greatest Films lists include Citizen Kane, film lovers farting the greatness of Welles ad nauseam…….For this list to have truly been bland, I would have included the very three films you object to….

    I appreciate your comments, as misguided as they are…..

  • Chris Kent

    Thanks Duke,

    I love M but only wanted to include one Fritz Lang film (Metropolis)…..I struggled with Brid of Frankenstein as much as I struggled with High Noon and Double Indemnity and suppose it had as much to do with which side of the bed I awoke on than anything else. Bride of Frankenstein is one of the great, great films of all time and should probably reconsider that exclusion.

    The cult of DW Griffith has always left me a bit perplexed. I know he made incredible strides in moviemaking, but I sit through Birth of a Nation and blush, with disturbing themes and so on. Battleship Potemptkin I also considered but came to the conclusion this was NOT to be a greatest film ever made list, but a list of the greatest black and white films. I wanted to include films from different genres.

    I am so sick of everyone pulling Citizen Kane out of their ass. Yes, we all know it’s one of the great films in history, but decided to chuck a few of the obvious choices out the door. I genuinely believe Citizen Kane, the great Holy Grail of films for all cinema lovers residing on some fiery mountaintop next to God’s Ten Commandments, would have been an improved film in color. Touch of Evil, a seedy B Movie in many ways, was made for black and white…..

    As usual, your comments are appreciated Duke!

  • Chris, Your list is blandly unobjectionable up to the last statement. If there are three things I can thank God do not exists, it would be actual color versions of Casablanca, Citizen Kane, and The Seven Samurai. How in the world you came up with such an opinion astounds me. The B&W photography of Kane is vital to the success of that film, aned far more influential than that of any film you name.

  • Argh! I forgot about Strike, Battleship Potemptkin and October, a solid-gold trilogy of wonderment from our man in the proles, Eisenstien.

  • Fine list, Chris, Although i myself would have put Manhattan at #1, probably on account of it being the Certified Duke De Mondo Best Film Ever. As for Citizen Kane in colour, i have to make like a communist and get all disagreeing. That lighting, those shadows, that could never have been replicated to any effect in colour. As to my own list, there’s plenty on yours that would be on mine also, except i would have had Bride Of Frankenstien in the top 5. And where was “M”? Personally i think it was Lang’s best film. I would also add The War Game, which is not only one of the best documantaries ever ITDO (In The Duke’s Opinion), but also one of the best films ever. And what of Birth Of A Nation or Intolerance? We could go on and on, but Kudos to you for this fine selection, and however much i may personally love Citizen Kane, it was profoundly refreshing to see it relegated to a footnote here. Cheers.

  • Chris Kent

    Well Fussyfreddy, if I had called my list “My Favorite” no one would have commented. Hell, I was beginning to think no one was going to comment anyway! Thanks!

    I want argue my inclusions except briefly. I tried to include films from all genres, horror, sci-fi, drama, foreign, and tried to include films which seem to play better in black and white – were made for black and white. Outdoor epics were made for color, which is why I left off “Seven Samurai” and “Rashomon” (which I don’t consider even one of Kurosawa’s three best films). I suppose check out “Ran” for an idea. I left off “Citizen Kane” because that mansion is just screaming to be in color. No reason to fret, I included “Touch of Evil” – one can never ignore Mr. Welles.

    On to your choices:

    “Double Indemnity” is certainly deserving, but found myself having to include only one Wilder film, and I consider “Sunset Blvd.” superior. It would have made my top 30.

    “Brief Encounter” is not even one of David Lean’s three best films, and his work was always more at home in Technicolor (“Lawrence of Arabia”)…..

    “The Maltese Falcon,” while directed by John Huston, was so similar to “The Big Sleep,” that I had to leave it off as I like Hawks’ film a bit more. Huston’s “Treasure of the Sierra Madre” would have made my top 30.

    “The Wages of Fear” is absolutely deserving and can’t argue with that.

    “All About Eve” is more dialogue and brilliant acting than mood or sets. Great film, but could have easily played in color.

    “Nights of Cabiria” is a fine film but would not have made my top 40.

    “High Noon” I agonized over and am still in agony. It’s a top 30, but found myself having to include only one Western, and had to include “My Darling Clementine” for two reasons – it’s directed by John Ford, and I think it’s a better film.

    “Bride of Frankenstein” is another top 30 choice, and came very close to putting it on this list. But horror was already represented, and decided to include “Young Frankenstein” because it was a film where black and white was purposefully and masterfully used…

    “The Scarlett Empress” and “Duck Soup” would not have even made my top 40.

    I thought “Destry Rides Again” was in color. Am I wrong here? Or am I getting that mixed up with “Dodge City?” Either way, I can think of at least five westerns other than that one to include (“High Noon,” “Stagecoach,” “Red River,” “Fort Apache,” “the Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”)

    “Notorious” is a masterpiece, but “Spellbound” ranked higher on my list. Hitchcock’s finest work (“Rear Window” and “Vertigo”) was in color in my opinion. I consider “Psycho” only his third best film, and realized I could only include one of his black and white works.

    I am impressed with your mentioning of “Diary of A Lost Girl,” I think “Pandora’s Box is superior, have always loved it, and am satisfied for the most part with my video copy. But a great mention never-the-less…

    I love “Casablanca,” but the success of that film had little to do with sets or direction. It was a lucky break with Bogart and Bergman burning up the screen. It could have just as easily been in color.

    Some impressive mentions though and thanks!

  • fussyfreddy

    Didn’t you mean to call your list “My 20 Favorite Black-and-White Films?

    You’d have a tough time defending #4, #11, #14, #16, #18, #19, #20, and #25 against the following list, and dozens of other movies:

    “Double Indemnity,” “Brief Encounter,” “The Maltese Falcon,” “The Wages of Fear,” “All About Eve,” “Nights of Cabiria,” “High Noon,” “Bride of Frankenstein,” “Rashomon,” “The Scarlett Empress,” “Duck Soup,” “Destry Rides Again,” “Notorious!”… Need I go on?

    Also: if you’re going to hype “Metropolis” (which I, too would have done), and “Pandora’s Box” (not even as good as “Diary of A Lost Girl,” Brooks’ companion piece), you might also warn that both films have been so mangled over the years, readers they may never see them as you or I did — let alone as the director intended.


    PS: Cheers on including “Dr. Strangelove.” It always was one of the greatest movies ever made, and has distrurbingly improved with age.

    But can you offer even one good reason “Citizen Kane” or “The Seven Samurai” would have been better in color?

    (A lot of folks would ask the same of “Casablanca,” especially given the disastrous results when Ted Turner colorized it. I never cared enough about the movie to give a hoot).