MY FAVORITE FILMS OF 1941

There were more great movies made this year than I realized. I could have looked like a smart movie buff if I picked ten classic high-brow movies. But I searched my heart, soul and guts ( a pretty messy prospect, I assure you ) and picked movies that I really really really like; they are like old friends. That’ll probably be the criteria for all my lists:

  • ease
  • repeated viewings
  • most often in the mood to watch

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“CITIZEN KANE” – ( Orson Welles )

( 1941 ) CITIZEN KANE

Blah blah blah, best film of all time for many many years on many many lists. Meh. Saw it in college, wasn’t crazy about it. Saw it in bits and pieces over the years and it was a’ight. The last time I saw it in its entirety, must have been maaybe two years ago. And something clicked inside my head; I didn’t want the movie to end. I was totally engrossed in the tale of this man. We’re watching a man’s life, warts and all. A lightbulb went off in my head. Finally.

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“FACE BEHIND THE MASK” – ( Robert Florey )

( 1941 ) FACE BEHIND THE MASK

Peter Lorre is poignant and damaged. Happy to make a new life here in America, there’s an accident leaving him horribly burned. He can’t get a good job ( his face, you know ) so he wears a mask, goes gangsta…I mean gangster, finds love with a pretty blind girl (Evelyn Keyes) and wreaks justified vengeance on the bad guys. I liked Don Beddoe in this movie as Lorre’s only true friend.

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“THE GREAT LIE” – ( Edmund Goulding )

( 1941 ) THE GREAT LIE

I hate to call it a “Woman’s Picture” but it’s a “Woman’s Picture.” And I love it. Bette Davis retracts her claws and is the ‘nice girl’ this time around and she and Mary fight over George Brent. Mary is the great Mary Astor who plays the concert pianist. Brent marries Astor one drunken night. They divorce, but she is pregnant. Davis, now married to Brent, schemes to pass off Astor’s baby as her own. I love Davis and Astor squaring off. Astor won an Academy Award for this movie. And she was up to the challenge. She does a good job in this one, and thanks Davis for putting her front and center.

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“HOLD THAT GHOST” – ( Arthur Lubin )

( 1941 ) HOLD THAT GHOST-I

Oh, I wanted to pick some other movies like “Ball of Fire” “Blood and Sand” “High Sierra” “Here Comes Mr. Jordan” “The Lady Eve.” But in good conscience, I can’t sit down at the drop of a hat with any of those blockbusters. I went with “my heart’s desire”;  young love, comic foibles and it all being in the “Moose’s head.” Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy “Ball of Fire” “Blood and Sand” etc. etc. But top off a movie with Patty, Laverne & Maxine and their luscious three-part harmony and a silly riff on the “old dark house” theme, and you got me.

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“HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY” – ( John Ford )

( 1941 ) HOW GREEN IS MY VALLEY

I was totally captivated following this one family. Roddy McDowall gives a fantastic per-formance. This wasn’t a movie I watched repeatedly in the past. But when I saw it on TCM last year and really sat with it, I really got into it.  Tragedy, unrequited love and hope tug at my heart strings. Mr. Ford, I tip my hat to you.

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“I WAKE UP SCREAMING” – ( Bruce Humberstone )

( 1941 ) I WAKE UP SCREAMING

Isn’t this film considered the first film noir? ( “Stranger on the Third Floor”? Let the debate begin. ) A good-looking hunk ( Victor Mature ) is menaced by a hulking cop ( not Raymond Burr this time, but Laird Cregar ) for the murder of a beautiful aspiring actress  ( Carole Landis ) who is sought by every Stagedoor Johnny this side of the Great White Way. Betty Grable is Mature’s plucky ‘stand-by-your-man’ girl in her first non-musical role. Good movie.

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“KEEP ‘EM FLYING” – ( Arthur Lubin )

( 1941 ) KEEP 'EM FLYING
Instead of them riding the range or chasing ghosts, Abbott and Costello are fly boys this time, kibbitzing with Martha Raye ( in a dual role. ) A fun, silly movie with a touch of the serious when a pilot has issues with flying. It’s early 1941, and we’re not in the war yet, but unfortunately, it’ll only be a matter of time.

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“THE MALTESE FALCON” – ( John Huston )

( 1941 ) MALTESE FALCON

Bogie is detective Sam Spade and he’s got his hands full with two guys, a girl, and an ebony statuette. It’s a perfect movie. What detective doesn’t fall for a damsel-in-distress. What damsel-in-distress is not a pathological liar. The movie is filled with nice touches that will become the standard m.o. for films in this genre.

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“THE SHANGHAI GESTURE” – ( Josef von Sternberg )

( 1941 ) SHANGHAI GESTUREVon Sternberg pumps pure opium into celluloid. This movie is like a drug for me. I love the command which Ona Munson plays Mother Gin Sling. (Great name, great make-up and a great hairstyle a la Patti La ‘Belle Watling.’) I’m crushing on my boy Walter Huston who is just about the most natural actor in movies. Ahhhh Victor Mature, so sedentary and so …everything. But the movie is all Gene Tierney’s. Usually coiffed and glammed to the hilt, she falls apart before our very eyes. She transforms from a spoiled little rich girl to a strung out gambling addict. It’s the last time we see her all loosey/goosey in a movie. Gene as a hot mess is a glorious sight. But hold on, wait ’till 1946. You ain’t seen her do nothin‘ yet…

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“THE WOLFMAN” – ( George Waggner )

 ( 1941 ) THE WOLFMAN

Lon Chaney Jr., steps out from behind his father’s shadow with a monster of his own. The film has a great cast: Claude Rains, Evelyn Ankers, Ralph Bellamy, Warren William, Patric Knowles and Maria Ouspenskaya. The malady is lycanthropy. And the cure? Well, lets just say he can never walk a girl in the moonlight again. Lon is poignant as a man trapped. I love monster movies. Saw this on the big screen at TCM’s Film Festival, with make-up master Rick Baker introducing the film,  and the silver nitrate really pops. Poor poor Larry Talbot. He breaks my heart.

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