The Best 10 Films of the 1940s (That I Have Seen)

by George Watches Things

Today, we continue the best of the decade feature. Two down, seven to go. This week, please accept my picks for the ten best/favorite/top/whatever films from the 1940s. Enjoy and feel free to comment with your own picks.

10. The Philadelphia Story

This past weekend, I had a chance to see The Descendants, which was excellent. When it came time to draw up this list, and I selected The Philadelphia Story as one of my nominees, I kept getting reminded of the craziness and chaos in The Descendants. Both movies perfectly capture the little misunderstandings that happen daily. It also helps (again, I’m talking about both films) if you have a talented all around cast. Runner-up: The Spiral Staircase.

9. Casablanca

Why so low? I actually think Casablanca is overrated. It doesn’t currently hold my highest star rating (****), but instead the second-best (***1/2). But I’m not saying it’s a bad movie… not at all. It’s classically gorgeous and beautifully emotional, but I feel how much you’ll like the film is based on how much you believe the one flashback scene served up near the beginning of the film.



8. Gaslight/Gaslight

No, that’s not the title of the film. I’m referring to two separate films. (Sorry, Prozac Paul!) The 1944 edition of Gaslight was my favorite film for years. And then I saw the 1940 version, and didn’t know what to think. Now, I just lump them together, because no one wants to see the same film on the list twice. (Note: if they’re available on Netflix, they’ll definitely be a double-feature in a film festival in April.)

Caption contest, anyone?

7. Double Indemnity

I’m not sure if I’ve told you this before, but Billy Wilder is one of my two favorite directors of all-time (we’ll get to the next one in a little while). While this isn’t my favorite film of his (it might actually just miss a Top 3 list), I still love it. It makes a near-perfect double-feature with Sunset Blvd., and I would definitely suggest checking out all of Wilder’s other work if you happen to like Double Indemnity.

6. Shadow of a Doubt

The reason making a favorite/best films of all-time list is so hard is this movie. Not necessarily only this movie, but movies like this one. Shadow of a Doubt is a film I’ve seen about six times, and it’s one of Hitchcock’s harder movies to stop watching in the middle (even if you know what’s going to happen, it’s addicting). Just like with DI, it’s not the best movie one of my favorite directors ever made, but I have an extraordinary attachment to it. Fun fact: bestness is in the eye of the beholder, because it is Hitchcock’s personal favorite.

5. The Bicycle Thief

I rewatched Never Let Me Go, one of my favorites from 2010, two weeks ago; and just as I was reminded of The Descendants by The Philadelphia Story, I was reminded of Never Let Me Go by The Bicycle Thief (just now, when I started writing this sentence). These films are, by far, the two most tragic I have ever seen. I’m a sucker for tragedy, but I really appreciate it when a movie is subtle, like the ending of these two. But let’s settle this one: is it The Bicycle Thief, A Bicycle Thief, or Bicycle Thieves?

4. Brief Encounter

This is just a beautiful movie. Plain and simple. Please look it up now. I’d tell you what it’s about, but you’d just call it sappy.

3. The Great Dictator

This is one of my favorite all-time Chaplins. I can’t pick my single favorite scene from it because I have no single favorite scene. This is surprising because, like most of Chaplin’s better work, The Great Dictator is a coherent that has plenty of memorable single moments.

There has been some criticism, though, of the film’s ending, and I’d like to defend it. (It’s been almost 72 years since it was released, so I’ll just assume everyone has already seen it.) In the end, the barber/tramp gets mistaken for Hynkle/Hitler, and is forced to make a speech. In this speech, Charles Chaplin presents his own views to the camera and to the world. It’s not funny and some would say it doesn’t fit in with the tone of the rest of the piece. But this is Hitler we’re not-so-subtly talking about. The whole movie skewers him anyway. Chaplin said what he thought had to be said and he was right (by me, at least) to include that.

2. The Best Years of Our Lives

1. Citizen Kane

It was a close one between The Best Years of Our Lives and Citizen Kane for #1, and I cannot promise that the reason I chose Kane wasn’t because I saw it last. But this is my list: flawed and imperfect. Some, including me, would say that there is no perfect film. If forced to choose a film to argue that it is, however, I would probably choose one of these. Neither is a particularly short or easy work to watch, but somehow the hours seems to melt away gladly. I don’t know if dramas are supposed to be fun, but when their quality is this high, I don’t know how they can’t be.