Ten Favorite Black & White Films

August 14, 2013

A little off topic today, but I watched #7 over the weekend so I felt like discussing. When I was a girl, my mom would always play the AMC channel on Saturday afternoons. The features in the last few decades on that channel are more modern but back in the eighties, AMC played mostly black and white classic films.

In my youth I’d sit and watch the famous actors of the silver screen, and formed a lifetime affection for the greats: Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Clark Gable, Bette Davis, and countless others. To this day, when I want to relax on a winter day with a hot cup of tea, I turn to a classic black and white film. They’ve even influenced my design aesthetic, I still prefer classic interiors above all others.

Matt and I got on the subject of great black and white films and narrowed down our favorites. His were different than mine, his leaning toward the westerns or action flicks while I favored female heroines.  Here are our lists, mine is up first.

#10. The Artist

We had no expectations watching this movie, we only knew it was a silent film with just music and no words spoken. Both Matt and I really loved this picture and so it made both our top ten lists. We’re still impressed such a great story can be told without words at all, and it was a breath of fresh air among what comes out of the Hollywood studios these days.

the artist


#9.  Some Like it Hot

Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon are hilarious as cross dressing men hiding from the mob. Marilyn Monroe is the sultry singer Sugar in the traveling girls band they sign up with while on the run. It’s filmed at the modern day Hotel Del Coronado which makes a fabulous backdrop to all the antics.

some like it hot

For another funny Curtis & Lemmon caper, watch The Great Race also starring the gorgeous Natalie Wood as a suffragette, it’s a total crack up about two rival daredevils racing across the globe, my kids love the massive pie fight at the end.


#8. 12 Angry Men

This is such a great film (and play). It’s a hot summer night in New York City and a jury of twelve is deliberating the facts of a case involving a young man accused of killing his father. Henry Fonda plays the lone doubter who convinces the rest to stay a bit longer to examine the evidence.

12 angry men


#7.  Suspicion

I’ve never seen a Cary Grant film I didn’t like. I could list so many of his movies that I adore (my faves below) but Suspicion pairs the intrigue created by director Alfred Hitchcock with Cary cast as a suspicious playboy with money problems.

suspicion cary grant

Other Cary faves include His Girl Friday, North by Northwest, The Philadelphia Story, Father Goose, An Affair to Remember, The Bishop’s Wife, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, To Catch a Thief.


#6.  The Miracle Worker

Anne Bancroft won an Oscar for her role as Annie Sullivan, the only teacher strong enough to teach young blind and deaf Helen Keller to communicate. Patty Duke’s performance is incredible as Helen, she also won the Best Supporting Actress award.

the miracle worker


#5.  It’s a Wonderful Life

Our family watches this every December with James Stewart playing George Bailey, a small town resident with a suppressed wanderlust but a heart of gold that makes him a savior to the downtrodden and the truest kind of friend. He gets a chance to see what life would be like if he’d never lived. We shed a tear every time Harry toasts “To my big brother George, the richest man in town.” An absolute must see.

its a wonderful life


#4. Laura

This film stars the strikingly beautiful Gene Teirney as a climbing the ladder career gal and a jaded police officer (Dana Andrews) who falls in love with her while investigating her murder. Quintessential film noir, rent it on a dark stormy night.

laura gene tierney


#3.  Adam’s Rib

Katharine Hepburn was brazen on and off the screen, the first lady to boldly wear pants in the 1940s in a sea of culturally acceptable skirts. Kate played women with spunk and in Adam’s Rib  she is an attorney married to prosecuting lawyer Spencer Tracy and she defends a woman accused of shooting her philandering husband.

adams rib katharine hepburn


#2.  All About Eve

Bette Davis is one of the great ladies of her day who with her roles paved the way for women to do things by their own terms. This is my favorite Bette Davis movie, she plays an aging stage actress worshiped by an aspiring ingénue who gets a little too close for comfort. It’s a “watch your back” tale of the very best kind.

all about eve


#1.  Casablanca

It’s WWII and “I stick my neck out for nobody” Rick runs a popular bar in Casablanca where many are waiting to escape to America. The plot thickens when Rick’s former lover played by Ingrid Bergman shows up with a complicated request. The dialogue is brilliant – you simply can’t go through life without seeing this film all the way through to its iconic ending.



Matt agrees with me on The Artist, Some Like it Hot, Casablanca, It’s a Wonderful Life, Adam’s Rib, and 12 Angry Men  but he prefers these additional four: Schindler’s List, (I agree, so amazing); The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance; Young Frankenstein; and Raging Bull.

Other Runners Up: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington; To Kill a Mockingbird; Sorry, Wrong Number, The Maltese Falcon, Shadow of a Doubt, and Roman Holiday.  If you’re looking for a cool flick, you can’t go wrong with these. The combination of scripts and actors stands the test of time, and the black and white media makes these films extra special.

Have you seen any of these movies?  Did we miss any greats?

What are some of your favorite black & white films?



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110 Responses to “Ten Favorite Black & White Films”

  1. Janice Fassetta says:

    The Littlest Rebel with Shirley Temple. The scene where Shirley and Abraham Lincoln talk and share an apple is the best! Love this post. Thanks so much.

  2. CentsationalGirl says:

    The Great Escape is SO great April, wonderful story, amazing actors, sad ending, not black & white though! I love the motorcycle scene in the end with Steve McQueen, and always loved James Garner too, he looks just like my dad (when he was younger) :) I also love the scene where the Americans make moonshine on the Fourth of July to distribute to the camp!

  3. treen says:

    I haven’t watched an old b&w in forever, but I LOVE them! My top 3 are It Happened One Night, The Philadelphia Story, and Roman Holiday. Why can’t people make comedies that are funny anymore? They’re just crass garbage these days.

  4. Erin says:

    great list! I’ve seen a few of these. Love Some Like It Hot!

    And I completely agree on The Great Race, one of my favorite movies!! My parents had us watch it when I was a kid. I still love it to this day. :o)

  5. JaNelle says:

    Love the list and the additional suggestions in the comments. I’d also add Witness For the Prosecution! Love that one.

  6. Peggy says:

    Life seemed to be so much simpler back then when these films were made. These movies take me back . . .

  7. Taysha R says:

    Great list! I added a few I haven’t seen to my watch list but may I recommend one of my favorites… Red Dust with Clark Gable & Jean Harlow

  8. Sindy says:

    Alfred Hitchcock: Rebecca (Joan Fontaine, Laurence Olivier; Spellbound (Ingrid Bergman, Gregory Peck); Young & Innocent; Notorious (Ingrid Bergman, Cary Grant).

    Double Indemnity (Barbara Stanwyck, Fred McMurray).
    Key Largo (Lauren Bacall, Humphrey Bogart).
    Treasure of the Sierra Madre (Humphrey Bogart).
    The Maltese Falcon (Humphrey Bogart).

    Love the old BW film noirs!

  9. Jona says:

    Laura is one of my favorites too. I recommend The Heiress (1949) with Olivia de Havilland if you have not seen it. :)

  10. Cynthia says:

    I could watch Ball of Fire and The Lady Eve over and over again! And another Barbara Stanwyck, Meet John Doe. Never realized how talented she is with comedy until these movies.

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