25 black and white timeless classics
1 Phantom of the Opera – Lon Chaney – 1925
A silent classic, recently restored, which remains both atmospheric and terrifying. It made Lon Chaney a star after he underwent a painful prosthetic transformation before each day’s filming. Gripping and hard-stopping.
2 Battleship Potempkin – Sergei Eisenstein – 1925
A visually stunning silent movie telling of the true story of a Russian ship mutiny in 1905. The scene of the baby carriage bouncing down a flight of steps has been much copied over the years, most memorably in the Oscar-winning The Untouchables.
3 The General – Buster Keaton – 1926
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Buster Keaton, the agile silent comedian with the deadpan face, created dramatic, imaginative and well-thought out comedies. The General is named after a train which is lost and recaptured by Keaton in this classic, fast-moving civil war comedy. If you like this try Sherlock Jnr or Steamboat Bill Jnr.
4 Metropolis – Fritz Lang - 1927
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Thanks to rock band Queen and their video for Radio Gaga, the images from Fritz Lang’s dark, but impressively perceptive, look at the future of society are now much better known. This German expressionist masterpiece has lost none of its beauty or power and remains one of the greatest science fiction films ever made.
5 Sons of The Desert – Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy – 1933
Way Out West is the best remembered Laurel and Hardy feature film but this film just wins out in the ‘laughs per minute’ stakes. The pair try to go to a convention without their wives knowing. You just know that their elaborate plans will end in tears. Their timing and inventiveness has never been bettered. If you love this try Way Out West.
6 Top Hat – Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Eric Blore, Edward Everett Horton – 1935
The pinnacle of Fred and Ginger’s career. Not only is it a brilliant musical, with songs provided by Irving Berlin, it’s also a fabulous screwball comedy with first-rate support from comic actors Eric Blore and Edward Everett Horton. If you like this try Swing Time or Shall We Dance.
7 Modern Times – Charlie Chaplin, Paulette Goddard – 1936
In the sound-era, Chaplin resolutely stuck to creating silent movies. In this he provides a wonderful starring role for his then mistress Paulette Goddard, who almost stole the film from Chaplin. Modern Times is a comedy with a social conscience which tackles the effects of increased mechanisation and The Depression. The scene of Chaplin disappearing into the works of a machine is still brilliant. If you like this, see City Lights and The Gold Rush.
8 Pride and Prejudice – Laurence Olivier, Greer Garson – 1940
Jane Austen comes to the big screen thanks to author Aldous Huxley turning her witty original into an even wittier Oscar Wilde-style battle of words. Olivier and Garson are brilliant as Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett and are given stunning support from British ex-pats in Hollywood.
9 The Philadelphia Story – Cary Grant, James Stewart, Katharine Hepburn – 1940
A huge stage hit for Katharine Hepburn and brought to life on the big screen, complete with razor-sharp dialogue, by three actors at the height of their powers. This is the epitome of timeless comedy because it is rooted in real life. It even features a 1940s version of Hello magazine. If you like this, check-out Holiday and Bringing Up Baby.
10 The Sea Hawk – Errol Flynn, Claude Rains, Flora Robson – 1940
One of Errol Flynn’s greatest swashbucklers with some dazzling model work which blends perfectly with the full-size sets. Flora Robson is Elizabeth I who commands Flynn to capture the Spanish treasure ships which are robbing Caribbean. If you like this, try Captain Blood
11 Casablanca – Humphrey Bogart, Claude Rains, Ingrid Bergman – 1941
One of the true all-time classics, shot during World War II, set in Vichy, north Africa, it made Humphrey Bogart a star. Bergman and Rains are an equal screen presence in this glorious ensemble movie which is a true timeless classic. For all black and white film fans it was the beginning of ‘a beautiful friendship.’
12 To Have and Have Not – Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall – 1944
A second entry for Bogart and his first of eight outings with his wife and muse Lauren Bacall. The chemistry between them is electric as they battle to ferry resistance fighters out of Marseilles under the nose of the Nazis. If you like this, check out The Big Sleep.
13 Notorious – Cary Grant, Claude Rains, Ingrid Bergman – 1946
Cary Grant steps effortlessly from stylish romantic comedies into this edge-of-your seat espionage thriller from Alfred Hitchcock. Again set during World War II this is about uncovering German agents infiltrating South American society. If you like this, try Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes.
14 Lavender Hill Mob – Alec Guinness, Stanley Holloway, Sidney James – 1951
One of the best Ealing comedies. Alec Guinness plays a mild-mannered employee of the Bank of England who sets out to steal a shipment of gold bullion with the help of Stanley Holloway. This gloriously imaginative film also features the screen debut of Audrey Hepburn. If you love this, try Passport to Pimlico or Whiskey Galore.
15 Dambusters – Richard Todd, Michael Redgrave – 1953
The true story of the wartime raid on the Ruhr dams and the invention of the bouncing bomb. Richard Todd plays the square-jaw Squadron Leader Guy Gibson while Michael Redgrave is the inventor of the bouncing bomb, Barnes Wallis. The aerial footage is superb. If you like this try epic D-Day movie The Longest Day.
16 Roman Holiday – Audrey Hepburn, Gregory Peck – 1953
One of the frothiest, most charming romantic comedies of all time. Shot on location in Rome Gregory Peck plays an opportunist reporter who gets to play host to Hepburn’s visiting young princess who’s had enough of royal life and wants to see what life is like for ordinary people. If you like this try Sabrina.
17 Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday – Jacques Tati – 1954
Jacques Tati was the French forerunner of Rowan Atkinson’s Mr Bean, a good-natured individual who drifts through life, unintentionally spreading havoc in his wake. This international smash hit is just as funny today as it was when it was released.
18 Seven Samurai – Toshirô Mifune – 1954
The Kurosawa classic that inspired the Yul Brynner-Steve McQueen classic The Magnificent Seven. This is equally fast-moving and just as entertaining as a group of Samurai warriors defend a poor Japanese village from marauding bandits.
19 Invasion of the Body Snatchers – Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wyntrer – 1956
A wonderful piece of atmospheric, low budget film-making by then fledgling film-maker Don Seigel. Told with great economy, this still sends chills up your back, particularly the central scene in the greenhouse. The majority of the special effects are supplied by your imagination and they are terrifying.
20 Some Like It Hot – Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon – 1959
Billy Wilder’s classic tale of two musicians on the run from the mob, hiding out in drag in an all-girl jazz band. It’s fast, it’s funny and Monroe is on sensational form - in fact they all are and it ends with the best tag line in movie history. If you enjoyed this try The Apartment.
21 The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance – John Wayne, James Stewart, Lee Marvin – 1962
By the 1960s director John Ford who was coming to the end of his productive, Oscar-filled career. But he had one last classic to produce and this dark, vengeful tale was it. The story was based on one of Ford’s own sayings: “If the legend is better than the truth, print the legend.” If you like this try Fort Apache and Stagecoach.
22 Billy Liar – Tom Courteney, Julie Christie – 1963
This imaginative fantasy from Keith Waterhouse and John Schlesinger, born in the down-at-heel back streets of northern England has Billy dreaming of being 101 heroic figures and escaping to make his fortune in London. But, dare he leave his family and his safe job? If you like this, try Saturday Night, Sunday Morning and Darling.
23 Manhattan – Woody Allen, Mariel Hemmingway, Meryl Streep, 1979
After the 1960s, black and white movies all but disappeared but Woody Allen kept the flag flying with a series of films shot in monochrome. This is his black and white masterpiece, a love letter to New York, set to the music of George Gershwin. If you like this, try Broadway Danny Rose or The Purple Rose of Cairo.
24 Schindler’s List – Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley, Ralph Fiennes – 1993
Steven Spielberg’s hugely moving story of Austrian industrialist Oskar Schindler who managed to save over a thousand Jews from the extermination camps by employing them in his factories. Spielberg’s hugely moving film is beautifully shot and is packed with stand-out performances.
25 The Artist - Jean Dujardin - 2011
Black and white, silent films can still win Oscars in the 21st century. The wheel turned full circle in this moving comedy about the early days on the movie industry. It has a lot to say about the fickle nature of fame.