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

Adam's Rib (1949), 101 minutes, D: George Cukor
A great, sophisticated, battle-of-the-sexes comedy, one of Hollywood's greatest comedy classics, about husband-and-wife lawyers who take opposite sides of a court case, from a forward-looking screenplay with snappy dialogue by Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin - the husband and wife's second collaboration with director George Cukor. Often rated as the best pairing of the nine films of the legendary screen team of Tracy and Hepburn - it was their sixth film together. The film was originally titled Man and Wife. Chauvinistic District Attorney Adam Bonner (Spencer Tracy) prosecutes a 'dumb blonde' Doris Attinger (Judy Holliday in her debut role) for attempted murder. The bombshell vengefully shot and wounded her philandering, two-timing husband Warren (Tom Ewell) with mistress Beryl (Jean Hagen). His savvy wife Amanda Bonner (Katharine Hepburn) victoriously defends the woman with feminist, women's rights arguments, upsetting sexist double standards. At film's end, Adam conclusively admits the profound differences between males and females: Vive la difference.

All the King's Men (1949), 109 minutes, D: Robert Rossen
Best Picture-winning film. Robert Rossen's fictionalized account of the rise and fall of backwoods rebel lawyer and politician - a story inspired by the rule (and despotic abuse of power) of Louisiana's colorful state governor (1928-32) and Democratic U.S. Senator (1932-35), the notorious Huey Long - better known as "The Kingfish." It is a melodramatic story of the corruption of power by an ambitious demagogue, adapted and based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning and best-selling 1946 novel of the same name by Robert Penn Warren, and filmed from a script by producer-screenwriter-director Robert Rossen (known for directing other films such as Body and Soul (1947) and The Hustler (1961)). The main difference between the novel and the film was the reversal of the major roles: the narrating newspaper reporter took precedence over the power-hungry governor in the novel. In the film, the secondary character was the reporter Jack Burden (John Ireland), while the central character was small-town lawyer-turned-politician Willie Stark (Broderick Crawford). One of the film's posters proclaimed: "He thought he had the world by the tail...till it exploded in his face...with a bullet attached..." This great political drama was a breakthrough film for Broderick Crawford from his B-picture status - his performance is very compelling, electrifying and impressive as he is transformed from a backwoods, honest and naive lawyer into a dirty, unscrupulous and sleazy politician.

Battleground (1949), 118 minutes, D: William A. Wellman

Beyond the Forest (1949), 96 minutes, D: King Vidor

Champion (1949), 99 minutes, D: Mark Robson

The Heiress (1949), 115 minutes, D: William Wyler
A great romantic drama based on Henry James' 1880 novella Washington Square, with an icy musical score from Aaron Copland. In mid-19th century New York City, a plain, repressed, shy and virginal 'heiress' daughter Catherine Sloper (Olivia de Havilland) lives with her wealthy, arrogant, imperiously abusive, and domineering, widowed, patriarchal physician Dr. Sloper (Ralph Richardson). She remains a spinster, after her young, first love toward a handsome, but penniless, mysterious suitor and mercenary, scheming fortune hunter Morris Townsend (Montgomery Clift) is thwarted by her stern, tyrannically-selfish father, who threatens to deny the bride-to-be her inheritance. Pitifully, she is jilted on the night of their elopement. Over many years, her anger is suppressed and simmers, and surfaces when insincere scoundrel Townsend returns and again asks for her hand in marriage. With rational, cold, controlled rage, she turns the tables on him in the final, chilling scene.

Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949, UK) (aka Noblesse Oblige), 106 minutes, D: Robert Hamer

On the Town (1949), 98 minutes, D: Gene Kelley and Stanley Donen

The Reckless Moment (1949), 82 minutes, D: Max Ophuls

She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), 103 minutes, D: John Ford

The Third Man (1949, UK), 100 minutes, D: Carol Reed
A British film noir thriller adapted from Graham Greene's novella written to prepare the film's screenplay, then later published. It was set in corrupt and desperate post-WWII Vienna during the Cold War. With a haunting zither musical score and theme from Anton Karas. A pulp Western novelist Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) assumes the role of an amateur sleuth as he looks for old friend Harry Lime (Orson Welles) who has reportedly been killed in Vienna. He seeks to unravel the mystery of the presumed-dead friend with a probing search, and an infatuation with Lime's girlfriend Anna Schmidt (Alida Valli). The first appearance of Lime is in a doorway, as a light suddenly illuminates his sardonic smile. Includes the dramatic scene atop a ferris wheel, a suspenseful manhunt - into the underground city sewers for the shadowy, marked man - a notorious black-market drug dealer who preys on the sick, and the famed ending of Anna's stoic shunning of Martins.

Twelve O'Clock High (1949), 132 minutes, D: Henry King

Whisky Galore! (1949, UK), D: Alexander Mackendrick

White Heat (1949), 114 minutes, D: Raoul Walsh
One of the most volatile, super-charged gangster-crime films ever made, about a psychopathic, homicidal, mother-devoted gangster. Tough-guy, eccentric Cody Jarrett (James Cagney) leads a gang of train robbers, supported by the ministrations of his beloved Ma (Margaret Wycherly) and the love of wife Verna (Virginia Mayo) who is unfaithful with gang member Big Ed Somers (Steve Cochran). When imprisoned and he learns of his mother's death, the mother-fixated Cody goes beserk. After an escape from prison during a riot, he is betrayed by an undercover agent/informant Vic Pardo/Hank Fallon (Edmond O'Brien) during the payroll robbery of an oil refinery. In the legendary finale, Jarrett is consumed in the flames of a holding tank explosion as he proclaims: "Made it Ma! Top of the world!"

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