best film:  Bicycle Thieves from De Sica. 1948 is the single greatest year for Italian Neorealism and De Sica’s masterpiece is the crown jewel- one of the best films of all-time. It is simple yet epic harrowingly tragic—real.

1948 is the single greatest year for Italian Neorealism and De Sica’s masterpiece is the crown jewel

realism is such an important counterpoint to expressionism… it is a mode that predates Bicycle Thieves and would go on long after but many feel that it never surpassed De Sica’s work

most underrated:   A Hen in the Wind from Ozu. You have to see every film from the great auteurs is something I say often–and A Hen in the Wind is one of the main reasons why. It, somehow, isn’t in the full extended top 2000 on the TSPDT consensus list—a miss from the critics.

  • A superior formal work—poetic and beautiful
  • Post-WW2 of course with his cohorts Sakamoto in Ryu in support but it’s really a simple story of Kinuyo Tanaka (superb) who has to prostitute herself to pay for the hospital bills of her son while her husband is away at work Shûji San– though in less time than Tanaka—is equally excellent—but this is narrative—and Ozu has loftier artistic goals in mind with the way he weaves the story
  • The editing is magnificent- he opens in an alley and then a short establishing shot montage (with a quick shot of laundry swinging on some houses) of a town which includes a large metal building set piece. He closes the film with a perfect bookend of the same sequence in reverse
  • The pillow shots or cutaways are a plenty here and seem to be picking up steam in his work over the years
  • the row of bottles along the bottom of the frame of the unsavory woman who suggests prostitution—it makes for a beautiful frame- but it is a character statement as well
  • It’s a half neorealism (poverty take as matter of fact- mostly with a slight grin) and half melodrama with that set up
  • Plenty of grand-father clocks, the trademark hall shot with the bike in it
  • It’s not part of the cutaway brilliance but there’s a long scene that’s fantastic where Tanaka stares into the mirror realizing what she has to do to pay the bills
  • It’s methodically edited with the cutaways, some reoccurring and some new in perfect union and theme and variation— form and rhythmic
  • Gorgeous use of metal on the ground to structure some framing—you even see characters walking through it— this film would make for an unbelievable double-billing with Antonioni’s Red Desert or Cronenberg’s Spider

The editing is magnificent- he opens in an alley and then a short establishing shot montage (with a quick shot of laundry swinging on some houses) of a town which includes a large metal building set piece. He closes the film with a perfect bookend of the same sequence in reverse

Gorgeous use of metal on the ground to structure some framing—you even see characters walking through it— this film would make for an unbelievable double-billing with Antonioni’s Red Desert or Cronenberg’s Spider

  • Another simple but gorgeous shot of a row of three chairs in the office so carefully eschew
  • The big accident of her pushed down the stairs is set up formally when he knocks a bottle down the stairs earlier—it reminds me of the stool and how Eastwood earns the big dramatic scene by showing it again and again (that’s part of film form) in Million Dollar Baby

 

most overrated:  I saw it over a decade ago and the VHS copy was really rough, but I have to admit that Spring in a Small Town would be my choice for most overrated film from 1948. It currently sits at #151 on the TSPDT consensus list (good enough for #3 of 1948) and I would go through at least 15 films before thinking about it for 1948.

 

gem I want to spotlight:  They Live by Night from Nicholas Ray

  • It is a key film in the history of film noir
  • Also well-known and often cited as one of the best film debuts of all-time
  • Begins Ray’s exploration and medication on youth (specifically troubled youth) that he would revisit throughout his oeuvre- most notably in Rebel Without a Cause– there are countless comparisons between these two films including these two young lovers playing house and trying to be happy normally just like the Natalie Wood and James Dean character (with Sal Mineo as their faux-child)
  • Very busy mise-en-scene- repeatedly shows these characters trapped and behind bars- well done

Very busy mise-en-scene- repeatedly shows these characters trapped and behind bars- well done

  • All four leads are superb- Granger, Cathy O’Donnell, Howard Aa Silva, and Jay C. Flippen
  • The young couple on the run of course makes you think of many films in cinema history from recent American Honey to Badlands, to Bonnie and Clyde to You Only Live Once to Gun Crazy
  • The first shot is a helicopter shot- that’s how you announce yourself as an auteur- it had to blow people’s mind in 1948 when they saw the shot. Ray would go back to that same shot at least 3 times- great film form here
  • Devastating ending with O’Donnell- back of her head walking away reading his letter

the careful blocking of the faces by Ray– and this predates Varda’s La Pointe Courte and Ingmar Bergman’s use of a similar shot

 

trends and notables:

  • 1948 is Neorealism’s zenith—the three films at the top 1948 are among the best 6-8 films from the entire movement—these are major accomplishments for De Sica, Visconti and Rossellini (this is the final leg of Rossellini’s war trilogy)

the best image in neorealism– from Rossellini’s Germany Year Zero

a cinematic painting from Visconti– breathtaking

thoughtful blocking and positioning of the bodies in the frame here in La Terra Trema

everything carefully arranged in Visconti’s work– he’d really never work in neorealism again after this- but at least here he’s part of an indelible trio of Italian artists sitting atop 1948’s best films

  • It’s a markedly better year than 1947 as we’ve no less than eleven (11)1films here in 1948 that are top 5 of the year quality films. They Live By Night does not make the top 10 of 1948 and would be no worse than #4 for 1947
  • I’ve already mentioned Nicholas Ray’s stirring debut (yet another noir debut as it would be for so many auteurs during the 1940’s)—filled with cinema style and relatively low budget
  • Although they would both appear separately in How the West Was Won and The Longest Day (both of those are like that tiny subgenre of early 1960’s all-star cameo films)—Fort Apache marks the only shared scenes (to my knowledge) of towering heavyweight actors Henry Fonda and John Wayne (and John Ford’s dueling screen alter egos a la Jimmy Stewart and Cary Grant for Hitchcock). It doesn’t disappoint. Don’t we all wish Hitchcock had the chance to direct Grant and Stewart together in a film?

Fort Apache marks the only shared scenes (to my knowledge) of towering heavyweight actors Henry Ford and John Wayne (and John Ford’s dueling screen alter egos a la Jimmy Stewart and Cary Grant for Hitchcock). It doesn’t disappoint. Don’t we all wish Hitchcock had the chance to direct Grant and Stewart together in a film

  • Speaking of Hitchcock—1948 is an important year for the history of the long take shot. Hitchcock would mask the 10 cuts (believe) in Rope. It is hard to talk about Victoria, Birdman, Gravity, 1917, Russian Ark without talking about Rope

similar to the shot of tea in Notorious- look at the point of view and placement of Hitchcock’s camera here in Rope

  • In 1946 and 1947 I mentioned the big difference may be Ford, Hawks and Hitchcock—and here is more evidence to that idea— these three bounce back with Fort Apache (MS), Red River (MP) and Rope (MS) and we’re back with a brilliant year again.

image from Red River here- In 1946 and 1947 I mentioned the big difference may be Ford, Hawks and Hitchcock—and here is more evidence to that idea— these three bounce back with Fort Apache (MS), Red River (MP) and Rope (MS) and we’re back with a brilliant year again

  • Toshiro Mifune makes his debut in 1948 in Kurosawa’s Drunken Angel (another film that would be in the top 5 of 1947). Kurosawa was so impressed by Mifune’s skill and dedication that apparently he wrestled some of the dialogue/screen-time/spotlight away from Takashi Shimura.

Mifune’s eye-catching first archiveable film — from Kurosawa’s Drunken Angel

  • 1948 would also mark the debut for the young (28 in 1948) and talented Montgomery Clift whose more modern acting (inside emotions from the actors own past—or method– coming to surface instead of technical skill and imitation) in The Search and Red River would go on to influence other actors including Marlon Brando, James Dean and Paul Newman.
  • Lastly, putting talents like Fred Astaire and Judy Garland together for Easter Parade deserves to be at least noted—it would be the only time they’d work together. What could be screen’s most iconic dancing (Astaire) and singing voice (Garland) is fantastic to watch.

a great shot of John Garfield in Force of Evil

from David Lean’s Oliver Twist

best performance male:  1948 is absolutely loaded with transcendent male screen performances. It’s one of the toughest choices for this category in recent years. I think three stand-out above the others. First off, there’s Bogart as Fred C. Dobbs in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Bogart’s arc throughout the film is mesmerizing to watch. I think you could just as easily go with Lamberto Maggiorani in Bicycle Thieves – pathos.  Lastly among the trio at the top is John Wayne in Red River. It is Wayne’s best performance to date and John Ford joked that it was the movie that showed him that Wayne could actually act. That sort of back-handed compliment is a nice anecdote but his arc isn’t that much different than Bogart’s and he’s dueling with Montgomery Clift the whole time. That leads me to the second tier behind Maggiorani, Bogart and Wayne. Clift heads up this next group. His actual debut is The Search and that’s in the archives for 1948 below, but he’s here because of his groundbreaking inside-out method work in Red River. It is a big year for naturalism with this performance and Maggiorani’s. Walter Huston may actually get some people’s vote for the best performance in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (they’d be wrong) but he’s worth a mention here as is Farley Granger for his combined work in 1948 both Rope and They Live By Night. He’s fine in Rope– but it is his work in Ray’s debut that gets him marks here among 1948’s best actors.

Bogart’s descent into madness in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

Hawks’ camera moves with Wayne here in Red River– a portrait of obsession that isn’t that much different than Sierra Madre in many ways

 

best performance female:  There are two correct choices here for this category in 1948. One is Joan Fontaine in Ophuls’ Letter From an Unknown Woman. She gives a performance of such pain and sympathy. Kinuyo Tanaka in Ozu’s A Hen in the Wind would also be correct—a tragic figure. It is a half-step, or two below Tanaka and Fontaine, but Cathy O’Donnell is worth mentioning opposite Granger in They Live By Night. O’Donnell carries the torch between Sylvia Sidney and say Faye Dunaway (among others in You Only Live Once and Bonnie and Clyde respectively) in a strong tradition of criminal lovers on the run in cinema.

 

top 10

  1. Bicycle Thieves
  2. Germany Year Zero
  3. La Terra Trema
  4. Red River
  5. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
  6. Letter From an Unknown Woman
  7. A Hen in the Wind
  8. Rope
  9. Fort Apache
  10. The Red Shoes

easily 1948’s greatest use of color– Powell and Pressburger’s The Red Shoes

Olivier excels both in front of the camera and behind it in 1948’s best picture winner- Hamlet

the top 10 of 1948 is so strong- there’s no room for very solid work from Anthony Mann’s Raw Deal

 

…or Portrait of Jennie….

…or He Walked By Night— great Venetian blind lighting work here

Archives, Directors, and Grades

A Foreign Affair- Wilder R
A Hen in the Wind – Ozu MS/MP
Bicycle Thieves – De Sica MP
Blood on the Moon – Wise R
Call Northside 777- Hathaway R
Cry of the City – Siodmak R
Drunken Angel – Kurosawa HR/MS
Easter Parade – Walters R
Force of Evil – Polonsky HR
Fort Apache- Ford MS
Germany Year Zero – Rossellini MP
Hamlet- Olivier HR
He Walked By Night – Werker R/HR
Joan of Arc- Fleming R
Johnny Belinda- Negulesco R
Key Largo- J. Huston R
La Terra Trema– Visconti MP
Letter From An Unknown Woman- Ophuls MS/MP
Macbeth- Welles R
Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House- Potter R
Naked City- Dassin R
Oliver Twist- Lean HR
Portrait of Jennie- Dietierle HR
Raw Deal- A. Mann HR
Red River- Hawk MP
Rope- Hitchcock MS
Secret Beyond the Door- Lang
Sorry, Wrong Number- Litvak HR
Spring in a Small Town – Mu Fei R
The Big Clock- Farrow R
The Dark Past- Maté
The Fallen Idol- Reed HR
The Pirate- Minnelli R
The Red Shoes- Powell, Pressburger MS
The Search- Zinnemann R
The Snake Pit– Litvak R
The Three Godfathers- Ford R
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre- J. Huston MP
They Live By Night – N. Ray MS
Unfaithfully Yours- P. Sturges HR
Yellow Sky- Wellman 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