As I review my list of top ten favorites of each year, and compile my top ten favorites of the decade, I have to face the fact that as much as I want to tell myself I am a cock-eyed romantic, ( I am…I am ) my lists show me I am thoroughly and comfortably ensconced in the dark, where dark forces drive us: greed, obsession, murder. Luckily for me, I can live vicariously through motion pictures and not have to duck and dodge, lie cheat and steal in the real world. What’s my favorite film of the 1940’s…have a heart, will ya?
( 1940 ) “THE LETTER” – ( William Wyler )
This movie is a menage-a-trois of talent: Wyler’s direction, Steiner’s score and Bette Davis as the lead. The movie starts with Bette blasting a man full o’ holes and then she spends the rest of the movie lying about it. Of course it stands to reason that’s what makes this movie number one in my book. Wyler’s shot of Gale Sondergaard’s foot is an indictment on a whole Imperialist society.
( 1941 ) “THE GREAT LIE” – ( Edmund Goulding )
Two strong women square off for the love of a man. Awww who am I kidding…plain and simple it’s a catfight. I love seeing Mary Astor being cold, hard and bad. Bette was sweet and cute and more natural than we’ll see her for the rest of the forties. Awww heck, CATFIGHT!!!
( 1942 ) “NOW, VOYAGER” – ( Irving Rapper )
I struggled between this and the mighty “Casablanca” which has really risen in my estimation. But the bittersweet ending which makes “Casablanca” legendary can’t quite compete with my romantic sensibility for a slightly more hopeful future that Henreid and Davis seal with a cigarette.
( 1943 ) “SHADOW OF A DOUBT” – ( Alfred Hitchcock )
1943 is a year of fixes for me. I can get my monster fix ( “Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman” ) and my feminist fix ( “Cry, ‘Havoc’” ) …and my out and out cathartic sobfest that “The Constant Nymph” offers me. But I have to put Hitchcock in first place. No one can weave a tale like him. ( Make your own case for your favorite directors. ) I’m just astounded by the bravery of Teresa Wright to save her family from the enemy within.
( 1944 ) “DOUBLE INDEMNITY” – ( Billy Wilder )
Come on…how can I deny Barbara Stanwyck. She gets a man to murder her husband. Yeah, the plan’s unravelled by the end, and the murderous lovers turn on each other. But that’s what makes this movie perfect.
( 1945 ) “LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN” – ( John M. Stahl )
I almost tore my hair out deciding the top film for 1945. How gloriously unseemly the mother / daughter relationship is in “Mildred Pierce.” I can not imagine what a 1945 audience made of what they were seeing between Veda and Mildred. But something even more twisted gets my attention. A woman’s whose jealousy is so obsessive, so possessive that it consumes everyone in her path…including her. There’s an argument for those who can’t stand Ellen Berent. I’ll give you that. But there is no denying Gene Tierney played the hell out of that role.
( 1946 ) “THE STRANGE LOVE OF MARTHA IVERS” – ( Lewis Milestone )
I know…I know there were movies about a mountaintop shoot-out, a war-time homecoming, a woman who wears only white, a man doing something wrong…once, and Rita. I can’t really articulate why I like “…Martha Ivers” above all others this year. I’ve definitely seen it more times, though I wish I could see it again for the first time. It’s small and quiet and kind of closes in on itself. Do you want to see why you can’t go home again? This is why.
( 1947 ) “OUT OF THE PAST” – Jacques Tourneur
The best. Jane Greer. My favorite film noir.
( 1948 ) “I WALK ALONE” – ( Byron Haskin )
The romance of Jennifer Jones, the devastating realization of Joan Fontaine, the pain of Mary Astor and the delicacy of Gail Russell are draws that can’t be beat. But it’s up against a movie that IS the 40’s. Betrayal, double cross and love.
( 1949 ) “A LETTER TO THREE WIVES” – ( Joseph L. Mankiewicz )
It’s a smartly written motion picture.
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