Greatest Films of the 1940s
Greatest Films of the 1940s

Greatest Films of the 1940s
1940 | 1941 | 1942 | 1943 | 1944 | 1945 | 1946 | 1947 | 1948 | 1949


Title Screen Film Genre(s), Title, Year, (Country), Length, Director, Description

Cabin in the Sky (1943), 98 minutes, D: Vincente Minnelli
A noteworthy film, the debut of film director Vincente Minnelli and Hollywood's first general release of an all-star, all-black musical, taken directly from its original Broadway production. A delightful, energetic, and extravagantly-executed story of the competition between God's General (Kenneth Spencer) and Lucifer Jr. (Rex Ingram) for the soul of a deceased gambling man. Little Joe (Eddie "Rochester" Anderson), a shiftless gambler of questionnable morals, is torn between his good, devoted but poor wife Petunia Jackson (Ethel Waters) and the seductive alluring charms of the evil and beautiful singer Georgia Brown (Lena Horne). Georgia is sent by the devil to win over Little Joe's soul. With the Duke Ellington Orchestra and Louis Armstrong as the Trumpeter.

Fires Were Started - (1943, UK), 63 minutes, D: Humphrey Jennings

Forever and a Day (1943), 104 minutes, D: Rene Clair, Edmund Goulding, Cedric Hardwicke, et al
An historical, episodic film with a large cast of English film stars of the 30s and 40s. It is the story about the inhabitants of a great manor house in London over many generations (spanning more than 100 years from the time of its construction in Napoleonic times to the WWII blitz of London). A great war morale booster highlighting the themes of British patriotism and England's survival as the house passes through the hands of many generations. With memorable parts and cameos by Charles Laughton, Cedric Hardwicke, Buster Keaton, Elsa Lanchester, Roland Young, Gladys Cooper and many, many more.

For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943), 170 minutes, D: Sam Wood
A dramatic screen version of Ernest Hemingway's classic adventure novel of the Spanish Civil War. An American mercenary Robert Jordan (Gary Cooper) fights for the Republic against the Fascists, alongside a motley group of untrained guerrilla peasants, led by Pablo (Akim Tamiroff). The band is composed of a colorful group of characters and a cropped-haired Maria (Ingrid Bergman), who has been emotionally traumatized after being raped by the Fascists. The guerrillas struggle against overwhelming odds to destroy a strategic bridge, and Jordan falls in love with Maria during their mission.

Heaven Can Wait (1943), 112 minutes, D: Ernst Lubitsch
A heartwarming fantasy-comedy, director Lubitsch's first color film. Wealthy old playboy Henry Van Cleve (Don Ameche) passes away. He has led a life with many romantic indiscretions, flirtations, and seductive escapades, from his early childhood through the days of his love and marriage to beautiful wife Martha (Gene Tierney). In "flashbacks" of his carefree life story from infancy to age 70, the self-incriminating sinner must convince His Excellency (Laird Cregar), the devilish Lord of Darkness that he deserves to be admitted for punishment and eternal damnation. As it turns out, the cavalier Van Cleve is revealed to be good-natured, warm, kind, and sensitive, deserving of Heaven instead. This film is not to be confused with the 1978 Heaven Can Wait, a remake of the 1941 comedy/drama Here Comes Mr. Jordan.

The Human Comedy (1943), 118 minutes, D: Clarence Brown
Based on an original story by William Saroyan, a low-key, sentimental but moving, superbly-acted drama. The film is narrated by recently-deceased Mr. Macauley (Ray Collins), the father of a family in Ithaca, a small California valley town. Their everyday life is affected by the events of World War II and the need to cope with new responsibilities and hardships. The teenaged Macauley son, Western Union bicycle messenger Homer (Mickey Rooney) must deliver mostly tragic war news to families about wounded or killed boys. A series of vignettes highlight life in Americana as he comes into close contact with all the families in town. Members of Homer's family include older brother Marcus (Van Johnson) off fighting in uniform, his older college student sister Bess (Donna Reed) who is in love with telegraph office operator Tom Spangler (James Craig), and his younger kid brother Ulysses (Jackie "Butch" Jenkins). One day, Homer has to deliver the news to his own family that big brother Marcus has been killed in battle. Marcus' best friend and service pal, orphaned and parentless Tobey George (John Craven), is more or less adopted by the Macauley family after the heart-tearing news.

I Walked With A Zombie (1943), 69 minutes, D: Jacques Tourneur

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943, UK), 163 minutes, D: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Although completed in 1943, this film was not released for showing in the US until 1945, because it was banned for export from Britain due to its critical portrayal of staid British patriotism. It is a memorable satire about the reminiscences of a staunch, rigid traditional British soldier/officer Clive Candy (Roger Livesey) as he looks back on his life through three wars - the Boer War, World War I, and World War II. During the course of his life, dedicated to the king and his country through changing times, he meets and loves three women, Edith Hunter / Barbara Wynne / Johnny Cannon (all played by Deborah Kerr in a very versatile role).

Madame Curie (1943), 124 minutes, D: Mervyn LeRoy
A dramatic historical film biography of the famous scientists who discovered radium, pairing the successful actors as the Curies from the previous year's Best Picture award-winning Mrs. Miniver. A famous female scientist Mme. Marie Curie (Greer Garson) overcomes obstacles and ridicule to discover radium after a five year experimental study with the help of her husband Pierre (Walter Pidgeon).

The Man in Grey (1943, UK), 116 minutes, D: Leslie Arliss

The More the Merrier (1943), 104 minutes, D: George Stevens
A terrific romantic comedy with excellent performances and an effervescent flair. In Washington DC during WWII, a housing (and single man) shortage develops, and young, prim and proper single working woman Connie Milligan (Jean Arthur) patriotically rents out part of her tiny apartment to an older gentleman Benjamin Dingle (Charles Coburn). Dingle decides to play Cupid for her, and rents out one-half of his space to a handsome Air Force mechanic on special assignment named Joe Carter (Joel McCrea). Matchmaker Dingle is ultimately able to get the two romantically involved, in the midst of slapstick complications and humorous situations involving space and privacy.

Ossessione (1943, It.) (aka Obsession), 140 minutes, D: Luchino Visconti

The Ox-Bow Incident (1943), 75 minutes, D: William A. Wellman
A masterful film adapted from the well-known unconventional western tale by Walter Van Tilburg Clark. In a western setting, this film superbly portrays the tyranny and lawlessness of mob rule. Two cowboy drifters, Gil Carter (Henry Fonda) and Art Croft (Henry/Harry Morgan) ride into Bridger's Wells, a small Nevada cattle town and quickly become involved in a lynch posse taking the law into its own hands. A local rancher has been shot by cattle rustlers, and a group forms more intent on punishment than on justice, led by ex-Confederate officer Major Tetley (Frank Conroy). Each of the vengeful members of the posse-mob are superbly characterized, as the vigilante group pursues and captures its suspects. The mob lynches three innocent men despite only vague circumstantial evidence and pleas for justice and reason.

The Seventh Victim (1943), 71 minutes, D: Mark Robson

Shadow of a Doubt (1943), 108 minutes, D: Alfred Hitchcock
One of Alfred Hitchcock's intensely suspenseful works from a script by Thornton Wilder. Congenial and suave Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotten), a devious psychopathic killer who suspects his apprehension by police is imminent, drops out of sight by visiting adoring middle-class relatives in the quiet, small California town of Santa Rosa. His young niece Charlie (Teresa Wright), named for the uncle she idolizes, is fascinated by his wit, urbane and worldly sophistication - and then she has a "shadow of a doubt" and begins to suspect that he is the Merry Widow mass-murderer. As she gets closer to him and learns the truth, she realizes that he is aware of her knowledge and suspicions. She must decide whether she should reveal her findings to the authorities or protect her family in a tense cat-and-mouse game that leads to an exciting conclusion.

The Song of Bernadette (1943), 156 minutes, D: Henry King
A dramatic film with a religious theme, adapted from a novel by Franz Werfel, retelling a story based upon a real-life person and event. In 1858 in a grotto at Lourdes, a young French peasant girl Bernadette Soubirous (Jennifer Jones, in her first starring role for which she won the Best Actress award) has a vision of the Virgin Mary (Linda Darnell). A spring with waters to heal the sick and disabled appears suddenly and inexplicably at the site of her miraculous vision where she is instructed to dig. The film centers around all the various reactions - skepticism, blasphemy, criticism and belief - to the pious, naive girl's vision - by her family, the townspeople, and various religious figures. Faithful Bernadette steadfastly refuses to recant her story, even though she becomes mortally ill over the years. Believing pilgrims flock to the healing spring to bathe in its Holy Water.

Watch on the Rhine (1943), 114 minutes, D: Herman Shumlin
Based on Lillian Hellman's Broadway play, but scripted by Dashiell Hammett, one of the best of all the anti-Nazi films of the war years. Kurt Muller (Paul Lukas who won a Best Actor award), a European Resistance underground leader must flee from Nazi Germany just prior to Pearl Harbor in order to find safe refuge in America. He and his American wife Sara (Bette Davis) and their three young children move in with her mother Fanny Farrelly (Lucile Watson) and brother in Washington D.C. Refusing to remain silent, he explains to them the true nature and threat of the Nazis (and to the American public in a bit of propagandizing). Muller is confronted with the threat of being betrayed to Gestapo Third Reich agents by other boarders in the home, including blackmailing spy Teck de Brancovis (George Coulouris), a Rumanian count and his American wife Marthe (Geraldine Fitzgerald).

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