best film:  Rome, Open City from Rossellini. There are very few films in the 1940’s (or before or after) as important to film as Rome, Open City. It is a watershed film for realism, and the Italian movement Neorealism (which Rossellini’s film is usually mentioned as one of the first films, and one of the best). If you break cinema into realism and expressionism—you can’t tell the story of realism without this film and filmmaker.

Rossellini’s film is usually mentioned as one of the first films in the Italian Neorealism movement– and one of the best

most underrated:   Fallen Angel from Otto Preminger. Preminger’s Laura from 1944 is the film everyone remembers and talks about (it is at #482 on the TSPDT consensus list) but this film is right there- I have it one slot behind Laura on my top 100 of the 1940’s list and it can’t find a spot anywhere on the TSPDT expanded top 2000.

Preminger confirms his arrival as one of the best directors on the planet (1944 he gave us Laura) with Fallen Angel the following year

most overrated:  It has been far too long since I’ve seen it but I’d be remiss if I didn’t share that I think Carne’s Children of Paradise is about 400 slots too high on the TSPDT consensus list (they have it at #62 and currently I have it at #484).

It has been far too long since I’ve seen it but I’d be remiss if I didn’t share that I think Carne’s Children of Paradise is about 400 slots too high on the TSPDT consensus list (they have it at #62 and currently I have it at #484).

gem I want to spotlight:  Scarlet Street from Lang

  • Enormously overlooked film and I can’t tell why- it’s a remake of Renoir’s La Chienne (Renoir notoriously hated the film) and an early noir (b-pictures to some) so perhaps those two factors are why
  • Banned in a few cities
  • Reunites the principals from Women in the Window the year before (Joan Bennett, Edward G. Robinson, and Dan Duryea) with Lang at the helm
  • Might be Joan Bennett and Dan Duryea’s best and probably pretty close for Edward G. Robinson as well- he’s superb
  • It’s a magnificent masculinity study (reminded me of Blue Angel from von Sternberg)- Edward G. is verbally castrated, made to wear an apron – he does the dishes like 3-4 times in a short film here
  • It really shows Edward G’s range—he was Little Caesar in 1930 and then can turn around and be the softest of the soft here
  • Dark and painful to watch- so degrading
  • Streetlamp lighting is certainly a reoccurring visual- as are the window shots (taken from Renoir)
  • The voices Edward G hears towards the end of the film are powerful- but it’s not really built up enough- that might be keeping this from a masterpiece

Scarlet Street reunites the principals from Women in the Window the year before (Joan Bennett, Edward G. Robinson, and Dan Duryea) with Lang at the helm

trends and notables:

  • First and foremost it is the year of Italian neorealism—when you talk about a movement as broad as realism of course there are going to be forerunners and predecessors- but this is a landmark—and it is the archiveable debut (though not first film) for auteur Roberto Rossellini and star Anna Magnani
  • Noir has a big year in 1945 as well after unofficially starting in 1944—that’s two major movements (both dominated in black and white and there are no color films in the top 10) in cinema history starting in back to back years—Detour, Fallen Angel carry the banner here- but that darkness (it is no coincidence that both movements stem from WWII) pervades even normal dramas and bigger budget films like Curtiz’s Mildred Pierce or Wilder’s The Lost Weekend (certainly not a noir- nor neorealism).

noir has a big year in 1945 as well after unofficially starting in 1944– this is perhaps the most iconic shot from Detour

angles and shadows in Detour

a very creative shot from Billy Wilder’s The Lost Weekend— a brilliant study of alcoholism and addiction

  • If it is a bit of a down year (only one masterpiece) look to the relatively weaker efforts from Hitchcock and Ford—Spellbound and They Were Expendable were fine films- but it feels strange making a top 10 in a year where they both make a film and not mentioning them
  • Back to back big years for Preminger- Laura (1944) and Fallen Angel (Powell & Pressburger, Lang, and Wilder also show up in back to back top 10’s in 1944 and 1945)
  • Previously mentioned Magnani’s archiveable debut, it is also the archiveable debut for a young skinny talented singer named Frank Sinatra in Anchors Away
  • There are a trio of talented auteurs making their archiveable debuts: Rossellini of course, Robert Bresson (Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne) and Elia Kazan. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was Kazan’s actual debut while Bresson’s film is actually his second (of his total 13 feature films). I have yet to catch his 1943 film and actual debut Angels of Sin.

 

best performance male:  It is back to back big years as well for Edward G. Robinson. He’d be a strong supporting character actor in the 1950’s and 1960’s (think Ten Commandments and The Cincinnati Kid) and 1931’s Little Caesar made him a star- but 1944 with Double Indemnity and here with Scarlet Street is definitely his peak. The main contender for Edward G. (and it is a weaker year in this category overall) is Trevor Howard for his work in David Lean’s Brief Encounter.

from David Lean’s Brief Encounter

best performance female:  Anna Magnani gives far and away the best performance of the year (and only Ingrid Bergman can challenge her for the decade as far as female acting performances go) as Pina in Rossellini’s Rome, Open City. Wendy Hiller is the closest to Magnani as the irresistibly stubborn Joan Webster in I Know Where I’m Going!

Anna Magnani’s in one of the greatest scenes and sequences of the 1940’s from Rome, Open City

it is a silhouette here- but this is Hiller in a gorgeous shot from Powell & Pressburger’s I Know Where I’m Going!

yet another here- a very fine dissolve

 

top 10

  1. Rome, Open City
  2. Detour
  3. Fallen Angel
  4. Brief Encounter
  5. Children of Paradise
  6. Scarlet Street
  7. I Know Where I’m Going!
  8. Dead of Night
  9. The Lost Weekend
  10. Mildred Pierce

 

a downright painterly image from Curtiz’s Mildred Pierce

the streetlight in Mildred Pierce and the gut-punch realism in The Lost Weekend– even in films that are not noir or neorealism (and neither of these films are)– there’s a post WWII pessimism and darkness that pervades

horror enthusiasts will recognize Michael Redgrave (what a talented family!) in the strongest section of the anthology film- Dead of Night

 

Archives, Directors, and Grades

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn- Kazan R
A Walk In the Sun- Milestone R
Anchors Aweigh- Sidney R
And Then There Were None- Clair R
Back To Bataan- Dmytryk R
Blithe Spirit– Lean R
Brief Encounter- Lean MS
Children of Paradise- Carne MS
Dead of Night- Dearden, Hamer, Cavalcanti, Critchton HR
Detour- Ulmer MS
Fallen Angel- Preminger MS
I Know Where I’m Going!– Powell, Pressburger HR/MS
Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne- Bresson R
Mildred Pierce – Curtiz HR
Rome, Open City – Rossellini MP
Sanshiro Sugata Part Two – Kurosawa R
Scarlet Street – Lang MS
Spellbound- Hitchcock R
The Bells of St. Mary’s – McCarey R
The Body Snatcher – Wise R
The Clock- Minnelli HR
The Lost Weekend – Wilder HR
The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail – Kurosawa R
The Picture of Dorian Gray- Lewin HR
The Southerner – Renoir R
The Spiral Staircase- Siodmak
They Were Expendable- Ford R

 

 

*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