Thursday, February 25, 2010

70 Years Ago: My Favorite Movies of 1940

Wow. Thats a long time ago. Anyway, more Jimmy Stewart! Some Cary Grant! More Hitchcock!

10) The Letter

Not enough movies are made about murders on rubber plantations anymore. I guess some things just have to be left alone when they are this good and involve Betty Davis shooting (or possibly not!) people.

9) Gaslight

This would actually be remade 4 years later in an American version to much acclaim. In actuality, both versions are actually really good. A nice little gothic thriller, involving a 20 year old murder, an abandoned house, a wife who may or may not be suffering from blackouts (or amnesia or kleptomania) , and a husband who may or may not be involved and/or scheming against her.

8) Strange Cargo

Awesome little adventure yarn, where a group of convicts try to escape from the Devil's Island penal colony, through the jungle, trying to get to a boat to get to the mainland. Made a bit stranger by the fact that one of the convicts is this weird spiritual/religious leader who seems to know what will happen before anyone else does.

6) My Favorite Wife

Jimmy Stewart actually comes in second to Cary Grant on the list this time. In my opinion, just as classic a screwball comedy as His Girl Friday (see below). I mean it is really an amazing feat of plot, pacing, and dialogue. Cary Grant's wife shows up after being presumed dead, just after gets remarried, AND then finds out she may or may not have gotten all cozy with another shipwreck survivor and sets out to find out whats up. A classic farce of misunderstanding and unfortunate timing.

5) The Grapes of Wrath

Of course, the classic from John Ford (and John Steinbeck!) about a poor midwest family forced off their land who travel to California, suffering the misfortunes of the homeless and indigent during the Great Depression. The doesn't even really scratch he surface here. Henry Fonda, in the lead, is just as great as you heard here.

4) Foreign Correspondent

Sure it might be some of Hitchcock's more overt propaganda, but that doesn't make it any less fun. Worth it for the windmill scene alone.

3) His Girl Friday

Not only one of the great workplace comedies, but when of the great screwball comedies, if thats even the most appropriate term. For a movie put out in 1940, it is actually pretty progressive for the time. Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell are at the top of their respective games as the divorced editors/reporters at big city newspaper. The verbal sparring and the dialogue in general are amazing.

2) Rebecca

Another gothic thriller, made all the better since it is done by The Master. Set in a big, spooky mansion (Manderlay), with a woman and her family and servants who are haunted by the memory of her husband's first wife. And they just might be trying to drive her to madness. Judith Anderson, as Mrs. Danvers, who is front and center in all this, is just great here.

1) The Philadelphia Story

Hmmm, its all gothic thrillers and screwball comedies this year. Talk about catching lightning in a bottle: three of some of the best actors ever, Jimmy Stewart, Cary Grant, and Katherine Hepburn, in an amazingly written comedy. Once again, Cary Grant is trying to stop an ex from getting remarried, and the chaos that ensues when he inserts himself into other people's plans. (That must have been some sort of leitmotif in these years of Grant's career. No argument here, it produced some very amazing results.)

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