1940s (2)

Written by Tim Dirks

A collection of the 100 most famous, unforgettable or memorable images, scenes, sequences or performances in films of the 20th century.

100 Greatest Film Scenes
Film Title/Year and Film Scene Description

# 43. The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

The home-coming scene is marvelously-filmed - it captures the four long years of separation between middle-aged serviceman Al Stephenson (Fredric March) and his wife Milly (Myrna Loy).

The touching, wordless homecoming scene commences when he rings his apartment's doorbell, and quickly cups his hand over the mouths of his two grown children to silence them. Son Rob (Michael Hall) and daughter Peggy (Teresa Wright) stand in amazement - overjoyed to see him. From the distant kitchen, his wife's voice asks about the unexpected visitor: "Who's that at the door, Peggy? Peggy? Rob? Who is...?"

Al's apron-clad wife suddenly stops placing dishes on the table and intuitively guesses her husband has finally come home. In a long-held shot with Al's back to the camera, she spatially appears at the end of the hallway corridor with arms half-outstretched. Both stand frozen to the ground - and then silently, slowly, move into each other's arms across the vast void. His children watch from afar as their parents share a long embrace.

# 44. Duel in the Sun (1946)

The heavy-handed, lusty western epic from David O. Selznick's production ends with an unforgettable climax of dirt, death, blood, and lust. Its orgasmically-tinged finale helped earned the film its nickname: "Lust in the Dust."

The sultry half-breed Pearl Chavez (Jennifer Jones), who has created enmity between two brothers in the McCanles family, trails the spoiled, lecherous, vicious, undisciplined, swaggering no-good Lewt McCanles (Gregory Peck).

The final notorious scene is the climax of all their confrontations together amidst a rocky outcropping.

When the depraved Lewt appears in the rocks at a long distance from her, Pearl takes aim and shoots her lover to end their passionate love-hate affair. She shows immediate remorse, thinking he's dead. But he is still alive, although wounded in the leg. He fires back, calling her a "double-crossin' bobcat." Pearl is still drawn to him, re-cocking her gun and moving forward. As she approaches, Lewt shoots Pearl in the chest, sending her into the rocks and rubble. Satisfied that he has killed her, he says: "I guess that does it," but then feels twinges of regret that he has shot his beloved, calling out "Pearl, hey Pearl!" The ex-lovers continue their bloody shoot-out in the hot desert sun and Lewt is shot in the stomach.

Seriously wounded, she drags herself over the rocks and up the side of the mountain toward her dying lover, spouting blood and shouting threats. Dying, Lewt asks Pearl to join him so that they can expire together: "Please, I gotta hold ya just once more before...I love ya. I love ya. Hurry, hurry. Hurry honey." In their final moments, she cries out for him: "Lewt, Lewt, hold on. Wait for me," and lustfully crawls toward him. They bloodily embrace and mercifully die in the dust in each other's arms.

As they die, the camera pulls back until they are lost in the landscape under the blazing, hot sun and under the massive face of Squaw's Head Rock.

# 45. Gilda (1946)

This film features the most famous role and peak performance of WWII's GI "love goddess" - the beautiful, alluring, and provocative pin-up Rita Hayworth - with her sleek and sophisticated eroticism, lush hair and peaches and cream complexion.

In an early sequence in the film, crippled Buenos Aires casino owner Ballin Mundson (George Macready) introduces his new exuberantly healthy American wife to second-hand casino manager Johnny Farrell (Glenn Ford), the film's femme fatale, in one of filmdom's best-known film entrances. He asks: "Gilda, are you decent?" She responds innocently: "Me?" as she gives a long, sensual look at Johnny, and pulls up one side of her strapless dress. "Sure, I'm decent." The hedonistic, flirtatious, auburn-haired Gilda (Rita Hayworth) has returned from their honeymoon. In her first screen appearance as she throws back her head, she responds sexily and sends her thick mane of hair flying.

The film's most memorable scene occurs later - it is Gilda's bawdy, sexy casino performance/glove striptease while singing the torchy number "Put the Blame on Mame, Boys." The lyrics of the song, filled with double entendres, describe a dangerous, threatening kind of woman who is often blamed - unfairly - by men. Following Mundson's supposed death, Johnny replaces him as her emotionally-abusive husband in a continuing love-hate relationship - another complicated, hateful marriage.

She fights back in the only way possible - with a defiant, drunken sexual exhibition that doubles as a self-fulfilling prophecy. Swathed in a black satin dress displaying bare upper arms and shoulders, her dance is deliberately designed to shame, humiliate and infuriate Johnny in public. As she sings, she beckons with extended arms toward the lusting men in the audience and peels off one of her long, elbow-length black gloves - keeping the casino audience (and viewers) in suspense - wondering whether the strapless gown will remain suspended on her frame.

Gilda's Famous Strip-Tease, in a Satin, Black Strapless Dress

Receiving accolades and encore-applause, Gilda flings her second glove toward the hungering audience. As she starts to shed her strapless dress, she entreats the men for assistance: "I'm not very good at zippers, but maybe if I had some help." She is dragged away from the stage to prevent further embarrassment.

Mundson: "Gilda, are you decent?"

Gilda: "Me?"

Gilda: "Sure, I'm decent"

# 46a. It's A Wonderful Life (1946)

Frank Capra's classic contains some of the greatest movie moments ever recorded. The phone conversation sequence has some of the most unforgettable moments of the film.

Small town Bedford Falls residents George Bailey (James Stewart) and Mary Hatch (Donna Reed) share the same earpiece extension, squeezed together, listening and talking on the same phone. George is very conscious of her being close to him, and resists his close proximity to her. He is romantically attracted and cannot deny that he loves her, but such an admission would mean remaining in Bedford Falls, where he has been forced to stay against his will and give up his other dreams.

In a long closeup of them ear-to-ear, they listen to old friend Sam Wainwright (Frank Albertson) who tells George: "Well, George Bailey-ofsky. Hey, a fine pal you are! What are you trying to do? Steal my girl?" Mary is unable to go to a different extension, because her mother is listening on the upstairs extension. Sam offers George a 'get-rich-quick' job in his new business, telling him of the bright future in plastics. But Sam wonders if George is available, cheerfully mocking him: "It's the biggest thing since radio and I'm lettin' you in on the ground floor."

All the while, George squirms and tries to contain himself, standing so close that he can smell Mary's hair. Sam tells Mary to encourage George with the offer: "Will you tell that guy I'm giving him the chance of a lifetime? You hear - the chance of a lifetime." She looks upward at him and with her lips almost on his lips reinforces what Sam has said in a whisper, but she is almost unable to say the words: "He says it's the chance of a lifetime."

The phone suddenly drops to the floor, and instead of grabbing and embracing Mary with a kiss, George holds her fiercely by the shoulders and violently starts shaking her, passionately protesting that he doesn't want to get married: "Now, you listen to me! I don't want any plastics, and I don't want any ground floors, and I don't want to get married - ever - to anyone! You understand that? I want to do what I want to do. And you're...and you're..." Then he runs out of words. She responds by crying helplessly, silently, and then George all of a sudden reverses himself and pulls Mary to himself in a fierce embrace: "I...I...Oh, Mary...Mary..."

George overcomes his resistance to her and starts to kiss her, passionately, all over her face, holding her intensely. Their undeclared love for each other overwhelms both of them. Mary's mother turns from her eavesdropping on the stairway, running away shocked: "Oh dear, oh dear!"

# 46b. It's A Wonderful Life (1946)

In the miraculous heartwarming finale, a rejuvenated George Bailey ("the richest man in town") is surrounded by all of his friends and associates in his home next to the Christmas tree to sing Hark the Herald Angels Sing and Auld Lang Syne. All of his friends have contributed to pay his rent, and he is toasted by his returning war-hero brother Harry (Todd Karns): "A toast...to my big brother, George. The richest man in town."

He and Mary glance at the handwritten inscription by angel Clarence (Henry Travers) in the front of the book Tom Sawyer ("Dear George: - Remember no man is a failure who has friends. Thanks for the wings! Love Clarence").

Zuzu (Karolyn Grimes) also notes how an ornamental bell is ringing on the Christmas tree: "Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings" (signifying Clarence's promotion to an angel with wings).

# 47. Notorious (1946)

Director Alfred Hitchcock's blackish romance/espionage thriller is known for having at the time of its production "the longest kiss in film history." The director circumvented the Hollywood code limiting a kiss to three seconds by interrupting the couple's kiss every three seconds - they never once break their embrace.

The famous marathon kissing scene lasts almost three minutes - it occurs between government agent Devlin (Cary Grant) and the playgirl daughter of a convicted Nazi spy Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman). It begins with a medium closeup shot and as they kiss and embrace on her apartment's balcony above a Rio beach.

Rio de Janeiro Kisses on Balcony and During a Phone Call
("This is a very strange love affair...Maybe the fact that you don't love me")

As the camera pulls in for a closer shot of their faces, they rapidly alternate passionate, clinging kisses and whispered endearments, first on the balcony, and then continuing with nibbling bites and nuzzling hugs as they walk from the balcony to the telephone.

During the middle of their lengthy embrace and love scene, Devlin calls his hotel and checks for his phone messages, while she tells him that they have "a very strange love affair." Afterwards, they proceed arm in arm to the front door. All the while during the seduction, they discuss dinner, hold on to each other, and carry on a conversation.

# 48. The Lady From Shanghai (1948)

One of the greatest visual effects in cinematic history is the famous, visually intriguing Crazy House/Hall of Mirrors scene at the climax of Orson Welles' film noir classic.

The setting for the sequence is the deserted funhouse/amusement park closed for the season, where itinerant Irish adventurer/sailor Michael O'Hara (Orson Welles) awakens, trips a mechanism in the "Crazy House" ("for a while there, I thought it was me that was crazy") and careens down a long, serpentine zigzag slide past a thirty-foot high dragon's mouth halfway down. At the bottom is the Hall of Mirrors where he finds blonde femme fatale Elsa Bannister (Rita Hayworth) - she confesses her guilt to him.

The Hall of Mirrors (the Magic Mirror Maze) is constructed with myriad mirrors - huge distorted closeups mingle with multiple fragmented images. A moment later, her brilliant, but crippled husband-lawyer Arthur Bannister (Everett Sloane) arrives walking with his cane - his image is multiplied a dozen times in a series of vertical panes. As they confront each other, shooting at multiple likenesses of each other, the screen erupts into a kaleidoscope of smashed glass, cracked and chipped pieces of mirror, and shattering bits of their images. Their aim is confused by the mirrors which break into splinters during the wild shooting as one fake image splinters and another replaces it.

At its climax after the panes have been blasted away, both Bannister and Elsa are mortally wounded and face each other across a scene of shattered glass. The camera films at ground level, next to Elsa as she agonizes over her death on the floor, and Michael abandons her to die as she cries out:

"Give my love to the sunrise...Oh Michael, I'm afraid. Michael! Come back here. Michael. Please. I don't want to die. I don't want to die!"

As he leaves, the revolving exit gate makes a death rattle as it rotates.

# 49. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)

In John Huston's classic tale of adventure and greed for gold, old-timer prospector Howard (Walter Huston) humorously belittles his two gold-seeking compatriots, American Fred C. Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart) and Curtin (Tim Holt) in the middle of the Mexican wilderness (in the foothills of the Sierra Madre) for wanting to prematurely turn back - and for threatening to end his life by bashing his head with a rock:

"My, my, my, what great prospectors, two shoe clerks readin' in a magazine about prospectin' for gold in the land of the midnight sun, south of the border, or west of the Rockies, ha, ha, ha...Go ahead, go ahead, throw it. If you did, you'd never leave this wilderness alive. Without me, you two would die here more miserable than rats."

Howard wonders who is truly "nuts," calls them two "dumb specimens," and then dances a lively jig in front of them. He tells them that they are ignorant - the first real traces of gold are already under their feet: "You're so dumb, you don't even see the riches you're treadin' on with your own feet." Howard bursts into maniacal laughter, howling at them. He picks up some of the earth, as the two drop to their knees scratching at the ground. "Yeah, don't expect to find nuggets of molten gold. It's rich but not that rich. And here ain't the place to dig. It comes from someplace further up. Up there, up there's where we've got to go. Up there!" Howard turns and points toward a towering mountain peak behind them.

[Mexican bandit Gold Hat's (Alfonso Bedoya) 'badges' speech is also priceless: "Badges? We ain't got no badges! We don't need no badges. I don't have to show you any stinkin' badges!"]

# 50. The Heiress (1949)

The climax of William Wyler's film is one of the most compelling and powerful ever made. Oscar-winning Olivia de Havilland in the lead role plays the 1850s era plain-looking, shy, mid-twenties heiress daughter Catherine Sloper who lives in her wealthy, tyrannically abusive father's (Ralph Richardson) elegant, lavishly-furnished mansion at 16 Washington Square. Fortune-hunting, charming, penniless suitor Morris Townsend (Montgomery Clift) courts and exploits the desperate, love-starved needs of the sheltered, awkward Catherine - she is blind to his mercenary motives. In a torturous scene, he fails to show up at her doorstep on the night of their planned elopement (vanishing after learning from her that her father threatens disinheritance), while she naively waits for him at the front window. The painful learning experience teaches her that she has been manipulated and deceived.

Years later, Catherine has matured into a more lovely, attractive, strong-willed woman and she has come into her inheritance. Thinking that he has been forgiven for his betrayal, the beguiling Townsend returns with the hope that he can be vindicated and that she will understand the reasons for his desertion and accept his second marriage proposal. After speaking to him and appearing to accept his proposal. Catherine tells him to return to the house later that night with his belongings. After he leaves, she then reveals her real intentions - to cruelly reject him. When her Aunt Lavinia (Miriam Hopkins) thinks she is being cruel, Catherine replies: "He came back with the same lies, the same silly phrases...He has grown greedier with the years. The first time, he only wanted my money. Now, he wants my love too. Well, he came to the wrong house and he came twice - I shall see that he never comes a third time...Yes, I can be very cruel. I have been taught by masters."

On the night of a second promised elopement in a stunning climactic scene of ultimate revenge, she closes all the curtains and sits calmly in her parlor finishing her embroidery while he futilely bangs on the locked, bolted front door while calling out her name. Taking a lighted lamp, the steely-eyed Catherine coldly walks up the long, extremely steep flight of stairs in the front hallway. As he watches the light move away and diminish in strength, he becomes more frenzied as he beats vainly on the door: "Catherine, Catherine, Catherine!" She turns a curve at the top of the stairs, gaining perverse, proud satisfaction from jilting him, and triumphantly fulfilling a promise to herself. The film's 'The End' appears on the screen, before the film fades to the Paramount Pictures logo.

# 51a. The Third Man (1949)

In this visually-stylish thriller with haunting zither theme music by Anton Karas, American pulp writer Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) has come to bombed-out, post-war Vienna to seek out his friend Harry Lime (Orson Welles) - unfortunately deceased.

One night, Martins becomes aware of a figure in a doorway on the opposite side of the wet street from the apartment of Lime's Czechoslovakian girlfriend Anna Schmidt (Alida Valli) when he hears her cat meow loudly. The animal rubs itself at the feet of the silent, motionless figure. The figure's big shoes are illuminated - whose are they? Holly defiantly calls out to the figure to come out and reveal himself. Then, Holly momentarily and suddenly sees Harry, the 'third man' himself.

[The third man, whom he suspected was responsible for Harry's "accidental" death.]

A light from an upstairs window briefly illuminates the figure's face, shining straight across the street. Amazed to see Harry still alive, Holly is startled by the sight of the teasing, smiling face of his friend staring back at him. The light is extinguished, and before Holly can reach his friend, a car approaches and blocks his path, coming between them. The figure makes off and vanishes to the sound of retreating footsteps in the dark as Holly finds the doorway empty by the time he crosses the street.

# 51b. The Third Man (1949)

[The final closing sequence of the film is just as memorable: Holly leans on a cart and waits on the tree-lined cemetery road for Lime's former lover Anna as she leaves Harry's second funeral on foot. Off in the distance, she is walking and approaching toward him, first a dot, then a shadow, and then a full figure - in an extremely long-held stationary shot. As he seeks in vain for any response from her, she stoically ignores him and continues by, passing him without paying any attention - without a pause, a look, a word, or a gesture. Holly follows her with his eyes, but she stares impassively ahead, walking out of his life. He lights a cigarette as the film fades to black.]

# 52. White Heat (1949)

There has never been a more fiery, sizzling apocalyptic ending for a film than the one in this Warner Bros.' late gangster film.

In the film's final sequence, mother-fixated, tormented gangster Cody Jarrett (James Cagney) and his gang rob a huge chemical plant. One by one, the other members of his gang are killed during the ambush, but Jarrett rambles with berserk boasts to the last-remaining gang member Ryley: "They think they've got Cody Jarrett. They haven't got Cody Jarrett. You hear? They haven't got him. And I wanna show ya. They haven't got him."

In the famous, climactic scene ending the film, he defiantly scrambles higher and higher around a holding tank with curving stairs circling the steel bulbous sides. At the top of the sphere, he even gleefully fires upon Ryley as he turns himself over to the police. Cody is the only one left, cornered high atop one of the gas storage tanks at a dead end - he taunts the cops with a cocky retort: "Come and get me." As Jarrett is repeatedly wounded while standing astride the globe - or the world itself - by Fallon's high-powered, scoped-rifle fire, he laughs maniacally.

Undercover T-man agent Fallon (Edmond O'Brien) asks quizzically as he recocks the gun: "What's holding him up?" Rather than giving in and submitting to the lawmen, a cackling, psychotically-mad Cody staggers around on the top of the platform as more bullets tear into him. Now out of his mind, he deliberately empties his pistol into the giant gas-tanks of the chemical plant to ignite them. The men below run from the flaming area, fearing for their lives.

And then Cody hysterically lifts his face skyward, holds out both arms, and cries out to his dead mother that he has fulfilled her oft-repeated advice to him: "Made it Ma! Top of the world!" He dies in the tremendous explosion - a mushroom cloud blast shakes the earth. Following his death, Fallon provides an additional epitaph as clouds of smoke billow up and firelight flickers on his face: "He finally got to the top of the world. And it blew right up in his face."

A collection of the 100 most famous, unforgettable or memorable images, scenes, sequences or performances in films of the 20th century.
Introduction | Silents (1) | Silents (2) | 1930s (1) | 1930s (2) | 1940s (1) | 1940s (2)
1950s (1)
| 1950s (2) | 1960s | 1970-90s

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