MY FAVORITE FILMS OF 1944

“BATHING BEAUTY” – ( George Sidney )

( 1944 ) BATHING BEAUTY

It might not be your cuppa, but if you were around in 1944, you saw this movie. Here she is, ESTHER WILLIAMS in her first starring role, and she hits it out of the park…or rather, the pool, and all in glorious color too. It’s all Esther: statuesque, Amazonian, healthy. She makes athleticism look sexy. Such a feel-good musical, even Red Skelton doesn’t bother me. Harry James and Ethel Smith swing swing swing!!! You can’t tell me kids weren’t dancing in the movie balcony. M-G-M has a bonafide winner on its hands

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“DOUBLE INDEMNITY” –  ( Billy Wilder )

( 1944 ) DOUBLE INDEMNITY

Just like a man…changing his mind when the goin’ gets rough. Fred MacMurray thinks he can outsmart his insurance company, get the dame, get the money and live happily ever after. Well not if you’re trailed by Edward G. Robinson. And not if you cross Barbara Stanwyck. And if Billy Wilder has ANYTHING to do with it…we’re all goin’ down just for watching the movie. I saw it on the big screen last year. The movie is perfect. ( I’ve even almost come to terms with Stanwyck’s wig. Damn, that’s a tough sell. )

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“GASLIGHT” – ( George Cukor )

( 1944 ) GASLIGHT

Frankly, I can’t bear to see Ingrid Bergman tortured, so this is a difficult watch for me. But she’s commanding and sensual and a thing of beauty in her torture. This movie single-han- dedly made me hate Boyer for a few years. (He’s in my good graces again.) Bergman is truly a damsel-in-distress and we can only stand by and watch helplessly. Her triumph in the end makes my heart soar.  Good cast and production values. Just Cukor and MGM doin’ what comes ‘natcherly’. And I don’t take that for granted.

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“LAURA” – ( Otto Preminger )

( 1944 ) LAURA
I’m trying to imagine sitting in the audience in 1944 after the flashbacks are done and Gene Tierney walks through the door. ( “But I thought she was de…” “Sssh!” ) And I’m also imagining sitting in the audience in 1944 ( probably with a Baby Ruth in my hands ) and falling head over heels  for hard-boiled Dana Andrews rummaging through a dead girls’ things. ( Kinky! )  It’s a taut, tight, sophisticated mystery. Dana is damaged goods. Tierney is a beautiful glacier. Clifton Webb is terrifically bitchy. And a shout out to Vincent Price and Judith Anderson. I’m there…with everybody else…in the dark. And loving it.

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“LIFEBOAT” – ( Alfred Hitchcock )

( 1944 ) LIFEBOAT

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to break a Nazi’s neck. Can’t we all just get along? What audacity Hitchcock has to put a microcosm of humanity on a lifeboat and watch them under this life and death microscope. I think Hitch-cock could create suspense inside a phone booth. This is a good mature film tackling some moral issues and with a message that doesn’t hit you over the head. Hitchcock is a logistical genius, William Bendix is my boyfriend, Tallulah Bankhead my best girlfriend and John Hodiak, well now…a girl needs to pass the time of day somehow while waiting to be rescued…

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“THE MUMMY’S GHOST” – ( Reginald LeBorg )

( 1944 ) MUMMY'S GHOST

RAMSAY AMES.

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“MURDER, MY SWEET” – ( Edward Dmytryk )

( 1944 ) MURDER, MY SWEET

“I want you should find me a movie.” I imagine that’s what Dick Powell told his agent. And he found something that transformed and added ten years to this boy tenor’s career. Looking at Dick Powell in “Murder, My Sweet”   (another great title), he makes you forget he can even sing. He’s different than we’ve ever seen him up to then. He’s sardonic and rumpled and can be choked and doped within an inch of his life. Whether he’s dealing with an effete dealer, a brutish bear, a girl next door or a big league blonde ( one of my favorites: CLAIRE TREVOR ), I love how Powell faces all this with nonchalance, casualness and sarcasm. And he wears the hell out of that trench coat and fedora.

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 “PHANTOM LADY” – ( Robert Siodmak )

( 1944 ) PHANTOM LADY

Okay, you want a smart brunette …I’ll give ya a smart brunette!! This is the gal you want on your side. “Phantom Lady” is more than the pageboy and husky-voice of Ella Raines. It’s lit with the chiaroscuro brush of Elwood Bredell, tautly edited by Arthur Hilton, based on a story by Cornell Woolrich, and skillfully directed by a master of film noir: Robert Siodmak. ( Okay okay, ya got me; for the sake of full disclosure, I had to look up the editor’s and D.P.’s names. But I still like the look they gave the movie. ) But it IS  Ella who carries the picture. She’s plucky, smart, proactive and NOT the damsel-in-distress. She goes where no Girl Friday has gone before: kissing Elisha Cook, Jr….on the mouth. Why? To save her job? Naaaaah. To save her boss. She loves him, the big lug. Typical man…he can’t find his socks or who framed him. You’ll like 1944 if you’re an Ella Raines fan. She made more movies this year than in her whole career. Her films from 1944 also include: “Tall In the Saddle” “The Suspect” “Hail the Conquering Hero” and “Enter Arsene Lupin.” ) I’m telling you, when it’s Raines, it shines.

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“TALL IN THE SADDLE” – ( Edwin L. Marin )

( 1944 ) TALL IN THE SADDLE

Here’s my girl again: ELLA RAINES. She’s a gal who knows what she wants and will shoot it or rope it to get it. In this western mystery, she shoots first and asks questions later. ( That’s my motto for our new Congress. ) She’s pretty much the cowboy in this movie, which is why I like it. Don’t get your lariat in a twist…John Wayne tames her, and he looks darned good doing it too, in a faraway, lantern-lit, mountain cabin as eh swings her into is arms to kiss her. Audrey Long is nice as the good girl; she also appeared in “Born to Kill.”  She just passed away September 2014:

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“TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT” – ( Howard Hawks )

( 1944 ) TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT

This drama with a sly smile is great. There’s something about the succinctness of the title that hits me in the gut. We’ve got all the tropes of WWII going on: Nazis, Free French, gambling, drinking, a piano player, rah rah rah. But it’s really the sexy heat between Bogart and nineteen-year old newcomer Lauren Bacall that’s got me, but good. She stands toe-to-toe with a veteran matching his sullenness and he likes it. She’s not coy or corny. She’s a good guy – ( I stole that line from another Bogart movie, but I’ll talk about that in 1950 when Glo-lo burns up the screen. ) Just look at the way Bacall tosses those matches back at Bogie. This movie doesn’t have to say anything or do anything. Well maybe just….

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