Here's a story I won't soon forget: a while back, I was sitting at lunch opposite my twenty-eight year old second cousin once removed, with a host of other family members. It being a reunion of sorts, the mood was jolly.
I’ve always liked this particular cousin — she's smart, brassy, funny, and well spoken. The kind of young person that gives you hope for the future.
But on this particular occasion, she dropped a bomb on me. Regarding me in a direct but matter-of-fact way, she said: “I won’t watch black and white movies, and most of my friends won’t either.” She went on to explain that from what she’d seen of these dusty old relics, they were slow, talky, and the acting seemed forced.
Trying hard to hide my dismay, I replied that she and her pals were depriving themselves of some of the greatest films ever made. Movies should be judged — at least partially — in the context of their time, I continued. Before the advent of the “Method,” on-screen acting techniques were indeed closer to the broader traditions of the theater, but you could still find plenty of amazing performances in older movies. In addition, I posited, black and white cinematography could be uniquely stunning. Concluding with a flourish, I stated that many of the best older titles offered something that too many new movies lack: namely, quality scripts and stories.
My cousin listened politely and gave me an indulgent smile. I was getting precisely nowhere.
For me, it’s a sobering thought that some younger people might reject any film not made in color (with the possible exception of “Schindler’s List”), and in fact might be unwilling to consider color options further back than, say, the early ‘70s, thinking of that fertile time in moviemaking as ancient history. I can only hope their curiosity increases as they age, for then a marvelous exploration will open up for them.
RELATED: 11 Incredible Lesser-Known Classics Streaming on Netflix
On this site, black and white features comprise about a third of the database. On the American Film Institute’s (AFI) original ranking of the top 100 American movies, black and white classics made up about 40 percent of the total. That’s a lot of great movies to turn your back on.
Here now are twelve black and white classics, available on Netflix, that I consider unmissable. Notwithstanding my obstinate cousin, I still have faith that through these timeless films, we might open a few more young eyes to the rewards of black and white cinema. For you older, more enlightened readers, these titles benefit from repeat viewings as well. Remember: it's better to watch a great movie again than an average one the first time.
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
The General (1927)
The Lady Vanishes (1938)
His Girl Friday (1940)
Bicycle Thieves (1948)
Twelve O'Clock High (1949)
All About Eve (1950)
Sunset Boulevard (1950)
The quintessential movie about old Hollywood. She's ready for her close-up, Mr. DeMille!
High Noon (1952)
The Apartment (1960)