Two movies that are very important to the history of the cinema is Orson Welles' 1941 film Citizen Kane and Elia Kazan's 1954 film On the Waterfront. Citizen Kane tells the story of Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles). Kane is a man driven to, for lack of a better phrase, "take over the world." He begins a newspaper empire, and takes delight in triumphing greatly over his competitors. He seeks to dominate in all of his relationships, including those with his co-worker, friends, and wives. However, the ambitious Kane ends up dying alone because he has driven everyone away.
Citizen Kane is an important film mostly because of its multilayered main character, who is played brilliantly by the magnificent Welles. Kane is a complex man, and viewers may be unsure as to how to respond to him. On one hand, Kane could be hated for his ruthlessness. He does not seem to care about the feelings of anyone around him. On the other hand, Kane could be pitied. He was sent away to boarding school when he was very young, and did not have any love in his life. His search for world domination could be viewed as a lifelong search for love and acceptance. It is the character development in Citizen Kane that makes the movie historically important.
Many critics also sight Welles' camera shots and lighting as reasons that Citizen Kane is so influential. David Cook says in his book, A History of Narrative Film, "The film's impact did not begin to be felt until after the war, when its use of low-key lighting and wide-angle lenses to achieve greater depth of field influenced the visual style of American film noir and its flashback narrative technique began to be imitated in more conventional films like Robert Siodmak's The Killers (1946)" (343).
So, whether one is looking at Citizen Kane from a technical standpoint or from a plot standpoint, it is still an incredibly influential film.
Another movie that has been influential in the history of cinema is Elia Kazan's 1954 movie, On the Waterfront. This movie is important to the history of cinema because of its social commentary. The movie is about an ex-boxer named Terry Malloy (played by the brilliant and legendary Marlon Brando) who testifies against the mob on the New Jersey waterfront.
Terry's brother, Charley (Rod Steiger) is a hit man for the mob, which complicated Terry's decision to testify. Terry is compelled to testify not only because he falls in love with Edie Doyle (Eva Marie Saint), the sister of a man killed by mob boss Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb), but also because of his sense of decency. The audience may sympathize with Terry's plight.
Many critics have believed that the film is a commentary on McCarthyism and the "red scare". Kazan himself, like Terry, became an informer during the McCarthy era. Kazan's testimony exposed several of his Hollywood friends as communists, which led to many of them being blacklisted. The parallels between Kazan's life and Terry Malloy's situation are pretty obvious. Both want people to see them as good men who tried to do the right thing. Both try to look like men who stood up to people whom they knew were doing bad things.
On the Waterfront personified the film industry's right to reflect society. It shed light on the McCarthy era and may have helped people to understand those who testified to the HVAC. On the Waterfront is important to the history of cinema because of its social significance. It defined an era of terror headed by McCarthy.
On the Waterfront is also important because of its influence on acting. Marlon Brando won the Best Actor Academy Award for his performance. Brando had been noted since the beginning of his career for his realistic acting. Brando was a "method actor" who was a member of the prestigious and progressive Actor's Studio. Though Brando's acting had been praised before and he had been nominated three previous times for the Oscar, he had never won. Brando's win ushered in a change of acting style. Gone was the more theatrical type of acting. People were actually "living" on screen. Brando spawned many imitators, which changed the world of film forever.