1940s List Discussion and Suggestions (Lists Project Vol. 3)

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

#526 Post by Michael Kerpan » Wed Jan 25, 2012 11:36 am

Considering that Hideko the Bus Conductor (no need to use an awkward-sounding feminine form, especially since this is not required by the original Japanese title) was made during an era of strict government censorship, the bitter irony is all the more remarkable.

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matrixschmatrix
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#527 Post by matrixschmatrix » Fri Jan 27, 2012 2:45 am

I've just finished They Made Me a Fugitive and my God, what a pitch dark movie that is.

There are elements of it that are unpleasantly sadistic- Narcy's behavior throughout is as one-dimensionally nasty as the Nazis in Went the Day Well?, and it's as difficult to believe that anyone would be loyal to him. The abuse and threatened abuse of women, too, was difficult to watch- it felt a bit like parts of Dirty Harry, where it was pulling out the stops to rouse the audiences hatred of the villain.

Outside of that, though, it was a nicely nuanced piece, feeling a bit like a couple of different Carol Reed movies- a touch of The Third Man in its examination of the scummy amorality of postwar black marketeers, a bit like Odd Man Out in its examination of how different people react to an encounter with a fugitive, and occasional Dutch angles or extreme and disorienting shots that felt like most of the Reeds I've seen of the period. I particularly liked the older woman who was part of the gang, who reminded me a bit of Thelma Ritter in Pickup on South Street- not a bad person, but someone whose living was mired in nastiness- and the sequence with
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the woman who wanted her husband killed- I don't know if it was intentional, but I saw it as something of an inversion of the scene with the Scotsman and his wife in The 39 Steps, both in the woman's relationship to her husband and her motives for kindness to a ragged stranger.

And of course, the ending is a dark and probably more accurate reversal of nearly every wrong man or framing story in the movies. Narcy is a nasty little twit to the end, and while it's not hard to imagine that Trevor Howard could mount a successful appeal based on what had happened, that's clearly not where the movie is leading you- it's an unforgiving world, and there's no guiding hand of Providence in it to free an innocent man. It feels like every noir should end that way, though it feels like not many do.
Picking Trevor Howard for the lead is pretty brilliant casting, particularly in the light of his ultra-refined character from Brief Encounter. Seeing him bearded, angry, and feral is a shock, and it forces one out of the safe world of the movies as much as Went the Day Well?'s turns do. To some degree, it felt like Straw Dogs was waiting around the corners, waiting to take over.

I'm going to have to think about They Made Me a Fugitive more- it's an expertly well made movie, incontrovertibly. but I'm not sure that it has the power that something like La Silence de la Mer or Ivan the Terrible does for me. It's dark, and it's got a power to it, but I'm not sure that it has that much to say to me.

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Cold Bishop
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#528 Post by Cold Bishop » Fri Jan 27, 2012 2:58 am

Well, if you want something to help you mull it over.... :)

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matrixschmatrix
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#529 Post by matrixschmatrix » Fri Jan 27, 2012 5:51 pm

Good Lord, that's an impressive write up- it's so exhaustive it's difficult to think of anything further to say. I'm curious, though, how it ranks against some of the other major noirs for you- where did it fall on your list? How does it stack up against something like Out of the Past or Double Indemnity in your eyes?

Having let it settle in a bit, it feels like a movie that will likely make my list, but not the upper reaches- I just feel like it lacks some element of greatness, for me.

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Cold Bishop
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#530 Post by Cold Bishop » Fri Jan 27, 2012 6:23 pm

I've said it before, but I'm not crazy about Out of the Past: I like the film, I definitely see it's appeal, and it certainly deserves some of its distinction as the "ultimate" film noir in the manner it manages to compend so many elements of the genre, but it doesn't inspire passion in me, and that's important. Double Indemnity is much of the same: it's a fine film, but every time I watch it, it's a little less great than I remember it being.

As far as film noirs likely to make my list (and now having done the Noir project, I feel less compelled to vote for as many as I would have prior): The Seventh Victim, for its pitch-black poetry and genre-defying weirdness; The Chase for its narrative inventiveness, and its mix of twisted surrealism and unabashed romance. Pitfall, for it's examination of the city/suburbs divide, and the way De Toth weaves humanist sympathy into his utterly cynical web-of-doom. The Reckless Moment, for the way Ophuls fluid camera carves a quiet noir tragedy from a delicate melodrama. The Lady from Shanghai for it's unshakeable dream-like atmosphere. And, if one doesn't ultimately get pushed off, three Anthony Mann noirs: T-Men, Border Incident and Reign of Terror (I'm sorry to say that Raw Deal does suffer in comparison to ...Fugitive.)

And I'm still digging through many different foreign noirs.
Last edited by Cold Bishop on Sat Jan 28, 2012 8:14 am, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#531 Post by swo17 » Fri Jan 27, 2012 6:26 pm

matrixschmatrix wrote:I'm going to have to think about They Made Me a Fugitive more- it's an expertly well made movie, incontrovertibly. but I'm not sure that it has the power that something like La Silence de la Mer or Ivan the Terrible does for me. It's dark, and it's got a power to it, but I'm not sure that it has that much to say to me.
I think the "something more" with Fugitive is the state of the world that it suggests just after the war, one that allows a veteran like Howard's character to get into the mess that he does, and one that celebrates a pig like Narcy by allowing him success. Most crucial to this reading I think is the scene you mentioned above (the first encounter of the fugitive with a civilian stranger) which shows just how far-reaching the decay of society has been.

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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#532 Post by matrixschmatrix » Fri Jan 27, 2012 6:39 pm

I think the impact of the war is something Cold Bishop's writeup highlighted well, and it works well for darkening Howard's character- I hadn't thought about him much past the surface level good-man-in-a-bad-position that echoes so many Hitchcock movies (and most of his nastier acts, like forcing Sally to give him aid, fit with the actions of a lot of Hitchcock heroes, though it seems darker here) but I think there's a lot to argue that he's a specific product of postwar anomie: the dissolution with which he enters the movie, the ease with which he fits into a world of amorality, and the lack of any real feeling about much of anything (he seems only mildly emotionally invested even in proving his own innocence or enacting his own revenge, staying nasty and distanced towards nearly everyone) all point to a man whose convictions about right and wrong have been destroyed before the movie begins.

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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#533 Post by knives » Sat Jan 28, 2012 4:52 am

I think of everything I'm most amused at how different my reaction to Fugitive is to the above discussion. While I would never accuse it of being an optimistic film I found Calvacanti's camera to show a great deal of compassion even as he was trying to hide it through the script and special stylization of the performances. In this sense I was greatly reminded of Kaurismki and a lot of my feelings for his films are identically placed on this film.

Even Narcy, the clear villain, despite all of his horribleness (and he is a monster) is kept within reality and lent the sympathy of sense. His sense of the world and the morals that follow are perverse and wrong-headed, but the film makes sure to highlight his thought process in a way that feeds back to how the war's warped us all. I was reminded a bit of Scarface with him and I imagine the story told from his point of view would play even more powerfully to that. Course the film only has 100 minutes and can't map out everybody so to Trevor we stick.

Of course all this could just be excuse making on my part for laughing and grinning throughout the whole experience, but the scene with the 'helpful' woman, which really is the summary of the whole film, leads me to feel that I'm at least partially right. The scene is a masterwork of economy with just two or three small shots this entire woman and her entire home life is mapped out perfectly and her hard decision doesn't feel like just an other obstacle, but rather an other act of compassion to those that have to go through all the shit life has to offer. It does as good a job as any film I've encountered in loving it's residents while honestly showing the deranged world and lives they live in.

Also was that the Russian from Dr. Strangelove at the party scene about an hour in as that stooge?

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Cold Bishop
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#534 Post by Cold Bishop » Sat Jan 28, 2012 8:07 am

Oh, in all this talk about the film's bleakness, you can't overlook just how sheer entertaining the film is. It really has a masterful screenplay, and, as I mentioned before, it's razor-sharp wit and often grotesque humor almost seems to point to the coming cycle of black Ealing comedies.

And certainly, while the film is as dark as it comes, Cavalcanti is far from being a misanthrope like, say, Clouzot. There's much to like in some of these people, and the film's sympathetic relationship to its female characters is one of its chief virtues.

And that is Peter Bull as Fidgety Phil.

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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#535 Post by swo17 » Sat Jan 28, 2012 12:43 pm

Two masterpieces by Jean Grémillon:

Le ciel est à vous (aka The Sky Is Yours, 1944)
I always find it fascinating to learn that a film was made under German occupation (and apparently some of the song choices in this film are veiled criticisms of the Nazis) though it's easy to see how these went undetected, buried under the A-story of fair-skinned people proving their worth through feats of arbitrarily determined difficulty (in this case, setting records in the field of aviation). However, there is a lot more than just mild anti-imperialist sentiment buried under the surface here--principally, this is a complex exploration of a marriage and the passion necessary to sustain it. Though while the film on the one hand may be read as a celebration of what this married couple accomplish (based on actual events that occurred in the 1930s), it also seems somewhat suspicious of their motivations--note how the respective dreams of the parents and their children are prioritized, or how little difference there really is between being reckless and a genius (i.e. if you set a record or pull off a cool trick in your plane, you are lauded for it; if you crash into the ocean, making orphans of your children, not so much).

Anyway, anything more I might say about this film has already been said better by zedz in this post from several years ago. In addition, the film just recently became readily available with English subs (on Hulu, among other places) so the sky can now finally be yours as well!

Pattes blanches (aka White Shanks, 1949)
Another film with a lot more going on than might be immediately apparent. Indeed, if Grémillon hadn't been called in to direct at the last minute, I wonder if I'd be writing about the film now. But you can't mistake it for one of his own. This is frankly one of his more bizarre films--led by a hunchback and a guy who proudly allows himself to be seen in public wearing knee-high socks--though it's the good kind of slow-burning bizarre that doesn't necessarily occur to you until you've been swallowed up by it. Grémillon adds some really nice, often subtle directorial touches, many of which grant the film the feel of a doomed fairy tale. Again though, I should just let zedz cover this one.

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matrixschmatrix
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#536 Post by matrixschmatrix » Mon Jan 30, 2012 11:52 pm

The Small Back Room

This was sort of a hard movie to get ahold of, for me, for most of its running time- it's a character study, definitely, but the world its showing isn't one you seen in most movies about the war, which is both a strength (I don't think I've seen anything as bitter about the capitalization/infiltration by businessmen of the war effort outside of Catch-22) and a factor that makes it difficult to understand some of the more subtle shadings of character interactions. It's also difficult to figure out the addiction narrative- I'm assuming the pills he's given are opiates, which makes the movie's assumption that they're a weak substitute for drink a little odd, and it seems strange for someone with a drinking problem to have sherry, beer, and port (I think) yet find whiskey over the line. His relationship with Susan was a bit easier to read, but so much was left unsaid that I still found it tricky to keep up.

All that isn't really a criticism of the movie, though- it's subtle, but it has such a specificity to it and a sense of realism that I think that subtlety is fully justified. And of course, the scene with the giant whiskey bottle is anything but subtle, but having such an expressionistic and overblown scene in the middle of a small-by-design arranging matches style movie as this one gives it that much more force. It risks being laughable, something Powell and Pressburger often flirt with, but for me at least it still seems very powerful.
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Obviously, though, the hands-down standout scene of the movie is the bomb defusal. It's something that could feel like a cliché, and is in nearly every other movie where I've seen it done, but here it feels like a perfect microcosm of the the way every smallest tremor threatened the entire war effort- and while we can pretty well assume the lead isn't going to be blown up, the tension is still nearly unbearable. It's easy to believe that Rice would feel like a superman, capable of anything, after such a feat- I feel like one just having watched him.
Is anyone going to vote for this one? I love nearly all the P&P movies, but I feel like I ought not to vote for every single eligible candidate, and this didn't blow me away (har!) with the force of The Red Shoes and Black Narcissus, nor did it make me feel so in love with the world as A Canterbury Tale.

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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#537 Post by knives » Tue Jan 31, 2012 12:10 am

matrixschmatrix wrote:Is anyone going to vote for this one? I love nearly all the P&P movies, but I feel like I ought not to vote for every single eligible candidate, and this didn't blow me away (har!) with the force of The Red Shoes and Black Narcissus, nor did it make me feel so in love with the world as A Canterbury Tale.
My numero uno for them for basically the reasons you mention. It combines all their best qualities from the most varied of their films while managing to be it's own thing.

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Cold Bishop
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#538 Post by Cold Bishop » Tue Jan 31, 2012 1:29 am

Probably won't get a vote from me. Realistically, most of their films are listworthy, but I'm not trying to vote for more than three per director, and, well, The Red Shoes and Colonel Blimp will take up at least two of those slots (I'm not convinced about Black Narcissus, honestly, despite the fact it's usually considered the third of their three 40s masterpieces).

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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#539 Post by matrixschmatrix » Tue Jan 31, 2012 1:35 am

I wonder how dominated the list will be by British movies? I feel as though they've dominated discussion for the past few pages, at least.

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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#540 Post by knives » Tue Jan 31, 2012 1:40 am

I agree on that last bit. It's certainly gorgeous and the last bit as horror film is grand, but the rest leaves something to be desired. It doesn't seem significantly better from a script point of view than those Zoltan Korda films. A Matter of Life and Death though is certainly in consideration for me. It will be tough reducing my total by almost 93% (at this time, probably an even larger number when I do turn my list in).

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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#541 Post by matrixschmatrix » Tue Jan 31, 2012 2:04 am

I really love Black Narcissus, it's tied with Red Shoes for my favorite P&P movie- it's one of the strongest atmospheres of any of their movies, and the sense of restrained emotionalism waiting to explode that it works in is one of the essential qualities of their work, which isn't embodied as well as that anywhere else. The explosion at the end is obviously very satisfying, but I love the whole texture of the movie, the thwarted imperialism and the sense of life and emotionalism blooming even where people are trying to contain it as hard as they can.

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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#542 Post by Cold Bishop » Tue Jan 31, 2012 2:07 am

Well, it was certainly a strong decade for British cinema, but it definitely seems to be dominated by a very small group of auteurs: the Archers, Carol Reed, Alberto Cavalcanti, David Lean, Robert Hamer and Humphrey Jennings chief among them.

While I would never have expected it at the start of the project, I wouldn't be surprised if my list is dominated by French cinema. Digging through the cinema before and after the Occupation has yielded some of the most pleasurable discoveries of this project, and I'm hoping to find the time to do a major overview of the films that I found in the next week or two (and maybe more, if I can find a way to navigate this post-Megaupload world).

One extension is enough, but I'm disappointed that I won't find the time to work through even half of the "must-watch" list I have for French cinema this decade, let alone the supplemental "should-watch" list.

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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#543 Post by knives » Tue Jan 31, 2012 2:15 am

matrixschmatrix wrote:the thwarted imperialism
I feel the way that the film deals with this message (admittedly tongue firmly in cheek) is just as bad as the imperialism that something like the Korda films promote. It's at best isolationist and at worst promoting the destruction of the entire cultural. It treats the Indian people as untamable animals that will only drag the precious white people down with them. The film works beyond that fortunately by largely sidelining the natives in favour of the really compelling repression storyline, but every time Simmons or worse yet Sabu at his most infantile appears on screen it stops the movie cold for me.

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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#544 Post by matrixschmatrix » Tue Jan 31, 2012 2:44 am

I think part of the way I view Black Narcissus is with the assumption that it takes place in an imagined India, and that all the scenery and characters who aren't from the UK are essentially fantasies, not anything with any relationship to a real place. I mean, it was filmed entirely in England- it's not far from being The Mikado in how it approaches exoticism.

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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#545 Post by knives » Tue Jan 31, 2012 2:52 am

Isn't sort of always an imagined India though? I doubt the Kordas ever spent much time over there for instance. Admittedly to some extant their saddled with the material they had, but if their India is intended to be an imagined world with no real world application they should have named it as such, or at least kept things ambiguous, but instead they specifically point out this is 'India' and use it in a horrible fashion to comment on the characters. I do want to make it clear that I'm not attempting to say that it's a bad film or even that it's a particularly racist one. It does carry some racist attitudes though and the strength of the film making (it seriously may be Cardiff's best work) just highlights it all the worse for me.

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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#546 Post by matrixschmatrix » Tue Jan 31, 2012 5:10 am

My Darling Clementine

I'm not entirely sure I get this one- though it has some pretty unpleasant moments (the treatment of the character of Chihuahua was largely pretty unpleasant) it's largely brisk and entertaining, certainly, but it didn't feel like it had the magnitude of The Searchers nor the sheer joy of Stagecoach. Fonda's playing very much the character I expect him to play in a Ford movie, the respectable, soft spoken, gentlemanly hero who is nevertheless more or less invincible, and Doc Halliday seems to have been changed into a combination of a couple of Stagecoach's stock characters- and we lose sight of the Clantons for what feels like about two thirds of the movie. I liked all the parts of this, because I like Ford Westerns, but it didn't feel like a particularly noteworthy Ford Western except in that it's a telling of one of the fundamental Western stories.

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Cold Bishop
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#547 Post by Cold Bishop » Tue Jan 31, 2012 6:17 am

Well, I think Ford's best films this decade were outside the Westerns, but to me it's all about Ford streamlining his approach, vision and style into a masterful economy of expression. Not only is it dealing with one specific fundamental story of the Western (the gunfight at the O.K. Corral), but it's probably the most impressively archetypical summation of the fundamental myth of all Classic Westerns: the instilling of law, order and civilization into the lawless wilderness. I know Stagecoach gets pegged as the "ultimate" Western for its wide reaching impact, but I actually think that if you wanted to give one concise explanation of what the Western was all about, what it strove to represent, its themes, its iconography, its mythic function, then Ford really brought it all together. It's not the greatest Western, probably not even Ford Western - the archetype is rarely the best - but the poetry and poignancy that Ford wrings out of this well-trod story is what makes it essential.

You can read Tag Gallagher's write-up on the film at Google Books.

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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#548 Post by knives » Thu Feb 02, 2012 5:53 pm

After watching like five of his films for this project in a row I feel confidant saying that Gregory Peck is the largest black hole of bore to touch the silver screen until Robert Redford.

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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#549 Post by swo17 » Thu Feb 02, 2012 6:04 pm

Ouch. Was one of them Yellow Sky?

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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#550 Post by knives » Thu Feb 02, 2012 6:07 pm

Of course not, that's good and a good usage of his boringness (the only other example I can think of off hand like it is Cape Fear).

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