I guess I'll have to come out of the gate and say it: the 40s is one of my least favorite cinematic decades. Many people consider it the golden age of Golden Age Hollywood, but that's precisely my problem: Hollywood dominates the cinematic landscape almost completely. Not necessarily a bad decade, except I consider the two surrounding decades much more varied and interesting. There's something too glossy, too elegant, too smooth about the Hollywood cinema this decade. It may be the first decade of film noir
and the rejuvenated Western, but after the Genre Project, it's clear that I prefer the 50s in both cases. Ditto the Musical, which seems to have been made for Technicolor Cinemascope. Except for Lewton, the horror film is in decline. There's plenty of great screwball and romantic comedies, sure, but I'm not sure if they best what we saw in the thirties. And beyond that? If the 30s were the Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy, W.C. Fields, then the 40s were Bob Hope, Red Skelton and Abbott & Costello. Eeek! And while I could put together a pretty strong list just going down my auteur checklist, I think most of my Hollywood favorites don't come into their own until the 50s.
But like I said, its not so much that Hollywood is making poor films in the 40s (that would be ridiculous to say) as the fact that they're left to carry the weight of world cinema. The War seemingly cripples, shuffles and stifles pretty much everything beyond our borders, and it's a loss that's felt. There are some exceptions: British cinema is perhaps at its high-point, and while it's less known to me, Mexican cinema is also at the height of its Golden Age at this point. And here's a dramatic contrast to the vast variety of the 1930s list: while I had many blindspots that decade, I at least knew where most of the blindspots were. In the 40s, I feel like there's more I need to see, but I really don't know what it is that I've missed and overlooked. Certainly, there are some clear blind spots: French cinema is underrated and forgotten by most modern cinephiles this decade, the first half stigmatized by the Occupation, the second half stigmatized as cinéma de papa
. This goes double for the cinema of the Third Reich, which nonetheless still managed to make a few great films (one of which is a shoo-in for my top 10). Italian Neorealism? I'm not as enamored with the movement as everyone else, and I'm a bigger fan of what it lead to, but even if we try to move past the famed Rossellini/Visconti/De Sica trifecta, what do we have? Only Bitter Rice
seem to have much of a reputation. And lord knows where to begin looking at the non-Neorealist films of the period. Russian cinema? We pretty much have Ivan the Terrible
, and a handful of Dovzhenkos and Barnets. Japanese cinema? It's problem has already been outlined. China has Spring in a Small Town
, but the rest seems to be even less available and acclaimed than the scant remnants of the thirties. Spain? Portugal? Eastern Europe? Scandanavia? I've heard a few recommendations here and there (Tower of the Seven Hunchbacks
, Aniki Bóbo
, Distant Journey
, The Way You Wanted Me
), but otherwise it's a big question mark.
In fact, it's for this reason I'm looking forward to this decade's project: there has to be more that I need to see. And if he's not still suffering from sour grapes, I really hope lubitsch continues his "primers" on the decade's world cinema.
Spotlight #1: They Made Me a Fugitive (Alberto Cavalcanti, 1947)
If you participated in the Noir project you already heard an earful. But since none of you mugs voted for it, it's payback time, and now you have no excuse to miss the hard-boiled masterpiece of British film noir. This isn't just possibly the greatest British film of the decade, it's a strong contender for my #1 film of the 40s.
If you've seen the film and need convincing, I have this behemoth of a write-up ready
, but for a more concise summation:
from the Noir Project wrote:I've said all I have to say about They Made Me a Fugitive, but despite being something of a ringer on my "strictly American" list, it captures something at the essence of film noir probably greater than any of its American counterparts: an ability to navigate the trauma and anxiety of a post-war society, but doing so completely behind the auspices of a pulp thriller. Call it showing-not-telling or Termite Art or what will you, but the movie seems to capture the zeitgeist without ever showing its hand: examining the psychic aftermath of WWII, sublimating post-traumatic stress and the shock of demobilization into a revenge thriller among gangsters and thieves.
And that's without mentioning Cavalcanti's morbid and perverse stylization, which links this film with Dead of Night
as much as its "spiv film" contemporaries; Trevor Howard's brilliant performance, which has its share of unsettling parallels with what we know about the real-life Howard; Otto Heller's cinematography, which makes the film look like noir
heaven (or hell, depending on how you look at it); the crackerjack script, with dialogue that would have made Sweet Smell of Success
-era Clifford Odets red with envy.
It's on DVD from Kino (2003) and Odeon (2008). The screencaps make it look like the Odeon may come from a superior transfer, although I've been unable to verify this. Unfortunately, no one seems to have made use of the Film Foundation restoration that was toured last year. If Kino had any sense, they'd push this as a "lost noir masterpiece", dress it up as a prestige film, and put it out on Blu-Ray ASAP.