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Ringside Report Looks Back at 1940s Films


By Geoffrey Huchel

The 1940s certainly had its share of achievements in film; Technicolor became more prominent following the success of GONE WITH THE WIND and THE WIZARD OF OZ.; hundreds of feature length films were produced; Humphrey Bogart made his most memorable films in this decade (see below); and Alfred Hitchcock made his American debut with the horror film REBECCA. The genre most distinctive of the decade was film noir.

Film noir is film marked by a mood of cynicism, fatalism, and peril. The term was originally applied to American thriller or detective films. Notable film noirs of the decade include MILDRED PIERCE (1945), with Joan Crawford in her Oscar winning role, THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE (1946) with Lana Turner, and WHITE HEAT (1949) with James Cagney. 1942 breathed new life into the horror genre. CAT PEOPLE (1942), with Simone Simon and Tim Conway, and THE WOLF MAN (1941), with Lon Chaney, JR. and Claude Rains, were two notable films of that genre. Disney released some its most timeless classics- PINNOCHIO (1940), FANTASIA (1940 and DUMBO (1942).

This decade in film is by far my favorite. With the slew of popular titles that were released throughout the decade, it was really difficult for me to choose which to highlight. After careful consideration, the following made the cut, while others may be mentioned in a future piece.

THE PHILADELPHIA STORY (1940) Running Time: 1 hr 52 mins
Directed by George Cukor
With: Cary Grant
Katharine Hepburn
Plot: When a rich woman’s ex-husband and a tabloid reporter turn up just before her planned remarriage, she begins to learn the truth about herself.
Fun Fact: Winner of 2 Oscars at the 1941 Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Leading role and Best Writing, Screenplay

REBECCA (1940) Running Time: 2 hrs 10 mins
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
With: Laurence Olivier
Joan Fontaine
Plot: A self-conscious bride is tormented by the memory of her husband’s dead first wife.
Fun Fact: Winner of 2 Oscars at the 1941 Academy Awards for Best Picture
and Best Cinematography.

CITIZEN KANE (1941) Running Time 1 hr 59 mins
Directed by: Orson Welles
With: Orson Welles
Joseph Cotten
Agnes Moorehead
Ruth Warrick
Plot: Following the death of a publishing tycoon, news reporters scramble to discover the meaning of his final utterance.
Fun Facts: Won the Oscar for Best Writing, Original Screenplay at the 1942 Academy Awards. It’s considered by many critics, filmmakers and fans to be the greatest film of all time.

THE MALTESE FALCON (1941) Running Time: 1 hr 40 mins
Directed by: John Huston
With: Humphrey Bogart
Mary Astor
Plot: A private detective takes on a case that involves him with three eccentric criminals, a gorgeous liar and their quest for a priceless statuette.
Fun Fact: Was nominated for 3 Oscars at the 1942 Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Actor in a Supporting Role and Best Writing, Screenplay.
Described as one of the best examples of actionful and suspenseful melodramatic story telling in cinematic form.

CASABLANCA (1942) Running Time: 1 hr 42 mins
Directed By: Michael Curtiz
With: Humphrey Bogart
Ingrid Bergman
Paul Henreid
Claude Rains
Plot: A cynical nightclub owner protects an old flame and her husband from Nazis in Morocco.
Fun Facts: Won 3 Oscars at the 1944 Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Writing, Screenplay. Its lead characters and memorable lines have become iconic and the film ranks near the top of lists of the greatest films in history.

MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (1944) Running Time:1 hr 53 mins
Directed by: Vincent Minnelli
With: Judy Garland
Margaret O’Brien
Mary Astor
Lucille Bremer

Plot: In the year leading up to the 1904 World’s Fair, the four Smith daughters learn lessons on life and love, even as they prepare for a reluctant move to New York.
Fun Facts: Was ranked 10th on American Film Institute’s Greatest Movie Musicals. Margaret O’Brien received an Academy Juvenile Award for her work.

Directed by: John Huston
With: Humphrey Bogart
Walter Huston
Plot: Fred Dobbs and Bob Curtin, two Americans searching for work in Mexico, convince an old prospector to help them mine for gold in the Sierra Madre Mountains.
Fun Facts: Won 3 Oscars at the 1949 Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Best Director and Best Writing, Screenplay.

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