Sunday, July 23, 2017

The 100 Project: Top 10 Movies of the 1940s

The 100 Project is my attempt to think through my movie viewing life and end up with a list of my top 100 films. I explain it a bit more in depth, here. Let's get to today's brainstorm...

My Top 10 Movies of the 1940s

As with the era before 1940, I've only seen a minuscule number of films, 20. Luckily, I think I've seen some good ones.

10. Pinocchio
(1940, Hamilton Luske and Ben Sharpsteen)
The classic tale of the puppet who wanted to be a real boy is wonderfully realized by the good folks at Disney. It is equal parts funny and touching.

9. The Maltese Falcon
(1941, John Huston)
The term Macguffin was made for movies like this. Everyone is all in a frenzy over an extremely valuable statuette. The result is one of film noir's finest examples.

8. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein
(1948, Charles Barton)
I grew up watching Abbott and Costello movies every Sunday morning on TV. I loved them all, but this is by far my favorite. The boys meet up with almost all of the classic Universal monsters and genuine hilarity ensues.

7. Key Largo
(1948, John Huston)
This film is all about tension. Director John Huston uses the weather, tight quarters, and some fantastic performances, particularly from Edward G. Robinson, to create a film loaded with it.

6. Scarlet Street
(1945, Fritz Lang)
In an about-face from his work in Key Largo, Edward G. Robinson plays a rather sad sap in this one. And he is just as great. The film itself has a twisty-turny plot and a surprisingly dark ending.

5. Casablanca
(1942, Michael Curtiz)
"Of all the gin joints in all the towns...," yeah, that movie. It's a classic for good reason. The story, particularly the romance part of it, draws us in and refuses to let us go.

4. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
(1948, John Huston)
If you're keeping count, you know this is the third Humphrey Bogart movie to make this list. What I haven't told you until now is that I don't really like his acting in the other two. In general, he strikes me as wooden and is constantly overshadowed by his co-stars. That's not the case, here. His character's descent into madness is a sight to behold.

3. White Heat
(1949, Raoul Walsh)
One actor I've never found wooden is James Cagney. The man is simply electrifying, quite literally during this film's iconic finale. He does it all in a film that details his character's rise, fall, rise, and fall again.

2. Double Indemnity
(1944, Billy Wilder)
We get a murderous plot, a love affair, and lots of double-crossing. Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, and of course, Edward G. Robinson are all great. However, what really does it for me is some of the best dialogue ever written. The script is a double entendre filled delight and nearly every line of it is perfect.

1. Citizen Kane
(1941, Orson Welles)
People who watch this for the first time often have their expectations set impossibly high. When the film inevitably falls short they start to hate on it a bit. For me, the way to appreciate it is just to watch it, then step back from it and realize that nearly every frame of it is pioneering some aspect of film making. Orson Welles the actor turns in a wonderful performance. Orson Welles the director blows him out the water because that guy...that guy practically reinvented the cinematic medium.

Honorable Mentions: Bambi (1942), Dumbo (1941), The Wolf Man (1941), It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

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  1. I don't like Key Largo or Pinocchio as much as you do, but the other eight in some order are very hard to argue against, so I won't, except for Scarlet Street, which is a hole in my viewing.

    A few I might consider:
    The Ox-Bow Incident
    Now, Voyager
    Mildred Pierce
    The Lost Weekend
    Brief Encounter
    The Best Years of Our Lives
    The Killers
    Out of the Past
    The Snake Pit

    All of that said, The Third Man would be at or near the top for me. If you haven't seen that, you really, really need to track it down.

    1. Mildred Pierce and Rope are two I intend to see really soon.

      I have seen The Third Man. However, it's definitely time for a rewatch as its been some time since my last viewing.

  2. I'm one of those people that was let down by Citizen Kane. The way everyone talks about it I was expecting perfection and ended up with "meh."

    I bought Pinocchio on Blu Ray recently, still a great family film to watch .

    1. I get it. It's impossible for a film to impress us when we going in expecting perfection. One way I look it is reminding myself that so much of what's in that movie had never been done before.

      Yes to Pinocchio.

  3. So far, I've seen 6 of these films on that list. Pretty much anything up till the 1960s are the films that I need to see more of that isn't from Europe and Asia.

    1. I'm pretty much in the same boat. I've only seen a few more movies from this era than the ones listed.

  4. I am LIVING for these posts, Dell! I would say you've inspired me to do something similar, but I always feel like there are SO MANY great films in each decade that I've never seen.

    Ones I know I'd seriously consider that you haven't included here include: His Girl Friday, The Shop Around The Corner, Thief of Baghdad, To Be Or Not To Be, Shadow of a Doubt, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, Heaven Can Wait, Laura, Meet Me In St. Louis, Mildred Pierce, Brief Encounter, Notorious, Miracle on 34th Street, The Red Shoes, Adam's Rib, and especially La Belle et La Bete (Jean Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast).

    I totally respect Citizen Kane, but in the end I just don't really care enough about Kane himself to love it. Casablanca is far and away the best film of the 40s, for my money.

    1. Thanks! There lots and lots of films from each era, this one in particular, that I haven't seen. I just got to a point where I said screw it, let the chips fall where they may.

      Of those suggestions I have only seen Miracle on 34th Street. However, it's been more than 30 years since I have. I'd say it's time for a revisit. As for the others, I definitely want to work my way through that list.

      Fair point about CK. You are certainly not alone in your love of Casablanca so you get no argument from me.

    2. Of the ones I listed I'd say the ones you should look at first are La Belle et La Bete (watch it with your kids, even! They'll be enchanted despite the black-and-white and subtitles), Thief of Baghdad (a special effects of the 40s extravaganza!), Shadow of a Doubt/Notorious (two of Hitchcock's best), and Mildred Pierce (the ultimate in Joan Crawford - although feel free to substitute Laura for this if you're not a Crawford fan).

    3. You obviously don't know my kids. They don't even like modern movies shot in black & white. They're teenagers who believe the world started in 2000, so yeah, that's the fight I'm fighting when it comes to old movies. I can get them as far back as the 80s, but that's about it. I've seen bits and pieces of Thief of Baghdad over the years, but never the whole thing. I need to change that, soon.

  5. All good films though not all of them would make a top 10 for me. The ones I love are:

    Double Indemnity-so sly & knowing with those amazing lead performances-it seems incredible now that they were reluctant to take the roles because they were so dark, Wilder told each that the other was interested to get them to sign on.

    White Heat-Cagney is mesmerizing matched by Margaret Wycherly as his disturbed mother.

    Casablanca-Collaborative studio filming at its best.

    Scarlet Street-LOVE that so many of your choices have Edward G. Robinson in the cast! A great underappreciated performance and he’s matched in this by Joan Bennett. How the hell were neither ever nominated for a single Oscar?!

    Key Largo-Don’t love this quite as much as the rest though it is a taut film and EGR is great as usual but Claire Trevor is the knockout performance, it’s one of my favorite Supporting Actress wins.

    The Maltese Falcon-Funny you mentioned about raised expectations with Citizen Kane (which I thought was okay but no more) because I sat down to watch this with all that sort of acclaim beforehand and at the end I felt that it deserved every bit of it.

    The others I like but hold in no special esteem.

    1. Glad to see the love for Scarlet Street. That is definitely an underrated gem. And EGR is fantastic.

  6. Only 20! You have so many great films to discover!! The 40’s is my favorite film decade so obviously I have a massive amount that I’d recommend but I’ll try and restrain myself and keep it to a reasonable number. I’ll do a top 10 per year (#1 has an *) with honorable mentions. I tried not to include those you chose. I’m afraid I’m going to monopolize your comment section a bit on this one!

    His Girl Friday
    Remember the Night
    The Shop around the Corner*
    Strange Cargo-Fascinating allegory of an escape from Devil’s Island
    The Letter
    The Mortal Storm
    They Drive by Night
    Waterloo Bridge-Very sad but with a performance from Vivien Leigh that may be better than her work in GWTW.

    The Grapes of Wrath, The Great Dictator, The Mark of Zorro, My Favorite Wife, The Philadelphia Story

    Among the Living
    Blues in the Night
    High Sierra*
    I Wake Up Screaming
    It Started With Eve
    Ladies in Retirement
    The Lady Eve
    The Little Foxes
    The Sea Wolf
    The Strawberry Blonde

    Special Mention:
    Dressed to Kill (has one of my favorite lines from any movie "The stork that brought you should have been arrested for dope peddling!")

    Back Street, Ball of Fire, Here Comes Mr. Jordan, How Green Was My Valley, Man Hunt, A Woman's Face

    I Married a Witch
    The Major and the Minor
    Mrs. Miniver
    Now, Voyager
    Orchestra Wives
    The Pride of the Yankees
    Sullivan’s Travels
    This Gun for Hire
    To Be or Not To Be

    The Big Street, Gentleman Jim, Johnny Eager, The Magnificent Ambersons, The Man Who Came to Dinner, Quiet Please: Murder, Springtime in the Rockies, War against Mrs. Hadley

  7. 1943:
    Cry Havoc
    Day of Wrath
    Five Graves to Cairo
    Flesh and Fantasy
    Heaven Can Wait*
    The Ox-Bow Incident
    Shadow of a Doubt
    This Land is Mine
    Watch on the Rhine

    Best Foot Forward, The Cross of Lorraine, The Gang's All Here, The Hard Way, Hello, Frisco, Hello, Johnny Come Lately, The More the Merrier, The Seventh Victim, So Proudly We Hail

    Arsenic and Old Lace
    Hail, the Conquering Hero
    Meet Me in St. Louis
    The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek
    Murder, My Sweet
    Summer Storm
    The Uninvited
    The Woman in the Window-This one should be of special interest to you since it’s the first teaming of EGR and Joan Bennett.

    Special Mentions:
    Christmas Holiday (despite the cheery title this is a dark noir with themes of sexual manipulation, prostitution, incest, and self-punishment surprisingly starring two of the biggest musical stars of the day, Deanna Durbin and Gene Kelly)
    Going My Way (A charming, lovely picture but in no way the Best Picture of the year despite its win.)
    Hollywood Canteen (not a great film but a great document of the Canteen and some of what the stars did for the visiting servicemen during WWII)

    Between Two Worlds, The Conspirators, The Doughgirls, The Halfway House, The Hour Before the Dawn, The Lodger, Ministry of Fear, Mr. Emmanuel, The Phantom Lady, Since You Went Away, Standing Room Only, Tomorrow, the World!

    Brief Encounter*
    Christmas in Connecticut
    Fallen Angel
    Hangover Square
    I Know Where I’m Going
    Lady on a Train
    Mildred Pierce
    Rome, Open City
    Roughly Speaking
    A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

    Special Mention:
    Eve Knew Her Apples-Just a run of the mill programmer with Ann Miller, I just love the title!

    The Bells of St. Mary’s, Blithe Spirit, Children of Paradise, The Clock, Detour, Leave Her to Heaven, Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne, The Lost Weekend, Pardon My Past, Seventh Veil, The Story of G.I. Joe, The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry, Walk in the Sun

    1. HOW HAVE I NEVER HEARD OF CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY BEFORE?!?!? Sexual manipulation, prostitution, incest, and self-punishment with Gene Kelly and Deanna Durbin? I AM SO IN!

    2. Feel free to monopolize my comments section anytime, Joel. Lots of titles for me, I love it! Like Daniel, Christmas Holiday is really striking my fancy. That sounds insane. Gaslight is one I've been hearing a ton about as of late. I definitely want to see that sooner rather than later.

  8. 1946:
    Beauty and the Beast
    The Best Years of Our Lives*
    Deadline at Dawn-Wonderful noir that deserves to be better known.
    The Spiral Staircase
    The Strange Love of Martha Ivers
    To Each His Own
    Nobody Lives Forever
    The Postman Always Rings Twice

    Anna and the King of Siam, The Blue Dahlia, Blue Skies, Gilda, Green for Danger, The Killers, My Reputation, The Razor's Edge, The Stranger, The Verdict

    Black Narcissus
    Dark Passage
    Kiss of Death
    The Man I Love
    Nightmare Alley*
    Odd Man Out
    Out of the Past
    Repeat Performance
    They Won't Believe Me

    The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer, Body and Soul, Born to Kill, Brute Force, Crossfire, Deep Valley, A Double Life, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, Good News, It Had to Be You, Ivy, The Macomber Affair, A Miracle on 34th Street, Out of the Blue, Ride the Pink Horse, The Unsuspected, Whispering City

    Act of Violence
    The Big Clock
    Easter Parade
    The Fallen Idol*
    Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House
    Night Has a Thousand Eyes
    The Red Shoes
    State of the Union
    Unfaithfully Yours
    The Velvet Touch

    Special Mention:
    Rope (I don’t think this is a particularly special film in Hitchcock’s career but it is interesting in the way it was shot and the subtexts that he was able to get away with during the code)

    The Sign of the Ram (Cryptic drama that was conceived especially for its star Susan Peters who had been a rising luminary when she was accidently shot and paralyzed in a hunting accident. This was her attempt to return to work and she’s very good but her health failed and this was her last film before her death at 31 from complications and anorexia.)

    All My Sons, Fort Apache, Johnny Belinda, Larceny, Letter from an Unknown Woman, Miranda, Moonrise, Red River, Road House, Romance on the High Seas, Sitting Pretty, The Street with No Name

    Adam's Rib
    Alias Nick Beal
    Criss Cross
    The Heiress
    A Letter to Three Wives*
    The Reckless Moment
    The Third Man
    Too Late for Tears
    The Window

    Easy Living, Everybody Does It, The Great Gatsby, The Hasty Heart, Intruder in the Dust, Johnny Stool Pigeon, Kind Hearts and Coronets, The Lucky Stiff, Miss Grant Takes Richmond, My Dream is Yours, The Set-Up, Take One False Step, Thieves Highway

    Okay so maybe I wasn’t able to restrain myself after all but I love all these films and recommend them highly!

    1. Your lack of restraint is welcome. I had no idea there was a version of The Great Gatsby before the Robert Redford movie. I'm very curious about that.

    2. This version of Great Gatsby like all of them has its flaws, it seems a difficult story to adapt properly and successfully. Among them a few miscastings in major roles.

      The biggest is Betty Field as Daisy. She was a fine actress but she's wrong for the part, a flaw in every version I've seen and admittedly it's a problematic part since Daisy is more of an ideal than a flesh and blood woman. But the fundamental thing that all the filmmakers seem to miss as they do here and the very first thing Fitzgerald mentions about Daisy in the book is that she has a voice full of money which in many ways defined who she was. Betty bless her had a nasal tone that is full of nothing so much as the Bronx. Doubly frustrating since working at the same time was an actress who would have been a perfect fit, Alexis Smith.

      Be that as it may what this does having going for it is Alan Ladd as Gatsby. He seems completely comfortable in the character's skin, the only actor I've seen who when he calls someone "Old Sport" as Gatsby does frequently it feels organic and not arch and scripted. He's at home in the 20's attitudes of the story as more contemporary actors aren't. Both Ruth Hussey as Jordan and especially Shelley Winters in her small role as the slatternly Myrtle do well by their characters but Ladd is the one that makes the film. It could be a bit of a challenge to find but a decent treatment of the novel.

    3. Well, it's not on YouTube. I'll be on the lookout for it.

  9. Great picks - that Top 5 is insane. I'm also a big fan of Key Largo. I should give that one a rewatch soon actually.

    1. Thanks! Key Largo is so intense. I should also rewatch it.

  10. Some awesome movies in there. I did like Treasure Madre loads but wasn't a fan of the ending. Have you seen The Third Man?

  11. Great question and impressive list Dell. Casablanca and Scarlet Street are up there among the most loved 40s movies for me too. It’s A Wonderful Life and Out of the Past are high on my list also.

  12. I do have a soft spot for It's a Wonderful Life. Haven't seen Out of the Past.