Saturday, September 29, 2012

Top 10 Best Movies of the 1940s

  The 1940s was a big deal for America.  Recovered from the Great Depression of the early 1930s, America was just getting it's groove back-on; then.. World War II.  Germany invades France in 1940 and all bets are off.  Britain is getting a spanking as we try to aid them with intense manufacture often our non-combatant merchant-marines getting their arses handed to them by the German Wolfpack submariners in the North Atlantic.  We engage Hitler and America hunkers-down, and the Selective Service "draft" starts in 1941.  Ten million men are forced to join the military.  Imagine that now?  That was, at the time, about 10% of the population, and just about every male from age 21 to 35, though some were taken-in at age 15 or 16.  Dire times as the Axis War Machine ate-up Europe and was succeeding in World Domination.  Non-Aryans were incinerated alive in camps.  America was not the SuperPower we know of the late 1980s.  No, sir.  As a nation, we were young teens trying to figure out Life.  We had sub-par boats, planes, and guns.  Britain was pretty badass at the time, and the only other decent ally Superpower, France, just had their noses rubbed in it with minimal effort.  France, at the time, was pretty powerful.

  During this time in Hollywood, movies were full-day affairs, often having several reels instead of just the one main feature film.  There'd be a News Reel that'd show current events as television had just become a consumer product and was ridiculously expensive with only 2 channels available.  Radio was King with a handful of AM channels in each region.  Some towns didn't even GET radio waves yet!!!  Often, people would get their news from newspapers or the News Reel.  There was also a Cartoon Reel.  This was usually Bugs Bunny or some other Warner Brothers release.  Those cartoons you saw growing up of Bugs?  Those were usually related to the film attached as a joke-prequel, often involving a similar plot to the main feature you were about to see or saw last week.  Yep.  Most cartoons were film-only up until the late 1950s when some of those actually made it to TV.  At this point, the then-very-important projectionist would change-out seamlessly short 5 or 10 minute film reels.  There's also be another "Short" or "Short Reel" of usually some comedy such as the Three Stooges and then the Main Feature Reel.  Movie-going often cost about 25 cents, but the average weekly salary was $35.  A brand new house cost about $5000 or 4 years' pay which is about twice the cost from today in-relation. 
  Times were tough and people hunkered-down hard.  Women had to know how to cook with flour, yeast, eggs.  Meat was scarce, and commodity rationing was enforced by the Government.  You couldn't get certain items without rationing stamps due the War effort and its production, and even then, you might not have enough and might have to save-up for a roast or some hamburger for a few weeks.  Yeah, you couldn't just get food, or tires, or whatever.  Nope.  Not allowed.  Imagine that NOW!!!!  Tough times, kids.  Forget about getting coffee.  No, you don't have enough stamps for this week.  No coffee this week.. or meat of any kind.  Not allowed.  NOT ALLOWED!!! .. and America embraced it, hunkered-down, barely grumbled, and fought the good fight.. and with our sacrifice, the World was saved from Nazi tyranny and the cruel, cruel Japanese murderers who would torture us without mercy as we encamped Jap-Americans in our own concentration camps!.. and the Nazis were 1 year away from nukes and had their children age 10 to 14 flying jet-fighters and they had War Computers and we had just invented Cheerios.  Seriously, it's amazing we aren't all speaking German.
  V for Victory, kids!  This leads me to the...
Top 10 Best Movies of the 1940s
1. Citizen Kane (1941)
  Most people have heard of this film, few have seen it.  What sets this film apart is the amazing camera angles and set the stage for larger-than-life filmography that you might have seen attempted in the first episode of Star Trek: Next Generation, that is, the episode "Encounter at Farpoint".  Cameras would be place down on the floor to make people look very very tall.  Large, symbolic scenes constantly.  The more current movie, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow borrows from it, and I'd even put this film into the "film noir" category.  Filming techniques were unheard of and incredibly clever for its time, possibly better than any other film in current history.  Amazing stuff.
  Story's about a poverty-stricken man from Colorado who climbs his way up the political ladder to become the wealthiest, most powerful man in America.  On his dying bed, he mutters, "Rosebud" and you try to figure out who she might be throughout.  I won't give it away.  It's poignant.
  Sort of a bit of a Scarface vibe.  Definitely worth a watch solely for the expert filmography copied later in comic books and other films.  This movie set-off Orson Welles to be one of the most powerful actors in history through into the late 1980s.  If you study or admire film, this is a must-watch for camera-play, lighting, and sound for which all other films since are based.  I'm not kidding, it's that good.  No other movie since has achieved this effect so skillfully.  Directors dream of it.
2. Dark Passage (1947)
  I adore this film.  Humphery Bogart was King in the theaters during the 1940s.  Sure, I could have put the ubiqtuious, Cassablanca or The Maltese Falcon, two of his best perhaps, or even Treasure of Siera Madre.  These were classics, sure, and I give them each honorable mention, particularly Maltese Falcon, but this film played-out a little better. 
  It starts out gonzo, POV-style of an escaped Alcatraz convict and he strangles a man just on the shore for a "killer's point-of-view".  You only see his hands, making you the killer.  Wow.  Lauren Bacall is a fan of the murderer and helps him hide-away in the same way Harley Quinn loves The Joker.  Like the Joker, he also gets plastic reconstruction to hide-out from the law.  Of course, he tries to claim innocence of his crimes and kill those that framed him.
  This is true film-noir material, playing with shadows only John Carpenter could appreciate fully.  Lauren plays sultry at age 23 to Humphrey's 47 she loves his murder-style and history.  Eventually, the two get married in real-life!  Interestingly, he dies 10 years later at an unusal age of 57.
  The characters ooze of seduction, danger, and intrigue, and Lauren was the epitome of the sultry brunette of the 1940s, even more so than Betty Paige.  SHE was THE bad-girl of the time, with just a hint of inner meekness, hidden.  Humphey always played-out the true badass of his time.
  This is probably one of three true film-noir films to watch.  Rotten Tomatoes give it a 91% fresh which is astoundingly good for such critics.  I loved it.

3. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
  This is where Universal's top monsters are all together in a monster-fest deluxe against comedic geniuses Bud Abbott and Lou Costello.  This matching-up of such proportions was insane.  You've got the original Dracula played by Bela Lugosi, Frankenstein, the Wolfman (from Wolfman (1941)) as the original Wolfman and VINCENT PRICE as the Invisible Man!!! 
This is pretty badass for it's time.  Enough of a comedic release with Abbott and Costello and just enough terror to the extreme of the monsters that actually made people pass-out from the late 1930s.  Brilliant idea.
 Dracula controls Frankenstein's Monster, but is unable to stop Wolfman's rage and epic battles ensue.  Freakin' Awesome!  It's like a modern Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash.  All of the characters play perfectly as themselves.  It's a Monster-Fest-for all!
  Lou Costello tries to mind-control Frankenstien by lampooning Dracula as a last-ditch effort.  It doesn't work.  Scary and hillarious at the same time.  Nicely done.
4. It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
  I can't not put this film in-place.  It's a Christmas staple even today.  Often overplayed to sickness, it's still, by itself as a single watch, truly a good film.  Jimmy Stewart plays a command performance here of a banker with good intentions and an angel who tries to save him.  It plays on the good nature will of every American's core, and yeah, it's worth a watch despite the overplaying.  Watch it once for the acting and call it a day.
  If a movie is played constantly on Christmas for 30 years, it's probably a decent film, no?  Yep.
5. The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
  Based on the novel by John Steinbeck written a year earlier is an example of a movie "too soon" as it focuses on the Great Dustbowl and the Great Depression that occurred about 8 years prior.
  Jimmy Stewart was doing well in the 1940s and this film is intense as it is heavy.  A priest gets out of prison loses his faith and walks back home after serving his sentence only to find a crossroads and pure duststorm hell.  When I first watched this, I thought the priest had been executed and he was in purgatory or hell itself, punished for his sins!
  Turns out a drought had killed-off all the crops and the locals were starving, with only a vague promise of crop-picking in California as a distant longshot dream to shoot for, they all head West.
  A lot of films are based on this amazing story of doom, such as An American Tail (1986) and South Park parodied it well and aptly.
  The movie is very true-to-life and there's symbolism everywhere, such as the road to a false promise is Route 66 (the 3rd six is omitted for your consideration).  Well done and worth a watch for sure.
6. The Big Sleep (1946)
  Bogey and Bacall again.  A wealthy general wants to resolve gambling debts incurred by his daughter to stay the mob.  Known for its plot twists and complications it's been recommended by the Library of Congress as in the top 10 most important films in history.
  Murder erupts and crimes must be solved as it plays-out the vital criminal investigation of several murders.  Watch it.  Yeah, it's good.
7. The Great Dictator (1940)
  Ho boy.  Charlie Chaplin wrote, produced, and starred in this one, and is one of his first talking films, though it it to be noted that even during "talkies" his silent films were still blockbusting the theaters despite itself. 
  This film was produced when America was still at peace with Germany  (barely).  Very edgy for its time to lampoon Hitler, there are some comedic and not-so comedic scenes that are quite shocking. 
The UK would not show it in fear of Nazi Germany's potential retaliation (sound familiar to today's standard?).  Later, however, during the war, the UK used it as a propaganda film.  This movie was wildly popular in the US, however, because before Obama's Apologetic Presidency we then "didn't give a shit" and weren't so pussy about things in cowardice, Obama ruining that utterly, making America weak like a gay mouse-bitch which now other countries manipulate.  Not back then though!  We had balls back then!   Hitler was unimpressed, needless to say.

  The film did well, and some interesting points were made, as well as some nice symbolism in the famous "globe" scene, shown above.  Acting was great, and amazingly so considering the silent-film cast now in speaking roles (a difficult transition few silent-film actors survived).  A Criterion Edition (2011) on BluRay was recently released.  The film does a great job focusing on Nazi politics of the time and the contradictions therein.  Great film!
8. Heaven Can Wait (1943)
  A wealthy man dies in the and has to prove he belongs in hell by telling the tale of his evil life in the late 19th century.  A bit of a period piece with great costumes and won several awards.  Satan himself decides if he is worthy of eternal fire.  Edgy for it's backwards tale and debauchery and villainy, it's worth a watch for sure.  This is not to be confused with the 1978 eponymous film which is quite different indeed.
9. Notorious (1946)
  One of Alfred Hitchock's best films about a love affair with a daughter of a Nazi infiltrator, a love story where Cary Grant gets involved with Ingrid Bergman in espionage and intrigue. 
  The filmography is amazing.  Let me quote Wiki on this one, "The film is known for two scenes in particular. In one of his most famous shots, Hitchcock starts wide and high on a second floor balcony overlooking the great hall of a grand mansion. Slowly he tracks down and in on Ingrid Bergman, finally ending with a tight close-up of a key tucked in her hand. So arresting is the shot that an outline of the key became a graphic element in the film's promotional material. Hitchcock also devised "a celebrated scene" that circumvented the Production Code's ban on kisses longer than three seconds—by having his actors disengage every three seconds, murmur and nuzzle each other, then start right back up again. The two-and-a-half minute osculation is "perhaps his most intimate and erotic kiss."
 Interestingly, the film is quite edgy for the fact that Nazi-phobia was still rampant in the US.  The concept and intrigue of espionage of such is quite impressive.  Honestly, I haven't seen the film, but accessing '40s experts this is one of THE films to see, and I trust my sources.  I have it in my Netflix queue right now.
10.  White Heat
   A psychopathic criminal with a mother complex makes a daring break from prison and leads his old gang in a chemical plant payroll heist. Shortly after the plan takes place, events take a crazy turn for the worse.
  James Cagney plays the gangster again in this one, often popularized as "Muggsy" in Warner Brothers cartoons.  Another "film noir" flick.  This movie plays on the criminal mind's psyche and workings, focusing on motive, robbery, and decisions between good versus evil.  On my queue, I hear it ends with a world-famous shootout.  These 1940s gangster movies were super awesome of which all others now-a-days were based!   Can't wait to see it!

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