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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knives
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#101 Post by knives » Thu Aug 11, 2011 3:44 pm

Wow, nearly everything you said is the opposite of me. With the exception of the last three or so I don't think there's a sentiment I agree with. By which I'm saying if people are interested just watch them all.

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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#102 Post by Mr Sausage » Thu Aug 11, 2011 5:37 pm

Karloff left Universal briefly and did some mad scientist pictures for Columbia. Unfortunately, the best of these, The Man They Could Not Hang, is from 1939. Of the others, Before I Hang is decent, with Karloff perfecting an anti-aging process that leaves him thirsty for blood. Not essential, but if you like mad scientist films you'll find this one entertaining. In The Devil Commands, Karloff's wife dies, and he begins stealing corpses in order to perfect a machine that will allow him to talk to the dead. Uneventful movie, not recommended unless you're a real Karloff or classic horror fan. I haven't seen The Man With Nine Lives yet [EDIT: saw it]. The Boogie Man Will Get You is a sort of horror/screwball comedy, closer to Arsenic and Old Lace than anything. It's cheap, and looks it, but it's really amusing. The stuff between Karloff's totally addled scientist and the scamming Peter Lorre is a hoot. Watch it if you're in the mood for something light and amusing and unknown. Not necessary for List purposes.

Other stuff:

Black Friday: Another mad scientist role for Karloff, this time from Universal. To save his elderly friend, Karloff replaces the damaged half of his friend's brain with half of a dead gangster's brain, or something like that. His friend begins to manifest a split personality (of course), so Karloff decides to use the gangster half of his friend's personality to lead him to some hidden loot. Sounds pretty silly, but it takes its premise seriously enough to make it work. The real reason to see it is the performance of Stanley Ridges as the professor/gangster. It's bravura acting: when he switches from professor to gangster, the transformation is so complete and so chameleon-like that you barely believe it's the same actor. Worth seeing.

Dr. Renault's Secret: one from Fox that's a cross between Island of Lost Souls and the Universal Murders in the Rue Morgue. It's fun, competently made, and a brisk 60 or so minutes. High point is the performance of J. Carrol Naish as Noel, the servant who used to be an ape. He gives the poor creature a quiet dignity and pathos. Worth it for that, but not a List essential.

Dragonwyck: I echo Domino's earlier comments, this one is a superb costume drama. It has the usual new-wife-moves-into-ancestral-family-home tropes, all of which are well done. Thankfully, all the actual drama is human rather than supernatural. The film takes some good swipes at hard-lined religiosity, and mines the conflict between the aristocracy and the workers who prop it up. Superb performances all around, especially Price, Tierney, and Walter Huston. Must see.

She-Wolf of London: No relationship to Universal's earlier Werewolf of London. People are being killed by what looks like some wild beast. The heroine, whose family had a curse placed on them long ago, may or may not be the killer. If you can't figure out who the killer is within the first fifteen minutes, you aren't paying attention, and no one would blame you. It's a bland movie that's just going through the motions. Night time scenes are appropriately gloomy and fog-bound. Not much else.

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knives
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#103 Post by knives » Fri Aug 12, 2011 12:38 am

In this episode of 'you should have seen that by now' I got to today Dom and Oscar favorite All the King's Men which also incidentally is my introduction to Rossen as director. The film really creeps up on you. It's okay, but nothing special across the first act. Starting with the funeral it reveals it's smarts and becomes really acidic. Across that first act it hides everything and could have turned into a Mr. Smith with no effort. Even past that there's a potential for Capra with only hints of what is to come like a close up here some alcohol there. Real simple stuff.

Before I go on though I do want to mention that alcohol fueled scene at the fair is when I realized that this wasn't any ordinary film. It's such a miserable moment, the first sign of what the film really is. Wordlessly it hits like Holyfield right in the mug. The life drains from the character and the audience, but fills the film. Pathetically he stumbles and finally I thought I had this film's number, but then it shocked me with an other turn. This time of success. The film gains even more energy as Stark does until it blows up. We're back in Capra territory of a good man triumphing over the corrupt. Hell there's even a montage straight out of Mr. Smith. The difference here is that we can't forget what's come before. The smile at the funeral, the alcohol, all that stuff that's been building until this point. It teases the audience with safety, but too much has already happened for that to be accepted. Failure like a cloud on a rainy day hangs over this second success.

From here the film plays out again, longer and with that cloud hanging over. What will that success bring, the failure, how will he change, would the positive shinning Capra route play out to the best ending? I don't want to describe any further for fear of just transcribing the movie, but let me just admit that the rest of the film lives up to the conclusion of that prologue.

Obviously a huge part of this is a collection of some of the best performances in classic Hollywood. I especially want to single out John Ireland as the audience conduit if just because his important contribution has been so thoroughly overshadowed by the other two leads. It's a small performance primarily there for exposition and is simply not showy so it's no wonder why no one speaks about him next to such a boisterous lead. The strength and importance of his performance seems best shown in the auditor scene where except for one close-up he's an extra reacting in the background. Look to his face, his acting, then look at the mirror. Same thing. To be honest I'm not certain if this is a good cheat or not, it's undeniably a cheat, but it works so well in communicating points I'm willing to forgive. Back to Ireland's performance before I get to his role though. He has to hide that this character is a tool for the story and does so with ticks. He gives an entirely physical performance and develops a human using silent techniques. For the longest time I didn't see the tool, but the character. If that's not worth some applause I don't know what is.

Back to his role though. Oddly enough I was reminded of Cry of the Owl with him. That purpose of conduit is taken very literally. The everyday audience member is thrust into the world of these characters and has to adapt to the twist and turns of character. It shows the risk of being involved in the most potent manner possible. Actually as I wrote that I realize that's the best summary of the film itself. There are many, maybe even dozens, moments where a character becomes involved with something and turns out worse for wear. This makes me wonder if the film is arguing for passivity after all power corrupts and all that jazz. Passivity isn't possible to the degree that involvement creates negatives in this world though so the answer must be something else. Nihilism seems like the next most likely answer. After all you either die alone with nothing accomplished or you become involved in the world and come out worse for it as a result. That doesn't seem right either though. The film is surely cynical, but I think it believes in a purpose, in answers. Ireland for all of his problems doesn't become a worse person so maybe he, the audience, tells of the purpose for this outlook.

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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#104 Post by Michael Kerpan » Fri Aug 12, 2011 1:47 pm

Another note on Children of the Beehive -- Shimizu actually _adopted_ all the orphans who starred in the film (at least half a dozen kids). .

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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#105 Post by Dr Amicus » Fri Aug 12, 2011 8:12 pm

OK - after a pathetic attempt at the 30s list (one post I think), I'll try and do better here...

There's going to be a lot of British films on my list I suspect. Powell & Pressburger will be shockingly well represented, as will Jennings (Zedz has already mentioned I Was A Fireman / Fires Were Started - a likely top 5 placer) but I'll just remind everyone of Diary For Timothy (1946). Maybe it's just me being a sentimental old leftie (the greatness of the 45-51 government is an article of faith) but this reduces me to tears all the time. And now that I'm a father myself, I almost daren't watch it - especially considering Jennings's own death only a few years later.

A couple of slightly less well known films that will make an appearance in my final list - both courtesy of Ealing in 1943 and, although neither as great as the same year's Went The Day Well?, two of the finest examples of the all-classes-together that mark Ealing's output in the earlier years of the war.

The Bells Go Down (Basil Dearden, 1943) - Timmy Trinder, James Mason and Doctor Who (William Hartnell) as WW2 firemen. An unlikely combination (where's Stanley Holloway as the working class cockney?) and not in the same league as Jennings, but I have a real soft spot for this film. Yes, much of it plays as expected - but it's certainly not shy in showing the cost of the characters' bravery.

San Demetrio London (Charles Frend, 1943) - Charles Barr has some interesting things to say about this in his essential book on Ealing, which is what highlighted it to me in the first place. A very low key (arguable very British) study of heroism as some of the crew of a damaged merchant ship struggle to bring it and its badly needed cargo back to Blighty. Not as well known perhaps as Pat Jackson's later dramatised documentary approach to a similar subject - Western Approaches - but perhaps the more moving.

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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#106 Post by knives » Fri Aug 12, 2011 8:24 pm

Michael Kerpan wrote:Another note on Children of the Beehive -- Shimizu actually _adopted_ all the orphans who starred in the film (at least half a dozen kids). .
That is insanely cool of him and my high respect of him as a person has sky rocketed.

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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#107 Post by Cold Bishop » Sat Aug 13, 2011 1:27 am

Dr Amicus wrote:although neither as great as the same year's Went The Day Well?
While I'm hoping to write about this in more detail eventually, I can't recommend Went the Day Well? enough for anyone looking to get a headstart. While I prefer They Made Me a Fugitive, this is still a strong contender for my top 10. Just one of the tensest, toughest thrillers ever made, and perhaps the greatest piece of war-time propoganda in fiction form, both fulfilling and transcending the title. And as much as I love films like Five Graves to Cairo and Hangmen Also Die!, this leaves the likes of them in the dust. It's also the only Cavalcanti available on Blu-Ray, and with the restoration having premiered at this year's TCM Festival to great popularity, I expect a stateside release is imminent (and it'll certainly pop up on TCM sometime this year).

It's also the movie John Milius wishes he could have made with Red Dawn.

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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#108 Post by knives » Sat Aug 13, 2011 1:33 am

On this subject are the recent Ealing blus Region A playable?

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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#109 Post by Cold Bishop » Sat Aug 13, 2011 1:48 am

Locked from everything I've read.

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knives
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#110 Post by knives » Sat Aug 13, 2011 1:55 am

Double drat, Whiskey Galore sounds just marvellous and Ealing in general is a pretty huge blind spot for me. I've only seen about ten films from them.

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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#111 Post by matrixschmatrix » Sat Aug 13, 2011 1:59 am

I've got both Cavalcantis, I've been saving them to watch as part of the project- but now I'm extra excited about them.

Incidentally, this boxset is a really good deal, since it's They Made Me a Fugitive, a really nice print of Scarlet Street with a Kalat commentary, The Hitch-hiker, an early Mann, and a Powell/Pressburger- and as far as I know, they're all from the 40s.

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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#112 Post by Mr Sausage » Sat Aug 13, 2011 2:04 am

Cold Bishop wrote:
Dr Amicus wrote:although neither as great as the same year's Went The Day Well?
While I'm hoping to write about this in more detail eventually, I can't recommend Went the Day Well? enough for anyone looking to get a headstart. While I prefer They Made Me a Fugitive, this is still a strong contender for my top 10. Just one of the tensest, toughest thrillers ever made, and perhaps the greatest piece of war-time propoganda in fiction form, both fulfilling and transcending the title. And as much as I love films like Five Graves to Cairo and Hangmen Also Die!, this leaves the likes of them in the dust. It's also the only Cavalcanti available on Blu-Ray, and with the restoration having premiered at this year's TCM Festival to great popularity, I expect a stateside release is imminent (and it'll certainly pop up on TCM sometime this year).

It's also the movie John Milius wishes he could have made with Red Dawn.
Very much seconded. It's such an inauspicious looking movie, too, with its whimsical title, the country-side banality of its setting, and its propagandistic thrust. It starts out innocently enough, and then begins to darken, and darken, with a kind of ruthless logic. There is nothing sentimental, puffed-up, or cloying and falsely patriotic about this movie; it's a very hard-nosed 'what-if?', and that hardness is all the more effective for being unexpected, given how friendly it starts out. Its real triumph is in showing the sacrifices people make for one another in such a manner that you come away feeling punched in the gut rather than preached at.

While Eisenstein's Ivan the Terrible is for me the greatest propaganda film ever made, this one is a close second.

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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#113 Post by Gregory » Sat Aug 13, 2011 2:20 am

matrixschmatrix wrote:Incidentally, this boxset is a really good deal, since it's They Made Me a Fugitive, a really nice print of Scarlet Street with a Kalat commentary, The Hitch-hiker, an early Mann, and a Powell/Pressburger- and as far as I know, they're all from the 40s.
The Hitch-Hiker isn't '40s, but it's an absolute must for next round, so I second the recommendation for the box all around.
...as well as the praise for Went the Day Well?

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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#114 Post by knives » Sat Aug 13, 2011 2:24 am

Though it should be noted that the best DVD for Scarlet Street is the UK Odeon one.

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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#115 Post by Cold Bishop » Sat Aug 13, 2011 2:28 am

And, as I mentioned, I strongly suspect the Odeon ...Fugitive is a better print.

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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#116 Post by Mr Sausage » Sat Aug 13, 2011 2:33 am

I also hope everyone is planning to watch The Queen of Spades. It's another of the decade's best horror films, although its a bit hard to call it outright horror. It's based off the Pushkin story, and while it's essentially fantastical at its centre, it's played out with scrupulous historical and psychological realism. The plot is basically that Anton Walbrook, a lowly ranked member of the Russian army, desires some infernal knowledge that will turn him into a cardsharp, knowledge which legend says is in the possession of a well-known aristocratic lady. It's a good portrait of burning greed, class resentment, and madness. Very well filmed and acted. List worthy.

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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#117 Post by knives » Sat Aug 13, 2011 2:34 am

Is there a particular DVD you recommend on that one? It seems PD.

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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#118 Post by Cold Bishop » Sat Aug 13, 2011 2:35 am

The plot is basically that Anton Walbrook...
Say no more.

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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#119 Post by Mr Sausage » Sat Aug 13, 2011 2:39 am

knives wrote:Is there a particular DVD you recommend on that one? It seems PD.
I saw it on the OOP Anchor Bay release that came with the (as yet unwatched by me, sadly) Dead of Night. I remember there being nothing wrong with the quality.

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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#120 Post by tojoed » Sat Aug 13, 2011 2:44 am

knives wrote:Is there a particular DVD you recommend on that one?[Queeen of Spades] It seems PD.
This is the one you want.
It's not PD, but Studio Canal, and an excellent transfer too.

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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#121 Post by Cold Bishop » Sat Aug 13, 2011 2:45 am

Mr Sausage wrote:that came with the (as yet unwatched by me, sadly) Dead of Night
:-s
You're in for a treat. Even with competition from Lewton, Cavalcanti's contribution is perhaps the height of 40s horror.

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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#122 Post by Mr Sausage » Sat Aug 13, 2011 2:48 am

Cold Bishop wrote:
Mr Sausage wrote:that came with the (as yet unwatched by me, sadly) Dead of Night
:-s
You're in for a treat. Even with competition from Lewton, Cavalcanti's contribution is perhaps the height of 40s horror.
Haven't been able to get my hands on it, actually. This is an eagerly awaited treat that's always being delayed.

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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#123 Post by knives » Sat Aug 13, 2011 2:50 am

tojoed wrote:
knives wrote:Is there a particular DVD you recommend on that one?[Queeen of Spades] It seems PD.
This is the one you want.
It's not PD, but Studio Canal, and an excellent transfer too.
Thanks for that. I see now it's directed by the same man as Gaslight. This should be very good.
Cold Bishop wrote:
Mr Sausage wrote:that came with the (as yet unwatched by me, sadly) Dead of Night
:-s
You're in for a treat. Even with competition from Lewton, Cavalcanti's contribution is perhaps the height of 40s horror.
A very big treat. Even though I'm not the biggest fan of the film even I will admit it is one of the best anthology films ever with several truly creepy moments. The ending is possibly the most effect ever in a horror film. The only complaint I have on it is Crichton's contribution.

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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#124 Post by knives » Sat Aug 13, 2011 4:00 am

This is a stupid thing on my part and I doubt even Dom would be amused by this idea, but since this is Hollywood's definitive decade and it tries to define itself through the Oscars why not watch all the films they've chosen to identify themselves by? I've already got 86 of the titles and only need 663 so it shouldn't be too tough. I doubt I'll make them all, but I should make an amusing dent all the same. To start off with for convenience's sake I went to the short films (123 titles). Some of them I've seen before naturally, but it's been a while and they're fun to watch. So without further delay a few quick thoughts on a whole bunch of movies.

First I went to the first Fleischer Superman cartoon. I haven't seen this one since I was a little kid, but it's a huge part of my childhood so I was very worried it would be terrible, but right away it proves itself with some powerful qualities. The storytelling is efficient and fast paced, but that's a given. The animation though is woozers. There's a few short cuts like no eyes for Clark, but for the most part they pull out all of the stops. There's a great fluid sense in the motion that shows signs of Disney-esque realism with it's own flavour. The shading especially in the scientist's chamber is amazing. The use of colour to effect mood and heighten shadows is something you really don't see in shorts from the period except when the story absolutely calls for it. Here though you're being thrown into things constantly. It definitely deserves a rewatch for those who haven't seen it recently.

From there I've basically decided to go in release date order so Tom & Jerry get the call via Puss Gets the Boot. This is pretty clearly an early short for them with Tom, sorry I mean Jasper, looking nothing like how he does in the later shorts and actually winding up more sympathetic and intelligent. Had they continued down this route these shorts might have become what the Road Runner ones were rather than the unfortunate case we know. The slapstick is also drastically different being built from tension exclusively rather than three stooges style yucks. This is basically the only area where the later shorts are improved as this one doesn't really elicit laughs on the level as the hardcore slapstick of the later shorts. Nothing more than a curioso.

A Wild Hare on the other hand is very fully formed. It helps to have an established character like Bugs here, but I think this was the first time they pitted him in this specific story. Even beyond that though there's a great variety of humour with some stunning gags that range from the obvious kick in the butts to subtle little pieces relying on the animation like the early hand gag. The animation in general is amazing with enough attention to detail to give life to this world while leaving enough in abstract to allow for just about anything.

The Milky Way is a bit of a surprise if just because I thought Ising had retired as director by this point. Actually misunderstanding of what the milky way is aside this was surprisingly good and is easily the best work I've seen from him. The story is rather unimportant and is just an excuse for some of the most wonderful milk-pun based visuals I've ever seen. If not for Superman on the horizon I'd genuinely feel this was revolutionary (it definitely pre-dates Pinocchio in some respects). It's a really amazing go around.

...And I'll be giving up for the night because apparently youtube doesn't have Teddy the Rough Rider and I fortunately (?) don't have the Reagan set.

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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#125 Post by Tommaso » Sat Aug 13, 2011 6:37 am

I started off my watching of films for the list which are new to me with Max Ophuls' final film in France before he left for the US, De Mayerling à Sarajevo (1940). As the title indicates, the film is concerned with the historical events in the Habsburg dynasty leading up to the First World War with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, but focusses mostly on the love affair of the heir apparent with Sophie Chotek, his later wife in what was forced to be a 'morganatic' marriage (look the term up at wikipedia, or better, watch the film :wink: ). Ophuls takes a rather distanced, often elliptic stance to the historical events but nevertheless manages to convey the sense of doom effectively, with his usual rich sets and fluid camerawork creating enough of an oppressive, decadent atmosphere without becoming stifling. We also get a fantastic performance by Edwige Feuillière as the female lead.

Impressive, even though I must say that the tacked-on ending which hits you over the head with some attempt to look into the present and turn this into a 'fight the nazis' call-to-arms (including a big black swastika looming over the image) is pretty unconvincing. I can only imagine that this was the producer's idea and that this footage was not directed by Ophuls. Thankfully, it only lasts less than a minute and shouldn't mar the experience of the film as a whole, which may not be among Ophuls' greatest, but surely deserves to be seen.

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