Thursday, 18 September 2014

Finishing the Forties

Finishing the Forties
Around this time two years ago I finished off the thirties and now it is time to end another decade. It is time to Finish the Forties.

This was a terrible decade in the world with war and atrocities like the world had never known and not surprisingly this had a strong effect on the movies from this decade. The most striking effect is the almost entire absence of continental European cinema as well as Asian cinema. It makes perfect sense, there were more pressing matters than making entertainment for the masses. When cinema returned to Europe after the war it was transformed. French cinema was a tighter affair, but more dreamy than ever as if to escape the bitter experience of the war while in Italy the neorealist movement rose like a phoenix from the ruins and gave the world something entirely new and refreshing by facing the harsh life instead of turning away from it.

But the majority of cinema in the decade happened in America with Britain as the sole exception. The U.S. was of course involved in the war, but it was a war at a distance, on foreign soil, and a war that left room at home to entertainment. The industry was leaner, yes, but not less creative. While the time was past for big budget escapades like “Gone With the Wind” filmmakers proved that masterpieces can be made at a fraction of the cost, a lesson we might do well to remember today. I will return with some examples shortly.

In terms of style a darkness crept into the movies and the style we know today as film noir was developed in those years. Odd to use a French term for a style that is so essential American, but there you have it. Film Noir brought an intensity to film that was invigorating and my list of favorite from this decade has quite a few representatives from this group of pictures or derivates. To me and many others film noir has become the defining style of the forties.

But there was more. This was also the decade of the cartoons. Feature length and shorts, practically all the classic cartoons are from the forties. The List only holds a few of the, but look up some cartoons and I bet you will find that most of your favorites will be from the forties.

Britain was the exception to American dominance and practically the only country beside the U.S. that kept up an effective movie industry during and after the war. It also seems that much of the Technicolor equipment got stranded there. The result was some beautiful and exciting pictures and a buildup of talent that would grace the screen in years to come.

Without much further ado I will present my top ten films of the decade. The order is absolutely random.

1.       The Maltese Falcon

Early noir, but more importantly a truly fascinating story about shady types who are never what they seem to be. A movie I never get tired of watching.

2.       Casablanca

The same can be said about “Casablanca”. This is a classic that will never die. The entire script is quotable and it works every single time.

3.       Citizen Kane

Even if it is not the best movie ever made, it is close. This movie was a redefinition of cinema and a hell of a debut for Orson Welles.

4.       Brief Encounter

A personal favorite. Totally unexpectedly this movie touched me deeply. A gem.

5.       The Big Sleep

Bogart and Bacall, Marlowe – the private dick and a sublime script. Do I need to say more?

6.       The Third Man

English noir in Vienna. Listen to the music, see the pictures, feel the tension. Just brilliant.

7.       The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

John Huston went on location in Mexico and found gold, literally. This is an actor’s film with the location as the fourth actor.

8.       Black Narcissus

You watch this and will refuse to believe this is from 46. It is stunningly beautiful, excellent acting and a truly interesting story.

9.       Out of the Past

The defining film noir. I could have mentioned quite a few candidates, but no one epitomize the film noir as Out of the Past. With Robert Mitchum at his best.

10.   Ladri di Biciclette

The movie that will break your heart – over a bicycle! It is total manipulation, but damn effective. This feels so real that you want to step into the film to help these guys.

I know, it is unfair to pick just ten movies for such a list when there is so many to pick from. I will give an honorary mention to a few more:

Rope – My favorite Hitchcock from the decade

The Grapes of Wrath – the closest thing American cinema got to neorealism in the 40’ies and then it predates even “Ossessione”.

Dumbo – My son’s favorite cartoon. Even Toy Story must yield

Mildred Pierce – A strong contender to the film noir top position

Whiskey Galore! – Not a big film, but the biggest laugh for me in the forties.


  1. Congratulations! At the rate I am going maybe I will be able to finish up the forties in another couple of years ... I can't disagree at all about your choice of films. There were so many great ones to choose from! I'm looking forward to your reviews of the 50s, with more noir and many more foreign masterpieces among them.

    1. No worries, there is no rush. It is worth it spending some time with forties movies. Me too I am looking forward to the fifties, but also a bit sad leaving the forties behind.

  2. Love the top-ten. I'd be hard pressed to disagree with any of them.

    Welcome to the '50s!

    1. Thank you! Quite a few of my pick are no-brainers. I think at least half would be on anybody's list.

  3. Congrats on finishing the forties! :)

  4. It would be impossible for me to name a top 10 of the decade and then stick to it. I agree with a lot of your choices, but would also toss in The Ox-Bow Incident, Yankee Doodle Dandy, Children of Paradise, The Lost Weekend, The Best Years of Our Lives, White Heat, and The Heiress.

    You've got a lot of great films ahead of you in the 50s, too.

    1. You probably need a top 20 then.
      I was considering several of these movies and maybe I should have include those as honorable mentions. However in general I think that what these movies do good is done better by my top 10. In a top 10 there are after all only room for 10 movies.