Top Fifty Films of the 40s — Number Eleven

#11 — Bicycle Thieves (Vittorio De Sica, 1948) So much of the cinema of the nineteen-forties needs to be approached with the contextualizing recollection that the active engagements of World War II consumed around half of the decade-long span. It’s useful when considering the very different weight that war films must have carried — especially given how reticent filmmakers have been to build fictions that run in chronological proximity to contemporary wars in more recent decades — but it adds shading to so many films outside of that genre, even — or especially — tough-minded dramas that emerged in the aftermath of … Continue reading Top Fifty Films of the 40s — Number Eleven

Top Fifty Films of the 40s — Number Twelve

#12 — The Magnificent Ambersons (Orson Welles, 1942) Orson Welles was happy to cultivate legend. The towering wunderkind brought an overwhelming panache to absolutely everything he did, but he was rarely more at comfortable home than when engaging in something that burnished his own monumental reputation, either as genius, a showman, or, increasingly as his career progressed, a semi-tragic figure discarded by the very entertainment establishment that could have most benefited from his distinctive brilliance. Just one look at Welles facing the press in the aftermath of the infamous “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast, playing every variant of chastened … Continue reading Top Fifty Films of the 40s — Number Twelve

Top Fifty Films of the 40s — Number Thirteen

#13 — The Red Shoes (Emeric Pressburger and Michael Powell, 1948) I’m less likely than most who turn themselves over to cinema to become hopelessly enamored of a film strictly on the basis of its visuals. I’m not immune to such affections, and I certainly believe that striking imagery is one of the vital tasks of a great piece of moviemaking. Still, my patience is tested whenever I feel that a film is overemphasizing the scenery with a disregard for the fundamentals of narrative storytelling. The Red Shoes is something of a refutation of my prejudice. To be clear, the story … Continue reading Top Fifty Films of the 40s — Number Thirteen

Top Fifty Films of the 40s — Number Fourteen

#14 — Meet Me in St. Louis (Vincente Minnelli, 1944) By the time I was paying attention, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” was a holiday standard. The song, written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane, has been recorded countless times, usually presented as a sentimental ode to the joys of of the Christmas season, the tender melody imbued with sedate good cheer. That’s partially attributable to finessing done to the lyrics over the year, but I still found it remarkable, even jarring, when I first experienced the song in its original context, as one of the numbers in the movie musical … Continue reading Top Fifty Films of the 40s — Number Fourteen

Top Fifty Films of the 40s — Number Fifteen

#15 — The Heiress (William Wyler, 1949) Technically, a period drama can be set in any past era, but the term immediately calls to mind a certain slice of the human timeline, long on corsets and stiff gatherings and short on electricity and rambunctiousness. In my informed but admittedly prejudiced view, a great many of these sorts of films are overly staid, buffed up with refinement and lacking in passion. The older the copyright date on the piece of cinema, the more likely my uncharitable prejudice is to be accurate, the confinements of still developing film stylings accentuating the already rigid, regimental … Continue reading Top Fifty Films of the 40s — Number Fifteen

Top Fifty Films of the 40s — Number Sixteen

#16 — The Great Dictator (Charlie Chaplin, 1940) There are several different stories that explain, at least in part, the genesis of The Great Dictator, but it surely must have started with the mustache. How bizarre to be Charlie Chaplin, sporter of a distinctive sprout of facial hair, an inky little dust broom right under the nose, watching newsreel footage of a hateful lunatic across the ocean who’s taken the same approach to his daily shaving regimen. Supposedly Chaplin took further inspiration from a viewing of Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will (that he cackled through, his own skill as … Continue reading Top Fifty Films of the 40s — Number Sixteen

Top Fifty Films of the 40s — Number Seventeen

#17 — The Palm Beach Story (Preston Sturges, 1942) By all evidence, Preston Sturges despised being confined, either by studio meddling or expectations. His distinctive comic voice, as bold as any ever committed to cinema, didn’t fit cleanly into the polished, reticent refinements of his era, when every last movie had to run through a clumsy, inconsistent official approval process. The filmmaker’s embedded cynicism was challenge enough to the dainty norms, but his rambunctious playfulness with the rigors of narrative structure could set his work teetering on the precipice of blissful mayhem. The Palm Beach Story exemplifies that clownishly caustic dynamic. Sturges … Continue reading Top Fifty Films of the 40s — Number Seventeen

Top Fifty Films of the 40s — Number Eighteen

#18 — The Reckless Moment (Max Ophüls, 1949) Energized as I might be to see obvious artistry that endures throughout the years when I survey old films, I don’t view the material in a void. As best as I can, I contextualize the work agains the time in which it was released. Often that’s to the favor of a film, with so much that now seems mundane instead looking revolutionary when stripping away the intervening years that may have transformed the novel into a trope. I suppose my mental maneuvering around The Reckless Moment has a similar effect of elevating its stature, … Continue reading Top Fifty Films of the 40s — Number Eighteen

Top Fifty Films of the 40s — Number Nineteen

#19 — Gaslight (George Cukor, 1944) To describe something as a “revelation” is entirely overused in criticism. I get that. I try to avoid the term (though I’ll admit that a quick search of the content of this very page attests that it shows up plenty). There are instances, though, in which it is the most fitting descriptor for my reaction. For me, Ingrid Bergman’s performance in Gaslight is revelatory. Before viewing it, I had plenty of respect for Bergman’s abilities as an actress, though I likely wouldn’t have held her up as someone who demonstrated the remarkable level of range a … Continue reading Top Fifty Films of the 40s — Number Nineteen

Top Fifty Films of the 40s — Number Twenty

#20 — Drunken Angel (Akira Kurosawa, 1948) One of film history’s most amazing partnerships between director and actor begins here. Akira Kurosawa cast Toshiro Mifune sixteen times over a span of fewer than twenty years, making the actor feel like the great director’s manifestation of self on screen, in much the same way that Martin Scorsese once admitted he cast Robert De Niro repeatedly in the parts he himself would like to play (presumably Leonardo DiCaprio has fulfilled much the same role in recent years). It could, however, be even simpler than that. Drunken Angel so fully takes advantage of … Continue reading Top Fifty Films of the 40s — Number Twenty