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The Best Discoveries of 2018: The 1940s

Updated: Dec 15, 2018

The 1940s is my favorite decade for movies, in particular because it provided an opportunity for the flourishing of film noir, but also because it was such an interesting time. The world was changing drastically and watching the development of people and cultures before, during, and after World War II provided for some powerful motion pictures. You’ll find only a few films on this list that could be called film noir. I’m saving most of them for my forthcoming list of film noir titles I discovered this year for the first time, but you may see a bit of overlap.


The year began with The Sea Wolf, a film which had been chopped up in order for it to fit on a double bill back in the 40s, and found a new and complete life as its missing minutes were discovered and put back in place. I greatly enjoyed the Warner Archive Blu-ray release but was even more impressed seeing it on the big screen with Alan K. Rode providing the introduction at a Michael Curtiz retrospective at the AFI Silver in March.

I found myself exploring several Westerns in 2018, primarily to find Westerns containing noir elements such as the excellent Blood on the Moon, which finds cowhand Robert Mitchum (above) landing himself in the middle of a cattle dispute. We might be in the Old West, but this Robert Wise film has all the deception, betrayal and avarice of any 20th century film noir.

Four Faces West (above) and Ramrod both contain noir elements and both star Joel McCrea, a favorite of mine (who also appeared in The Silver Cord, a film on my 1930s list).

I’d heard about Children of Paradise for years and finally (thanks to FilmStruck) got around to seeing it. (I reviewed it earlier this year.) It’s one of those films that simply leaves you speechless, totally deserving of every accolade it continues to receive.

Several of the films I saw from the 1940s deserve rewatching including The Magnificent Ambersons, The Letter, and the one I plan on revisiting soon, The Small Back Room, a Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger film about a troubled bomb expert (David Farrar) working for the British during WWII. The film doesn’t get nearly enough attention as several of the other Powell/Pressburger films, but it deserves it.

I found a book of Robert Bresson interviews (and decided to watch some of his earlier films, starting with Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne, the story of a scorned woman seeking revenge on the man who ended their relationship. I’ve never seen a revenge movie quite like it. The film marks the last time Bresson worked with professional actors, preferring to populate his subsequent films with non-professionals.

Man, I miss FilmStruck. It was responsible for my seeing several films that I probably would’ve never seen including Julien Duvivier’s Lydia, with Merle Oberon and Joseph Cotten, Cluny Brown, a hilarious comedy with Jennifer Jones as a plumber, and the amazing noirish Japanese film Snow Trail, which features Akira Kurosawa regulars Toshiro Mifune (in his first film, below) and Takashi Shimura, along with Yoshio Kosugi, as three bank robbers who hide out in a family’s remote mountain lodge.

Although Kurosawa didn't direct, he co-wrote the screenplay with director Senkichi Taniguchi.

Although I didn’t write about all of these titles, I highly recommend the following:

Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948)

City for Conquest (1940)

Le Corbeau (1943)

Blood on the Moon (1948)

Four Faces West (1948)

Ramrod (1947)

The Small Back Room (1949)

The Letter (1940)

The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)

Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne (1945)

Lydia (1941)

Cluny Brown (1946)

Snow Trail (1947)

Next time: the 1950s

Photos: DVD Beaver, Screen Slate, The Austin Chronicle

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