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10 Severely Underappreciated Classic Movies – TheFantasyTimes

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By Jitin Gambhir

10 Severely Underappreciated Classic Movies



Classic films have a timeless quality that has captivated audiences for generations. These films were made in a bygone era before modern filmmaking sensibilities were established, and they have since become important works that have moved the medium of filmmaking forward. However, there are many other incredible films that have been largely neglected despite their significant contributions to the art form. Here are ten classic films that deserve more appreciation.

M (1931) is a crime thriller from Fritz Lange, one of the most significant early auteurs of cinema. The film tells the story of a serial killer who preys on children in Berlin, and it served as a blueprint for all psychological thrillers since. Night Train to Munich (1940), directed by Carol Reed, is an espionage film about a Prague scientist and his daughter who try to evade capture by the Nazis by escaping to England. The film is both tense and funny, making it a must-watch for any cinephile.

Angels with Dirty Faces (1938), directed by Michael Curtiz, is a gangster film that tells the story of Rocky Sullivan, a recently released ex-con who returns to his old stomping ground before returning to a life of crime. The film is full of excitement, with a surprisingly spiritual edge that makes it perfect for fans of the genre. Marty (1955), directed by Delbert Mann, tells the story of Marty Piletti, a butcher who has given up on love until he meets a kindhearted teacher who restores his hope and self-confidence. It’s a beautiful romance that doubles as a coming-of-age story.

Panic in the Streets (1950), directed by Elia Kazan, is a gritty plague crime thriller that tells the story of a manhunt through the streets of New Orleans for a murderer who has contracted a deadly disease from one of his victims. Freaks (1932), directed by Tod Browning, is a bizarre kind of horror film about the side-show freaks of a traveling circus who take terrible vengeance on the beautiful trapeze artist trying to steal the inheritance of their dwarf leader. The film was quickly censored and banned in several states for being too disturbing.

Key Largo (1948), directed by John Huston, is a noir starring Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson, and Lauren Bacall. The film tells the story of a World War II veteran who visits a hotel run by his recently deceased war buddy, only to discover an infamous gang of mobsters is also staying there. When a hurricane traps them in the hotel, the mobsters take control, and now the family and the ex-soldier must fight for their lives.

These classic films are just as, if not more, important to the continued growth of cinema as an art form than the more well-known classic films. They broke conventions, told stories extremely well, and deserve more recognition for their contributions to the medium.

When it comes to movies that have defined the medium, most of them are what are commonly categorized as classic films. These are movies from a bygone era that have a look and feel that is older yet timeless, whereas modern filmmaking sensibilities were not yet established. Most of these films have been championed for decades following their initial release for being important works that would move the medium of filmmaking forward.


Even with many classic films enjoying a rich and full legacy, there are plenty of other incredible films that were ahead of their time that have been largely neglected. These movies are just as, if not more, important to the continued growth of cinema as an art form that broke conventions, or simply told a story extremely well. Here are 10 classic films that deserve more appreciation.

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M (1931)

M (1931) by Fritz Lang
Black-Film

Of the many early auteurs of cinema, Fritz Lange was one of the most significant. He made many boundary-pushing films that helped establish filmmaking as a new artistic medium, exemplified best by the much-celebrated Metropolis. Another film of his that was very much ahead of its time that was celebrated in its time but has now become unknown to most is the crime thriller M.

M tells the story of a serial killer that preys on children, plaguing the streets of Berlin. The killer’s actions are so repugnant to the public that he becomes hunted by both police and criminals, much to the panicked anxiety of the murderer. It’s a movie that has served as a blueprint for all psychological thrillers since, yet it tackles themes and ideas rarely considered in even the most thoughtful modern films. It’s a film both terrifying and empathetic that makes it a timeless watch sure to keep any viewer on the edge of their seat.

Related: 10 Pre-1970s Thrillers That Still Pack a Punch

Night Train to Munich (1940)

Night Train to Munich
Twentieth Century-Fox Productions

There are countless classic films about the many perspectives and efforts made in World War II against the Nazi threat, but few give viewers as full of an experience as Carol Reed’s Night Train to Munich. It’s an espionage film about a Prague scientist and his daughter, who try to evade capture by the Nazis by escaping to England. They are met with countless challenges from persistent Nazi spies, but also given constant aid by the continued efforts of British spies who come to their rescue.

What makes the film so incredible is how it is funny as it is tense. For every scene that will keep you on the edge of your seat, there’s another scene that will have you in stitches over the witty writing. It makes for a film that feels full, giving audiences a wide of emotions that feels like it has it all. A spy thriller classic that more people should check out.

Angels with Dirty Faces (1938)

Angels with Dirty Faces
Warner Bros.

One genre with a rich history in cinema is the gangster film. These films offer a satisfying alternative to stories of straight-laced characters trying to do good by giving audiences someone focused on the exact opposite with a talent for criminal activities. Many of these older gangster films would serve to inspire many great future filmmakers like Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola, yet some have become forgotten, like Michael Curtiz’s Angels with Dirty Faces.

The film is the story of Rocky Sullivan, a recently released ex-con who returns to his old stomping ground of Hell’s Kitchen for refuge before returning to his life of crime. Rocky has become a local legend among the boys of the neighborhood, a fact that disturbs the neighborhood priest who was once Rocky’s childhood friend that is trying to help the boys avoid Rocky’s immoral lifestyle. It’s a wonderful film full of excitement with a surprisingly spiritual edge that makes it a perfect watch for any cinephile who might be a fan of the genre.

Marty (1955)

Marty 1955
United Artists

When you think about who would be the two leads in a typical romantic film, you probably imagine impossibly beautiful people would make a perfectly picturesque couple. This highlights the problem that there aren’t enough romances starring more average or unconventionally attractive people who are also capable and worthy of falling in love. That is the exact point of Delbert Mann’s 1955 masterpiece Marty.

The movie is about Marty Piletti, a butcher who lives with his mother and has all but given up on his potential for love. After being pushed by his friends, Marty reluctantly comes to a dance hall with friends and meets a kindhearted teacher who has a genuine interest in Marty, setting him on a path of restored hope and self-confidence. It’s a beautiful romance that doubles as a strange kind of coming-of-age story that we don’t see often and should see more of. A wonderfully crafted film sure to move even the most cynical viewers.

Related: 9 Classic Romance Movies That Get Better with Age

Panic in the Streets (1950)

Panic In the Streets
Twentieth Century Fox

One of the most legendary film directors in the medium is the great Elia Kazan. He was a director who made films that told mature stories with dark themes, crafted in a way that helped establish more realistic acting and on-location shooting as acceptable standards of filmmaking. While much of his work has stood the test of time, his gritty plague crime thriller Panic in the Streets has mostly been forgotten.

It’s the story of a manhunt through the streets of New Orleans for a murderer who has contracted a deadly disease from one of his victims. It’s an exciting premise that makes for captivating cinema, but it might also explain why it’s one of his more neglected works, with it being a more crowd-pleasing film compared to his heavier dramas. It’s still a wonderful film that’s exceptionally well crafted, that should be better seen as a highly watchable masterwork from one of cinema’s great artists.

Freaks (1932)

Freaks (1)
MGM

There are certain classic movies that have a special capability to shock modern viewers in ways they never thought possible. Movies like this tend to have themes, ideas, or moments that feel like they shouldn’t be due to the time or even more shocking because we haven’t seen something like that in a modern movie. Tod Browning’s Freaks is one of those movies that feels like it shouldn’t exist.

The movie is a bizarre kind of horror film about the side-show freaks of a traveling circus and the terrible vengeance they take on the beautiful trapeze artist who is trying to steal the inheritance of their dwarf leader. When it was originally released, it was quickly censored by the studio and even banned in several states for being too disturbing, circumstances that have undoubtedly contributed to the anonymity of the film. It has luckily survived thanks to its few defenders, Guillermo Del Toro being among them, and hopefully, it will only find more fans as time goes on.

Key Largo (1948)

Key Largo
Warner Bros.

Some movies have a premise so good that there’s no way it could fail, and John Huston’s Key Largo is one of them. The noir starring Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson, and Lauren Bacall is about a World War II veteran coming to visit a hotel run by his recently deceased war buddy to pay respects, only to discover an infamous gang of mobsters is also staying there. When a hurricane traps them in the hotel, the mobsters take control, and now the family and the ex-soldier must fight for their lives.

It’s one of those movies that has a near-perfect log line that lets you know you’re in for a great movie. Couple that with the exceptional filmmakers involved, with Huston at the helm and Bogart at the center, viewers just know they’re in for an exciting noir experience. The movie more than delivers on this promise, which makes it such a shame that it isn’t talked about as much as noir classics. A tense and exciting movie experience fans of noir need to witness.

Sullivan’s Travels (1941)

Sullivan's Travels
Paramount Pictures

Many great films have brilliantly lampooned the hypocrisy of Hollywood, and almost all of them owe something to Preston Sturges’ Sullivan’s Travels. It tells the story of a successful Hollywood director who has made a name for himself making mass-appealing comedies, but now has ambitions of making a serious drama about the suffering of the lower class. Feeling he has not suffered enough, he decides to go on a journey in the guise of a hobo to discover true suffering.

Sturges makes this premise into a brilliant satire that says so much about class division, the artistic romanticizing of poverty, and most of all the need for fun movies. It has inspired many great filmmakers, most notable being the Coen Brothers, whose film Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? got its title from the ambitious director’s fictional film of suffering. A comedy masterpiece that gives audiences everywhere permission to laugh again.

The Gunfighter (1950)

Gregory Peck in The Gunfighter
20th Century Fox

The Western is a genre so prolific that it has achieved a range of stories few genres ever do. This can best be seen in the films that act as subversive critiques of the typical Western movies that challenge viewers to look deeper at these wandering gunslingers. One of the best to do this is Henry King’s The Gunfighterstarring Gregory Peck.

The movie follows an infamous shootist in the old west whose talent for winning duels has given him fame and not much else. He wanders from town to town as a lonely reject, hated for the killing he has done, and made a target by ambitious young guns who wish to gain similar notoriety. It makes for a sad drama that doesn’t have much in gun fights, but offers so much more with an incredible story that shows the true price of violence. A Western that should be counted among the best.

Brief Encounter (1945)

Brief Encounter still
Universal Pictures

There are far too few films that tell a story with the grace, simplicity, and intimacy of David Lean’s Brief Encounter. The film is a very simple story of a tired housewife who starts an innocent friendship with a man in the city that slowly becomes something more. It never gives way to a passionate kiss or another grand culmination of love, instead teasing it with gentle actions between the two.

It’s impressive such a film came from the great David Lean considering where his passions would take him with epic films famous for their grandiose nature. For a moment, his aims were far humbler and the effect is incredible with a truly cinematic experience all about subtly and repression that creates even deeper emotions. It’s a film that should be counted among the greatest ever made, with a romance that is unmatched by most of the films that have followed it. A masterpiece in every sense of the word.

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