The 1940s List: Discussion and Suggestions

An ongoing survey of the Criterion Forum membership to create lists of the best films of each decade and genre.
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domino harvey
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Re: The 1940s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#26 Post by domino harvey » Thu Mar 07, 2019 10:20 am

And of course Lifeboat also stars William Bendix!

TRM
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Re: The 1940s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#27 Post by TRM » Sun Mar 10, 2019 1:47 pm

I've been reading this site quite a bit the last few years to keep track of the MoC releases but only recently noticed the lists topics - so I signed up with the idea of submitting a list for the 30's poll (which I failed to do...). Hopefully I'll do better this time.

It is probably fair to say my current list would be massively Hollywood focused with:
The obvious big hitters (Casablanca, Citizen Kane) very unlikely to be moved from the top few places, along with The Treasure of the Sierra Madre which makes a great counterpoint for Bogart's surprising range.
Hitchcock - I have Rebecca down as one of his very best films - such a great atmosphere, gorgeously shot and 2 perfect central performances - with Shadow of a Doubt, Rope, Spellbound, Notorious also in with a chance of placing somewhere. It is such a shame that Hitchcock couldn't go with the ending he clearly would have wanted for Suspicion as the mood created throughout would make it another strong contender. I would like to watch Foreign Correspondent before voting
Lang - Speaking of studio interference, despite how horrific the effect of this is to The Woman in the Window, this is still likely to pick up a place in my list. This is probably my favourite of his output I've seen this decade (Ministry of Fear, Scarlett Street, Cloak & Dagger) - I'd like to get Man Hunt and Hangmen Also Die watched.
Ophuls - I didn't think all that much of Caught, The Reckless Moment is decent and forgettable, with Letter From An Unknown Woman such a significant step up in quality. I'd like to see Sarajevo and The Exile if I can find there anywhere.
Wilder - Probably my favourite ever director, but it is really the 50's that has his best output. That said, A Foreign Affair makes great use of a post war Berlin and Double Indemnity might just be the perfect Film Noir. I'm also a big fan of the other MacMurray/Stanwyck film this decade (Remember The Night).

Other considerations
Powell & Pressburger have probably the best run of hits this decade of anyone. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, A Canterbury Tale and Black Narcissus would be my picks, but they've got a lot of great stuff. The Small Back Room and One of Our Aircraft is Missing are the two I need to catch.
Laura jumped very high up my favourite ever films on a first watch about a decade ago but I haven't seen it since. I'll have to revisit that and take Domino's recommendation of Whirlpool in as well.
James Stewart - The war took away a few years from one of the most consistently excellent actors between the mid 30's and early 60's (Mr Smith Goes to Washington and Vivacious Lady would have been 5th and 6th on my 30's list if I had submitted it), and in that context, I think his collaboration with Lubitsch for The Shop Around The Corner might just be my favourite ever romantic comedy and of his films.
Shorts - I've still got lots to see (this is obviously the perfect opportunity to start) but Blitz Wolf (already mentioned up thread) might possibly be my current favourite of Tex Avery (or maybe Bad Luck Blackie...). Yes it is a propaganda film, and yes it does have some moments which are uncomfortable to view with a modern perspective, but the hit rate of the jokes is exceptional. Blood of the Beasts paints a really unflinching view of a slaughterhouse which still hits home. Looney Tunes have a few great films to consider (Baseball Bugs and The Great Piggy Bank Robbery are my picks) although I think they get better in the 50's, while a Tom and Jerry short (The Cat Concerto) might just be my favourite short this decade.

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Re: The 1940s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#28 Post by denti alligator » Mon Mar 11, 2019 7:54 pm

Palm Beach Story: I guess you (that is, I) would call this mediocre Sturges. I hardly laughed, and found the whole thing to be a little tedious. There were moments that were great (including the rich Texan), but also plenty that made me cringe (treatment of the African American characters--not that unusual, but still...). Anyway, now I want to watch all the 40s Sturges to remind me what I like about him. Defenses of this one?

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knives
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Re: The 1940s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#29 Post by knives » Mon Mar 11, 2019 9:44 pm

It's honestly my second favorite mostly because it makes me laugh which is a hard ground to defend on.

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HinkyDinkyTruesmith
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Re: The 1940s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#30 Post by HinkyDinkyTruesmith » Mon Mar 11, 2019 10:41 pm

I like all Sturges films for many of his most iconic qualities––the vivid secondary characters, the usually non-stop talking, the vigorous and varyingly audacious direction and staging––but that being said, I've actually found him less and less funny most of the time as time goes on. When I first watched The Lady Eve, I found it hilarious. Now, while it's not unfunny, it just doesn't make me laugh. (The exception is Hail the Conquering Hero.)

The Palm Beach Story falls squarely in with that, as I've never found it especially funny, but the characters are so charming, the pace is so fast, and the ensemble so perfectly cast. (Joel McCrea is a favorite of mine––Foreign Correspondent may very well be my top Hitch this decade!) What Palm Beach has that I think only Conquering Hero has otherwise is a very tender and emotionally affecting love story (which, of course, doesn't play well if you're looking for comedy.) I personally love the several sequences where Gerry needs help getting out of her dress, which lead to some very intimate moments, and Sturges succeeds, as he usually does, in capturing a complex interplay of gender and class problems between Tom and Gerry. He also manages between the two lovers the exquisite melancholia of love not lost but deferred or arrested. Like the scene in Christmas in July where after a fight the two lovers walk silently across rooftops, knocking over potted plants, or in Hail the Conquering Hero when Ella Raines brazenly, nakedly recalls to Eddie Bracken the carved initials on the tree, "They'll always be there." to which he dopelessly replies, "Unless something happens to the tree."

What this list project will show is that I'm a rather ardent auteurist by nature and therefore am more willing to watch a film like Palm Beach Story because I love Sturges rather than for the film itself.

I agree, however, that Sturges's treatment of black characters is wholly indefensible if not Griffith-levels bad (but what is?). (I thank the stars every day that Hail the Conquering Hero is void of it except for a very, very minor tickle of it early on.) Does anyone know Sturges's real life views on this?


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Re: The 1940s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#32 Post by nitin » Wed Mar 13, 2019 8:23 am

Given the church sequence in Sullivan’s Travels (and it can’t be a coincidence that the church was almost entirely filled with African Americans chanting “Let my people go”as the white slaves were being brought in to see the Sunday movie), I would be surprised if his real life views were say anything like John Wayne’s.
Last edited by nitin on Thu Mar 14, 2019 8:36 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Feego
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Re: The 1940s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#33 Post by Feego » Wed Mar 13, 2019 9:47 am

Indeed, I would think Sturges would be more on the progressive side. His mother was good friends with Isadora Duncan and was in a relationship with Aleister Crowley, and she brought Sturges up in Europe among a very colorful social set. That of course doesn't necessarily negate racist attitudes, but it at least indicates Sturges had other influences in his life besides American conservative white male supremacy. While the depictions of black characters being humiliated in his movies can be hard to take now (in addition to the episodes in Palm Beach mentioned above, I'd also point to the chef whose face is covered in white pancake batter and then gets his head stuck in the roof of the trailer in Sullivan's Travels), I've never found them to be any more mean-spirited than his other gags. Lots of people get humiliated or are the unintended victims of others' manic behavior in these films. In that same Sullivan's Travels scene, there's the motorcycle cop who gets splashed with mud twice and the woman whose bloomers are exposed when the chase begins. The bartender's reactions to the Ale and Quail Club's shooting in Palm Beach is obviously meant to be funny in the Mantan Moreland tradition, but surely the drunk white men come off as more ridiculous. To me, it seems that Sturges treated everyone with a gleeful level of cartoon abasement. The treatment of his black characters might have been indebted to comic standards of the time, but it doesn't strike me as more blatantly offensive than other popular films of the era or excessive in the context of his own films. If anything, the black characters actually seem to me more part of the group, oddly united by the craziness, than in other films where cooks, maids, chauffeurs, etc. are used merely as props or as comic foils to the more composed white characters.

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Re: The 1940s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#34 Post by denti alligator » Wed Mar 13, 2019 1:49 pm

Anthony Mann's Strangers in the Night. I loved just about everything about this film, from the weird pacing to the contrast between the overacting of the mother and the deadpan of the romantic couple to the creepy atmosphere created by use of high angles and shadows. It's not a great movie by any standard, but it's really, really fun. Plus it's formally ten times more engaging than what you'd normally see with this kind of script. Anyway, it probably won't make my list, but it's worth seeking out.

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A man stayed-put
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Re: The 1940s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#35 Post by A man stayed-put » Thu Mar 14, 2019 11:33 am

I Was a Male War Bride (Howard Hawks 1949)- This didn’t really land for me. The main problem was, despite liking both Grant and Sheridan (whose particularly strong here) I never really bought their relationship. It was an interesting tactic for the film to drip-feed information regarding their previous time together (worryingly a lot of this is relayed as Grant drinking too much and getting handsy- Oh those French!), but the turn to declarations of love felt sudden and unearned. That being said I was fully engaged for the first half thanks to the performances and the striking, shot on location, post-war German landscape. However, the second half, which plays out as bureaucratic farce, lost me completely. Although I understood what it was doing and there were bright spots (the conversation with the guard from Yonkers) there’s a distinct sparsity of laughs and the increasing absence of Sheridan left me checking my watch well before the end.

The Strawberry Blonde (Raoul Walsh 1941)- The Roaring Twenties (1939) is up there with my favourite films so I’ve long been excited to catch-up with this re-teaming of Walsh and Cagney (Warner Archive discs are pricey to import to the UK). It’s a good film that I liked quite a bit but never clicked with it like I expected to. The three stars all do fine work- De Havilland really stands out and is wonderfully funny and appealing to the point that I was actively annoyed with Cagney’s Biff for mooning over Hayworth (which may well be by design)- and Walsh keeps it briskly and, seemingly effortlessly, entertaining. But for whatever reason it left me slightly cold. It won’t make my list but I may give it a re-watch before the end of the project due to said befuddlement.

Has anyone got any advice on whether Walsh’s own musical remake (of this remake) One Sunday Afternoon (1948) is worth a watch?

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Re: The 1940s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#36 Post by HinkyDinkyTruesmith » Thu Mar 14, 2019 11:52 am

A man stayed-put wrote:
Thu Mar 14, 2019 11:33 am
I Was a Male War Bride (Howard Hawks 1949)- [...] However, the second half, which plays out as bureaucratic farce, lost me completely. Although I understood what it was doing and there were bright spots (the conversation with the guard from Yonkers) there’s a distinct sparsity of laughs and the increasing absence of Sheridan left me checking my watch well before the end.
I myself enjoyed the second half, although, I must admit, I felt a stronger connection to it than most (I can only hope), as it reminded me of the time I went to LA to visit a girl I was madly in love with, and failed to get myself a room for a night, and ended up wandering the streets, all-night diners, etc. in a case of extreme absurd melancholia, much like Grant does. The sort of surreal clarity that Hawks often hits upon.

I rewatched Double Indemnity, which I've seen now probably half a dozen times. Although I fully concede its status as a quintessential noir, and I do still like it quite a bit for its evocative spaces, every time I see it it gets a bit cornier for me, especially Fred MacMurray, who seems almost a parody of himself, especially next to Edward G. Robinson, who's marvelous and has my favorite line of the film ("Now get outta here before I throw my desk at you." Delivered perfectly). Although it was one of the first films that got me into classic cinema, it probably won't make my list––as far as Wilders go, I much prefer A Foreign Affair, which I think extremely underrated, as well as (if my memory serves me well in being so fond of it) The Major and the Minor, which to me seems the ultimate Hollywood Rom-Com parody, hinting at a perverse underbelly to all of these cotton candy confectionaries.

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Re: The 1940s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#37 Post by nitin » Thu Mar 14, 2019 8:40 pm

Double Indemnity is the greatest dialogue script of all time in my book.

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Re: The 1940s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#38 Post by denti alligator » Thu Mar 14, 2019 10:21 pm

Raw Deal, which I watched tonight, may not have the script of Double Indemnity, but it has superior cinematography, among the best I've seen in a noir. That alone puts it in the running. More soon...

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Re: The 1940s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#39 Post by HinkyDinkyTruesmith » Thu Mar 14, 2019 11:09 pm

I recently watched the other two films alongside Raw Deal in the Alton blu-ray pack, T-Men and He Walked by Night. I enjoyed them both but personally have a dislike for the procedural dryness of the narration that they provide, and also lamented the relative absence of women in the stories. Raw Deal I'd seen a while back and may have to revisit––I remember enjoying it quite a bit and agree with the cinematography praise, and also the two strong female roles.

One of the great pleasures of the 40s is of course the emergence of noir, and by this point I've seen quite a number of the 40s ones. Are there any particularly obscure noir available that anyone wants to recommend? I mean truly obscure, rather than Ride the Pink Horse-level obscure (although that is one of my favorites, for any who haven't seen it).

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Re: The 1940s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#40 Post by swo17 » Thu Mar 14, 2019 11:19 pm

The Web!

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domino harvey
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Re: The 1940s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#41 Post by domino harvey » Thu Mar 14, 2019 11:25 pm

Here are the fifteen best noirs (that I've seen) from the 1940s that have fewer than 200 viewers on Letterboxd, ranked in order of my own preference from best down:

Riff-Raff
Canon City
the Web
Moss Rose
So Evil My Love
Apology for Murder
Strange Triangle
Blind Spot
the Velvet Touch
Street of Chance
Ivy
A Woman’s Vengeance
City Across the River
Walk a Crooked Mile
Smooth as Silk

You can find my writeups for all of these save Canon City, Blind Spot, and Smooth as Silk somewheres in the Noir thread

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Re: The 1940s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#42 Post by Cold Bishop » Fri Mar 15, 2019 12:38 am

Raw Deal is an old classic which has sunken a bit in my eyes for its uncanny similarities (to its detriment) with They Made Me a Fugitive. Honestly, Border Incident may be my highest ranking Mann, which might not be as visually stunning as the Poverty Row stuff, is an incredibly subversive film gris disguised as LEO propaganda. I also know some of Mann's pre-Alton films have picked up a more vocal following over the last few years, and I still need to (re)visit them.

I'd add to dominoharvey's list the self-reflexively weird The Chase (which he hated) and the thoroughly unglamorous The Gangster (which I think he liked) as two underappreciated deep cuts. Is Pitfall canon yet? Because that's a sad masterpiece, as is The Seventh Victim, which is limp as a horror film, but masterful as a study of the lonely and damned. Similarly Hangove Square which staddles the line between period gothic and noir.

There's no shortage of noirish films coming out of other countries as well (ie. They Made Me a Fugitive, which is sitting comfortably at the top of my provisional list).

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Re: The 1940s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#43 Post by swo17 » Fri Mar 15, 2019 12:53 am

Blind Spot is 1950 per IMDb

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domino harvey
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Re: The 1940s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#44 Post by domino harvey » Fri Mar 15, 2019 1:14 am

I think you looked up the wrong movie? ... not that anyone will vote for it anyways (including me)! It's fun though: Chester Morris riffs on Ray Milland in the Lost Weekend as a sot writer who comes up with a perfect solution to a locked door mystery story, only to blackout and find his publisher has been killed in the same manner. Convinced he’s already solved the case, Morris struggles to track down anyone he could have told the ending to while on the run from the cops who think he did it— and he may have! Morris is beyond annoying in Hollywood films of the 30s, but a little age makes his hammy wiseacreness a natural fit for this kind of noir protagonist. Not sure I’m quite ready yet to commit to all those Boston Blackie movies, though!

And Cold Bishop, your memory is dead-on for my take on those two films, though the Chase is certainly not obscure given it's one of the many Public Domain noirs that populated TV and then cheapo VHS/DVD releases for decades. There are some good PD noirs from this decade too, my faves being the Strange Love of Martha Ivers, Impact, and the Red House. Pitfall has over a thousand viewers on Letterboxd, so I think Kino Lorber's rescue of it on Blu-ray a few years back has helped it be seen by a lot more people than I would have guessed

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Re: The 1940s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#45 Post by swo17 » Fri Mar 15, 2019 1:21 am

Apparently I did. There's another 1950 film by that title that also goes by The Secret Fury

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domino harvey
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Re: The 1940s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#46 Post by domino harvey » Fri Mar 15, 2019 1:24 am

Directed by Mel Ferrer! I downloaded that one too a million years ago, but haven't seen it yet. Gotta love the tagline
Could she kill and kiss and not remember?

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Re: The 1940s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#47 Post by nitin » Fri Mar 15, 2019 3:33 am

Border Incident is terrific as is soemthing like Tight Spot (in terms of underrated noirs)

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Re: The 1940s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#48 Post by A man stayed-put » Fri Mar 15, 2019 5:35 am

Regarding lesser-heralded Noir recs, although not as obscure as it used to be (273 views on Letterboxd if we're using that metric and previously heralded on this very board), The Devil Thumbs a Ride (Felix E. Feist 1947) is great fun and genuinely bracing in how far it goes in ratcheting up the unpredictable violence of Lawrence Tierney’s forger/robber/all-round piece of shit, and its effect on those he’s pulled into his orbit.

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Re: The 1940s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#49 Post by Black Hat » Fri Mar 15, 2019 1:46 pm

HinkyDinkyTruesmith wrote:
Thu Mar 14, 2019 11:52 am
I rewatched Double Indemnity, which I've seen now probably half a dozen times. Although I fully concede its status as a quintessential noir, and I do still like it quite a bit for its evocative spaces, every time I see it it gets a bit cornier for me, especially Fred MacMurray
I think I agree with this, the first time I saw it I was completely enamored with Stanwyck, but by the third time MacMurray corniness was a bit cringeworthy. The question I'd ask tho, isn't he supposed to be seen that way? A total patsy? I think the way he's presented initially as the do right golden boy prodigal son would speak to that, but therein lies in another small quibble I have with the film, his turn from that into evil. I've always wondered how much of that was earned, especially since he's celebrated as a ladies man so it's not like the first time a woman's paid attention to him.

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Re: The 1940s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#50 Post by NABOB OF NOWHERE » Sat Mar 16, 2019 5:14 am

Cold Bishop wrote:
Fri Mar 15, 2019 12:38 am

There's no shortage of noirish films coming out of other countries as well (ie. They Made Me a Fugitive, which is sitting comfortably at the top of my provisional list).
If I have the wherewithal to get a list together this would also be up in the single digits of ranking. Here's some of my noted from the last foray-

I managed to get to 'They made me a fugitive' which has been rightly praised in this and the noir thread with Shreck and others already having alluded to the french poetic realist influences (Trevor Howard taking the Gabinesque fugitive role) . A quick note should be made for Gaillard's score here too with its strong echoes of Kosma.
There are also heavy doses of 'Greeneland' and Lang , not least in the poster image in the funeral parlour which whistles you straight back to the grieving mothers of 'M'. But for me what made this particular cocktail most intoxicating was the script by Noel Langley. For all its archness, mixing screen cockney-isms - 'Have a cuppa ducks, that's the ticket' with a flowery prose that wouldn't go amiss in Sweet Smell of Success - Gang leader , 'Narcissus' no less, berating a recalcitrant underling who refuses to bear arms with.."Don't be so reactionary this is the century of the common man."
Narcy, a sneering effete proto-Peter Mandelson, all swirling paisley and colliding checks might also contend for an early incarnation of Harry Flowers in 'Performance' (without the Kray twins make-over) as well as the film itself sharing the latter's hallucinatory setting of man on the lam.
Its cut glass accented gangster's molls, stiff upper clit chorus girls and mordant humour (black market cigarettes smuggled in coffins) might make for a camp hoot but there is also a motherlode of cinematic edge and a wonderful portrait of a pallid post war Britain dissolute and dissipated by corruption.

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