This month marks the 73rd anniversary of the release of cinema classic "Citizen Kane," an innovative and influential drama written and directed by Orson Welles that has topped critics' top ten lists for decades.
Not only was "Kane" a notated masterpiece for its technical innovation (it is, in fact, the first film to show ceilings within a framed shot) but its story also caused some controversy, which ultimately lead to the film being blacklisted by many theaters. The film was forced into obscurity until a critical reassessment in the 1960s lead to a revival of appreciation for the film.
The main thrust of the film's controversial story revolves around the life of a newspaper tycoon who eventually turned to politics to feed his lust for power. The story of Charles Foster Kane, however, closely reflected the life of William Randolph Hearst, who fought hard against the movie's release.
But "Kane" isn't the only film notable for its political messaging and controversy; in fact, the black and white era was full of them.
So here are 10 political films that everyone should see — in glorious black and white.
Reportedly based on the life of Louisiana governor Huey Long, who also served as the state's senator until his assassination in 1935, "All the King's Men" is a dark examination of political power and corruption."
The New York Times' Bosley Crowther, who reviewed the film at the time of its release, lauded the film for gathering "a frightening comprehension of the potential of demagoguery in this land.
"It catches the dim but dreadful aspect of ignorance and greed," Crowther continued, "when played upon by theatrics, eloquence and bluff."
One of the most iconic political films of all time, Frank Capra and Jimmy Stewart's "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" was also seen by many Washington insiders as a direct attack on the American political system. According to legend, many senators even booed a screening of the film, accusing it of having communist sympathies.
But despite the political controversy that surrounded the film at the time of its release, "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" was a critical and financial success.
As The Nation's Franz Hoellering put it, Mr. Smith "has the spirit of true democracy." A spirit that has carried this film all the way to its canonization as essential viewing for the politically minded.
Based on the novel by Richard Condon, "The Manchurian Candidate" tells the tale of a brainwashed American soldier being used as a political agent by subversive communists.
While the subject matter itself was controversial enough, particularly with the film's portrayal of a political demagog reminiscent of Sen. Joseph McCarthy, the most damaging controversy came after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Some felt the film may have acted as inspiration for Kennedy's assassin, and the film was subsequently pulled from theaters (though studio heads claim it was pulled for lack of interest, not political controversy).
However, "Candidate" received a revival of sorts when it was released again in theaters in 1988.
A black comedy that viciously satirized the absurdity of atomic warfare and "mutually assured destruction," "Dr. Strangelove or: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb" was both a critical and financial success at the time of its release, and further solidified Director Stanley Kubrick as a critical darling.
But satirizing such heavy subject matter did not come without controversy.
The New York Times' Bosley Crowther, for one, believed the film to be "beyond any question the most shattering sick joke I've ever come across."
"There is so much about it that is grand, so much that is brilliant and amusing," Crowther concluded, "and much that is grave and dangerous."
Known not only as one of the greatest Marx Brothers films, but also as one of the greatest comedies of all time, "Duck Soup" received a mixed response at the time of its release for its satirical political message.
The film, which details the mayhem that ensues after an unexperienced man is appointed to be the leader of a bankrupt nation, took direct shots at dictators such as Benito Mussolini, which lead the film to be banned in Italy.
"Dated as 'Duck Soup' inevitably is in some respects, it has moments that seem startlingly modern," film critic Roger Ebert wrote of the film. "The brothers broke the classical structure of movie comedy and glued it back again haphazardly, and nothing was ever the same."
"The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" is widely regarded as one of the best westerns in American cinematic history, but critics also took note of the political implications of the film's nuanced exploration of the taming of the West.
"Liberty Valance" tells the story of a young idealistic lawyer, played by Jimmy Stewart, who moves west and immediately lands into trouble with a violent, lawless cowboy named Liberty Valance. John Wayne plays an unlikely friend who teaches the peace-loving lawyer about the ways of the West.
"The Western is intrinsically the most political movie genre," The New Yorker's Richard Brody said in a review of "Liberty Valance," adding that "one of the strengths of Ford’s movie is its depiction of the actual grassroots practical politicking in the Western territories."
This send up of Hitler was not only Charlie Chaplin's first official "talkie" film, but it was also his most politically controversial.
Never one to shy away from political controversy (many of his films, such as "Modern Times" and "The Gold Rush" were criticized as having communist sympathies) Chaplin took to lampooning the German dictator with a force that made some uncomfortable.
The film was banned in many parts of Europe, and even upset some American diplomats who believed the film would cause unnecessary tension between Germany and the U.S.
Others have criticized the film, much like Kubrick's "Dr. Strangelove," for its light-hearted depiction of such a dark period in world history.
Known widely as one of the most powerful anti-war films of all time, "Paths of Glory" is a critical look at the dangers of power and hierarchy within a military structure.
Though set within the French army during the First World War, "Paths of Glory" touched a political nerve with American audiences at its release in 1957.
"The picture's enduring appeal comes from its unflinching application of Lord Acton's famous warning that 'power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,'" The Wall Street Journal's David Mermelstein said of the film. "Here—in the midst of war, when the stakes are at their highest—Mr. Kubrick illustrates the consequences of unchecked ambition and mass complacency."
Typically billed as one of the most searing political thrillers of the Cold War era, this largely forgotten film made waves at its release in 1964 for the depiction of a military coup on the United States government.
During what some would consider to be the hight of Cold War paranoia, this Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas vehicle boldly criticized that paranoia by asserting that irrational fear could lead to worse ends than any enemy abroad could inflict.
Noted at the time as one of the most important achievements in silent cinema, "Birth of a Nation" was also controversial for its depiction of race relations in the wake of the Civil War and for glorifying the Ku Klux Klan as saviors of the Reconstruction era.
"The worst thing about 'Birth of a Nation' is how good it is," The New Yorker's Richard Brody said of the film. "The merits of its grand and enduring aesthetic make it impossible to ignore and, despite its disgusting content, also make it hard not to love."
If not for the films message, "Birth of a Nation" is essential viewing for those who wish to understand the altered perspectives of the Civil War and Reconstruction era that shaped much of American policy during the first half of the 20th century.