The 1940s List: Discussion and Suggestions

An ongoing survey of the Criterion Forum membership to create lists of the best films of each decade and genre.
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domino harvey
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Re: The 1940s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#326 Post by domino harvey » Sun Aug 18, 2019 5:05 pm

The VCI is also now an unannounced DVD-R, by the way, as the original pressed press run is long OOP. Just FYI if you like me refuse to commercially support burned discs

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Re: The 1940s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#327 Post by therewillbeblus » Sun Aug 18, 2019 10:54 pm

My Darling Clementine: Ford may not have made the most showy story of Wyatt Earp put on film, but it might be the most dense. This could also be the best example of Ford’s perfection in pacing, not afraid to slow down a scene to reveal details naturally, and never wasting a shot, each overflowing with atmosphere, technique, and excellent acting flourishes. Ford may be a master of form, but he’s also restrained in how he confidentially measures narrative as much with action setpieces as he does with something as small as an extra twitch in the mouth from Brennan when Fonda turns his offer down in the first scene, or the way in which Fonda walks around the room when he gets to town in the second.

The banal moments become the action and just as, if not more, important than the moments that move the narrative forward on the surface. When the mise en scène is as effortlessly elaborate as it is here, it’s easy to see the sparkles between the cracks. However, the action that comes is brutal and short, disturbing the senses with quick flawless editing and harsh sound design. The scenes of violence in this film, while perhaps technically perfect, are void of the impositions of style. They are as blunt as they come, and the most authentically fitting for death. The final setpiece exhibits that deliberate pace, flawless execution and sharp violence better than any climax I can think of in a studio era film. The absent score and immobilized long master and medium shots only add to the intensity via subversion of action, and genre, expectations.

Ford’s mood shifts are more drawn out than Hawks’ lighter, layered social builds; Ford takes his time defining his characters and settings with more weighty flavor, interactions between people and one another and their environments pulsing with individualism, always some isolation present even in reciprocal exchanges. Each frame is like a painting both in visually striking photography and in the segregated people coexisting but remaining separate, heavy with their own details, values, and personalities, unable to truly bridge the gap into complete symbiosis despite their attempts. The still camera helps achieve this effect, hardly moving, rigidly capturing action like the rigidity of this stark brutal world and the impenetrable characters that inhabit it.

Victor Mature plays a strong, aggressive yet appropriately subdued Doc, and Fonda downplays his part even more than usual, inhabiting Earp’s humility and patience to fuller effect by limiting affect. Brennan’s best role may be in The Westerner but here his voice and gentle demeanor lends itself to a stark contrast of false kindness and cruel selfishness to create a true sociopath with minimal information necessary. It’s another delicate and restrained performance, not complex like his Judge Roy Bean, but blatantly antisocial, cold, and without conscience to serve the conceptualization of Ford’s vision of the world.

Just like the characters, the film itself doesn’t need to be existentially complex and instead aims for understated themes yet complex in its details, far more realist than most of its era, even for Ford. He may photograph beautiful shots but the people and actions in his films are anything but pretty. The exposition of ipseity present throughout is not tragic or a model to be desired, it just is. And at the same time this is a movie, not trying to be real life at any moment; pure carefully structured narrative. It’s great to see a filmmaker so assured to provide his own blueprint for the way the world works that’s not as kind as forgiving as his peers. I may prefer Hawks, his output, and the exhibition of his worldview overall, but for me this is the best western of the 40s.

Ramrod: One of my personal favorites, this western appears cushy and harmless at first with McCrea and Lake at the center and a dreamy, lighthearted score in the background of the opening scenes, but quickly pulls the rug out from under everyone in its brutality and underlying cynicism. Lake’s femme fatale doesn’t need to do much to provoke actions driven by fears, sex drives, id and reptilian brain impulses over society-infused ideologies like friendship, loyalty, honor, law and order. Don DeFore’s Bill is the primary character as canvas to exploit this vision of the world, though even smaller characters fall under her spell. The implications of the ease at which men can waver their ethics is fitting with the western genre, though De Toth seems to be suggesting that even within a society structured with ideologies and systems of law and order, moral flexibility is not only possible but inherent in man, Hobbesian nature bleeding through the efforts to suppress it.

De Toth is no stranger to the complicated psychological effects of this conflict, but he tends to display them as more dark and violent than Hawks or even Ford, especially by using more moody signifiers to express his thematic intent. This is one of the more bitter depictions of treachery, weakness and consequences that doesn’t settle for cheap blame on one man’s flaws, but appears to extend that pessimistic courtesy to any man, or woman, regardless of ‘strength;’ and if not morally vulnerable to engage in cognitive dissonance now, at least naive and easily fooled. McCrea gets out alive to give us the ending we must have in the Hays studio era, but until then it’s a spiritual mess, not so much nihilistic as psychologically damning the human race back to neanderthal times. By participating in De Toth’s universe, you may as well flip a coin to determine not only your fate, but which virtues you’ll be wearing when you meet that fate.

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Re: The 1940s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#328 Post by therewillbeblus » Wed Aug 21, 2019 12:08 am

Rewatching the first three of four in Arrow’s film noir set, The Dark Mirror lost much of its power on a revisit. Never a great noir, this one still served as a comfort film, with Olivia de Havilland giving a fun dual perf and Siodmak in the midst of his most creative period on autopilot, which still exudes more mastery in technique than most of his peers’ efforts. Unfortunately too much time is spent in the detective police procedural. I like Thomas Mitchell but he feels miscast here, and some of the writing is just awful, including nearly all of the twin jokes made by the policemen in the first third. The pace thankfully picks up when the psychiatrist enters the picture and the narrative shifts focus to de Havilland, who I can’t help but enjoy watching every second she’s on screen as she’s clearly having a blast in the part. Watching everything come together at the end is rather fun, and the basic premise is too, but the lens by which the film travels is unevenly split between odd vantage points to create a narrative built on directional missteps. The story can’t carry itself through the tedious angles on the steam from the strands that work, so the potential in de Havilland’s role is never fully realised, even if what we do get is intriguing. This is a fine film that I can appreciate a great deal, but it’s far from the film it could have been.

The Secret Beyond the Door: What initially appears to be a more consistent film than the previous one is a facade; for we get two distinct halves that somehow function more cohesively as one, in that the course remains singular and the banality of the first half sets up the delirium in the second.

This curious film appears to be a Rebecca ripoff at first, but slowly materializes into something more opaque, though not nearly as absorbing. Lang’s dark, brooding noirish sets and extravagant lighting can’t make up for a loose script with flat characters and, at times, seemingly aimless direction in the first half. For a while it was troubling to watch Lang take on the same idea as Hitchcock and fail so hard, which appeared to expose deficits in understanding how to navigate constructions of certain principles of film language beyond his visionary of technique.

However, at about the halfway point the film reveals itself as something else entirely. After utilizing tedious voiceover hinting at a coldly removed and unengaged sense of subjectivity, the presentation’s sense of objectivity is established and becomes its own idea through repetition of technical flourishes, shifting perspectives, increasing pace and amplifying style, shaming any thought that Lang has been using cinema to try out new tricks in form rather than invest his energy into a compelling abstraction. The lack of character investment becomes a strength rather than a weakness as the surrealistic baroque style benefits from the impartial apathy towards story in favor of mood and vibrant sensationalism. The narrative and various surface elements may still be uninteresting, but the choice in exhibition becomes the interest and not one we settle for but rather one we settle into and relish, even if by the time this kicks in it’s a little too late. Still, this film should be commended for its surprising shift in quality and tone that shook me up good, even though I’d seen the film before!

Force of Evil: I’m in the camp that loves this though it took a few views to grow on me, but this film takes a number of atypical left turns to arrive at tragedy that’s familiar in shape yet unique in its implications. Shakespearean and biblical on several levels, this (im)moral puzzle is also its own original existential animal that shatters every ideology on any side of life’s equations. Whether the obsessive-compulsive individualism in the hunt for the American Dream or the broad comfortable concepts of family, loyalty and devotion to any socially constructed ideal, all become stripped bare of objective value when presented with the reality that all has been and is meaningless except for a subjective sense of moral responsibility.

Garfield’s progression toward realization of this truth is well drawn in a great script to aid his terrific performance. He represents man as a catalyst for harm, who experiences cognitive dissonance not because any ideology is truth (not even an allegiance to his brother) but because his spiritual loss of values has led him to cause harm to others; yes his brother, but the harm- the action and effect- are of importance: the ‘what’ not the ‘who.’

The sensation of being ‘wrong’ in one’s gut, penetrated by an unknown godly force, without knowing what is ‘right,’ is an uncomfortable offering. There is a force of evil because one can feel it, but no force of good to combat this, because all known systems to position this value in are false constructions. What does one do when confronted with only a force of evil and no blueprint for where to place faith? Garfield may do the ‘right’ thing in the sense that he takes responsibility because he feels it to be right, whether because of conditioning to these socially ingrained morals or because of innate moral value is besides the point, because said action holds no weight for god in this world as we know it. The film isn’t interested in whether Garfield is moral and saved, but in his lack of direction toward authentic principles and the existentially shattering psychological and philosophical position he finds himself in by relinquishing his path of ‘evil’ towards gut-following responsibly, a wild ironic paradox. Propelled by a spiritual force toward an absence of god, Garfield is left to wander the earth trying to avoid the ‘evil’ forces and find the impossible; that which doesn’t exist.

A few pieces that I love about this film: How Garfield doesn’t loom over anyone physically (except for a few scenes but in those cases the person sitting is the dominant force in the conversation!), his presence creating a front of toughness when he’s actually a scared puppy looking for purpose and attempting to exert the self as a defense mechanism for seeing the world in shades of nihilism. He stands either under or at eye level with those he converses with, trying to assert his worth and either coming up short or believing he’s succeeded; though we are able to see his actual size, worth, and effect on others as of much less value that he does, for Polonsky grants us the gift of barely removed objectivity.

I love how the film holds both nihilism and a sense of responsibility together, so as to stop it from becoming derivative to a nihilistic worldview and thus becoming even more obscure in its attitude. The sense of responsibility held by Thomas Gomez toward his innocent secretary early on sets this strange stance that will be replicated in his advocacy and helpfulness to several others including one that seals his fate, toward unclear motive (is it true altruism? celebration of the pure and uncorrupted? selfishness to feed his own socially constructed moral compass? sexual? god’s will?) but despite the lack of clarity, the sense of responsibility- the action, the drive - remains. It’s as if the potential for nihilism is overshadowed by this sense of meaning that comes from nowhere visible, suggesting the possibility of meaninglessness but leaving enough space to potentially combat it.

The script that is pulsating with wit and pulp-soaked words slowly transitions from confident and tightly focused to less assured and airy as the story progresses, both in the choice of language and in the scattered and unsure manner in which these words are delivered; less consistent and with increased scarcity of dialogue. The mood affects and is affected by all elements in the film, stretching outside of the mise en scène to subliminal forces in the screenplay and direction that don’t shout but reinforce the epistemic design through emotive artistic units of ambience. In the end the brother represents the soul, a tangible sense of meaning in addition to a man’s life as the ultimate consequence, a measurable unit of harm, and that’s why the final scene is so incredibly powerful and devastating. The film closes with the destruction of the real and the idea, and provides no shining light of a path to recover either of these important senses.


The Macomber Affair: Peck, Bennett, and Preston seems like a winning combination with Zoltan Korda at the helm. This is a decent flashback drama, deserving extra kudos for taking the love triangle and offering a deeper composite on male fragility. The attention paid to detail the angular perspectives of each character as the presence of another person gives way to emasculation is unique in that we get to sense the processing of each male viewpoint, when most films would restrict themselves to one side of the compound. Despite this strength in narrative formation I can’t say I cared much for the film itself. Worth seeing for the empathetic unity and willingness to stew in relatable philosophical turmoil triggered by the social, but the romance wasn’t all that convincing and so the melodrama suffered because of the lack of investment placed in any duo as much as in each individual. Bennett delivers a rather cold perf but maybe that’s the point. I suppose the film could have been going for the idea of sexual attraction over romance, and if so then that’s even more bold and interesting, but if this was the case the concept would benefit from more clarity to this objective.

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Re: The 1940s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#329 Post by Michael Kerpan » Wed Aug 21, 2019 12:41 am

Dance, Girl, Dance (Arzner 1940)

This struck me as pretty consistently fascinating and very very weird. Definitely my favorite Lucille Ball performance. I felt LB was so good she put Maureen O'Hara even more in the shade than the script/direction might have "intended". I felt MOH was at her best in the trial scene (where she showed more range than in the rest of the film put together). Arzner kept things moving so well it really masked the fact that the plot was pretty fundamentally unbelievable. ;-)

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Re: The 1940s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#330 Post by therewillbeblus » Fri Aug 23, 2019 1:27 pm

More noir revisits:

Thieves’ Highway: Dassin takes the noir structure and infuses it with the ingredients of a social justice problem film, a twist on the systemic navigation of the genre into a new and original setting, while leaving plenty of room to breathe energy into scenes that embrace the filth of a dog-eat-dog world. Capitalism isn’t condemned but the hyper-individualized ‘me, my, and mine’ conservative attitude is exposed for its perceived ignorance of fellow men in postwar America and skewered for this inconsideration. Cobb is great as usual, revealing just the man you’d expect as the villain, culprit, and catalyst of harm though significantly still just a man, intimidating yet clearly mortal. The driving scenes are filmed to create genuine suspense and magnify the potential dangers of life or death problems in day to day work life many of us are ignorant to, another welcome gesture in the small details that populate this film.

Despite these strengths I can’t say I particularly care about Conte (to be fair I rarely do, except for his exceptional turn as a smug antagonist next decade) or the overall message of the movie. I can respect its technical elements and how they succeed in creating suspense, as well as the interesting take on noir constructions, but beyond a fun movie to throw on now and again it feels rather empty of the existential provocation that strokes the psyche in addition to the senses in other, better noirs. Democratic to be sure, and even passionately so, but to a very surface-level end. However, I do think that there is much value in the brief moment of vulnerability between Nick and Rica after his big score and call to Polly into a nighttime walk, that highlight the troubles of Polly’s subliminal greed that is too easy to miss and forgive in the socially constructed gender norms of the era during the first half of the film. The authenticity of their moment before the mugging is stunning and the fleeting nature of the encounter is suiting for the atmosphere of the story revolving around fakery and cons both literally in person to person social exchanges and in the larger ideologies embedded in socio-political structures. Unfortunately Polly’s true self is exaggerated and hokey in subsequent scenes as is Rica and Nick’s dynamic, a shame since there was so much potential from that mid-film exchange. The final showdown is brutally anticlimactic shattering the facade that catharsis in revenge undoes any damage or affects any party beyond temporary physical pain. Shortchanging the audience and characters from death only helps and is as close as the film comes to that existential probing.

Brute Force: Kind of an inverse of Dassin’s later Thieves’ Highway which placed social problems within the noir structure, this has a moody noir vibe within a social justice filmic narrative. The script starts strong dropping us in on the plot already underway as if the viewer is an inmate arriving at the prison to meet characters already engaged in their own respective narratives. The noir vibe extends a bit to navigating realms and groups within the prison itself, and to some of the individual flashbacks but these aren’t very effective. The theme of abusing power takes the spotlight and outshines some of the little moments that could propel this to greatness, like when Hume stops the guard from striking the inmate early on without any explicit reason, hinting at humanity that surprises the onlooking inmates, briefly disturbing their categorization of him as evil, as if to say that humans are beyond simplified diagnoses. Too bad it doesn’t stick with more of these scenes, as the script becomes a bit too obvious and on-the-nose in its dialogue especially concerning Hume Cronyn’s contrived persona. He is pathetic and mousy, yet dangerously overconfident and narcissistic; a meaty role, but one I preferred more on my first watch than subsequent revisits.

Double Indemnity: This is a good example of the film noir genre and the respective roles within, the femme fatale and the male gaze, but as a film I can’t say I like it much. Robinson is good in a more animated role than usual, Stanwyck becomes the definition of sensuality, and MacMurray is irritating as always, but a good fit for a gullible buffoon. Once the heat kicks in just before and during the crime, the film gets more enveloping but never to levels that match its reputation.

Too Late For Tears: I’ve always found this to be somewhat of a guilty please. As Rayon Vert pointed out, it’s not a thinker, but it is an entertaining and shifty narrative, a kind of adventure film disguised as a small noir, taking the audience through changes in Scott’s objectives while under the same mission of greed. Duryea, always excellent, has more to do here than in most of his filmography, allowed room to show a range within and perhaps just outside of his character-actor expectation, and I'm grateful for that in and of itself. Playing off of Scott, who can embody quite the cold and manipulative femme fatale, is like fireworks. I agree that the side plot that kicks in at the halfway mark with Miller and DeFore becomes less interesting over time, but I tend to enjoy these unexpected late-entries sliding into noir narratives that have followed mostly villains up to then, and this is no exception. The inclusion provides more objectives for Scott to stress over and that itself is worth seeing.

Odd Man Out: A noir that concerns itself with man’s passion towards a political cause rather than a personal one, a curiously fitting existential quest for the genre that’s less apathetically minded than most noirs. Mason is great and there are plenty of suspenseful setpieces while he is hiding, and investing melodrama. The black and white photography measures up characters close enough, detailing their emotions to become full fledged people instead of merely representatives of ideas. Desperation and idealism hang onto people to weigh them down or lift them up, but the people in this film seem to genuinely feel concern for their fellow man, regardless of their choices. Dignity and worth of the person is always felt more strongly than the ideals of the group, strands that connect the actions on screen with the audience through empathetic familiarity. In the end the cause is important but most characters have to choose between life or death in immediate terms, up close and personal in its fatalism.

Ministry of Fear: There is an unfortunate effect present in this conspiracy noir where it becomes less interesting as the narrative progresses, though the first part is exceptionally riveting. The opening scene places the viewer in a disorienting scene without bearings only to sober up to what’s going on, and the way Milland gets himself involved is reminiscent of a Hitchcock plot. It works in the film’s favor that his character is thought of to be insane for the first half of its runtime, which helps brush off any stake in him beyond an eccentric impenetrable fellow, an alien that fits within this strange beast of a film with spies, séances, and exploding cakes. Even if Lang and the source material can’t sustain the momentum, the film still winds up being a creative noir that’s more than the serviceable stamp it holds for many.

Ride the Pink Horse: Montgomery gets a lot of credit for his long, complicated takes here, but I’m more impressed by his restraint of action in favor of attention to culture. This is a great film that is a mystery and a noir but as sidelines to the story of a man returning from the context of war and immersed into a new foreign social context. The twist is that this foreign environment is not America, or home, as it is for most noirs. The sense of place is detailed and characters live and breathe with ease. Truly a noir in its post-war displacement, but a romantic and sweet picture about warm social camaraderie all the same, a balance that cannot be easy to pull off but is made to look effortlessly here.

The Live By Night: Nicholas Ray may dominate in the next decade, but this debut is one of his best efforts that reveals its maturity more every revisit. Cathy O'Donnell and Farley Granger are both perfect as shy, young star-crossed lovers, breathing a light of innocence into the overwhelmingly dark and corrupt world. This is a film all about fatalism and two kind people in love trying to bide some time and fight their destinies. Their actions waver between resilience and participation, and Ray exposes a flexible version of right and wrong with inevitable consequences. To paraphrase the words of Will Munny, the word “deserve” has not nothing to do with what happens here, it’s the way the world turns.

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Re: The 1940s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#331 Post by Randall Maysin » Fri Aug 23, 2019 1:48 pm

Has James Mason ever turned in a performance that was lazy or less than fresh, enjoyable, and dedicated? If so I've never seen or even heard about it, except maybe when he was just starting out in the thirties and early forties, and it doesn't sound like too many people care about those films. He's just as good as Olivier, Richardson, or Gielgud, and I like him better than any of those three.

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Re: The 1940s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#332 Post by therewillbeblus » Fri Aug 23, 2019 2:46 pm

Randall Maysin wrote:
Fri Aug 23, 2019 1:48 pm
Has James Mason ever turned in a performance that was lazy or less than fresh, enjoyable, and dedicated? If so I've never seen or even heard about it, except maybe when he was just starting out in the thirties and early forties, and it doesn't sound like too many people care about those films. He's just as good as Olivier, Richardson, or Gielgud, and I like him better than any of those three.
Agreed, Mason is typically great, but he hits a note in Reed’s film that’s special even for him. I think he gets as close as anyone has to depicting man reduced to a state of bare essentials in his fragility. The performance is an even distribution of physical weakness and faint resilience, all while coping with the existential crisis of his moral culpability in the wake of an unintentional act of irreversible harm. Mason is no stranger to complicated characters but this is one of his most naturally stripped down performances I’ve seen, and personifies the desperation marking the film without becoming manipulative or forced.

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Re: The 1940s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#333 Post by swo17 » Fri Aug 23, 2019 3:00 pm

Have you guys seen him in The Upturned Glass? He does some great eye acting in that one

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Re: The 1940s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#334 Post by therewillbeblus » Sat Aug 24, 2019 1:50 am

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Re: The 1940s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#335 Post by Rayon Vert » Sun Aug 25, 2019 12:14 am

Random Harvest (LeRoy 1942). Knives wrote this up recently in the Best Picture list. It’s 1918, Ronald Colman is a shellshock victim from the war who’s lost all memory of who he is, and Greer Garson takes him in under her wing. The film develops cozily from here on until 53 minutes in the plot gets radically turned around by another traumatic happening. The unlikely events are pure narrative fodder for spiked up romantic suspense but the film works and definitely gets better and better as it goes. Despite the sentiment, it also strongly brings home how memory defines a person. (Strange story bit there where Colman’s teenage near-niece gets the hots for him! Not the kind of thing that would go over today.) Garson really emotes, and shines as usual. As Oliver Stone would say, good corn.

And that’s the 8th out of 9 LeRoys I’ve seen that’s a keeper – good batting average. (Or maybe I’m just seeing all the good ones!)


The Pirate (Minnelli 1948). This film seems to rank highly on this forum but I’m afraid I’ll have to be a dissenting voice here, at least in terms of the superlatives that have been thrown at it in this thread (i.e. best musical of the 40s). Twbb describes how this is really pitched as a very broad comedy, and it’s definitely that, almost a farce a lot of the time, and partially because it’s mostly played on that level, and partially because it just struck me as predictable and unfunny most of the time, it didn’t really work for me. Meanwhile visually yes the film is colorful but not that great-looking in terms of sets (definitely not much different than Yolanda, which uses the same art design team) – although the camera work is creative and really engages as an integral part of the musical numbers. The songs were more memorable than not, but the performances not always impressive (Mack the Black being one of the exceptions early on).

This general impression lasted until the last 20 minutes, though, because then, for whatever combination of scripting and quality of musical performances, the whole thing just lifted several levels, even leaving me with a smile on my face in that last shot. I really thought that Kelly, both as actor and (extremely athletic) dancer, dazzled in those last parts. So kind of a bipolar experience for me. (The fact that the DVD featurette starts by describing how the film has divided critics and audiences, and that it only warrants a 7.0 on IMDB, is some kind of consolation about my sanity and that I’m not completely alone in being less than completely in love with this one!)


The Three Musketeers (Sidney 1948). Gene Kelly went straight from The Pirate to playing another swashbuckling role here, this time non-musical. The way he romantically pounces on June Allyson is eerily similar to what he did with Judy Garland in the preceding film. His athleticism makes him a good candidate for this type of role, and he shows it in a pretty good extended sword fight scene early in the film. The first half-hour or so threatens some amount of middling fun, but then that dissipates and just becomes this absolutely bland, style-less MGM Technicolor studio slop. An impressive cast, including also Lana Turner, Van Heflin, Angela Lansbury and Vincent Price as Richelieu, are just absolutely wasted – everybody, including Kelly, is lost in this dull snoozefest.


The Captive Heart (Dearden 1946).
Superficially kind of an early Stalag 17 but definitely feeling more grounded in the historical context as we follow British soldiers made prisoners in 1940 after the evacuation of Dunkirk. The different angle here is that the story strongly focuses on the prisoners’ romantic attachments at home, and the impact of the war separation – that, and Michael Redgrave playing a Czech concentration camp escapee who’s trying to prevent being detected by the Germans. There is a slight documentary feel at times, especially early on, in the way the story is related that occasionally takes out of it just a little bit, but the film really builds on the strength of the characters and stories depicted, both between the prisoners and their absent spouses, and between themselves. It really also brings home the feeling of being locked outside of life for all those years not knowing when it will end. This was quite beautifully directed and I just enjoyed it quite tremendously – a really good film.

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Re: The 1940s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#336 Post by therewillbeblus » Sun Aug 25, 2019 2:22 am

Rayon Vert wrote:
Sun Aug 25, 2019 12:14 am
The Pirate (Minnelli 1948). This film seems to rank highly on this forum but I’m afraid I’ll have to be a dissenting voice here, at least in terms of the superlatives that have been thrown at it in this thread (i.e. best musical of the 40s). Twbb describes how this is really pitched as a very broad comedy, and it’s definitely that, almost a farce a lot of the time, and partially because it’s mostly played on that level, and partially because it just struck me as predictable and unfunny most of the time, it didn’t really work for me.
I have to admit that after sitting with the film I’ve been feeling more ambivalent about it. I still think it’s spottily funny, particularly in the first half, but it now mostly sits in my memory as rather lackluster for the genre especially after going on a bit of a musical kick since and seeing more exciting numbers, lively performances, complex interpersonal and existential dynamics (though nothing can even hold a candle to My Sister Eileen in this area), and even better bits of humor too. I’m curious to see how it’ll hold up on a revisit when we get to the musical redux project in like two years but for now even Kelly’s ostentatious perf can’t get it on my list.

On the other hand, I find my affection towards On the Town only growing, and after rewatching many of my favorite musicals again this could be my favorite depending on the day. I’m going to watch it once more before lists are due but will be stunned if it doesn’t crack the top 10.

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Re: The 1940s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#337 Post by therewillbeblus » Sun Aug 25, 2019 9:22 pm

The Archers will probably have the most films on my list this decade. I don’t have too much to say on all of them, but these six will probably feature well:

A Matter of Life and Death: A fairytale love story where time literally stops, fate is reversed, heavenly creatures make mistakes, and other characters on earth and in heaven stop everything to focus on the love at the center of the story. It’s a fun (and strangely light for the amount of death it handles) metaphorical use of narrative for the power of true love, a feeling from an alternate dimension that renders all other aspects of life meaningless. The Archers demonstrate here that they are among the best at capturing a positive attitude in its simplicity through technique and mise en scène that are extravagant and complex.

I Know Where I’m Going!: Another film that plays like a fairytale though this time rooted in reality. Moments like when Joan is smoking a cigarette while looking at the moonlight out the window are meditative in the way they infuse serenity into banality. This work packs so much detail into such a small scale setting. Pamela Brown’s independence and self-actualization ambushes every frame she’s in, stemming from her initial entrance with the dogs, and represents the freedom Joan wants that she’s been trying to achieve through the ‘wrong’ materialistic avenues. The whole curse subplot that leads to a happy ending doesn’t completely work for me, but it doesn’t matter much because by that point the film itself is magical enough to accept anything P&P throw at the screen.

A Canterbury Tale: One of their best films yet one of the most difficult to describe what makes it work so well. The script is perfect, off and running from the first shot, and takes us on an adventure that’s as real as it is magical, with good natured people and the external mystery element provides a comfortable and exciting path to the internal adventure and subsequent discovery each character makes with the aid of the others, solicited or unsolicited. There’s a middle setpiece where the children of the town engage in an extensive game of war with some adult participation from Bob that always makes me smile in its playfulness, innocence, and overall positivity. A lot has been said about the ending, which is great - especially the pan up to the chapel ceiling, but for me this is the scene that first allows this film to achieve its greatness. The Archers are never afraid to halt the drama of their worlds to practice mindfulness, giving space to a beautiful moment and allowing it to extend for as long as necessary, venturing into sentimentality with enough invisible restraint to stop their work from becoming cliche. For them, the world seems to stop for these moments and film is the way to capture their power.

Black Narcissus: A bold examination of the psychological and sociological effects that occur when a social group is uprooted and placed in a new context. The clashing of cultures produces a breakdown of confidence in what one uses to know as true or real, as if religion and cultural practices are hinged on one’s environment and not god as a higher power. That this extends to sexual drives and the suppression of human desire within a nun convent is especially telling. I love how this film descends into straight horror in the final act, and Kathleen Byron runs away with the movie, deteriorated psyche and all. The irony is that her character is arguably the most relatable in her more independent, skeptical and questioning mindset who struggles to give into physiological urges like most of us. (This bursting need for independence is naturally relatable in our time, but was significant in ‘47, as women were displaced from their participation in the workforce and back into the gender-defined roles of the homemaker following the return of soldiers in WWII).

The film seems to be making some kind of controversial statement that those who feel troubled and question ideological institutions are doomed without a space to place their value and “feel important” as the head nun says at the beginning. Or perhaps their dysregulation comes from the presence of these institutions as socially normative, ostracizing oneself as “the other” for experiencing normal human drives. The gorgeous technicolor hides the darker themes well, making this an even more difficult film to define with genre terminology. The use of red in the last third, revolving around Sister Ruth, from sunsets, to the blush on her face, her red dress, and literally seeing red when her sexual advances, and perceived self-actualization, are rejected, is the brightest color emerging from a grey palette, and unleashes a crescendo of intensity in its synergistic movement with the mood it signifies.

The Red Shoes: Similar to Black Narcissus, this is a complex story under the guise of beautiful technicolor, but also uses setting to further juxtapose its themes. Instead of a nunnery as a space that proclaims comfort in chastity under which to examine brewing sexual and romantic needs, the ballet studio serves as an open space providing opportunities to practice the ultimate art expressing freedom: dance, on the surface, and beneath a construction of complicated variables that control such freedom. The conflicts here come not from institutions as repressive of the individual, but of individuals repressing and supporting other individuals through ego functions, and within spaces that at first appear to serve as mirages of ideas under positions of power, but are revealed to be true expressions of real ideas. This film dangerously risks cynicism via socially systemic oppression and the tearing of the self between two loves, but this would be too derivative and dissonant to the Archers’ beliefs and interests. Instead we get to spend so much time lingering on the processes of building passion and broadcasting the culmination of self-discipline and persistence with authentic interest and optimism. That this is all done on the most lovely sets, in a milieu of innocent artistic expression, and with the boldest and kindest colors on celluloid, only emphasizes the love and devotion to the process of artistic creation.

The fatalism present in this specific tale is more unsettling than most noirs, as it exists not despite but because of the individual’s determined action, and amplifies to the most dire of consequences as a result of exerting one’s will and realising artistic goals. The decision to lay oneself bare in total vulnerability is always the riskiest existential choice, and by rewarding this authentic drive with death is either the most poisonous conclusion to a story deceptively about hope, or a fatalistic metaphor for the lengths one is willing, and must, go to achieve authenticity to the self. This is somewhat of a fairytale as well, with the story of the red shoes as a backdrop for what’s occurring on screen, and culminating in death by resilience to one love for another, destruction of a person torn between two passionately opposing loves as needs. I think all of the people in this film are good, their intentions pure to their perspectives, and actions the products of passion run riot: a complex idea not wholly condemned or praised. When spirituality, artistic expression, and human nature coincide, not all ends well, but the complexity of characterizations and plot mechanisms don’t necessitate cynicism, and this stands as a work of art that dares to hold seemingly opposing ideas together: traditionally negative fatalism in death and positive expressions of optimism in self-actualization. P&P seem to be promoting the idea that when one is bursting with so much energetic intensity and commitment to multiple loves, perhaps they are too spectacular for, and unable to be contained in, this world.

Two scenes and a performance to note in favor of this more optimistic reading: First, Anton Walbrook’s performance. This could be the archetypal controlling-man-in-power-as-abuser, but the Archers direct Walbrook and their camera on his face to reflect a clear inner conflict on his disposition, even in the most damning of scenes. This is not a bad man, and if he is a catalyst for harm, well he surely is a human one who believes he is doing what’s right. He acts on passion like every other person in his film, flawed like all humans but not devious. The scenes: First the mid-film dance sequence (an obvious choice), and a twilight carriage ride where fatalism is discussed and we get shot that captures the moonlight reflecting off of the sea. These scenes are too alive with vitality and tranquility, both during scenes that contain either spoken words or visual expressions and symbols of the dark places this story will go, for this to be a pessimistic film. The Archers create a flexible space where our minds are in conflict with complicated philosophies, and yet our emotional senses are provoked to their extreme limits by the allure on screen. Their own philosophy seems to be that if we’re going to use art to explore this complex and potentially scarring terrain of existential meaning, we may as well do so in the safety of ultimate stimulation, using all the possibilities of cinematic language to present this meaning through excessive beauty, which may in itself be as close as anyone has gotten to authentically explain the meaning of life.

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp: Any words I use will likely fail to capture the power this film holds for me. I’ve described this previously as an upbeat Citizen Kane, but its only relationship to that film is in the nostalgic flashbacks, dictating a series of moments that define a man’s life. As opposed to Kane, this film does a far better job at detailing how a man is formed, leaving less mystery and honing in on the many aspects that help shape a person. Ideologies of honor and respect for one’s country, profession, and those external systems are identifiable as significant, but more than these specifics are a deeply authentic appreciation for one’s fellow man. This film deserves to be called ‘humanist,’ as it professes with all the energy a film can muster that all people have dignity and worth, and that this is the most important truth we can hold onto in this world.

The despair of this story comes not from a man self-sabotaging or succumbing to his character defects, but from deaths of loved ones and disconnect between men through systemic barriers such as nationalism and war; all natural losses that come with the territory of existing and socially participating in life. The only actual pessimism emanates from the generational shift to a place where this humanism isn’t prioritized any longer in Candy’s eyes, though the film argues that perhaps it’s just a new map to be accessed with different tools. Candy must sit with this longing for the familiar and disconnect to the present as his mastery and understanding of the rules fade. However, the film is far from cynical and the final moments validate this existential crisis as normal to the stages of life, while providing hope that the new generation will find their own path toward discovering and embracing moral values in humanism, specific to their own concept of the world.

The Archers use everything they can reach for to tell the story of one man’s life that resembles every man’s life. Playfulness, taunting through practical jokes, flaunting one’s ego, fighting for causes, fighting for oneself, fighting for another, romances, death, coping with death, making friends, keeping friends, losing friends, changing the way one views friendship, facing generational change and conflict, doubting oneself, accruing external representations of growth, experiencing internal moments of growth, finding acceptance in what one can control, what one can’t, and who one ‘is,’ and then not accepting these things before accepting them again with fresh eyes. The use of technicolor, pacing, music (and lack of music during some of the most powerful scenes), and subtle camera pans, zooms, and gentle, romantic still concentrations help to create a colorful presentation of an epic narrative through scattered pockets of chronological moments that make a life. The film contains moods of melancholy, after all it is a film about life itself, but the Archers’ sheer optimism helps propel this story into more than an exceptional biography. It’s an idea that is designed to pierce the soul of any person who watches with an open mind and heart, presenting universal and timeless understandings of humanism, existentialism, and emotional intelligence coexisting to create a harmonious meaning of our journeys.

The Archers seem to argue that this meaning is only complete when found in our collective interactions and participation in life, as opposed to the individual creating this meaning alone. It’s a lovely belief, one that I’ll gladly share for three hours with the Archers and their company, and one that I’ve come to believe in myself slowly over time. Citizen Kane, while still a great film, served a different purpose for me once, as a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts to match my youthful cynicism. In a strange way, Blimp has now replaced that film with a more optimistic self-fulfilling prophecy, a shift that reinforces the power of film to evoke our own emotional states and to symbiotically discover meaning in our lives through empathetic participation with the silver screen, a relationship that provides a platform to comprehend subjective importance for the self in art; an invaluable process triggered by an invaluable film.

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Re: The 1940s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#338 Post by swo17 » Sun Aug 25, 2019 10:00 pm

"I don't have too much to say" he says :wink:

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Re: The 1940s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#339 Post by therewillbeblus » Sun Aug 25, 2019 11:08 pm

I don’t have too much to say on all of them
I only said too much on about three! :wink:

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Re: The 1940s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#340 Post by swo17 » Sun Aug 25, 2019 11:37 pm

It's never too much

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Re: The 1940s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#341 Post by therewillbeblus » Mon Aug 26, 2019 2:09 am

That’s how I feel whenever I see Charles Coburn appear in a movie, which feels like every movie this decade.

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Re: The 1940s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#342 Post by swo17 » Mon Aug 26, 2019 10:10 am

To both I say the more the merrier

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Re: The 1940s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#343 Post by domino harvey » Mon Aug 26, 2019 10:29 am

swo17 wrote:
Mon Aug 26, 2019 10:10 am
To both I say the more the merrier
Image

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Re: The 1940s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#344 Post by Black Hat » Tue Aug 27, 2019 12:00 pm

Speaking of P & P I watched The Small Back Room on the big screen last night for the first time and what a departure this is from the rest of what I've seen from the duo (most of everything post ToB). It retains their usual Britishness, but it feels more Hitchcockian and the piece of suspense in this film is executed brilliantly. I'd say it's a character study on the impact of trauma & addiction has on the psyche, but there's smatterings of upper/political class mockery that's reminiscent to Blimp, the woman from Black Narcissus whose names escapes me adds heart along with style and you even have noir elements, humor — a couple of absolutely great throw away lines that you'll miss if not paying attention — jazz and a winking femme who is never quite fatale, but close enough. I'm not sure if it'll make my list, I'll have to take a look at the whole thing, but this was entertaining and a picture I look fwd to learning more about (to the Powell biography I go) and revisiting at some later date.

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Re: The 1940s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#345 Post by knives » Tue Aug 27, 2019 12:17 pm

If you liked this one, which is probably my favorite, you should also check out their earlier effort The Spy in Black which is a mournful look at being a displaced person disguised as a wartime spy potboiler.

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Re: The 1940s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#346 Post by Rayon Vert » Tue Aug 27, 2019 12:46 pm

Yeah as noted earlier I really enjoyed The Small Back Room too on the revisit, appreciating its weirdness a lot more this time out, even though it’ll just fall short of my list.

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Re: The 1940s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#347 Post by Black Hat » Tue Aug 27, 2019 1:30 pm

knives wrote:
Tue Aug 27, 2019 12:17 pm
If you liked this one, which is probably my favorite, you should also check out their earlier effort The Spy in Black which is a mournful look at being a displaced person disguised as a wartime spy potboiler.
I have seen this! Good movie, that's not predictable like so many of the other spy movies of this era and has a surprising amount of suspense despite the characters being kinda hard to root for. It's like what I thought Night Train to Munich would be (especially since I loved The Third Man and had seen that first), but unfortunately wasn't. Munich's shockingly bad actually.

Another good 40s spy film is This Land is Mine... Laughton has less of a I want to punch this guy in the face vibe than he usually does, how many Monty Python characters do you think he was the inspiration of? Maureen O'Hara is almost always good, if not dazzling and like any Renoir it present a lot of moral complexities it doesn't necessarily answer the way you wished it would, in other words he presents life as defined by the human condition.

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Re: The 1940s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#348 Post by therewillbeblus » Tue Aug 27, 2019 3:45 pm

I’ll have to watch The Small Back Room again, as its been years since I’ve seen it, but I do remember it as a grim and realistic depiction of alcoholism and self-destruction that unintentionally manifests as external destruction taking hostages in other people. The Spy in Black is an absolutely wonderful claustrophobic spy-suspense adventure praying on the audience’s psychologies with complex surrogate identification and allegiance by humanizing the ‘enemy’ and transforming socially normative empathetic patterns that clash with rigid nationalism. I’d vote for it if it qualified for this decade.

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Re: The 1940s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#349 Post by therewillbeblus » Wed Aug 28, 2019 8:21 pm

More noirs (mostly first viewings):

Impact: I’ll echo the praise from domino and Rayon Vert on this rather long and enticing noir. The build is methodically on point, with the pacing and multi-structured design drawing one in and eliminating any bumps that might make one feel its length. The simple camera movements, especially the straightforward zooms, make the best use of an unexceptional tool that kept me captivated in attention to small details. The meandering middle small-town scenes felt full of life and were a fresh breath of ‘hangout’ vibe taking the time to get to know these people that many noirs would sideline for visually striking action. The last act was peculiar in how the film could have ended sooner, and more tightly, but was drawn out by meditating on the consequences from the femme fatale’s manipulations through standard courtroom and detective processes a bit more banal than usual. However, surprisingly the banality made the narrative choice more effective and fit with the spacious climate and doses of reality established already in the small-town scenes.

Apology for Murder: This film was laughably familiar, until I realized it was created through deliberate emulation, riding off the success of Double Indemnity. While I can’t profess that this film is objectively better regarding technical merits, acting, direction, or script, I’ll come out and say that I preferred it on a personal level. It was nice to avoid MacMurray, but mostly this is a plot that feels more suited for a lower budget and a shorter runtime. At just over an hour, this is the perfect length for this story, and it still manages to fit in all the main beats of the original without drawing out the sensuality and unnecessarily long-winded detective work in that film. Sure it misses out on some of the best set-ups by proxy of being so lean, but this film made me appreciate the potential power of a simple story given limited structure, and sometimes trimming the fat is more significant than containing an extra flourish or two at the expense of narrative bloating.

Canon City: I really don’t like these docudrama noirs, be they police or prison or whatever institutional perspective you want to use to woo me. This fared better than the rest, solely for the well-shot scenes of absolute brutality citizens exert on the escapees who’ve come into their homes. There is some jarring violence, at times questionable on who is the initiator. The film is still mostly manipulative propaganda, but it’s worth seeing for those ‘home-invasion’ scenes today in a less conservative context.

Moss Rose: A female centered period noir where the main character is like a femme fatale as lead. Though she manipulates her way into success, she is not the catalyst of murder, thereby splitting the role’s standard characteristics to assignment amongst various characters, and there enlies the mystery, and originality, of this genre entry. Psychosexual politics show themselves in scenes with no clear protagonist and are quite assaultive in defying conventional genre signs. The need of Peggy Cummins to be validated and important could resemble the postwar dissociative state of women losing independence after soldiers returned from WWII, a unique twist on the emasculation via powerlessness of obtaining control and finding meaning for the postwar male in most noirs.

Night Has a Thousand Eyes: Talk about powerlessness! The supernatural premise feels bred from an episode of The Outer Limits or The Twilight Zone but with the kick of being an indisputable noir, and a dark one at that. With an emphasis on the state of absolute impotence superpowers without the ‘powers’ leaves a man, despite its fantastical elements this story feels rooted in reality, representative of how even with abilities the postwar male is lost. Robinson, always excellent, has a unique role with many opportunities to demonstrate the various shades of desperation and resilience the noir character affords. Oh and as a bonus straight out of left field, the terrific William Demarest graces us with his presence as a police lieutenant who is kind in his curtness, as one would and could only expect from him. One of the better noir discoveries this year, with the benefit of more mystery in where the story is headed due to its mystical plot elements begetting some narrative freedom. While the entire film is about fatalism, the ending is the most poignant use of the theme in any noir I’ve seen, with extra points for a solid minute of silent meditation on this idea before the fade to black, leaving the audience in complete discomfort and eliciting a shade of powerlessness of their own.

Riff-Raff: This was a revisit but it still stands as a remarkable, underappreciated noir. Hammer is quite atypical as a PI, burly and somewhat passive, which only make the moments where he stresses his power during confrontations all the more intense. Aside from the incredible opening, there are many moments of wordless meandering and scanning around spaces, whether in aimless roaming or meticulous detective work. The directions shifts between suspenseful and laid back moods; close ups of people, their hands, objects, and wide shots de-emphasizing action; stylish techniques and standard camerawork. This film feels both impressively calculated and amateurishly shot on the go. That is not an insult, for this film carries the same breezy vibe as its protagonist’s relationship with the fleeting plot elements, at times not even trying to grasp them as they fly out of reach but cooly admiring and respecting the situation with an increasing level of excitement and investment, containing the action more than we think. This is the incarnation of film as a fun carefree ride.

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Re: The 1940s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#350 Post by domino harvey » Wed Aug 28, 2019 8:29 pm

Those are all great, list-worthy films (well, okay, Apology for Murder is only just pretty good, but I do love that the producers initially tried to release it as Single Indemnity before Paramount’s legal team stepped in), though I enjoyed Canon City way more than you did. Def the best of the Docu-Noirs, and a really brutish and tough film, even by noir/jailbreak pic standards

I thought I’d use Letterboxd to help me narrow down my ballot by looking at the films I gave four and five stars to, but it turns out I already rated well over sixty films five stars alone, so that was no help...

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