The Great Dictator (1940)- Charles Chaplin

 ★★★★★

&

My Hall of Fame

 

If there is anyone who can successfully make anything to do with either WWII or Adolph Hitler a joke, it would be Charles Chaplin- even if it came with his later regrets. The Great Dictator (1940)When the famous comedian decided to (almost single-handedly) create a satirical comedy-drama, poking fun at Hitler himself, as well as many others closely involved with Hitler, Chaplin knew he could do it successfully because he found humor where others did not. Years later, after the atrocities of the Nazi’s and their actions were known to the world, Chaplin admitted that he would never have made a film like “The Great Dictator” (1940) if he would have understood the truth behind what was happening in Europe. Whereas this attitude is understandable, the powerful message that this enormously important (and somewhat underrated) film has to offer, combined with Chaplin’s fearless performance, create a cinematic experience that is both hilarious at times, and heart-wrenching at others.

“The Great Dictator” opens during the great war, as an unnamed Jewish soldier (Chaplin in one of two roles) is fighting for his fictional country of Tomainia. The Great Dictator (1940)After a series of amusingly comedic blunders, he finds himself helping Commander Schultz (Reginald Gardiner) into an airplane and flying secret documents to their commanding officer. They crash, just as the war comes to an end, but the Jewish man suffers from memory loss, and the next twenty years go by without him remembering anything.

Jumping forward to that time, it turns out that the Jewish man is in fact a barber, who runs a shop in the ghetto. (He looks similar to Chaplin’s famous Little Tramp, but also has many differences.) He returns to his work, next door to Hannah (Paulette Goddard), a laundress, who bond over a physical dispute with local stormtroopers. He is unaware that being Jewish is no longer acceptable, now that the notoriously brutal dictator Adenoid Hynkel (also Chaplin) has begun his master plan of world domination.

The remainder of the movie is cut into two sections. One between scenes of the dictator, or “The Phooey” as he is called, as he stumbles about trying to take over the world with his cohorts, Garbitsch (Henry Daniell) and Herring (Billy Gilbert). The Great Dictator (1940)The other involves the Jewish barber and Hannah reeking havoc on Hynkel’s stormtroopers. Needless to say, there is a ton of laughs awaiting in both stories, and, as Hynkel and the barber look alike, everything is culminating toward an inevitable big finish.

Charlie Chaplin is a genius, in every aspect of the word. In addition to starring as both leading characters in the movie, Chaplin also wrote, produced, and directed. He even wrote the musical score along with Meredith Wilson (who later would give Chaplin the “creative” credit). “The Great Dictator” is completely his vision, and even though many stepped up and tried to take credit for contributing ideas, Chaplin is the one man smart enough and brave enough to pull it all together- and not just into a decent film, but into a true masterpiece.

The Great Dictator (1940)

The comedic value here (like all of Chaplin’s films) in undeniable. You can’t help but laugh and smile throughout as he, in his first full-talking film, delivers with dialogue, facial expressions, set pieces, and, of course, physical stunts. The surprise of this picture isn’t in the comedy, but in the drama. Chaplin had a message to deliver, and “The Great Dictator” gave him the outlet he needed. Making a film such as this, at such a crucial time in the world’s history, could have ended in absolute failure. Chaplin, however, doesn’t seem to know how to fail, and ended up creating an important, memorable film that even today gives viewers a chance to see how influential and important one man could be. The Great Dictator (1940)There is a story that Chaplin had seen the German film “Olympia” (1938), and used it to aid him designing “The Great Dictator”. I wasn’t around in 1940 to see how this movie played as a piece of propaganda, but it is both moving and inspiring today.

Besides Chaplin, who gives not one, but two brilliant performances, Paulette Goddard also contributes with her usual perfect blend of hilarious, almost slapstick comedy, and touching drama. She constantly has to continue jumping back and forth between the serious scenes and the comedic ones, which is not all that easy to do. Also getting in on the fun is Jack Oakie, who plays a neighboring dictator named Benzino Napaloni. (Man I love Chaplin’s character names!) The Great Dictator (1940)Oakie is so entertaining in this film that he even earned himself an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.

When it was all said and done, “The Great Dictator” became Chaplin’s highest grossing movie. Also, after the fiasco centered on the Academy’s removal of 1928’s “The Circus” (and don’t get me started on the stupidity of that!), “The Great Dictator” ended up being the only one of his films to be a Best Picture nominee, and his only Best Actor nomination. (Both of which were thoroughly deserved.) Today “The Great Dictator” is not the first of his films that will come to a movie fan’s mind, but with classic comedies like “The Gold Rush” (1925), “City Lights” (1931), and “Modern Times” (1936), it is easy to see how “The Great Dictator” has been lost in the shuffle. Trust me, however, when I tell you that missing out on seeing this amazing film would only be an injustice to both Chaplin and to yourself.

Jesse James (1939)- Henry King

 ★★★★

 

In John Ford’s perfect western film,“The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” (1962), a newspaper man (Carleton Young) given the opportunity to set the record straight says, “This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” This one brief, but thought-provoking statement can basically sum up the story for Henry King’s western “Jesse James” (1939). Jesse James (1939)This is not a film based on the facts surrounding the life of Jesse James- it’s entertainment based off of legends and myths about one of America’s most notorious outlaws. With that being said, who cares? It doesn’t matter if any of the facts are accurate or truthful. It doesn’t even matter if it comes close because Tyrone Power is our hero. He can’t be an outlaw, he must be misunderstood. Aside from Tyrone being our “hero”, it still doesn’t matter how factual this film ends up being because this is one hell of an enjoyable western.

The film opens as crooked railroad man, Barshee (Brian Donlevy), and his gang of “businessmen” are harassing and coercing farmers into selling their land to the railroad. When they arrive at the James Farm, however, they encounter more than they expected when the family matriarch (Jane Darwell) refuses to sign anything. Barshee is even more shocked when he tries to get physical with Frank James (Henry Fonda), and Frank easily overpowers him. Banshee tells his gang to jump Frank, and that is when Frank’s younger brother Jesse (Tyrone Power) emerges, using his pistol as a way to keep the fight between Frank and Banshee a fair one. You see, he only gets violent to keep things fair and even.

Later Banshee returns for revenge, but when he doesn’t find Jesse or Frank, he becomes angry and somewhat accidentally kills their mother, thus enraging the brothers further, and subsequently creating an enemy for himself… and for the railroad.

Jesse James (1939)Jesse, Frank, and their band of outlaws begin robbing trains in order to “teach the railroad a lesson”, but it begins to wreak havoc on Jesse’s personal life, including his relationship with future wife, Zee (Nancy Kelly). She wants Jesse to give up these evil ways, and even convinces a local Marshall (Randolph Scott) to bring him in peacefully, with a reduced sentence on the table. Of course there is a double-cross instituted by another despicable railroad man (Donald Meek), and after a jailbreak, Jesse and Frank are back to a life of crime, now expanded from trains to banks. But the real drama of the story isn’t a conflict between the James boys and they powers that be, it’s Jesse’s internal struggle between being a “normal” man with his wife and son, or a vengeance seeking outlaw, always trying to get ahead.

Tyrone Power is a magnificent choice in the role of Jesse James, especially when he is portrayed as a hero. His striking good looks and picturesque persona make his mere presence something romantic and inviting. He truly captivates the screen in every frame, and if Jesse James himself would have been given his choice of actors, I don’t think he would have gone with anyone else. Jesse James (1939)Power has the ability to have everyone rooting for him even when his characters go outside the law, which is why he made such a good pirate in numerous films, and even why his portrayal of Zorro is still the best. When he wants to keep things light, he smiles, when it’s time to get serious, he uses his smoldering eyes to glare into your very soul. Just a look from Power says more than pages of dialogue, which works rather well when portraying a quiet western outlaw with just as many internal struggles as external. Teamed with Henry Fonda, these two screen legends could have an entire scene completely void of lines and it wouldn’t matter. They are true actors who can deliver, no matter what stands before them.

Director Henry King and his film have their fair share of highs, including the two stars, some spectacular action sequences, and glorious location shooting. Other than that, “Jesse James” runs into a few problems. Nancy Kelly gives a performance that is way over the top, dragging down her scenes with overly emotional dialogue and endless (seeming) speeches about right and wrong. All of these scenes just pull the pace of the film from a quick-paced trot to a crawl. It’s not even her fault, she is just overused and unnecessary. Randolph Scott makes a good Marshall, and fits nicely into the picture, but there isn’t much for him to do except stand there and look the part, which he can do (and does) in his sleep.Jesse James (1939) If you’re looking for a real stand-out supporting performance in this film, look no further than John Carradine as the infamous Robert Ford. In a very small role, Carradine is perfect.

There are better westerns than “Jesse James”. Then again, there are far worse ones, too. Henry King knows how to make an entertaining film, and with the legendary Jesse James as his leading character, it becomes almost too easy. It is Tyrone Power, however, that brings this one together, and despite a filmography filled with memorable and prolific roles, it is his turn as Jesse James that stands out. Perhaps it’s because he was able to take a legendary character, steeped in the myth and lore of the west, and once again, make him human.

This post is part of the Tyrone Power Centennial Blogathon, celebrating the 100th anniversary of this cinematic legend. A special thanks to Lady Eve’s Real Life and They Don’t Make ‘Em Like They Used To for hosting such a wonderful event. Don’t forget to check out all the posts on Tyrone Power and his glorious career.

 

 

Pushover (1954)- Richard Quine

 ★★★

 

“Pushover” (1954) is a film noir, skillfully directed by Richard Quine, and adapted for the screen by Roy Huggins. The story is based on two separate novels, “The Night Watch” by Thomas Walsh and “Rafferty” written by Lester White.Kim Novak and Fred MacMurray in "Pushover" (1954) The quick developing story revolves around a bank robbery that takes place during the opening credits, masterminded by gangster Harry Wheeler (Paul Richards). Wheeler has a young girlfriend, Lona (Kim Novak), who the police are watching carefully. In fact, Lieutenant Eckstrom (E.G. Marshall) has sent in Detective Paul Sheridan (Fred MacMurray) to get to know her more “intimately”. Sheridan quickly falls for Lona, and it doesn’t take much convincing (once she figures out he is a cop) for the two to conspire to kill Wheeler and run off with the $200,000 in robbery money. The problems arise when Sheridan is seen in Lona’s apartment by a neighbor (Dorothy Malone), who happens to be the voyeuristic object of affection of Sheridan’s partner (Philip Carey). Sheridan’s plan also runs into a few problems when another police officer (Allen Nourse) figures out that Sheridan has more on his mind than just law and order.

When watching “Pushover”, one can’t help but make comparisons to “Double Indemnity” (1944). Obviously they both star MacMurray, but even with a different actor, the plots would still seem similar, with the attractive “bad girl” convincing the upright man to kill for love and/or money.Kim Novak and Fred MacMurray in "Pushover" (1954) “Pushover” is nowhere near the same calibre of film as “Double Indemnity”, but it’s unfair to compare any film to the greatness of “Double Indemnity”. The truth is, all the faults of “Pushover” are forgivable. It runs a fast 88 minutes, which doesn’t leave enough time to develop things properly. The result is a “love” motivated story that feels more like one about sex, attraction, and a love of money than actual love. In fact all the characters are enigmas, hiding their true feeling from the audience. Everything is kept in the dark when it comes to the motivations of pretty much everyone, and in the final reel we are expected to believe whatever happens, and just take it at face value. Richard Quine directs this film with a skill that benefits the plot holes. He keeps things moving with excitement and suspense, so that the audience doesn’t even have time to start asking questions, or even trying to understand which relationships are real. Pushover (1954)It’s only later that you can look back and start to really think about what you watched.

I don’t typically have a problem with young actresses and their on-screen romances with older men, but in “Pushover” I had a difficult time believing that these two leading players had any real spark between them. Don’t get me wrong, each plays their individual roles perfectly, but together they seem to be on different pages. Novak was only 21 when “Pushover” was released, while MacMurray, 25 years her senior, was almost 46. A different casting choice (for either part) would have fared well.

With so many film noir’s in the 1940’s and 1950’s, some of the smaller ones can get lost in the shuffle. “Pushover” falls somewhere in the middle, where overall quality is concerned, but because of an almost unexplainable entertainment, it ends up in the category of “worth watching”- it just could have been better.

I Dood It (1943)- Vincente Minnelli

 ★★★

 

“I Dood It” (1943). I can’t believe they used this ridiculous phrase as the title of a movie. “I Dood It” isn’t really a movie anyway, as much as it is a series of musical and comedic sketches grouped together.I Dood It (1943) The little plot that does exist is centered around Broadway star Constance Shaw (Eleanor Powell), and the poor, common man, Joe (Red Skelton), who falls in love with her. She, in turn, is in love with someone else (at least she thinks she is), so in order to make him jealous, Constance marries Joe, believing that he is rich and successful.

The arbitrary story makes “I Dood It” an easily forgettable film. Red Skelton and Eleanor Powell, however, dood their best to save it at every turn. The dance numbers make things worthwhile, especially Powell’s opening performance, dressed as a cowgirl, tapping away in boots, lasso in hand, impressing with the long, uncut takes masterfully directed by Minnelli. This truly is the highlight of the picture, and is so good that you’ll want to go back and watch it again. It is an extremely complex number, and one that deserves to be showcased, illustrating how far her talents could stretch. Of course, as an enormous fan of Powell, I will always find reasons to sing her praises. I Dood It (1943)All of her dances in “I Dood It” are incredible… that is, except for the big finish, which is just stolen from Powell’s earlier movie, “Born to Dance” (1936)- but it was good the first time, and is still enjoyable in this movie, just not original. That’s just awful and cheap MGM, and I for one, am hugely disappointed. How could they dood that?

Red Skelton is as funny as ever, even when recycling jokes from earlier film performances. It doesn’t really matter because he has the ability to be funny in so many ways, he’s bound to get you smiling one way or the other. The scenes that he shares with Powell are particularly special. Her physical abilities are undeniable, but it’s her comedic skills here that are a bit of a pleasant surprise. The scene where she accidentally drinks a glass of champagne with multiple sleeping pills inside is her comedic highlight, as Skelton attempts to put her to bed, without any of her help. I Dood It (1943)“I Dood It” is based on the Buster Keaton film, “Spite Marriage” (1929), and Keaton was known to work with Skelton on many of his physical sketches. Odds are, he was involved here as well.

Besides the obvious lack of plot, the other reason “I Dood It” suffers is because it tries to incorporate other musical numbers into the film, even though they had nothing to do with the story. Jimmy Dorsey and his band, Hazel Scott, and the great Lena Horne, (one of my favorites) all offer a little something special to the production, even if for no reason. Don’t get me wrong, these performances are wonderful and entertaining on their own, but because they don’t fit into the plot, they end up just dragging the flow of the film, and increasing the running time.

You would think that Minnelli, Skelton, Powell and Horne would be able to put something special and memorable together, but alas, that is not the case. They just can’t dood it. I mean do it.

 

The Reckless Moment (1949)- Max Ophuls

 ★★★★

 

“The Reckless Moment” (1949) is a dark crime film directed by German filmmaker, Max Ophuls. The story, based on “The Blank Wall” by Elisabeth Sanzay Holding, is about Lucia Harper, marvelously portrayed by Joan Bennett. Her husband is working overseas, so she is forced to play both mother and father to their almost 18-year-old, trouble-causing daughter, Bea (Geraldine Brooks), and their younger, inquisitive son, David (David Blair). The Reckless Moment (1949)Bea, an aspiring artist, has become involved with a con man named Ted (Shepperd Studwick), who she thinks will aid her in her career. Lucia is against Bea’s involvement with a man like Ted, and soon an accident leaves Ted dead. Lucia knows that her daughter will be a suspect, and attempts to cover the death up. What she never expected was Mr. Donnelly (James Mason), a smartly dressed, well-mannered young man, who appears out of nowhere, holding love letters written to Ted from Bea. He, along with his partner (Roy Roberts), blackmail Lucia, who has no idea what she should do next.

A movie like “The Reckless Moment” often goes unnoticed, or at least unappreciated because it isn’t flashy or overly sophisticated. Max Ophuls directs with care and precision. His movements glide in a fluid manner that allows the audience to enjoy, without noticing his work. He is the film’s guide, but he makes sure that he (and his work) goes unnoticed as well. He is there to make sure that everything is presented the way he intended, without letting anything interfere. The Reckless Moment (1949)Cinematographer Burnett Guffey adds his usually delightful skill to the picture, but once again, it’s the fact that he doesn’t try to do too much that helps things move along- still, he deserves to be praised.

Ophuls was known throughout his career to be a feminist director. His leading ladies aren’t there for their sex appeal, but for their talents, both the characters and the actresses. Enter Joan Bennett. Bennett is the perfect fit for this type of role, just coming out of the 1940’s that saw her play many film noir characters, and just before the 1950’s that would give her the “motherly” roles that would consume much of her time from this point forward. This is her movie. She is the leading character, and she is very much alone. She dominates scene after scene, and even seems capable of taking on these blackmailers that are messing things up. Of course it helps that her husband, Walter Wanger, served as producer on “The Reckless Moment”, so between him and Ophuls, she had plenty of support in taking on an enormous role such as this.

James Mason is a wonder to behold, in what, in all reality, is a very small but crucial role. Already, at this relatively early point in his career, his screen presence is undeniable. He plays a no-good, low-down, contemptible man, but one that has a heart. It’s not an easy role to pull off, but Mason (who we would soon discover could do anything) makes it all look so easy.

Max Ophuls is one of those directors who has flown under the radar for many years. He made his early films in Germany, but (being Jewish) left for France before WWII began. The Reckless Moment (1949)By 1941, he had to move on once again, ending up in the United States, and (somewhat unbelievably) he was unable to find work. Before returning to Europe after WWII he made four films, including “The Reckless Moment”. It, along with the underrated “Letter From an Unknown Woman” (1948), are both marvelous examples of the kind of pictures that he was capable of creating. After the War ended, and he returned to the more comfortable confines of Europe, he would go on only to direct four more films before his premature death at the age of 54. These films, “La Ronde” (1950), “Le Plaisir” (1952), “The Earrings of Madame de…” (1953), and “Lola Montes” (1955) are all magnificent features that perfectly illustrate how to turn a movie into a work of art. It was as if he could paint the images on the screen, so that forever we would have the ability of enjoying his vision- in each and every painstaking detail- just the way he would have wanted.

As long as I am standing up shouting my praise to Max Ophuls, I may as well include this short poem written about the director by James Mason, who also starred in another one of his American films, “Caught” (1949). Part in jest, part in honesty, Mason sums Ophuls’ directing style up quite nicely:The Reckless Moment (1949)

A shot that does not call for tracks

Is agony for poor old Max

Who, separated from his dolly

Is wrapped in deepest melancholy

Once, when they took away his crane

I thought he’d never smile again

 

Nights of Cabiria (1957)- Federico Fellini

 ★★★★★

&

My Hall of Fame

 

There are some people who want to be loved so badly, they’ll tell themselves anything just to keep going. Cabiria (Giulietta Masina) is one of those people. Nights of Cabiria (1957)In the opening moments of Federico Fellini’s moving, and at times, heartbreaking masterpiece “Nights of Cabiria” (1957), we witness from afar, as Cabiria laughs and runs with her boyfriend, Giorgio (Franco Fabrizi). Frolicking together, they wind up standing, side by side, next to a fast-moving river, staring into its beauty and mystery. It is during this moment of peacefulness that Giorgio grabs Cabiria’s purse and pushes her into the water, knowing full well that she can’t swim, and leaving her to die, all for a handful of cash. After being saved by some children nearby, Cabiria returns to her home and argues with her friend (Franca Marzi), that somehow it was just a mistake- she fell, and being scared, he fled with her purse, but surely he will return to her soon. Nights of Cabiria (1957)Her desperation, and the desire to be loved by someone- anyone, is almost too much to endure.

If this opening five minutes seems a bit painful, brace yourself. It’s going to get worse. You see, Cabiria is a prostitute, and not a high-class one at that. She earns her living by having sex with people, any of which she would stay with forever, if only they’d show her any real affection (or for that matter, even some fake affection would suffice). Unfortunately for Cabiria, each one of her encounters is as meaningless as the last, fulfilling their needs, while leaving her empty. She is, quite possibly, the saddest character ever to grace the screen. Seriously, somebody just hug the poor girl! What is surprising is that despite her past, she continues to hope that love is waiting just around the corner.

Nights of Cabiria (1957)

“Nights of Cabiria” is one of the best films of all time for many reasons. It’s crafted perfectly by one of the world’s greatest directors, shot on location around one of the greatest cities in the world, and has a story that manages to touch its viewers in a way that is both comforting, and oddly unsettling at the same time.Nights of Cabiria (1957) The greatest thing about this picture, however, has nothing to do with any of that. “Nights of Cabiria” is great because of Giulietta Masina and her intense, no holds bar, tour de force performance. Everything lives and dies with her, and how she manages herself on-screen. And it’s not just her character’s sadness that makes this performance incredible. It actually has more to do with her ability as an actress to move, in a very real way, between emotions. Sadness, anger, frustration, passion, and joy. She jumps between them all, keeping the audience enthralled, crying with her as she prays for a better life, and then laughing as she walks directly into a glass door. It is a performance that includes a bit of everything, and is one of the greatest Nights of Cabiria (1957)of all time. It embodies a similarity in its heartbreaking effect to Kenji Mizoguchi’s “The Life of Oharu” (1952), but Cabiria’s upbeat outlook leave this film with an optimistic feeling that is a stark opposite to Mizoguchi’s harrowing tale.

I believe that “Nights of Cabiria”, even with all of it’s popularity, gets overlooked because Fellini made so many monumental films in his career. It’s stuck in between “La Strada” (1954) and “La Dolce Vita” (1960), with “8 1/2” (1963) coming just a few years later. When any artist creates that many “masterpieces” in such a short span of time, it’s easy for one (or some) of them to become overlooked (even if just slightly). “Nights of Cabiria” isn’t as flashy and obvious as these other classics, yet somehow it is my favorite. Perhaps it’s because it’s the most relatable. Or maybe it’s Masina’s performance. More than likely, however, it’s the simple fact that there are few things as touching and poignant as a lost soul looking for love, and having the upbeat attitude to believe that she will one day find it…somewhere.

The Power of Hindsight: 1942 at the Movies

It is time, once again, to delve back into the past and see how things look. Ever since 1928, the Academy Awards have been held, showcasing the greatest achievements in filmmaking.King's Row (1942) It is years later, however, that both audiences and critics are able to really examine all the movies, and it is then that the power of hindsight helps us to determine which films are truly the best. When putting these lists together I follow the same Best Picture criteria that is in place today (because I think it works brilliantly), meaning that there have to be five nominees, and can’t be more than ten. When looking back into the golden age of cinema it’s easy to come up with ten nominees, in fact it wouldn’t be hard to pick 15 or 20, but doing it this way separates the “greats” from the “goods”. This also gives the opportunity to look at smaller films that were perhaps panned upon their initial release, but have grown in popularity over the years. Sometimes there are foreign language films that weren’t seen by enough people, sometimes an animated film becomes a “classic”. There are so many things that time can change, but the power of hindsight helps clear everything up.

Cat People (1942)

When it comes to 1942, there are some release dates that need to be mentioned, just to make things clear. For starters, the David Lean film, “In Which We Serve” Now, Voyager (1942)was released in the UK on September 17th, 1942, and the United States on December 23rd, 1942. I don’t know which technicality made it eligible for the Academy Awards in 1943 instead of 1942 (it was a Best Picture nominee in ’43), but for the sake of this article, I am going to consider it a film from 1942. Likewise there is another British film, “The 49th Parallel” aka “The Invaders”, which was released in the UK November 24th, 1941, but in the United States April 15th, 1942, making it eligible for a Best Picture nomination (which it received) in 1942. For our purposes, however, we will consider this a film from 1941.

To start with, here are the ten Best Picture nominees from 1942:

  • “The Invaders” aka (“The 49th Parallel”)The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)
  • “King’s Row”
  • “The Magnificent Ambersons”
  •  “Mrs. Miniver”
  • “The Pied Piper”
  • “The Pride of the Yankees”
  • “Random Harvest”
  • “The Talk of the Town”
  • “Wake Island”
  • “Yankee Doodle Dandy”

Those are some pretty impressive films!

Random Harvest (1942)

Let’s address each of these, one by one. “The Invaders”, as discussed before, was released in 1941, so no longer can be eligible. “King’s Row” is a good drama, but today doesn’t hold up quite as well. Lot’s of drama and good performances, but ultimately it is a bit of a letdown. Orson Welles’ follow-up to “Citizen Kane” the Pride of the Yankees (1942)was the enormous undertaking of “The Magnificent Ambersons”, which although did receive some negative comments in 1942, still managed to gain a Best Picture nomination. Oddly enough, with the passing years it is regarded higher today than at any time in the past. “Mrs. Miniver” was the Best Picture winner in 1942, and for my money, it deserved to be. What a fantastic film, filled with memorable performances and unparalleled beauty. “The Pied Piper”, on the other hand…not so much. It’s still a good movie, but I don’t think it has lived up to that coveted Best Picture status. “The Pride of the Yankees” is a wonderful movie for many reasons. Gary Cooper, Walter Brennan, and Teresa Wright are all amazing, and the story of Lou Gehrig is an important one, that director Sam Wood does a beautiful job of telling.Talk of the Town (1942) I know some people find “Random Harvest” to be a bit melodramatic, but I completely disagree. This film is so moving that I can’t help but be affected by its poignancy. “The Talk of the Town” is a hard film to classify. Part drama, part comedy, it is the kind of picture that could have trouble finding an audience, yet everyone seems to enjoy this well-blended mix, as well as the great performances from Ronald Colman, Jean Arthur, and Cary Grant. “Wake Island” is a good war movie, and I see how it was nominated upon its release, but there are plenty of other war films that are just as good if not better, so today it becomes a little lost in the shuffle of time. And that (at long last) brings us around to “Yankee Doodle Dandy”. What a film, and what a performance. There is just no arguing that one.

Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)

I know what you’re thinking, all of those films are great, perhaps we should just leave the list alone, right?. Well, as great as those ten films are, I think they can be improved some, especially after examining the other releases from 1942. Les Visiteurs de Soir (1942)But where to begin? There are some films that offer great performances such as Van Heflin in “Johnny Eager”, Rosalind Russell in “My Sister Eileen”, Joan Crawford in “Reunion in France”, Bette Davis in “Now, Voyager”, or Katharine Hepburn in “Woman of the Year”. In addition to “Yankee Doodle Dandy”, there are some other notable musical films like Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire in “Holiday Inn”, Judy Garland and Gene Kelly in “For Me and My Gal”, Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth in “You Were Never Lovelier”, and even Bing Crosby and Bob Hope’s classic “Road to Morocco”. And then there were foreign films of note, including Yasujiro Ozu’s “There was a Father” and the amazing “Les Visiteurs du Soir” directed by Marcel Carne. Also, there were a couple of legendary directors who released films in 1942, like Cecil B. DeMille’s “Reap the Wild Wind” and Alfred Hitchcock’s “Saboteur”. The Major and the Minor" (1942)So many great movies… but we’re not done yet. What about Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, and Sydney Greenstreet in “Across the Pacific”, or Jean Gabin and Ida Lupino in “Moontide”? How about the Disney animated classic “Bambi”? Lest we forget to include (even if just because we love it so much) the B horror classic, “Cat People”.

Even after all of that, it was comedies that were the real highlight in 1942, and they didn’t get too much attention from the Academy either (as usual). Billy Wilder made his American debut with the hilarious “The Major and the Minor”, starring Ray Milland and Ginger Rogers,The Palm Beach Story (1942) and there was also Rene Clair’s comedic “I Married a Witch”, with Frederic March and Veronica Lake. And then the great Preston Sturges followed up his amazing 1941 (“The Lady Eve” & “Sullivan’s Travels”) with the riotous Claudette Colbert/Joel McCrea picture, “The Palm Beach Story”. The highlight of the comedy world, however, belongs to another brilliant and hilarious director, Ernst Lubitsch. His 1942 film “To Be or Not To Be” is too good for words, and remains today one of the funniest motion pictures of all time. Carol Lombard and Jack Benny are perfect, and I still don’t understand how this film didn’t receive more acclaim upon its initial release.

To Be or Not to Be (1942)

It could go without saying that there were enough films to fill two good years in 1942, but now comes the difficult part of narrowing things down to just ten, which incidentally, was harder than I ever expected. I had to make some tough choices, and I am sure that a couple of my decisions will be unpopular, but ten nominees means ten nominees. Here is my list of nominees; the ten best films of 1942.

Of course, with so many memorable titles, it might be easy to disagree! I, for one, can’t believe that I don’t have room for “Talk of the Town”, “Moontide” or “Now, Voyager”, all of which I thought had a good chance to make the final cut. If only all years were as fantastic as 1942. You can also read more on The Power of Hindsight with my thoughts on 1936, 1954 or 1963.

Moontide (1942)