best film: The Magnificent Ambersons from Welles
- a visual stunner filled with an immaculately designed mise-en-scene, depth of field deep focus mastery in all its glory and creative transitions and camera movements
- A continuation of Citizen Kane’s stylistic showpiece
- One big question on the film remains Tim Holt’s lead performance. He’s in almost every scene and it’s not an amazing performance.
- Of course it’s nearly equally famous (for being a masterpiece) as it is for being mutilated by RKO. Welles was always very dramatic (the rebel artist) about this and how this film isn’t nearly as good as what once was (and was destroyed)—that said- what’s left is a towering masterpiece still
- A meditation on nostalgia, unrequited love (for both sets of couples) and maturation
- The opening montage (Welles does voice over) is fine but that ball entrance with the doors flying open and the wind blowing is a stunner and when the film truly starts
- Depth of field—deep focus work on luxurious mansion— not shot by Gregg Toland so don’t give me that he’s the true master
- Score by Bernard Hermann
- Heavy Oedipal study
- Welles repeatedly frames, tracks, and then reframes within the same shot—just stunning
- Show-off miniatures like the reflection of a sleigh in the water puddle
- The mise en-scene is expressionism. Shadows and cluttered frames blocking and shaping- von Sternberg, Murnau
- Wipes and iris work in editing
- Another film on the collapse of a once great family – just as Kane was the fall of a once great man (and nostalgia for his beloved Rosebud)
- The narrative is superb- I particularly enjoy the Agnes Moorehead performance and character as it gives the film such depth. She’s a complex character
- The pans in the background of the kitchen scene between Moorehead and Holt (couldn’t find a nice enough pic to post) is an example of this. It’s just not two people talking at the kitchen table. It’s art.
- Twin long dolly tracking shots of Baxter and Holt moving. One in a carriage and the other walking
- Again, it’s a tough watch in some respects as the narrative hitches you to this loathsome and grating character (Holt)
- Impressive work with shadows. A triumph here.
- Great tracking shot through room and door of Moorehead as she cracks up with guilt
- tacked on optimistic ending
- Robert Wise the editor
most underrated: There Was a Father from Ozu. It isn’t one of the 11 Ozu films in the TSPDT consensus top 2000– vastly underrated
- It is Ozu’s best narrative to date and Ryu’s enduringly stoic father here is the best performance I’ve seen in an Ozu film to date in 1942 (and one of the better overall performances of the 40’s)
- Eloquently put by The New Yorker- “the weight of tradition and duty that crushes the individual spirit”
- It is a lyrical work of grace
- I adore Ozu’s pillow shots of the empty corridors—there’s a melancholic undertone in the everyday moments here- a connection and life not fully realized. It’s a slow burn but it wallops you in the end- tragic
- Hallway row of umbrellas shot mirrors is hats at a funeral in Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Family
- An even row of students
- Ozu shows the impending boat accident with a fantastically even shot of those boats sitting harmlessly on shore
- Multiple shots of the father and son fishing together and casting in union—it’s simple—elegant—we get Ryu (and his son’s) quiet pain in this tale of a hardworking father and his sacrifice
- Ozu’s cutaways are what I long for here even if this is his best narrative—the clothes on a laundry, the trains (Ozu adored them), the tea kettle
- These are two complex characters—he’s had multiple tragedies—death of student, death of wife (not shown or covered really)—he’s living through his son in some ways
- Gorgeous ending on a pillow shot of luggage and then on a train
most overrated: To Be or Not to Be from Lubitsch
- Rated #102 on TSPDT by the consensus which is very overrated
- It’s both a socially and politically important movie and a great comedy- not hard to see how it’s rated so high by so many critics but it’s just not nearly one of the best directed movies of all-time
- There are a ton of hilarious scenes but my favorite might be Robert Stack leaving right in Benny’s Hamlet soliloquy and that ongoing joke
- Very detailed and intelligent narrative
- Blends drama horror of WW2/Hitler/Nazi’s and comedy with such grace
- The scenes with Ruman and Benny are great as well
- Certainly Benny took a lot from Groucho Marx
- I can see some influences here on Inglourious Basterds (Nazis in a theatre in the finale for one)
- Shakespeare is woven throughout with both Hamlet and Shylock in Merchant of Venice
- Wonderful screenplay
- Top 5-8 of 1942
gem I want to spotlight: Gentleman Jim from Walsh. Ok, there’s a trend developing here with me enjoying the hell out of Errol Flynn films. There’s not a more likeable role for him and he’s supported here by great performances from Ward Bond, Alan Hale, and Jack Carson
trends and notables:
- Two really important debut films here into the archives. Billy Wilder and David Lean both have their first entry and would go on to bigger and better things and become two of the best directors of the next 25 years.
- Again, the war may have stymied the progression of color—outside of Bambi with Disney’s animation (what a rich period for Disney) nine of the top ten are in black and white
- Welles delivering in 1941 with Citizen Kane and then following it up here solidifying his genius (if there was any doubt) in 1942– back to back best films of the year
- You have to acknowledge the year of Curtiz with both Casablanca and Yankee Doodle Dandy in the top 10. Once you’ve seen Casablanca 4-5 times it becomes easier to pay attention to Curtiz’s subtle camera movements, if you take those out it is a drastically different (and weaker) film
- From 1942 to 1946 Val Lewton was a producer as artist and Cat People may be his finest achievement—Lewton’s RKO films are magnificent and important to study if you’re an admirer or student of cinema horror
- I also have to pause here, in the year of Casablanca, and acknowledge the depth of acting talent in the supporting realm. I already mentioned Ward Bond when talking about Gentleman Jim but how about Casablancawithout Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, and Claude Rains? Agnes Moorehead and Jane Darwell are superb nearly every year in this era.
- The first of five archiveable films (and nine overall) for Katharine Hepburn pairing with Spencer Tracy- Woman of the Year here from George Stevens
best performance male: It is Bogart’s category giving him back to back mentions with 1941’s The Maltese Falcon. It is an iconic film and performance for a reason. Don’t overthink this one. Chishū Ryū in Ozu’s There Was a Father is a runner-up as are Claude Rains in Casablanca, Joel McCrea probably sort of as a combined nomination here for his work in The Palm Beach Story in 1942 and Sullivan’s Travels in 1941. James Cagney proves he’s far more than just a ganger as he sings and high kicks his way to a mention here for Yankee Doodle Dandy.
best performance female: Ingrid Bergman radiates the screen in Casablanca. Carole Lombard is absolutely stunning in her final role before her tragic plane crash death in To Be or Not to Be. Claudette Colbert deserves a mention in The Palm Beach Story as does Simone Simon in her eerie performance in Cat People. Lastly, Agnes Moorehead is my lone acting mention from The Magnificent Ambersons– it is in support- but I think Moorehead deserves it.
- The Magnificent Ambersons
- There Was a Father
- The Palm Beach Story
- To Be or Not to Be
- Cat People
- Yankee Doodle Dandy
- Gentleman Jim
Archives, Directors, and Grades
|Across The Pacific – J. Huston||R|
|All Through the Night- Sherman||R|
|Cat People – Tourneur||HR/MS|
|Gentleman Jim- Walsh||HR|
|Holiday Inn– Sandrich||R|
|I Married a Witch- Clair||R|
|In Which We Serve- Lean||R|
|Jungle Book- Zoltan Korda||R|
|Larceny, Inc. – Bacon||R|
|Mrs. Miniver- Wyler||R|
|Now, Voyager- Rapper||HR|
|Random Harvest- Leroy||R|
|Reap the Wild Wind- DeMille||R|
|The Black Swan- King||R|
|The Magnificent Ambersons– Welles||MP|
|The Major and the Minor– Wilder||R|
|The Man Who Came to Dinner- Keighley||R|
|The Moon and Sixpence- Lewin||R|
|The Palm Beach Story- P. Sturges||MS|
|The Pride of the Yankees- S. Wood||R|
|The Road to Morocco- Butler||R|
|The Talk of the Town- Stevens||R|
|There Was a Father – Ozu||MS|
|This Gun For Hire- Tuttle||R|
|To Be Or Not To Be– Lubitsch||HR/MS|
|Woman of the Year- Stevens||R|
|Yankee Doodle Dandy- Curtiz||HR|
|You Were Never Lovelier- Seiter||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
As much as I love Ambersons, it has to be Casablanca as #1. Do you really get cinephiles doubting your choice? Surely Casablanca is a bit better. (I think)
What is your favorite scene/image/moment in the movie?
we’ll always have paris is my favorite part. i also love any scene with sam. ambersons is great too but casablanca is better and one of my favorites. i can see why people like welles filmbetter but is they dont like ths film at all that is nonsensical. also, ive been listening to time goes by today and rewatching scenes so this is funny to see.
Oops, sorry to disappoint you @Azman but Drake in the top 500 has Ambersons in front of Casablanca, i don’t think it’s better, although i prefer Casablanca
@m, @aldo, and @azman— haha yeah, I caught Ambersons again in 2018– blew me away. http://thecinemaarchives.com/2018/02/02/the-magnificent-ambersons-1942-welles/
But I still have them so close– Casablanca is #5 of the 1940’s so you won’t hear me say a bad thing about it. Masterpiece
Hey Drake, what makes you rate Bambi so highly.
I think it’s a really pure, gorgeously animated little movie.
What are the reasons you rank it as the 7th best film of 1942?
@drake. Sorry forgot the tag.
Also, if anyone else on this blog/website has seen bambi, I’d be curious to hear your opinions too?
@Azman i saw bambi when i was little. i dont remember any scenes fondly like i do from fantasia, jungle book, peter pan, land before time, scret of nimh or pinocchio. i hope to revisit some day and see if it is great but it’s certainly been awhile
Hey azman i have some films to recommend you. Intolerance if you have not seen it. Jurassic park ii lost world. Also I remember seeing how you love iranian cinema so id recommend 2014s the president. Can’t pronounce the guys name but there is some great imagery. One of the best narratives I’ve ever witnessed on screen
Great page, but i thought you were going to point in trends Welles giving the best movie in consecutive years, an impressive feat.
What do you think of Cotton’s performance in Magnificent ambersons?
@Aldo- good catch here Aldo- I certainly overlooked acknowledging that somehow- I’ll fix it. I think Cotton is very good here- if I were going to name anyone else from the film it would be him
There is a problem here.You have Saboteur from Hitchcock as a R/HR and Now Voyager as a HR but it’s Saboteur who is in the top 10.Shouldn’t Saboteur be a HR
***************** just a note that I had the wrong year for The Ox-Box Incident – it should be here in 1942 and would come in 8th on my top 10. I’ll be included when I update the page
Later i will bring you my observations about Chungking Express.
I wanted to share that they will surprisingly exhibit Casablanca, i never thought i would get to see it in the theater.
I always thought that if i got to see Casablanca in the theater it would be with my partner, i’ll have to go it alone as always haha.
I guess that’s the way it happens when nobody wants to go see a black and white movie from almost a hundred years ago.