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.
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.
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.
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
- 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
- A young Gene Kelly shows up in Cover Girl for his archiveable debut– same film for the first archiveable film from Shelley Winters, 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 cannot forget about Bogart—trading barbs with Bacall here in 1946. This is Bogart’s third mention in this category since the beginning of the decade.
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.
- Double Indemnity
- To Have and Have Not
- Ivan the Terrible, Part I
- Meet Me in St. Louis
- Henry V
- Arsenic and Old Lace
- A Canterbury Tale
- The Woman in the Window
- National Velvet
Archives, Directors, and Grades
|A Canterbury Tale- Powell & Pressburger||R/HR|
|Arsenic and Old Lace- Capra||HR|
|Cover Girl- C. Vidor||R|
|Double Indemnity- Wilder||MP|
|Going My Way– McCarey||R|
|Hail the Conquering Hero- P. Sturges||R|
|Henry V- Olivier||MS|
|Ivan the Terrible, Part I- Eisenstein||MS|
|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