The Awesomeness of Black & White Movies

When your favorite movies are black & white, and you confess that to people, many of them look at you as if you're some kind of alien species.

"Black and white?! That's boring!"

I grew up with a television that had a dial and wires to an outside antenna and showed only black & white. We didn't get a color TV until I was 12 years old. So for me, entertainment began in glorious black, white, and gray. That could account for my love of the oldies.

But a more likely reason is that classic movies are great! Color was available but not used for most movies. The studio heads didn't see the need for the extra expense -- especially when there were talents like Davis, Gable, Loy, Powell, Bogart, Grant, Arthur, Stewart, Cooper, Stanwyck, and Astaire and Rogers. People would go to the movies anyway. The Powers That Were, however, cared about quality. And that shows in the product they put out.

  • Watch Casablanca as if for the first time and you're blown away by the quality of the writing, directing, and acting, from the leads to the character actors.
  • Citizen Kane rightly ranks as one of the best movies of all time, if not the best. Orson Welles did things without dialogue -- just with camera angles and spacing -- that continue to influence directors today.
  • It Happened One Night, one of the first romantic comedies, is still being reworked over and over again by Hollywood in almost every romantic comedy produced.
  • The Best Years of Our Lives, my all-time favorite movie, is about three veterans returning from WWII. Many of their problems readjusting to civilian life still ring true now.
  • Stalag 17, about American soldiers in a German POW camp in WWII, is another of my favorites and is one of the best examples of why black & white is sometimes better than color for conveying the "feel" of a place. And it's one of the best mysteries in movie history.

I've listed only five titles, but if you're new to classic black & white films, these are good ones to start with. Or if you've seen them before, it's always fun to watch them again, just to see what you might have missed the first time.

What classics would you recommend to the person just discovering the beauty of black & white movies?