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The 10 Best Films of the 1940s

In the 1940s, patriotic films meant to rally the nation competed for attention with escapist fare and wonderfully felt nostalgia, but some of the best films of the decade are the uncharacteristically dark ones that were far ahead of their time. Also check out picks for the 1950s1960s1970s1980s1990s, and the 2000s.

by
Kyle Smith

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July 10, 2014 - 5:01 pm
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10. Double Indemnity (1944)

Director Billy Wilder and co-author Raymond Chandler set the standard for tantalizing film noir with this cynical, funny, slick and speedy tale of a shady insurance salesman (Fred MacMurray) and a married femme fatale (Barbara Stanwyck) who plot to kill her husband. Marred by some improbable machinations bringing in less interesting subsidiary characters in the third act, the film saves some of its best stuff for the end, winding up with a classic interplay between MacMurray and Edward G. Robinson.

Top Rated Comments   
Smith's lists are tedious and idiotic. Every list for every era he writes about are replete with egregious error. Any list for the 1940s that omits "How Green Was My Valley", "They Were Expendable", "Laura", and "The Best Years of Our Lives" is a waste of time.
2 weeks ago
2 weeks ago Link To Comment
Two films from 1948: Red River and I Remember Mama. How in the world did Philadelphia Story (1940) get left off the list

I Remember Mama is in my top five ever made.
2 weeks ago
2 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (35)
All Comments   (35)
Sort: Newest Oldest Top Rated
Citizen Kane - Orson Welles
The Third Mann - Carol Reed
Bicycle Thieves - Vittorio de Sica
Rome Open City - Roberto Rossellini
My Darling Clementine - John Ford
Notorious - Alfred Hitchcock
The Magnificent Ambersons - Orson Welles
Oliver Twist - David Lean
Casablanca - Michael Curtiz
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre - John Houston
Odd Man Out - Carol Reed

Honorable Mention:

The Cat People - Jacques Tourneur
The Song of Bernadette - Henry King
Going My Way - Leo McCary
Beauty and the Beast - Jean Cocteau
Mighty Joe Young - Ernest B. Schoedsack
Great Expectations - David Lean
Hamlet - Laurence Olivier
Henry V - Laurence Olivier
The Fallen Idol - Carol Reed
The Maltese Falcon - John Houston
White Heat - Raoul Walsh
Shadow of a Doubt - Alfred Hitchcock
Germany Year Zero - Roberto Rossellini


1 week ago
1 week ago Link To Comment
The Third Man is fabulous. I love it for Trevor Howard's droll cynical Major Calloway, but also for the wonderful character actors: Ernst Deutsch (Baron Kurtz), Bernard Lee, Wilfrid Hyde-Whyte, the nattering Viennese landlady, the lady eating soup, and the squat little boy with the ball. The movie is suspenseful with frequent sidesteps into creepiness or humor. Love the zither music too.
2 weeks ago
2 weeks ago Link To Comment
THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES
NOW VOYAGEUR
THE GRAPES OF WRATH
IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE
THE GREAT DICTATOR
YANKEE DOODLE DANDY
THE LITTLE FOXES
A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN
I REMEMBER MAMA



2 weeks ago
2 weeks ago Link To Comment
Sullivans' Travels - yes!
The Third Man - yes!
Double Indemnity - yes!
His Girl Friday - yes!
Casablanca - yes!
Citizen Kane - yes!
These 6 ought to be on any 'top 50 of all time' list, and all 10 are good choices for this list, though I would have had 'Best Years of Our Lives' on the list instead of 'It's a Wonderful Life'.
2 weeks ago
2 weeks ago Link To Comment
Not a completely terrible list but no Ford or Wyler or Hitchcock films? Seems like there should have been room for them, certainly over Meet Me In St. Louis. I find Citizen Kane to be interesting more as an intellectual exercise for the film student (ooh, look at the depth of field in that shot!) than as something that is emotionally engaging, at least less so than a number of other films from the 1940's.
2 weeks ago
2 weeks ago Link To Comment
"His Girl Friday" is a glossy star vehicle, wholly unbelievable, with none of the grit and humor of the original "The Front Page," starring Adolphe Menjou and Pat O'Brien (1931) of which it is a remake. It belongs on a "silliest films" list, not a "best" list.

"Sullivan's Travels" is one of Sturges' great films, but it is in the end a Hollywood wank. It cannot touch "The Great McGinty" (1940) or "Hail the Conquering Hero" (1944) for social satire---and the latter, which manages to simultaneously bow to and send up the cult of heroism, deserves bonus points for having been done during WWII.

The throwaway reference to "respectful treatment of blacks" in "Sullivan's Travels" deserves comment. First, blacks were "respectfully treated" in films going back to Trader Horn (1931) weeping as he cradled his slain black companion in his arms (and probably much earlier). To exclaim over the supposed "respectful treatment" of blacks in "Sullivan's Travels" is to show a lack of knowledge of early film. Furthermore, the "treatment' of the black cook in the studio "land yacht" in the early part of the film hardly counts as "respectful."

The reference is clearly directed towards the scene where a black church permits the chain-gang convicts to join them to watch some films---the scene where Sullivan discovers the value of laughter. That scene was intended to indicate to the viewing audience of its day that the white convicts had fallen so low that they were being pitied by blacks. It was intended as a silent indicator of the convicts' utterly debased, rock bottom condition.
2 weeks ago
2 weeks ago Link To Comment
Smith's lists are tedious and idiotic. Every list for every era he writes about are replete with egregious error. Any list for the 1940s that omits "How Green Was My Valley", "They Were Expendable", "Laura", and "The Best Years of Our Lives" is a waste of time.
2 weeks ago
2 weeks ago Link To Comment
BTW, it's kind of interesting to see the omission of John Ford from these lists. He was Ingmar Bergman's favorite director, but I guess he just isn't up to snuff for our snooty American critics.

As for Citizen Kane, we all know and acknowledge its technical brilliance, but only NYU film students actually get excited about it.

If you want to list a transcendent effort by Welles, why not Macbeth?
2 weeks ago
2 weeks ago Link To Comment
These are not the best, or even close to the best, movies of the forties. Maybe 3 or 4 belong here. And what's the deal with the Billy Wilder-love????
2 weeks ago
2 weeks ago Link To Comment
I can understand why people love "It's a Wonderful Life," but it does have an incredibly fatal story flaw. No bank examiner would drop an investigation of possible bank fraud simply because the banker's neighbors took up a collection to cover the lost funds. Granted, the viewers know Stewart isn't a crook, but the bank examiner doesn't know that. Additionally, if the townspeople are so poor, where did they get the cash to chip in to save Stewart at the end?
2 weeks ago
2 weeks ago Link To Comment
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