Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Films of the 40's

This is the time of the year to watch movies, with time on your hands at home. I’d like to suggest some movies from one of my favorite eras, the 1940’s. (The best film era is the 1970’s.) This generation were made up of people who had lived through the Great Depression and World War II. They were weary and street-wise. If 30’s films were escapism and the 50’s were fluff, then the 40’s were harsh realism. I picked my Top Five:

Twelve O’Clock High (1949): This first got me into 40’s films. I was shocked to find out this was made only a few years after the war they depict. No propagandistic white washing here. General Savage (Gregory Peck) takes over an American bomber unit responsible for raiding Nazi Occupied Europe from England. Americans were engaged in daylight precision bombing, and with no fighter escort, they were being shot down disastrously. Morale is low and Savage is there to kick some ass into shape. He takes them up, flying in the massive formation on missions himself. Many planes are lost, there is real air-combat footage. Waist gunners battling the swarming German fighter planes trying to shoot each other down. B17’s being blown up.

Savage tries to hold them together. In a speech to the stone faced squadron he says:

"We've got to fight. And some of us have got to die. I'm not trying to tell you not to be afraid. Fear is normal. But stop worrying about it and about yourselves. Stop making plans. Forget about going home. Consider yourselves already dead. Once you accept that idea, it won't be so tough."

Can you imagine a general saying this in modern times? It’d be all over the newspapers and internet within hours.

Well worth watching with an ending that makes you want to pour a drink afterwards.

The Big Sleep (1946): I love Raymond Chandler’s books about hard boiled PI Phillip Marlowe, and this was my favorite. Before I had ever seen this movie, I felt it was a given that Marlowe had to be played by Humphrey Bogart. Nobody has ever had, or will ever have, screen presence like Bogie. For the era of the fedora, trench coat, cigarettes, bottle in the desk drawer, tough guy voice: nobody was cooler. It’s a great mystery story with style and twists. Lauren Bacall is also fabulous as Vivien.

Citizen Kane (1941): I’m not going to be original by saying that this is special. Every “greatest movies of all time” list has it listed as #1. People feel like they have to watch this movie. Don’t let that stop you. It’s not pretentious. As soon as the movie starts, you know it’s compelling. They do the pre-television “Newsreel” story of Charles Foster Kane’s life. He has died, he was the wealthiest man in the world. A reporter is assigned to find out the true story. Kane was a press baron, modeled after William Randolph Hearst. He was so rich that the people in his life were mere toys to be played with. The film follows his life from childhood to his bitter old years. It’s a great way to spend two hours during the holidays.

Casablanca (1942): Once again, I’m not breaking ground by recommending this. Ingrid Bergman’s Ilsa Lund emotionally cons Humphrey Bogart’s Rick Blaine into giving her and her husband coveted plane tickets out of Vichy French (hence Nazi overview) controlled Casablanca in Morocco. It is not a sappy romance film. Ilsa and Rick had had an affair the year before, which he has never gotten over. My favorite scene is when after hours, Rick is alone getting drunk at his club, and feeling sorry for himself when Ilsa walks in to make her case. He can’t match her beauty and sophistication. She gets what she wants and has him feeling good about helping her out in the end.

Double Indemnity (1944): Film Noir got started with this Billy Wilder classic. Fred MacMurray (My Three Son’s dad) is an insurance salesman who meets a seductive dame (Barbara Stanwyck) who wants to kill her husband and do a life insurance scam. As with this genre, we see a normally law abiding person get tangled up in a scam for adventurous and greedy purposes that ends with tragic results. There’s no easy money, or carefree life in the 40’s.


  1. What, you haven't listed The Postman Always Rings Twice?

  2. I've seen the 80's version with Nicholson and Jessica Lang, so I hadn't bothered watching that that one.

  3. What about the 1978 version of "The Big Sleep"?

    Robert Mitchum plays Marlowe.

    I haven't seen it. It gets a much lower rating on IMDB than the Bogart movie, but I am always intrigued by Mitchum.

    In the orginal Cape Fear, Mitchum played a more subtle Max Cady, who I think was equally as menacing in his own way, than was De Niro's version in the Scorsese remake.

  4. What - more menacing than the scene where De Niro snapped Illeana Douglas' arm in half, bit off a chunk of her face, and beat her into unconsciousness?

  5. You're right - that was a horrific moment! I hate Illeana Douglas, but I still can't re-watch that scene.

    But back to Mitchum in Cape Fear - it's the slow, methodical way he walks down the sidewalk to follow the daughter into the school; and then down the dock to talk to wife on the boat.

    80's horror movies adopted the same slow steady gait for killers Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees.

    It works.

  6. What about Angels with Dirty Faces? James Cagney stars as the gangster Rocky Sullivan. The ending where Rocky gets dragged kicking and screaming to electric chair is pretty gripping. Bogart and Pat O`Brien are also in the flick. I am not sure what year it was released.

  7. It was released in 1938. That was a great one and I love Cagney.