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

1948

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

The Bicycle Thief (1948, It.) (aka Ladri di Biciclette, or Bicycle Thieves), 98 minutes, D: Vittorio De Sica
Best Foreign Film Oscar winner (before the category was officially created) - an all-time classic Neo-realism film (with an amateur, unprofessional cast filmed in non-studio locations). Based on Luigi Bartolini's novel, the humanistic film was about the desperate economic plight of a prototypical Italian after the war. A simple, tragic yet compelling story. Set in post WWII Italy during a time of unemployment and devastation, the bicycle of an impoverished, working-class family man, Antonio Ricci (Lamberto Maggiorani) was stolen in the ruined city of Rome while he was hanging up a film poster of Rita Hayworth on a ladder, on the first day of his job. (His wife Maria Ricci (Lianella Carell) had sold their linen sheets for 7,500 lira to a pawnshop, allowing him to buy back his own bicycle for 6,500, which he had pawned weeks earlier for money to buy food.) The victimized man's very job and survival were dependent on this simple form of transportation. The anguished, panic-stricken father and his son Bruno Ricci (Enzo Staiola) searched for the bike for a full week, but couldn't locate it, and the police wouldn't help them. Along the way, he encountered injustice and apathy. From beginning to end, his small but fierce son was his companion, with whom he learned what real desperation could be. Feeling defeated, the father stole another bicycle but was immediately apprehended and humiliated in front of his son, although he was released.

Easter Parade (1948), 103 minutes, D: Charles Walters
This memorable and happy MGM film, a perennial holiday favorite, was an Academy Award winner for Best Musical Score, with a number of classic songs and dance sequences - and a Pygmalion-plot involving many romantic complications. It was set in 1912, with a storyline about how vaudeville dancer Don Hewes (an older Fred Astaire, coming out of retirement, and a replacement for injured Gene Kelly) promised to turn an aspiring, naive chorus-girl protege Hannah Brown (Judy Garland), a bar waitress, into a star. He had recently been dropped by his long-time tap-dancing partner Nadine Hale (Ann Miller, replacing Cyd Charisse) (and romantic interest) who decided to go solo on Broadway in a Ziegfeld Follies show (the Follies of 1912). Though Don regretted the loss of Nadine, he sought jealous revenge against her. Hannah worked hard to capture Don's approval - and his heart. At the same time, Nadine was aggressively pursuing Don's best friend Jonathan Harrow III (Peter Lawford), who was showing more interest in Hannah, while she was silently pining for Don. This was Astaire's and Garland's first and only teaming together, and producer Arthur Freed's fifth collaboration with composer Irving Berlin. It was filled with seventeen Irving Berlin songs, including the dance number It Only Happens When I Dance With You between Astaire and partner Ann Miller in a hotel suite, Miller's flashy and strong song/dance rendition of Shakin' the Blues Away, Astaire's slow-motion version of Steppin' Out With My Baby, the gleeful Astaire/Garland comic show-stopping duet (We're) A Couple of Swells while dressed as lovable tramps, the opening rendition of Happy Easter, Astaire's creative dance sequence Drum Crazy in a toy store, the marvelous vaudeville montage sequence with Astaire and Garland entitled When That Midnight Choo-Choo Leaves for Alabam, and the closing performance of the title number Easter Parade, staged as a Fifth Avenue parade.

Force of Evil (1948), 78 minutes, D: Abraham Polonsky
Based on Ira Wolfert's novel Tucker's People. Director Abraham Polonsky's debut film - an expressionistic, politically-subversive and dark work, an uncompromising post-war film noir that was narrated and told in documentary style. Shortly later, Polonsky was blacklisted for being an uncooperative witness before HUAC in 1951, and didn't direct any more feature films for almost 21 years. The cynical film starred John Garfield (in probably his finest role) as young, successful, corrupt Wall Street mob attorney Joe Morse. In his opening voice-over (during a high-angle camera view of towering skyscrapers surrounding St. Andrew's Church near Wall Street), he spoke: "This is Wall Street and today was important because tomorrow, July Fourth, I intended to make my first million dollars, an exciting day in any man's life. Temporarily, the enterprise was slightly illegal. You see I was the lawyer for the numbers racket." Due to corrupt dealings with numbers racketeer-client and slimy crime boss Ben Tucker (Roy Roberts) who wanted to control the numbers racket, Morse was on the verge of easy money - making millions through a race-track betting scam-fix by using winning lottery number 776 on July 4th. In this Cain and Abel tale, Joe's honest, kindly yet estranged and stubborn older brother Leo Morse (Thomas Gomez) remained in the Lower East Side slum neighborhood where they had grown up, maintaining a local "small numbers bank," and refusing to join his brother. Joe maintained a romance with Leo's secretary-bookkeeper, working-class girl Doris Lowry (Beatrice Pearson), who was attracted to his fast and slick life-style. Leo was ultimately killed by the mob - Joe descended a great stone staircase ("I just kept going down and down there. It was like going down to the bottom of the world to find my brother") from Riverside Drive to find his estranged, older dead brother Leo's bullet-ridden body that had been dumped on the rocks by the Hudson River lighthouse under the George Washington Bridge.
Although she had only a few minutes on-screen, mob boss Tucker's sultry femme fatale wife Edna (Marie Windsor) was working behind-the-scenes to manipulate and torment Joe into supporting the downfall of his brother's racket. As Joe walked in a deserted Wall Street, he realized that he was indebted to the syndicated mob for life.

Hamlet (1948, UK), 155 minutes, D: Laurence Olivier
Director/star Laurence Olivier's sweeping, well-paced and dramatic adaptation of the classic tale, and the first version of the play during the sound-talkie era. A Best Picture Academy Award-winner - and the first British (or non-American) film to win the top honor. It marked the first time a director had directed himself to a Best Actor Oscar. Also memorably remade as Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet (1996). This was the second of three Shakepeare adaptations made by Olivier -- also Henry V (1944), and Richard III (1955). The expressionistic, shadowy, black and white film opened with some lines from Shakespeare's play and then Olivier's explanatory voice-over: "This is the tragedy of a man who could not make up his mind." Shakespeare's tale (although abbreviated or streamlined, with the excision of the characters of Fortinbras, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern) was about a disconsolate and mad Danish prince (Best Actor-winning Olivier) who agonized over his moral responsibilities to his murdered father, his subjects, and his loved ones. In haunted Elsinore Castle (filmed within huge sets), the irresolute and brooding Hamlet sought an elaborate revenge for the secret and suspicious murder (an accidental snakebite -- "murder most foul") of his father King Hamlet by his own treacherous uncle, the new King Claudius (Basil Sydney), who hastily married Hamlet's mother Queen Gertrude (Eileen Herlie). Jean Simmons starred in the role Ophelia in a tragic and rejected love affair ("Get thee to a nunnery") with Hamlet. She became suicidal after Hamlet's accidental murder of her own father Polonius (Felix Aylmer). Hamlet's most famous soliloquy "To be or not to be" defined his conflicted and depressed psychological state of mind. In the brutal, death-filled ending, all of the major characters expired.

I Remember Mama (1948), 95 minutes, D: George Stevens
A sentimental and nostalgic post-war favorite, with DeWitt Bodeen's screenplay loosely based on Kathryn Forbes' book Mama's Bank Account - it was the winner of five Oscar nominations (remarkably, four were for acting roles). The revered family classic was also based on the original 1944 Broadway play written by John Van Druten, and produced by Rodgers and Hammerstein. The film's success led to a popular Lux Radio Theatre show in 1948, the best-loved early CBS-TV sitcom titled Mama (from 1949-1957) with Peggy Wood as Mama, and the "ITV Play of the Week" in 1961. The story, a series of vignettes, was about a middle-class Norwegian immigrant family living on Larkin Street in San Francisco at the turn of the century. The family was held together by a stern, resourceful, untiring, protective and loving matriarch, Marta "Mama" Hanson (Irene Dunne), and her blustering husband Lars "Papa" Hanson (Philip Dorn). They had four children (only one boy): Nels (Steve Brown), Katrin (or Katherine) (Barbara Bel Geddes), Christine (Peggy McIntyre) and Dagmar (June Hedin). Family life was recalled in flashback style from the diary of the oldest daughter Katrin, as she narrated and read from her recently-written autobiographical novel. Katrin had just finished it, typing the words THE END. She stretched back and then took the many pages in her hands, and began reading from its start. The famous quote: "But first and foremost, I remember Mama" (the conclusion of the book's introduction) was heard. As Katrin lovingly remembered, Mama struggled daily with the finances to seek a new and better life for the family members, living in an unfamiliar land. The family was surrounded by a colorful procession of relatives (e.g., bullying, overbearing and boisterous Uncle Chris Halverson (Oskar Homolka), and Marta's sister - timid spinster fiancee Trina (Ellen Corby)), boarders (especially impoverished Mr. Jonathan Hyde (Cedric Hardwicke)) and friends. Incidents included preparing the weekly financial budget (with Mama's familiar relief: "Is good - we do not have to go to the bank"), Dagmar's operation, the sickness of the household's cat Uncle Elizabeth, the death of Uncle Chris, and Marta's encouragement of Katrin to aspire to be a writer.

Johnny Belinda (1948), 102 minutes, D: Jean Negulesco
An emotionally-charged psychological and social melodrama with sensitive acting and a Max Steiner score, based on the 1940 stage hit play by Elmer Blaney Harris (which was based on a real-life incident). It was the first Hollywood film to address the problem of rape (previously the controversial subject was banned). With twelve Academy Award nominations and only one win. Remade as a TV movie in 1967 and 1982 with Mia Farrow and Rosanna Arquette respectively. Hearing-impaired/mute Belinda MacDonald (Best Actress-winning Jane Wyman) lived on a farm with her bullish father Black (Charles Bickford) and Aunt Aggie (Agnes Moorehead) in a small Nova Scotia fishing town on Cape Breton Island in the post-war period. Belinda, known as "The Dummy," was befriended by kindly, compassionate and patient local country doctor Dr. Robert Richardson (Lew Ayres) who taught her to read lips and sign language. In one scene, she sensed something of what music must be and tried to dance when her hand was placed upon a vibrating violin. One night, she experienced the shadowy rape-attack of drunk villager Locky McCormick (Stephen McNally) - the scene quickly faded to black, and soon after, she found herself pregnant. Everyone thought that the doctor was the father and he was disgraced. Belinda's father, who learned of the rapist's identity, was murdered at cliff's edge by him. Belinda silently recited the Lord's Prayer in sign language at the bedside of her dead father. When the rapist tried to claim the baby from her in a violent scene, she shotgunned him to death. Subsequently, she was put on trial and defended by an attorney (Alan Napier), when Locky's jealous wife Stella (Jan Sterling), who wanted the baby, made an accusatory outburst against her dead husband: "It was him, Locky. He's the baby's father. It was his fault!" Belinda was acquitted because it was ruled that she was protecting her baby.

Key Largo (1948), 101 minutes, D: John Huston
An entertaining gangster melodrama, adapted from Maxwell Anderson's stage play by director Huston and Richard Brooks. The plot resembled Bogart's earlier film The Petrified Forest (1936). An intelligent, exciting, theatrical, but moody, downbeat crime drama/thriller (and melodramatic film noir). Bogart and Bacall would never star together again on the big screen (this was their fourth and final film), after having previously worked together in the classic films: To Have and Have Not (1942) (which Key Largo resembled in its dark tone), The Big Sleep (1946) and Dark Passage (1947). It told about a bullying, fugitive gangster Johnny Rocco (Edgar G. Robinson in a trademark role). Rocco was first seen sweating profusely in a bathtub with a rotating fan, a cigar and an iced drink. He was on-the-run with fellow gang mobsters and his alcoholic lush moll and ex-nightclub singer, Gaye Dawn (Oscar-winning Claire Trevor). In the film's most memorable scene, moll Gaye desperately sang "Moanin' Low" to hopefully earn a drink from Rocco. In a Florida Keys hotel in the off-season during a violent, tropical hurricane, the snarling Rocco waited for counterfeit money, prepared to flee to Cuba, and held the various residents hostage: Frank McCloud (Humphrey Bogart), a disillusioned, returning war-scarred veteran who was visiting the newly-widowed Nora Temple (Lauren Bacall) and her wheelchair-bound father-in-law, hotel manager James Temple (Lionel Barrymore). Nora's late husband George (and James' son) had died under his WWII command in Italy. During a final confrontation on a small fishing boat bound for Cuba, when a wounded Frank had finally had enough of the escaping gang, he overtook them - and shot Rocco three times before alerting the authorities.

The Lady From Shanghai (1948), 87 minutes, D: Orson Welles
Welles' imaginative, complicated, unsettling film noir who-dun-it thriller was a B/W tale of betrayal, lust, greed and murder. With fascinating visuals and tilting compositions, luminous and brilliant camerawork (by Charles Lawton, Jr.), and numerous sub-plots and confounding plot twists. Orson Welles served as director, producer, screenplay writer, and actor, and based his screenplay upon Sherwood King's 1938 novel If I Die Before I Wake. The moody film, originally titled Take This Woman and then Black Irish, was made when major stars Orson Welles and sexy Rita Hayworth (with dyed and bobbed bleached-blonde hair) in her last film under contract to Columbia Pictures) were still married although estranged and drifting apart. [The numerous close-ups of Rita Hayworth in the film were later added by Welles in Hollywood upon orders of the studio, to lend strength to her 'star' power.] Ultimately, the film's length was severely cut down by one hour, creating an almost incomprehensible, discontinuous, cryptic patchwork from numerous retakes and substantial edits. Although it was filmed in late 1946 and finished in early 1947, it wasn't released until late in 1948. The film was mostly ignored - it failed both at the box-office and as a critical success. Poor Irish seaman Michael O'Hara (Orson Welles) rescued Mrs. Elsa 'Rosalie' Bannister (Rita Hayworth) and soon became mesmerized by her. She was the enigmatic wife of a crippled San Francisco trial lawyer named Arthur Bannister (Everett Sloane). O'Hara joined her yachting cruise as a working crew member from New York to San Francisco (via the Panama Canal). He soon found himself embroiled in a love affair and a mysterious plot (to kill Bannister's creepy business partner George Grisby (Glenn Anders)) - the plot eventually turned deadly and implicated him in murder. The film, told through O'Hara's narration, was shot on locations including Acapulco, San Francisco, and at Columbia Studios sets, and featured numerous classic set-pieces including: the aquarium scene, and the funhouse and Hall of Mirrors shoot-out climax (shot in San Francisco's Playland).

Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948), 87 minutes, D: Max Ophuls
German director Max Ophuls' most successful Hollywood film (adapted from Stefan Zweig's 1922 novella), a quintessential "women's film." An emotionally-complex, bittersweet, old-fashioned tearjerker romance, conveyed via flashbacks. Both protagonists faced an inextricable impasse and experienced numerous missed opportunities over a span of twenty years - and ultimately failed to attain true romance. The lush and haunting film told about Lisa Berndl (Joan Fontaine), a beautiful young woman with a childhood crush and doomed love for a charmingly suave, philandering concert pianist Stefan Brand (Louis Jourdan) in 19th century Vienna. The night before the cavalier, callow and self-absorbed pianist was due to fight a dawn duel for offending a lady's honor with Lisa's wealthy husband Johann Stauffer (Marcel Journet), he received a letter from a strange, unknown woman - the key to his continual self-destruction and downfall. He was, in fact, planning to avoid the duel and have his mute valet-servant John (Art Smith) pack his bags. Through the deathbed letter, he learned for the first time about the young teenaged girl, his next-door neighbor in his apartment building, and her undying love that she felt for him through the years during other encounters. Their acquaintance included a pregnancy and son Stefan Jr. (Leo B. Pessin) - although he continually failed to recognize her at each new meeting. During the nighttime reading of the letter, Stefan looked at photos of his son and learned that Lisa was married, but then the son that he fathered had died of typhus - and 27 year old Lisa had also died of the same disease ("By the time you read this letter, I may be dead"). Resolute after remembering her, finally, Stefan decided to confront Lisa's husband in a fateful duel.

Louisiana Story (1948), 78 minutes, D: Robert J. Flaherty
This was documentarian Robert Flaherty's last film, produced (and financed) by Standard Oil Company with a budget of approximately $250K. With a Pulitzer Prize-winning original score by composer Virgil Thomson. Containing faux authenticity, the documentary depicted the growing, devastating effects of the oil industry on the Louisiana bayou country, although naive director Flaherty's underdeveloped, poorly-acted film contained no explicit commentary on the ecological effects or the significant cultural transition about to take place. A young Cajun boy named Alexander Napolean Ulysses Latour (Joseph Boudreaux), who lived in the marshlands of Petit Anse Bayou, watched as off-shore platforms were built and oil riggers-drillers worked, after his trapper father (Lionel Le Blanc) signed a lease agreement with an oil company. His simple, nature-loving, idyllic, and peaceful way of life (hunting, fishing, tussling with alligators) with a pet raccoon as he explored and canoed through the bayous, would soon change forever. The fascinated, adventurous, and daydreaming Cajun boy regularly visited with the friendly Driller (Frank Hardy) and the Boilerman (C. P. Guedry). One day with their monstrous, towering steam-driven oil derrick, the drillers struck oil with a money-making geyser that was soon capped with a Christmas tree - readied for future pumping.

The Naked City (1948), 96 minutes, D: Jules Dassin
A great semi-documentary film from Universal with raw energy, about a police murder investigation, with Oscar-winning cinematography by William Daniels. Director Jules Dassin's hard-boiled urban docu-drama crime/noir film was the first studio feature shot on location in New York City. It was the film that inspired the 50's ABC-TV series - with its famed ending quote delivered as an epitaph for the murdered woman: "There Are EIGHT MILLION Stories In The Naked City - This Has Been ONE Of Them." The grim, fact-based story opened with aerial views of New York City (no title screen!) - accompanied by credits narration from the film's producer, tabloid journalist Mark Hellinger (who conducted six months of interviews with the NYPD to gather accurate details and characterizations) - who was also the voice of the final quote. Then, it gave an account of the brutal robbery-murder of attractive, and promiscuous 26 year-old blonde fashion model Jean Dexter in her NYC apartment's bathtub (was it a suicide?), and the subsequent manhunt for the killer by homicide detectives, including veteran cop Det. Lt. Dan Muldoon (Barry Fitzgerald) and younger partner Det. Jimmy Halloran (Don Taylor). In an emotional sequence at the City Morgue, Jean's estranged parents - the Batorys (Adelaide Klein and Grover Burgess), identified her body. One of the prime suspects was Jean's fast-living boyfriend, deceitful Frank Niles (Howard Duff), although he had an alibi. In the film's memorable, thrilling, and heart-pounding climax, ex-con murder suspect Willie Garzah (aka Willie the Harmonica) (Ted de Corsia) ran through the Lower East Side tenements until being cornered on the Williamsburg Bridge, where he climbed to the top of the bridge tower. He refused to surrender, was shot a few times, and fell to his death.

Oliver Twist (1948, UK), 116 minutes, D: David Lean
David Lean directed this dark, expressionistic and shadowy British production (with beautiful cinematography by Guy Green) after the success of his earlier Dickens' hit Great Expectations (1946). An excellent and straight-forward screen portrayal of the classic 1839 Charles Dickens story of the title character among the downtrodden and abused classes of 19th-century England - a remake of the first film version of the tale by Poverty Row's Monogram studios in 1933, with Dickie Moore in the lead role. Also remade as a colorful Best Picture-winning musical, Oliver! (1968) by Columbia Pictures - an adaptation of the Broadway hit. This film's opening was delayed in the US until 1951 due to protesting Jewish groups that claimed it was anti-Semitic, and some scenes were initially censored. In the powerful first scene, the title character's exhausted Mother (Josephine Stuart), in labor, staggered over the moors and gave birth, before dying, at a work house. Orphan boy Oliver Twist (John Howard Davies) lived at the parish work house where he was systematically abused by the callous officials led by Mr. Bumble (Francis L. Sullivan). When 9 year-old Oliver brazenly asked for more porridge-gruel ("Please sir, I want some more”), his punishment by the harsh authorities was severe, and he soon after escaped from the institution and ran away to London. A company of thieves, including pickpocket the Artful Dodger (Anthony Newley), the hideous, unsavory, hook-nosed rogue Fagin (Alec Guinness), "the Jew," and the murderously evil Bill Sykes (Robert Newton) with his prostitute girlfriend Nancy (Kay Walsh), recruited the innocent into a life of petty street crime. After the demise or arrest of most of the gang, Oliver was rescued and taken in by kindly gentleman and benefactor Mr. Brownlow (Henry Stephenson), who was revealed to be Oliver's actual grandfather.

The Paleface (1948), 91 minutes, D: Norman Z. McLeod
An early Technicolored spoof of western films (the highest grossing Western spoof until Blazing Saddles (1974)) - and one of Bob Hope's biggest box-office hits, with lots of one-liners, slapstick, and wisecracks. Scriptwriter Frank Tashlin made it a satirical version of Owen Wister's novel The Virginian. It was followed by the sequel, Son of Paleface (1952) (again with scriptwriter Tashlin now as the director, and the two main stars), and a remake The Shakiest Gun in the West (1968) with quirky comedian Don Knotts. Noted for having Bob Hope's musical rendering of "Buttons and Bows," the Academy Award Oscar-winner for Best Song. Bob Hope was cast as a bumbling and inept frontier dentist (he learned his trade through a correspondence school) named Peter "Painless" Potter. The quack dentist helped the pistol-wielding, big-breasted Calamity Jane (Jane Russell) who was working undercover for the government (represented by Governor Johnson (Charles Trowbridge)) after her murdered male partner - fake husband and lawyer Jim Hunter, was killed while investigating the sale of smuggled guns to the Indians. [Note: The gun-running renegades were later revealed to be Terris (Robert Armstrong), the owner of The Dirty Shame saloon, and Gov. Johnson's own traitorous Indian Affairs chief Jasper Martin (Jack Searl).] In fact, the cowardly and nerdy Potter married sharp-shooting Calamity Jane as part of her cover - she wanted to dupe the outlaws into thinking that Potter was a federal agent so that she could catch the outlaws, and receive a pardon for a 10-year prison sentence. (A running joke was Hope's many failed attempts to kiss co-star Jane Russell - he was repeatedly knocked out.) By film's end, Jane gave all the heroic credit to Potter for saving their wagon train from a war party of Indians, although he also earned merit by rescuing Jane from being burned at the stake by scalp-hungry Indians, while disguised as a medicine man. They exposed their true feelings for each other en route to a honeymoon.

Red River (1948), 133 minutes, D: Howard Hawks
A classic, tightly-structured 40s Western, one of the best American westerns, from action director Howard Hawks , with beautiful photography by Russell Harlan. A film of father/son rivalry and battle of wills between two opposites, in a rebellion spanning a time period of fifteen years. It also chronicled the first monumental, historic cattle drive north along the Chisholm Trail to Abilene, Kansas. This was one of producer/director Howard Hawks' most extravagant and ambitious films (and his first western), and it cost over $3 million (overbudget) at the time - an exorbitant sum, but became a top-grossing film of the year. It authentically chronicled an epic, bleak and tough journey, similar to the ones in The Odyssey or in Exodus (in the Old Testament), that was fraught with external dangers, threats, tests of strength, and internal contentious tensions between its two strong-willed, stubborn, and conflicting leaders: a hard-nosed, self-made, bitter, dictatorial, ruthless and tough commanding father, Texas rancher and cattle baron Tom Dunson (John Wayne in one of his best performances and his first film of five for Hawks) and his men, defiantly led by his less harsh, surrogate, adopted son Matthew Garth (Montgomery Clift in his first film).
Their vicious confrontations, capped by Dunson's tyrannical, unbearably harsh treatment of deserters, led to a mutinous revolt - a western Mutiny on the Bounty - when the cowpokes supported the natural leader - Matt. Dunson vowed to pursue and kill his son that climaxed in an inevitable, brutal fist-fight and show-down. The two men were reconciled after a brutal brawl, broken up by the tough woman in the film, Tess (Joanne Dru), who stepped in and broke up their final fight to the death with a gun.

The Red Shoes (1948, UK), 133 minutes, D: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
A beautiful and sensitive film from the masterful directing/producing team of Powell and Pressburger, and filmed in breathtaking, gorgeous Technicolor - often considered the best ballet film ever made. An exquisite musical tragedy with a realistic and close look at the backstage world of a ballerina. The tale was taken - metaphorically - from Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale of the same name, about a ballerina who wore an enchanted pair of ballerina slippers that forced her to never stop dancing - and she danced herself to death. The film's magical highlight was a 20-minute stylized "Red Shoes" ballet blended and integrated seamlessly within the storyline. An ambitious young, red-headed English prima ballerina Victoria "Vicky" Page (Moira Shearer) was made a star by her Svengali-like mentor impresario and producer Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook) of the Lermontov Ballet Company. But she was soon torn between her struggling conductor-composer husband Julian Craster (Marius Goring) who could offer nothing but his love, and the obsessed impresario who could further her dancing career. She painfully struggled with making a difficult choice between her career (ballet) and love. The film ended with a melodramatic tragic death scene when Vicky fell to her death just before an encore concert presentation of The Red Shoes ballet. The controlling red shoes willfilly took her to a balcony overlook and forcefully pulled her off (into the path of an oncoming train on the tracks below), followed by a closeup of her bloody legs (and tights) and feet wearing the shoes. When she requested that Julian remove her red ballet shoes, she died. The film's final images were of the ballet being performed as planned without her (with a spotlight shining on the floor where she would have been dancing) and the announcement: "There will be no performance of The Red Shoes tonight."

Rope (1948), 80 minutes, D: Alfred Hitchcock
Director Alfred Hitchcock's first Technicolored feature film was this experimental thriller, the first of four films with James Stewart, and the famed director's most controversial work. The stagebound film, based upon Patrick Hamilton's 1929 play Rope's End, was notable for its major experimental "stunt" - the seamless intercutting of 8 long 10-minute takes, creating the appearance of the film's action occurring all in real-time in a single, continuous shot - however, there were clever splices between takes. [Note: There were two brief, reverse-angle shots also.] The story was loosely based on the notorious 1924 Leopold and Loeb murder case involving two University of Chicago students who murdered a 14 year old. The film also featured two gay villains, both wealthy pseudo-intellectuals. The two implicitly homosexual and psychopathic college buddies-lovers were -- nervous and fearful Phillip Morgan (Farley Granger), and the more caustic and arrogant Brandon Shaw (John Dall). The two thrill-killed (by rope strangulation) a third individual, Harvard undergraduate and friend David Kentley (Dick Hogan), and then hid his body in an antique wooden chest (used as the dining table) while hosting a dinner party. The guests invited to the occasion were the victim's father Mr. Henry Kentley (Sir Cedric Hardwicke) and aunt Mrs. Anita Atwater (Constance Collier), David's fiancee Janet Walker (Joan Chandler), Janet's ex-boyfriend Kenneth Lawrence (Douglas Dick), and the killers' ex-prep-school housemaster/teacher Rupert Cadell (James Stewart), whose philosophical Nietzsche lectures about "superman" (the acceptability of the privileged and superior few to murder inferiors) inspired the impressionable pair.
In one chilling, sexually-tinged scene, Shaw recounted his feelings about the murder to Morgan: "I don't remember feeling very much of anything -- until his body went limp and then I knew it was over...I felt tremendously exhilarated!" Shaw also dared the guests, particularly Cadell, to uncover why David was conspicuously absent and hinted about their secret that a body was concealed in the trunk in the middle of the room. The thriller ended when guilt-ridden Cadell suspiciously realized that his former students had actually carried out his mad theories. With gunshots, he signaled for the police to apprehend the killers.

The Snake Pit (1948), 108 minutes, D: Anatole Litvak
Director Anatole Litvak's still-disturbing psychological drama told about the horrors of mental institutions (with shadowy images of inmate torture). It was based on the fictionalized account of hospitalization in squalid conditions by Mary Jane Ward's 1946 semi-autobiographical best-selling novel. The drama was a representative social-problem film (similar to The Lost Weekend (1945) and Gentlemen's Agreement (1947)), and one of Hollywood's first mainstream films to sympathetically deal with the issue. Other similar films included Frederick Wiseman's documentary Titicut Follies (1967), or Best Picture-winning One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975). One of the film's most famous images, providing the film with its title of "snake pit," was the famous top-shot and pull-back view of inmate Virginia Stuart Cunningham (Oscar-nominated Olivia de Havilland), institutionalized (after a breakdown following severe depression) in the over-crowded Juniper Hill State Hospital. She was surrounded by insane and babbling patients as her voice-over explained: "It was strange - here I was among all those people, and at the same time, I felt as if I were looking at them from someplace far away. The whole place seemed to me like a deep hole, and the people down in it like strange animals, like, like snakes, and I'd been thrown into it, yes, as though, as though I were in a snake pit." With insomnia, memory loss (amnesia), and mood swings, a confused and frightened Virginia could not remember the circumstances of her incarceration ("I can't be sure of anything anymore.") Chief psychiatrist Dr. Mark Kik (Leo Genn) used psychotherapy techniques (narcosynthesis, shock therapy and hypnosis) to discover the repressed reasons for her mental illness, pain, distress and erratic behavior - seen in various flashbacks. Newlywed husband Robert Cunningham's (Mark Stevens) efforts to get Virginia released failed when Virginia panicked and was traumatized before a panel of clinical interrogators, and she was placed in Ward 12 for seriously-ill patients. Instances of progress were often followed by setbacks and relapses, before she was finally 'cured', reached self-understanding - and was released.

Sorry, Wrong Number (1948), 89 minutes, D: Anatole Litvak
Later remade as a 1989 TV movie starring Loni Anderson. This engrossing, expressionistically-filmed psychological thriller and film noir was adapted from a famous and popular 1943 CBS radio play (one-half hour) with Agnes Moorehead by the play's author Lucille Fletcher. The suspenseful film told about bedridden, spoiled, manipulative hypochondriac heiress Leona Stevenson (Oscar-nominated Barbara Stanwyck), whose domineering father was wealthy drug company industrialist James "J.B." Cotterell (Ed Begley). She lived alone in a Manhattan apartment where she was confined to her bed or wheelchair. One day, she accidentally overheard a crossed-wires telephone conversation between two thugs. The strangers were discussing the lurid details of a planned murder plot for that evening at 11:15 (the exact time of a loud, passing train). Then, the invalid, psychosomatic woman received two other strange phone calls on her phone (PLaza 5-1098), and slowly realized that she was to be the object of the homicide. When she reported her fears to the operator and to authorities, they didn't believe her. She made phone calls to try and locate her missing, weak-minded, henpecked and greedy husband Henry J. Stevenson (Burt Lancaster). She recalled her first encounter with her husband and parts of her life with him and others through a series of well-constructed flashbacks. More calls were made to her husband's secretary Elizabeth Jennings (Dorothy Neumann), to her former married acquaintance Sally Hunt Lord (Ann Richards) (Henry's ex-girlfriend), to her own doctor Dr. Alexander (Wendell Corey), and to chemist Waldo Evans (Harold Vermilyea) at her father's pharmaceutical company, the Cotterell drug company, where Henry worked as a VP. She was unaware that Henry had a number of dirty secrets - he was meeting - suspiciously - with Sally for lunch, and he was being swindled and blackmailed over a plan to steal drugs from the company and sell them to a fence named Morano. Coincidentally, Sally was married to city district attorney Fred Lord (Leif Erickson) who was investigating Henry. Was it possible that Henry was attempting to inherit his wife's estate (and an insurance payout) to pay off a debt of $200,000 to a blackmailer, by hiring a hitman to kill Leona? Powerless and with time dwindling in the thrilling finale, Leona became increasingly desperate and frantically tried to call Henry for help before it was too late. When she finally contacted him, he told her to go to her balcony and scream for help, as an intruder entered her room and strangled her to death. In the final line of dialogue when Henry called back, he heard the film's title spoken by an unknown man.

Spring in a Small Town (1948, China) (aka Xiao cheng zhi chun), 98 minutes, D: Mu Fei
Considered one of the greatest Chinese films ever made, shot in the post-war period when China had been devastated by Japanese occupation during the Sino-Japanese War, and had not yet been overtaken by Mao Tse Tung's Communist Party. The melancholy, haunting romantic melodrama about a love triangle, similar to David Lean's Brief Encounter and Wong Kar Wai's In The Mood For Love, was based on Li Tianji's short story, was remade by Tian Zhuangzhuang in 2002 as Springtime in a Small Town. The delicate, non-political, slowly-paced film was suppressed and banned by the Communists and not available for viewing until the 1980s. In the story, Zhou Yuwen (Wei Wei) lived a lonely, unsatisfied, unhappy and dejected life, shackled and frustrated by her care for her gentle and kind, but sickly and emasculated husband-landowner Dai Liyan (Shi Yu), once prosperous but now poor. His teenaged sister Dai Xiu (Zhang Hongmei) and faithful servant Lao Huang (Cui Chaoming) also lived in their dilapidated home, the ruins of a large estate. When her childhood sweetheart from ten years earlier, Zhang Zhichen (Li Wei), also Liyan's best friend and now a Shanghai doctor, reappeared into Yuwen's life, lustful urges began to develop along with conflicted feelings. A significant voiceover narrative described Yuwen's perspective and emotional feelings of unspoken and repressed desires. Realizing his wife's attraction to Zhang, Liyan attempted suicide by overdose but was saved by his friend.

State of the Union (1948), 123 minutes, D: Frank Capra
Adapted by scriptwriters Myles Connolly and Anthony Veiller, from the original Pulitzer Prize-winning 1945 Broadway play by Russel Crouse and Howard Lindsay. Frank Capra's and MGM's politically-tinged romantic melodrama was about an estranged couple, Grant Matthews (Spencer Tracy) and Mary Matthews (Katharine Hepburn), brought together during Grant's Presidential campaign. The wealthy, self-made industrialist, an airplane manufacturer, was coerced by his new mistress to run - over-bearing, ruthless Republican newspaper publisher Kay Thorndyke (Angela Lansbury). The power-hungry millionaireness/villainess of Thorndyke Press would bankroll his campaign as a dark horse Republican candidate (a sincere man of the common people) for the highest office, to be managed by voracious political strategist Jim Conover (Adolphe Menjou) and journalist 'Spike' McManus (Van Johnson) serving as Grant's press secretary. To avoid character issues in his marital background, and for appearance's sake, separated wife Mary, an idealist, was required to pose as Grant's devoted and faithful 'wife by his side' - and unavoidably, their romantic affections for each other were rekindled. Mary opposed Grant's willingness to sacrifice and compromise his honesty and ideals for political expediency (due to Kay Thorndyke's manipulative urgings), in order to win influential backers, the primaries and delegate votes in the 1948 Republican National Convention. In the stirring conclusion after realizing how he had turned against his own values (due to his wife's valuable perspective), the self-respecting Grant denounced both himself and his Washington-based power brokers-backers as fraudulent, dishonest and corrupt during a live, nationwide radio speech to 20 million people from his Long Island home ("I am no lamb led to the slaughter"). He withdrew himself as a candidate, and apologized to Mary, asking for her forgiveness. He also urged all of the candidates to be honest, and for the voters to participate in the election. He fired Spike - and refused to be cut off, yelling out angrily as he seized the microphone: "Don't cut me off, I paid for this broadcast!" After the speech, the Matthews were reconciled, and powers-behind-the-throne Kay and Jim were forced to find a new candidate.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), 119 minutes, D: John Huston
Director and screenwriter John Huston's classic adventure film, an adaptation of B. Traven's 1927 novel, was about three gold prospectors in the Mexican wilderness - it was essentially a tale of lustful greed, treachery, paranoia and suspicion. The three ill-matched men in the mid-1920s included an innocent, honest young American named Curtin (Tim Holt), a wise and experienced, fast-talking, grizzly, toothless old-timer named Howard (Walter Huston, the director's father), and Fred C. Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart), a greedy, deranged, selfish bastard who distrusted everyone. The two down-and-out drifters Curtin and Dobbs had first met in Tampico, Mexico (where Dobbs won the lottery), before teaming up with Howard - whom they met in a cheap flophouse. Their gold booty strike and fortune in the Sierra Madre Mountains bred violence and "gold fever," the threat of Mexican bandits led by Gold Hat (Alfonso Bedoya) who posed as the Federales, an end to their gold-digging friendships, and the homicidal undoing of the avaricious Dobbs when he was killed for his boots and mule by Gold Hat's bandits. They did not realize that the 'dust' in the saddle bags was gold. Ended with an ironic climactic scene when the wind blew the discarded gold dust away - back into the Sierra Madres.

Unfaithfully Yours (1948), 105 minutes, D: Preston Sturges
A wonderfully stylish and witty fantasy-screwball comedy, with a non-linear story line, from director-producer-writer Preston Sturges - it was the last of his Hollywood films. Remade, unsuccessfully, with Dudley Moore in the lead role in 1984. The black comedy was unsuccessful at the time of its release, possibly due to the scandalous circumstances surrounding the suicide of star Rex Harrison's lover - troubled actress Carole Landis, when he refused to get a divorce and marry her. The splendid, fine farce was the tale of British, middle-aged symphony orchestra conductor Sir Alfred de Carter (Rex Harrison) who suspected his lovely younger wife Daphne (Linda Darnell) of infidelity. During a visit to England, his brother-in-law August Henshler (Rudy Vallee), due to a misunderstanding, had hired private investigator Detective Sweeney (Edgar Kennedy) to follow Sir Alfred's wife around in his absence. After reading the report upon his return, the jealous Sir Alfred suspected that Daphne was having an affair with his own young private secretary, Anthony Windborn (Kurt Kreuger).
Then, while leading his orchestra in three different pieces, Sir Alfred elaborately daydreamed three very different versions or scenarios of how he would solve the problem of his wife's alleged infidelity - each one accompanied by a classical music piece that matched the mood. During the conducting of Rossini's overture to the opera Semiramide, Sir Alfred imagined himself, in a complex and ingenious revenge fantasy, murdering femme fatale Daphne by razor-slashing and plotting to frame and convict Windborn for the crime. While performing the second number, Richard Wagner's reconciliation theme from Tannhauser, Sir Alfred fantasized about nobly accepting the alleged infidelity by writing Daphne a large check, forgiving the young couple, and allowing his wife to run off with her young lover. And while conducting the third piece - the finale, Tchaikovsky's tone poem Francesca da Rimini overture, he saw himself challenging Daphne and Tony to a fatal game of Russian roulette. While the plans worked perfectly in his mind, he stumbled and bumbled his way through the preparations in real life to murder Daphne (the first scenario) with a complicated recording device. At last, realizing how deliriously silly and irrational he had been, he cheerfully embraced and kissed his loving wife, who had never been unfaithful, and was unaware of his plotting. (She reluctantly revealed that her sister Barbara Henshler (Barbara Lawrence) was suspected of having an affair with Tony.) Sir Alfred told Daphne as he hugged her: "A thousand poets dreamed a thousand years. Then you were born, my love."


Previous Page Next Page