For the longest time I think the decade of the 1940s were my favorite for movies. I believe it was a great decade for musicals. The movies were great too, and they were a diversion and an escape from World War II. Most of the films were not the most realistic, but again people were looking for an escape not reality. Here are my five favorite movies of the 1940s:
5. HOLIDAY INN (1942)
The Irving Berlin song says it all - "kick your cares down the stairs and come to Holiday Inn". One of the most beloved musicals of the 1940s, the film gave birth to one of the most successful songs of all time "White Christmas". The movie stars Bing Crosby as an entertainer whose partner (Fred Astaire) steals his girl away. Crosby has a nervous breakdown and decides to open an inn which is only open on the holidays. The film's love song "Be Careful It's My Heart" was supposed to be the big hit until "White Christmas" sold in the millions before the movie even came out. The movie has become an holiday classic, and although the blackface "Abraham" number is dated by today's standards, the movie is a great piece of 1940s history.
4. CITIZEN KANE (1941)
This film is Orson Welle's masterpiece, and it is often considered one of the greatest movies ever made. At times it may be a little slow, but it definitely is one of the truly great movies of the classic Hollywood era. The story is a film à clef that examines the life and legacy of Charles Foster Kane, played by Welles, a character based in part upon the American newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, Chicago tycoons Samuel Insull and Harold McCormick, and aspects of Welles's own life. Upon its release, Hearst prohibited mention of the film in any of his newspapers. Kane's career in the publishing world is born of idealistic social service, but gradually evolves into a ruthless pursuit of power. Narrated principally through flashbacks, the story is revealed through the research of a newsreel reporter seeking to solve the mystery of the newspaper magnate's dying word: "Rosebud". Welles never did make another movie as high profiled as Citizen Kane, which is unfortunate because he was a movie genius.
3. SHADOW OF A DOUBT (1943)
Another great film by Alfred Hitchcock, the movie is a great movie to show to any just starting to get into classic films. The movie is nearly perfect from the superb acting of Joseph Cotten to the great black and white film work, which used every shadow possible to its advantage. The movie is about a teenager living in the idyllic town of Santa Rosa, California, Charlotte "Charlie" Newton (Teresa Wright), complains that nothing seems to be happening in her life. Then, she receives wonderful news: her uncle (for whom she was named), Charlie Oakley (Joseph Cotten), her mother's younger brother, is arriving for a visit. Two men show up pretending to be working on a national survey of the average American family. One of them speaks to Charlie privately, identifying himself as Detective Jack Graham (Macdonald Carey). He explains that her uncle is one of two men suspected of being a serial killer known as the "Merry Widow Murderer" who seduces, steals from, and murders wealthy widows. Originally Hitchcock wanted William Powell to play Uncle Charlie, but MGM would not loan him out. Shadow Of A Doubt is pretty much as perfect of a movie as you can get.
2. ARSENIC AND OLD LACE (1944)
Beyond a doubt this is one of my favorite comedies of all time, and even though it is a comedy I think Cary Grant should have been nominated for an Oscar for his madcap and zany role. Arsenic and Old Lace is a 1944 film directed by Frank Capra based on Joseph Kesselring's play of the same name. The script adaptation was by twins Julius J. Epstein and Philip G. Epstein. Capra actually filmed the movie in 1941, but it was not released until 1944, after the original stage version had finished its run on Broadway. The lead role of Mortimer Brewster was originally intended for Bob Hope, but he couldn't be released from his contract with Paramount. Capra had also approached Jack Benny and Ronald Reagan before going with Cary Grant. Boris Karloff played Jonathan Brewster, who "looks like Karloff", on the Broadway stage, but he was unable to do the movie as well because he was still appearing in the play during filming, and Raymond Massey took his place. In addition to Grant as Mortimer Brewster, the film also starred Josephine Hull and Jean Adair as the Brewster sisters, Abby and Martha, respectively. Hull and Adair as well as John Alexander (who played Teddy Roosevelt) were reprising their roles from the 1941 stage production. Hull and Adair both received an eight-week leave of absence from the stage production that was still running, but Karloff did not as he was an investor in the stage production and its main draw. The entire film was shot within those eight weeks. The film cost just over $1.2 million of a $2 million budget to produce. An addition to the movie cast was the beautiful Priscilla Lane and creepy Peter Lorre. Even though it took three years to be released, that is a great movie to watch at Halloween or anytime you want a great laugh.
1. WHITE HEAT (1949)
If I had to pick my favorite classic movie (pre 1970) of all-time it would definitely be the gangster classic White Heat. White Heat is a 1949 film noir starring James Cagney, Virginia Mayo and Edmond O'Brien and featuring Margaret Wycherly, and Steve Cochran. Directed by Raoul Walsh from the Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts screenplay based on a story by Virginia Kellogg, it is considered one of the classic gangster films. James Cagney made the film what it was playing psychotic gangster Cody Jarrett. The character of Cody Jarrett was based on New York murderer Francis Crowley, who engaged in a pitched battle with police in the spring of 1931 at the age of 18. Executed on January 21, 1932, his last words were: "Send my love to my mother." Another inspiration may have been Arthur Barker, a gangster of the 1930s, and a son of Ma Barker. One of the best scenes in the movie and all cinema is the climax at the end. The police surround the building and call on Jarrett to surrender. Jarrett decides to fight it out. When the police fire tear gas into the office, Fallon manages to escape. All of Jarrett's henchmen are shot by the police, or by Jarrett himself when they try to give themselves up (Verna is taken by the police). Jarrett then flees to the top of a gigantic, globe-shaped gas storage tank. When Fallon shoots Jarrett several times with a rifle, Jarrett starts firing into the tank and shouts, "Made it, Ma! Top of the world!" just before it goes up in a massive explosion. I never thought much of Virginia Mayo as an actress, and I still don't, but she was great in this movie as Cagney's backstabbing girlfriend. What is so surprising about the movie and Cagney's portrayal of a gangster is by the end of the movie the viewer actually feels a little bit sorry for the character. That is one of the reasons why this film is my favorite of the decade.
Of course there were a lot of films I would like to include on my favorite list, but I stuck with just the top five. However, here are some of the movies that definitely deserve an honorable mention: The Great Dictator (1940), To Be Or Not To Be (1942), Pride Of The Yankees (1942), The Lost Weekend (1945), and Blue Skies (1946).