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


Greatest Films of the 1940s
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1941

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

Blood and Sand (1941), 125 minutes, D: Rouben Mamoulian
Director Rouben Mamoulian's and 20th Century Fox's Technicolored romance melodrama was adapted by Jo Swerling and based upon Vincente Blasco Ibanez's 1908 novel Sangre y Arena. An earlier version of the novel was portrayed in the silent film Blood and Sand (1922) starring Rudolph Valentino. The 1941 drama was intended as a follow-up film to the previous hit film The Mark of Zorro (1940) a year earlier, with the same major stars (it was the 4th and final film pairing Tyrone Power with Linda Darnell). The film had two Academy Awards nominations and won one Oscar (Best Cinematography). The storyline followed the rise and fall of an illiterate peasant from the town of Seville named Juan Gallardo (Rex Downing as child, Tyrone Power as adult) who followed in his deceased father's footsteps to become an acclaimed Madrid bullfighter. After achieving fame and wealth in the bullring about a decade later, he returned to his village to marry his aristocratic child sweetheart Carmen Espinosa (Ann E. Todd as child, Linda Darnell as adult). As Spain's greatest matador, he caught the eye of beautiful, sultry temptress and socialite Dona Sol des Muire (Rita Hayworth in a breakthrough role). His self-destructive, egotistical downfall came during their affair when he neglected his pious, long-suffering and faithful wife Carmen (and she left him), and his decadent lifestyle also affected his training and skills as a bullfighter. Rejected by his followers (and even Dona Sol), when he tried to regain his fallen fame and popularity in the bullring with one climactic fight, he was tragically gored by the bull and died in Carmen's arms. In the background, cheers erupted for up-and-coming brutish matador Manolo de Palma (Anthony Quinn), Juan's childhood friend and Dona Sol's new paramour, who was victorious over the bull. In response to the crowd that had already forgotten Juan, Manolo expressed his gratitude by bowing near the stain left in the sand by Juan's blood.

Citizen Kane (1941), 119 minutes, D: Orson Welles
This was Orson Welles' unqualified masterpiece - a major movie milestone in cinematic history. It has often been considered by most film critics as the greatest of all-time, or one of the top ten films ever made. It rewrote the rules of Hollywood cinema, setting Hollywood on its ear when first released. The film was co-written, directed, and starred in by 25-year old radio star Orson Welles in his first film effort and on a bare-bones budget. It featured an acting cast from Welles' own Mercury Theater. It was famous for its innovative cinematic techniques, quick cuts, use of shadows to intensify the drama, limited close-ups when they were in style, deep-focus photography, and dissolves. Told in flashbacks with a multi-viewpoint, non-linear script, the story was the portrait of the public and private life of a newspaper publisher, loosely based on (and paralleling) the life of William Randolph Hearst. The last dying word of newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles), the mysterious "Rosebud," sent reporter Jerry Thompson (William Alland) on a search for the meaning of the word and an understanding of the publishing giant's life. Kane built a publishing empire but ended up undone by his own excesses and obsessions, when he created a castle-like refuge (Xanadu) where he was alone.

The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941) (aka All That Money Can Buy), 107 minutes, D: William Dieterle
This cautionary moral tale was faithfully based on Stephen Vincent Benét's 1937 Faustian short story, with an Oscar-winning score by Bernard Herrmann. In 1840, poor, 27 year-old Cross Corners, New Hampshire farmer Jabez Stone (James Craig), a kind-hearted man, married for two years to Mary (Anne Shirley), was down on his luck. His family and shrewd and wise mother Ma Stone (Jane Darwell) faced eviction and were in debt to local loan shark Miser Stevens (John Qualen) - threatened with poverty and farm foreclosure. He idly offered to sell his soul for two cents to the jolly but ruthless Mr. Scratch (Walter Huston), aka The Devil or Satan (Mephistopheles). For seven years, Jabez would become financially prosperous and wealthy with lots of good luck (and "all that money can buy"), after which the Devil would take his invisible soul. Jabez found Hessian gold coins under the floor of his barn and immediately paid off his debts to Stevens, and became richer and richer (with the townsfolk owing him money as a fearsome land baron), but also became greedy and hard-hearted. Also, Scratch sent his bewitching and alluring live-in housemaid/nanny/temptress Belle (Simone Simon), callously driving off his wife Mary and newborn son. He also took up drinking and gambling. When 7 years was up, Jabez was given the option of giving up his son to save his soul - but he refused. He enlisted the aid of local hero and famous silver-tongued orator/politician Daniel Webster (Edward Arnold) to defend him - with a jury trial - to plead his case and win back his soul from an iron-clad contract. In the film's dramatic conclusion, the 12-person jury of the "damned" summoned by the Devil was composed of infamous cutthroats, brigands and traitors in American history, such as Benedict Arnold, who had previously sold their souls also. The judge was Justice John Hathorne (W.B. Warner) of the Salem witch trials, who refused cross-examination, and denied disqualification of the prejudiced jury. With eloquent oratory in the final moments, Webster gave an impassioned closing argument, which persuaded the jury and the court to turn against Mr. Scratch, destroy the contract, and have mercy on Jabez's soul.

Dumbo (1941), 63 minutes, D: Disney Studio
Disney's charming, animated story was released to theaters around the time of the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. It was the first of the Disney animated features to be released on videocassette (in 1981). It was a twist on the classic ugly duckling story, in its story about a shy little circus elephant named Dumbo. The baby pachyderm was criticized, ridiculed, and outcast for his ears which were big enough to fly with. He was separated from his mother, Mrs. Jumbo, when she was branded a mad elephant for defending him. He was befriended by circus mouse Timothy Mouse who built his confidence. Dumbo became the overnight sensation of the circus with his flying act, and he was reunited with his mother.

Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941), 93 minutes, D: Alexander Hall
This highly inventive comedy-fantasy film (with an Oscar-winning Original Screenplay) contained many plot twists and turns, and was similar in plot to Angel on My Shoulder (1946). The 1941 film's sequel was Down to Earth (1947), and it was cleverly remade as the sports fantasy Heaven Can Wait (1978) with Warren Beatty as a football player, not a boxer. It was not to be confused with Heaven Can Wait (1943) starring Don Ameche and Gene Tierney. In the story, good-natured saxophone-playing prizefighter Joe Pendleton (Robert Montgomery), "The Flying Pug," died in a plane crash in New Jersey 50 years too early due to a heavenly screw-up. He was prematurely brought to heaven (he was supposed to survive the crash) by bumbling, inexperienced busybody Heavenly Messenger No. 7013 (Edward Everett Horton) for check-off by Mr. Jordan (Claude Rains). Because heaven had called him too soon, he was sent back to Earth to live out the remaining years allotted to him, occupying someone else's body. Escorted by Mr. Jordan back to Earth, the body he entered was that of unscrupulous multi-millionaire playboy Bruce Farnsworth who had just been murdered by drowning in his bathtub by his scheming and greedy wife Julia Farnsworth (Rita Johnson) and his male secretary Tony Abbott (John Emery). The murderous pair were shocked and confused to see the deceased suddenly re-emerge from the bathroom. He also utterly befuddled his former fight manager Max Corkle (James Gleason), although was able to secretly reveal his soul's identity. Joe's/Farnsworth's reincarnated spirit fell in love with Bette Logan (Evelyn Keyes), the daughter of a man that Farnsworth had framed for securities fraud. Farnsworth trained with Max to enter a heavyweight championship boxing match against the reigning champ, when Joe/Farnsworth was again murdered by his secretary. Joe's/Farnsworth's replacement in the prize-fight with the champ was K.O. Murdoch. As the fight was about to begin, Murdoch, who had run afoul of the mob, was shot in the ring for betraying gamblers (by not "throwing" the fight). Joe's soul quickly took Murdoch's place, and
awakened in Murdock's body lying on the floor of the ring. Joe, as Murdoch, defeated his opponent and won the title of world champ, with only Max realizing that Joe's soul was in Murdoch's body. Murdoch lost his memory of his past life as Joe. In the conclusion, he was strangely drawn to Bette, even though they hadn't met.

High Sierra (1941), 100 minutes, D: Raoul Walsh
Raoul Walsh's landmark gangster film from Warner Bros. studios (with a script by John Huston adapted from the book by WR Burnett) was remade as a western titled Colorado Territory (1949) with Joel McCrea, and as I Died a Thousand Times (1955) with Jack Palance. It told about aging notorious gangster Roy "Mad Dog" Earle (Humphrey Bogart in his first lead role, although second-billed behind Ida Lupino). Pardoned after 8 years in prison, he was hired by his old crime boss, Big Mac (MacBride), to help amateur cons plan and carry out the jewel heist of a California resort hotel - one final job. He met a runaway dance-hall girl named Marie (Ida Lupino), the girlfriend of one of the thugs nicknamed Babe (Alan Curtis), who eventually became his 'tarnished angel' friend. Before the robbery, he met a destitute grandfather ("Pa") (Henry Travers) and club-footed Velma (Joan Leslie), and offered to pay for surgery to correct her disability. When he visited her after the successful operation, she rejected his marriage proposal ("We can still be friends..."), and he felt heartbroken and betrayed. Although the heist was successful, everything unraveled after a car crash, a cop was killed, and an inside connection squealed to police.
In the conclusion, Earle was the target of a suspenseful manhunt high up in the Sierra Mountains as police pursued him in a doomed last stand. Marie refused to call out to him as she told the authorities: "He's gonna die anyway, I'd rather it was this way. Go on, all of you, kill him, kill him..." Earle was shot dead from behind when he called out to his mongrel dog Pard. After he had been killed out in the open, a weeping Marie knelt over Earle's dead body, and asked an uncaring officer (who sarcastically called the dead man "Big-shot Earle" - "Look at him lying there. He ain't much now, is he?"): "Mister, what does it mean when a man crashes out?" When told that it meant being freed ("It means he's free"), she sadly repeated the word "Free?", questioning Roy's unnecessary death. She picked up Pard as she was escorted away and said the word "Free" one more time. The film ended with a blurry fadeout on Marie's tear-stained face as it filled the frame before a pan up to the mountains.

Hold Back the Dawn (1941), 115 minutes, D: Mitchell Leisen
This touching, moving soap-opera style melodrama from Ketti Frings' semi-autobiographical story was the last film written by Billy Wilder with his scripting partner Charles Brackett, before he embarked on his own directorial career. This was also the year that this film's star Olivia de Havilland was nominated as Best Actress, competing against her successful sister Joan Fontaine, also nominated for Suspicion (1941) - the first time for a pair of siblings. The film's plot was told in flashback - in the preface, the main character visited Paramount Studios in Los Angeles to sell his hard-luck romantic story to director Dwight Saxon (Mitchell Leisen, the film's actual director), for $500. An unscrupulous, hopeless Romanian refugee, dancer Georges Iscovescu (Charles Boyer) from oppressive war-ravaged Nazi Germany, was stranded in Tijuana, a Mexican border town in the Hotel Esperanza with a number of other hopeful immigrants to the US, stuck with a waiting period of five years. His plan to satisfy immigration officials, especially Inspector Hammock (Walter Abel), was to marry a US citizen to gain entry (requiring only four weeks for a visa). He met and married a lonely, shy, innocent, and trusting American schoolteacher Emmy Brown (Olivia de Havilland), who was visiting with her students on a school trip. Desperate to escape his situation, Iscovescu, a former gigolo, deceitfully lured the gullible Emmy into a quick matrimonial immigration scheme to merely gain entrance. His plan was to desert her after gaining entry, and link up with his old jealous girlfriend Anita Dixon (Paulette Goddard) from the Cote d'Azur who had also married an American to get into the US (and then had dumped him). But then, they both fell deeply in love with each other, evidenced by Georges crossing the border illegally when Emmy had a car accident and was hospitalized and unconscious in Los Angeles. [This was when Georges requested $500 in the preface, to be used to help Emmy.] Although Georges was arrested and brought back to Mexico, he was soon released to cross the border to be with Emmy.

How Green Was My Valley (1941), 118 minutes, D: John Ford
Director Ford's film was derived from Richard Llewellyn's best-selling autobiographical novel about labor unrest, personal tragedy, the end to a way of life, and the power of the family. It was beautifully directed, vividly photographed, and performed, with a well-written screenplay, and was one of John Ford's masterpieces (for which he won his third Best Director Oscar). It was highly controversial though, because it won the Best Picture Academy Award over two superior classics: Citizen Kane (1941) and The Maltese Falcon (1941). In voice-over, the life of a Welsh coal mining town in the late 1800s and early 1900s was seen through the sensitive eyes of the youngest son Huw (Roddy McDowall) of the hard-working, close-knit Morgan family (with seven children), relating the story in flashback. Many memorable performances included the family's strict anti-union patriarch Gwillym Morgan (Donald Crisp) and matriarch Beth (Sara Allgood), and the noble-spirited beauty - the lovely unmarried 17 year-old daughter Angharad (19 year-old Irish actress Maureen O'Hara). Domestic life, romance, harsh treatment at school, the departure of two Morgan boys to find their fortune in America, unrequited love between the local preacher Mr. Gruffydd (Walter Pidgeon) and the only Morgan daughter, and other events (such as a labor dispute, and a devastating mine accident) were portrayed within the warm, human story.

The Lady Eve (1941), 93 minutes, D: Preston Sturges
Director Preston Sturges' classic, witty, romantic screwball comedy of the 1940s featured traditional fast-paced dialogue, farce, slapstick (actor Fonda's multiple pratfalls) and visual humor. Considered possibly as Preston Sturges' best film, it was a wonderful 'battle of the sexes' comedy. Con artist, swindler, and professional card shark Jean Harrington (Barbara Stanwyck), with her crooked father "Colonel" Harry Harrington (Charles Coburn) made their living by charming gullible multimillionaires out of their money. On board a luxury ocean liner, she selected her next victim, millionaire herpetologist/ophiologist Charles "Hoppsy" Pike (Henry Fonda), the socially-awkward heir to a brewery fortune, who had just returned from an expedition up the Amazon River. When he was set up, she ran into one difficulty - she fell in love with her victim, but he found out about her ulterior motives before she could confess, and he dumped her. To get revenge for being coldly dropped, she posed with another identity - as an English aristocratic lady, Lady Eve Sidwich, and he fell in love with her all over again in front of his tycoon father Horace (Eugene Pallette) at the Pikes' Ridgefield, Connecticut mansion. She later extracted her revenge on their honeymoon on a speeding train.

The Little Foxes (1941), 116 minutes, D: William Wyler
Director Wyler's drama was adapted from Lillian Hellman's play (with assistance from others including Dorothy Parker), with fabulous cinematography (deep-focus) by the acclaimed Gregg Toland. It was followed by the pre-quel Another Part of the Forest (1948) with Fredric March and Ann Blyth. This was the third icy, mostly-villainous female role that Bette Davis performed for director William Wyler (after Jezebel (1938) and The Letter (1940)). It was the turn-of-the century story about a greedy, corrupt, and dysfunctional Southern family, the Hubbards, who attempted to build a factory on what was once a beautiful plantation. Brothers Ben (Charles Dingle) and Oscar (Carl Benton Reid) schemed to bring industry by building a cotton mill in their small southern town. But they needed the capital of their sister Regina's (Bette Davis) banker husband Horace Giddens (Herbert Marshall) in order to make the deal. The principled Horace, who was an invalid with a bad heart, wanted no part of their exploitative scheme despite Regina's requests. Regina's nephew Leo Hubbard (Dan Duryea), who worked in the bank, stole some bonds from Horace's safe-deposit box to make the deal work. Learning of the theft, the ruthless, manipulative and conniving Regina blackmailed her brothers into giving her a percentage of the business. Horace, however, foiled Regina's scheme when he informed her that he actually gave the money as an interest-free loan, and that he was changing his will in favor of their daughter Alexandra Giddens (Teresa Wright). Before he executed the change, he suffered a heart seizure and collapsed, and in a very bold and memorable scene, the heartless and avaricious Regina refused his pleas for help to get his medicine as he expired on the staircase. The cold-hearted Regina was left alone and deserted by her daughter.

The Maltese Falcon (1941), 100 minutes, D: John Huston
This is one of the greatest and earliest film-noir crime-detective mysteries of all-time. Director and scriptwriter John Huston's film version (his incredible directorial debut!) of author Dashiell Hammett's hard-edged and cynical detective novel was about greed and deceit, and a quest for a deceptive black bird ("The Maltese Falcon"). It was previously filmed, also by Warner Bros., as two lesser films: The Maltese Falcon (1931) (aka Dangerous Female), with Bebe Daniels and Ricardo Cortez, and as director William Dieterle's Satan Met a Lady (1936) with William Warren and Bette Davis. And then it was poorly remade as Roger Corman's Target: Harry (1969), and the comedy The Black Bird (1975) with George Segal. This version boasted superb moody images, a sinister atmosphere, a pace that accelerated as tension mounted, and an innovative film noir style. In the fast-paced B/W story, hard-boiled San Francisco sleuth/private eye Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) and his partner Miles Archer (Jerome Cowan) were approached in their 1940s San Francisco office and hired by pretty client "Ruth Wonderly" (Mary Astor) (an alias for her real name Brigid O'Shaughnessy, a treacherous and deceptive femme fatale) to trail her that evening. She falsely claimed to them that a man named Floyd Thursby (entirely off-screen) had run off and eloped with her younger sister and she wanted to locate her. That evening, the dutiful Archer was shot dead at point-blank range, and it was also reported shortly later by the authorities (by plainclothes Police Sergeant Tom Polhaus (Ward Bond)), that Thursby had also been killed - shot in the back. Had Spade retaliated in revenge for his partner's death? [Note: Thursby was actually Brigid's partner that she wanted eliminated.] Spade quickly became a murder suspect due to his ongoing affair with Archer's wife Iva (Gladys George). He found himself at the center of a great deal of attention by a group of shady, unsavory characters, including Brigid, Fat Man Kasper Gutman (Sydney Greenstreet) and his henchmen: effeminate homosexual Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre) and hired baby-faced, dim-witted gunsel Wilmer (Elisha Cook, Jr.). The group of murdering conspirators, an international gang of crooks, were on an elusive search for a valuable "black bird," a stolen jewel-encrusted Maltese Falcon statuette. Although Spade was lied to repeatedly by Brigid, he saw through her phoniness, but ended up drugged and knocked unconscious by Wilmer during his second interview with Gutman in his hotel suite. Afterwards, Spade acquired the statuette delivered to him in a package in his office by a dying Captain Jacobi (Walter Huston, John's father) of "La Paloma" that recently docked from Hong Kong. [Note: Jacobi had presumably been murdered by Wilmer, who had also killed Thursby.] Eventually, Spade brought together the uneasy alliance of self-interested, greedy falcon-seekers in his apartment, where he turned over the statue he had acquired from Jacobi - it turned out to be a fraudulent, lead counterfeit fake. Everyone but Brigid departed (while Spade reported Gutman, Cairo, and Wilmer to the police, as they left to continue their search in Istanbul). In the film's denouement, a dramatic confrontation, Brigid confessed to Spade that she had murdered his partner Miles, using Thursby's stolen gun in order to implicate him. Spade insisted that Brigid must be punished for her crime, for ethical reasons: "When a man's partner's killed, he's supposed to do something about it." He turned her over to the police, while sarcastically promising to be there when she was released, or to think of her if she was hanged. She was taken down in the enclosing cage of an elevator. Spade's parting words to Det. Sgt. Polhaus referred to the black bird: "The stuff that dreams are made of."

Major Barbara (1941, UK), 131 minutes, D: Gabriel Pascal
Hungarian emigre producer/co-director Gabriel Pascal's social satire and sophisticated comedy about poverty, spirituality and wealth was based on the 1905 stage play of the same name by well-established playwright George Bernard Shaw. An earlier Shaw play adapted for the big screen was Pygmalion (1938, UK). As he had done for Pygmalion, Shaw wrote the screenplay for the film (assisted by Anatole de Grunwald), and although changes were required to transition from the stage play to the film format, it basically retained the themes and structure of the original. The film's length was an issue, and Pascal's full 2 hour and 11 minute version wasn't shown until years later. Problems with filming included budget and time constraints, censorship, and the ever-present threat of attack during the German blitzkrieg. Each of the three main characters embodied a certain ideal or perspective (in simple terms, religion, education, and commerce). The title character was self-righteous socialist 'Major Barbara' - a young, religious and naively-idealistic Barbara Undershaft (Wendy Hiller), who had joined the Salvation Army to save souls. She despised her estranged, more realistic and wealthy capitalist father Andrew Undershaft (Robert Morley), who was a weapons-armament industrialist-manufacturer during the war years. And thirdly, Professor Adolphus "Dolly" Cusins (Rex Harrison) was a young, elite scholar-intellectual and an ancient Greek history and literature specialist. Other members of Barbara's family in London included her aristocratic, high-society controlling mother Lady Britomart (Marie Lohr), her younger sister Sarah (Penelope Dudley-Ward), and her younger brother Stephen (Walter Hudd). Sarah's often-present engaged suitor in the household was Charles Lomas (David Tree). In the first basic half of the film, the charming Professor fell in love with Barbara during the course of her work when he first met her at one of her ministry meetings, and later, he became a Salvationist (mostly due to his love for her) and a member of the Army's band. Many of the saved souls at the Army's shelter admitted they were there for free food and housing. At the shelter, bullying Cockney non-believer Bill Walker (Robert Newton) beat up his teenaged girlfriend Jenny Hill (Deborah Kerr in her film debut), but was subdued and made to change his ways and seek forgiveness by Major Barbara's intervention. In the second half of the film, Andrew Undershaft unexpectedly donated 50,000 pounds to the Salvation Army that was happily accepted by the Army's General (Sybil Thorndike). He also took Barbara on a tour of his weapons-plant, boasting of how his benevolent capitalistic business improved and benefitted the lives of the common folk and all of mankind more than charity and faith. In protest to the tainted money, Barbara resigned. Searching for an heir to his empire, Andrew disowned his son Stephen (since he wasn't a "foundling"), adopted Cusins instead, and placed him in charge to direct his business. In the end, the disillusioned but converted Barbara with shattered beliefs had aligned herself and found an allegiance to her father's perspective and way of thinking.

Meet John Doe (1941), 123 minutes, D: Frank Capra
Frank Capra's (and scriptwriter Robert Riskin) dramatic, endearing, and poignant social/political commentary was the director's third Depression-Era populist melodrama - again a parable about an honest, common man's struggle against powerful corruptive forces, following after Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936) and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939). Clever young reporter Ann Mitchell (Barbara Stanwyck) for The Bulletin (a NY newspaper in the midst of being sold) was threatened with being fired from her position by her new managing editor Henry Connell (James Gleason) due to her tame and undramatic columns. As a last desperate and manipulative act to keep her job, in her last published column, she created a fictional "John Doe" character to comply with her publisher's demands for content that would stimulate circulation during hard times. In a letter to the editor, her "Doe" individual wrote that he was for the common man and little guy, but was so disgusted by powerful political corruption (and big money interests) that he was going to commit suicide by jumping off City Hall's roof on Christmas Eve. There was a lot of publicity, uproar and ruckus following the letter's publication (in the offices of the Governor (Vaughan Glaser), the Mayor (Gene Lockhart), the Chamber of Commerce and others) - while newspaper circulation dramatically improved. Ann's ploy worked very well as a publicity stunt for the time-being, but after she admitted to Connell that it was a phony letter to simply create "fireworks," she was persuaded to continue writing "John Doe" letters to appeal to the masses. When the public's interest continued to take off, the paper had to save its image and find a bogus impersonator to be the real John Doe. They hired naive, plain-speaking, homeless and unemployed tramp, ex-baseball pitcher "Long John" Willoughby (Gary Cooper) with an injured arm who quickly became a national hero. John (aka John Doe) was joined by his vagrant, disdainful, and anti-social tramp companion who was simply named "The Colonel" (Walter Brennan) - he humorously and skeptically called compromised individuals "heelots." Unwittingly, "John Doe" became the manipulated tool of the paper's unscrupulous, and vicious publisher (of the newly-purchased metropolitan newspaper renamed The New Bulletin) - a corrupt, "fascist" and wealthy right-wing politician named D. B. Norton (Edward Arnold). To keep the scam going, "John Doe" was set up to deliver a 15-minute radio speech (scripted by Ann), to share his idealistic, philosophical, and populist maxims and thoughts about the values of the common person ("the average guys"). His words thoroughly resonated with listeners and followers who began to form "John Doe" Clubs country-wide - a potentially-powerful political force. Although Willoughby was soon disillusioned about being a fake and considered ending the hoax, he was encouraged to prevail by the words of Bert Hansen (Regis Toomey), a self-conscious soda jerk and his embarrassed but proud wife (Ann Doran), who told him how his message of 'love thy neighbor' had changed their lives. Norton was expecting to maximize the popularity of the John Doe Club movement to further his own political ambitions and the establishment of a police state. He had designs to manipulate an upcoming convention as an endorsement for his fascist party's run at the White House. In one of the film's most powerful scenes held at a rally during a rain storm (attended by over 20,000 'John Doe' followers in a ball park), 'John Doe' threatened to reveal the truth. Realizing that the John Doe movement was no longer of any use, Norton publically denounced Willoughby as a fraud. Completely defeated, Willoughby realized that the only way out was to actually commit suicide by jumping off City Hall. All of the main characters were brought together atop City Hall in the final dramatic sequence, to try to dissuade him from suicide. He listened to an hysterical Ann who admitted her love for him and begged and pleaded for him not to kill himself. But it was only after the encouraging words of Bert and other club members ("the people") about their steadfast belief in him, that he decided to not go through with it. The final words of the film were Connell's retort to Norton: "There you are, Norton! The people! Try and lick that!"

Never Give a Sucker an Even Break (1941), 71 minutes, D: Edward F. Cline
This absurd, wacky film spoofed the film industry and Hollywood, with Fields in his last starring role in a feature-length film. It was a surrealistic film with no real plot, only a series of very funny scenes and bizarre sequences one after the other, to skewer the entire movie business. The Great Man (W. C. Fields), a film scriptwriter, attempted to get backing from a skeptical producer (Franklin Pangborn) at Esoteric Studios for a movie he wished to make about one of his highly improbable romantic adventures. He related the whole story in the hopes of getting financial support. He drunkenly fell out of an airplane, diving to retrieve his bottle of booze, and fell thousands of feet to the ground. He landed in a strange country named Ruritania in the mountain retreat of Mrs. Hemoglobin (Margaret Dumont). There, he met attractive Ouliotta Delight Hemoglobin (Susan Miller), who had never met a man - and he taught her how to play "Post Office." The producer threw the Great Man out of his office after listening to the absurd, impossible tale. The film concluded with a classic car chase scene - he drove an obese woman through downtown Los Angeles to the maternity hospital.

One Foot in Heaven (1941), 106 minutes, D: Irving Rapper
This wholesome, nostalgic, heartwarming, poignant and moving film was told episodically, and based on a biographical book written by Hartzell Spence, the son of the actual real-life minister. Although trained to be a doctor, William Spence (Fredric March) in the early 1900s decided to quit his studies and devote himself to God and ministry. The Rev. Spence, now a devoted Methodist minister began his work in a small town in an Iowa community at the turn of the century. He moved from community to community over a period of years, building up the faith of troubled parishes. With his ever-faithful wife Hope Morris Spence (Martha Scott), they were forced to cope with the clash between fast-changing attitudes and church teachings.

Sergeant York (1941), 134 minutes, D: Howard Hawks
Howard Hawks' true, but unusual biographical story of World War I's biggest war hero (Alvin York) was the highest grossing film of the year. It was a sensitive, affecting, and compassionate portrayal of York with fast-paced action sequences and some wartime propagandizing. The authentic war saga offered a portrait of a poor Tennessee backwoods mountain boy Alvin C. York (Best Actor-winning Gary Cooper). His hot-headed brawling, hell-raising life in Pall Mall changed when he fell in love with teenaged Gracie Williams (Joan Leslie), worked hard to buy farm land for them sometime in the future, and had a life-changing religious experience signaled by a bolt of lightning. When the war broke out, he refused to enlist (as a conscientious objector) when he had become deeply religious and pacifistic ("I ain't a-goin' to war. War's killin', and the book's agin' killin! So war is agin' the book!"). However, he was reluctantly drafted into World War I service, and heroically fought in the war, mostly as a great marksman, and killed about 20 Germans (in a machine gun nest to save his comrades). Most famously, he captured (almost single-handedly) a large regiment of 132 German soldiers in the Battle of the Argonne in 1918, becoming the most decorated soldier of the war. Upon his return, he was greeted with parades, the gift of a farm and house by the people of Tennessee, and the love of Gracie.

Sullivan's Travels (1941), 91 minutes, D: Preston Sturges
Director Sturges' landmark, classic Hollywood satire and social comedy was thought by many to be his greatest film. A successful yet naive Hollywood film director John L. Sullivan (Joel McCrea), known for making lightweight, trite movies (musicals and comedies), became disgruntled. He decided to research his next "message" picture to be titled "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" - one that would be more socially worthwhile, by leaving Hollywood disguised in hobo's clothing with only ten cents in his pocket. He nomadically set off cross country for new material for his next movie - about how the common people were experiencing the Great Depression, so that he had a fresh, first-hand experience of the dark days of suffering. He was joined by a waitress and has-been actress dubbed The Girl (Veronica Lake) to encounter the common people during their journey. Only when Sullivan, after one failed attempt to shake off the publicity-seeking studio, experienced real poverty, loss of his name and memory, and his freedom, did he begin to understand the plight of his beaten companions. When he viewed a Mickey Mouse cartoon in a brutal work camp where he had been sentenced to a 6-year term, he discovered the real value of laughter and returned reinvigorated to Hollywood to make comedies that would lift people's spirits.

Suspicion (1941), 99 minutes, D: Alfred Hitchcock
After the release of Hitchcock's suspenseful classic thriller, Joan Fontaine won the Best Actress Academy Award. [Note: Some thought it was a consolation prize for not winning the previous year for Rebecca (1940).] A lonely, prim, overprotected and very rich British wall-flower, Lina McLaidlaw (Joan Fontaine), was courted by and fell in love with charming, flamboyant, and debonair playboy Johnnie Aysgarth (Cary Grant), known for his womanizing, fortune-hunting reputation. In an unusual courtship, she learned very little about him and his background. She married him, but then unearthed clues and began to suspect that he was trying to kill her, with a nightly poisoned glass of milk delivered to her. He had created financial difficulties for himself in an embezzlement scheme, and she feared, with mounting tension as the film progressed, that he had plans to do away with her to collect an insurance payoff. Unfortunately, the studio modified the ending, making it a disappointing and contrived finale with a happy ending. She barely escaped death after a careening drive on a twisty cliffside road with Johnnie driving.

That Hamilton Woman (1941, UK), 128 minutes, D: Alexander Korda
Director Korda's touching, poignant and sadly beautiful costume drama was reportedly Winston Churchill's favorite film. It was a realistic, historical portrayal of the ill-fated, tragic romance between England's famous Naval Commander/hero Lord Admiral Horatio Nelson (Laurence Olivier) and Lady Emma Hart Hamilton (Vivien Leigh), portrayed by two married stars who also had an affair while married to other spouses. The story was told in flashback by a drunken cellmate, the former Lady Hamilton. She was a beautiful, vivacious and intelligent woman of poor, common origin - a dance hall girl. She had raised herself up to become an unloved "trophy" wife of the British ambassador to the court of Naples, Sir William Hamilton (Alan Mowbray) in 1786. Seven to eight years later, Lady Hamilton met the dashing Nelson when he again visited Naples to ask for the king's support in the fight against Napoleon - and soon Nelson was victorious in the British war in Egypt against the French. When he returned as a wounded Admiral, they fell passionately in love - and she took care of him when he was exhausted and in poor health (he lost an arm and eye in battle). Sir Hamilton allowed their affair occur. But their love was continually thwarted because Lord Nelson was married to a stern and unforgiving Lady Nelson (Gladys Cooper). When Sir Hamilton died, he left his inheritance to his nephew, leaving Lady Hamilton penniless. Lord Nelson asked his wife Lady Nelson for a divorce so that he could marry the pregnant Emma, but she refused. The couple were able to defy gossipers by setting up housekeeping (with their child) for a few years in the English countryside cottage. Emma encouraged Nelson to resume military command against Napoleon's fleet, and although the British forces were victorious at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, he was mortally wounded when fatally shot on board his flagship HMS Victory. As a result, Emma was again left destitute.

The Wolf Man (1941), 71 minutes, D: George Waggner
One of the last of Universal's great monster films was this classic horror film - a tense, well-made, and eerie production. This film spawned many sequels with Lon Chaney, Jr. continuing in the role with which he would always be identified - the wolfman. Star Lon Chaney, Jr. would eventually star in a total of five werewolf films from 1941 to 1948. It was also remade as The Wolfman (2010) starring Benicio del Toro. Easy-going, innocent British heir Lawrence Talbot (Lon Chaney, Jr.) returned to Wales to the castle-mansion of his father Sir John Talbot (Claude Rains) after an education in America. When he visited an antique shop and its pretty shopkeeper Gwen Conliffe (Evelyn Ankers), the daughter of the shopowner, he purchased a rare silver-topped, wolf-headed cane with a pentagram design - a symbol of the werewolf. Shortly after, at a gypsy festival attended by Larry, Gwen, and Gwen's girlfriend, beautiful young Jenny Williams (Fay Helm), Jenny had her palm read by traveling gypsy fortune-teller Bela (Bela Lugosi). Nearby was his mother Maleva (Maria Ouspenskaya), another gypsy fortune teller - and the results were alarming (the image of a pentagram) - meaning she would be the werewolf's next victim. Then, Talbot was bitten by a ravenous, hairy werewolf (also Bela Lugosi) when he attempted to save Jenny from being attacked on the moors. When the police investigated, they only discovered the bodies of Jenny and Bela (who had been beaten to death by the silver-topped cane that Talbot used as a weapon). Maleva informed Talbot that the bite was from no ordinary wolf - he had been bitten by a werewolf, and at each new full moon, he was now condemned like her son was. Indeed, Talbot saw the fabled pentagram in the palm of Gwen's hand - a sign that she would be his next victim. That night the moon was full, and Talbot was transformed into a blood-thirsty creature, who first killed the gravedigger. In the final moments of the film, Talbot's father joined a search party and killed the beast with the silver cane as it attacked Gwen on the moors, ending the man's suffering. After Talbot's body (transformed from a werewolf and reverted back to the human facial features of Talbot) was found at the site, he was praised as Gwen's heroic rescuer. However, Sir John had looked on in horror, realizing that he had slain his own son.


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