best film:  Double Indemnity from Billy Wilder is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, film noir of all-time and it, along with a few other key films, signifies the beginning of that important genre (and era) in cinema history.

stunning silhouette from the opening titles (you can see them poking through here) of Double Indemnity

the venetian blinds — a rich history in cinema including The Conformist, American Gigolo— never better than here in Wilder’s masterpiece.

most underrated:   Laurence Olivier’s Henry V sits at #987 on the TSPDT consensus ranking and I had it sneak into my top 500 so that’s a pretty big difference. Just about everyone acknowledges Olivier’s acting—but the formal decision to start in the theater and then to bring the film outdoors still bowls me over.

Laurence Olivier’s Henry V sits at #987 on the TSPDT consensus ranking and I had it sneak into my top 500 so that’s a pretty big difference. Just about everyone acknowledges Olivier’s acting…

…but the formal decision to start in the theater and then to bring the film outdoors still bowls me over.

 

most overrated:  A Canterbury Tale from Powell and Pressburger. I hope I regret this one the next time I give it a look. A year their first masterpiece, Colonel Blimp, I have to admit I’m befuddled by the extraordinarily high ranking (#323) for A Canterbury Tale.

an admittedly gorgeous shot with the natural light pouring in from the doorway here from A Canterbury Tale

gem I want to spotlight:  To Have and Have Not from Howard Hawks. It has all the characteristics of a Hawks film (male comradery/bonding, a strong woman, genre work), a top tier Bogart performance (who is just on an incredible run starting in 1941), and, course, the famous debut of an enchanting and very talented model-turned actor—19-year-old Lauren Bacall

trends and notables:

  • Most signify 1944 as the birth of film noir (many of the films have a black pessimism to them but Double Indemnity needs to be on everyone’s Mount Rushmore of the genre)
  • We have Eisenstein back in the archives for the first time this decade—once again—if you only know him for his editing the imagery is as strong as anything from 1944

a jaw-dropping foreground/background shot in Eisenstein’s Ivan the Terrible, Part I

We have Eisenstein back in the archives for the first time this decade—once again—if you only know him for his editing the imagery is as strong as anything from 1944

a detailed design of the frame

  • The directing debut for Olivier, Otto Preminger would become of the best directors working for the next 20 years and starts his career here with Laura. Ditto for Douglas Sirk- his best work would come in the 1950’s but the German-born Sirk would make his first archiveable film here in 1944. Robert Wise would also make his archiveable debut – co-directing The Curse of the Cat People

Otto Preminger would become of the best directors working for the next 20 years and starts his career here with Laura

  • A young Gene Kelly shows up in Cover Girl for his archiveable debut, and the great Robert Mitchum is in Thirty Seconds over Tokyo for his first in the archives. Gregory Peck doesn’t take long to become one of the major leading men in Hollywood after his debut in 1944’s The Keys of the Kingdom. I mention her above in the “gem” section and below in the best performance female section but Lauren Bacall’s archiveable debut is in 1944 as well with To Have and Not.

best performance male: The top slot here goes to the stirring performance from Olivier. He’s often regarded as the finest Shakespearian actor of the 20th century and it is easy to see why here. Fred MacMurray as Walter Neff and Edward G. Robinson as his boss, Barton Keyes. Robinson isn’t on screen often but when he is, he dominates Nikolay Cherkasov has to be mentioned here for his work as the titular Czar in Ivan IV and we can’t foget about Bogart—trading barbs with Bacall. This is Bogart’s third mention since

Nikolay Cherkasov has to be mentioned here for his work as the titular Czar in Ivan IV— this is one of the better single frames of the 1940’s

best performance female:  1944 is packed with at least four standout performances here. Lauren Bacall couldn’t be better (and never would be) in her debut, Judy Garland gives a top three performance of her career (A Star is Born, The Wizard of Oz) and Gene Tierney does her best work in Laura. Forced to pick though, I do have to give the slight edge to Barbara Stanwyck over the others for playing perhaps the preeminent femme fatale in Double Indemnity. She’s an underrated all-time actress and this is the best performance of her storied career.

the famous debut of an enchanting and very talented model-turned actor—19-year-old Lauren Bacall

top 10

  1. Double Indemnity
  2. To Have and Have Not
  3. Ivan the Terrible, Part I
  4. Meet Me in St. Louis
  5. Henry V
  6. Laura
  7. Arsenic and Old Lace
  8. A Canterbury Tale
  9. The Woman in the Window
  10. National Velvet

from Lang’s The Woman in the Window

Minnelli’s first foray into color here in Meet Me in St. Louis— one of the best of the early adapters to experiment and flourish in color’s rich possibilities

Archives, Directors, and Grades

A Canterbury Tale- Powell & Pressburger R/HR
Arsenic and Old Lace- Capra HR
Bluebeard- Ulmer R
Cover Girl- C. Vidor R
Double Indemnity- Wilder MP
Gaslight- Cukor R
Going My Way– McCarey R
Hail the Conquering Hero- P. Sturges R
Henry V- Olivier MS
Ivan the Terrible, Part I- Eisenstein MS
Laura- Preminger MS
Lifeboat- Hitchcock R
Meet Me In St. Louis- Minnelli MS
Mrs. Parkington- Garnett R
Murder, My Sweet- Dmytryk R
National Velvet- C. Brown HR
None But the Lonely Heart- Odets R
Passage to Marseille- Curtiz R
Phantom Lady- Siodmak R
Since You Went Away- Cromwell R
Summer Storm- Sirk R
The Curse of the Cat People – Wise, von Fritsch R
The Keys of the Kingdom- Stahl R
The Mask of Dimitrios- Negulesco R
The Seventh Cross– Zinnemann R
Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo- Leroy R
To Have and Have Not- Hawks MS
The Woman in the Window- Lang

 

 

*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film

MS is Must-See- top 5-6 quality of the year film

HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film

R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives