07 July 2009

Is 1939 Overrated or are 1940 and 1941 Underrated?

This month Turner Classic Movies (aka the world's greatest TV station -- ever) is celebrating the 70th anniversary of 1939.TCM is calling it's tribute: 1939 Hollywood's Greatest Year and showing 39 films from that year. Fair enough. There were many a good film released that year (check out TCM for examples) including some of my favorites. But in my estimation the two years following were equally good, if not better. And I have some pretty strong arguments, as you'll see below.

There are probably more good films in '39 than any other year. But in terms of great and near great the two subsequent years are every bit as good. What follows is the 15 best films from those years, it's my bold contention that they match up quite favorably with any top 15 from '39.

From 1940:

Foreign Correspondent. Speaking of underrated. This is Alfred Hitchcock's most underrated film. (Poster above.) On the eve of war in Europe, Joel McCrea is a reporter sent abroad to get the scoop. He finds love and adventure and gets the story.

His Girl Friday. Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in a screwball comedy with deeper truths to tell. As I said in a recent post that you're more than welcome to read.

The Philadelphia Story. George Cukor directed Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, and Jimmy Stewart star in the story of a society wedding that doesn't go as planned. Like I need to tell you anything about this movie. Sheesh.

The Letter. Goodness is Bette Davis amazing in this film, though actually goodness had nothing to do with her character. See my post from last Fall, if you'd like.

The Grapes of Wrath. John Ford directed this adaptation of John Steinbeck's novel. Henry Fonda starred in the story of Depression Era farmers dispossessed by the Dust Bowl who head for California only to face new heartache and anger. I rattled on about this fine film last Spring.

The Shop Around the Corner. Ernest Lubitch directed, Jimmy Stewart, Maureen Sullavan and Frank Morgan star. If you've ever wondered what the Lubitcsh touch is watch this film. Great Christmas season viewing.

Brother Orchid. Edward G. Robinson plays a gangster for the umpteenth time but this time he's hiding out in a monastery. So what's it going it, the monastic life or the rackets? Worth watching to find out.

The Great Dictator. Charlie Chaplin's satire of Hitler and Mussolini is a subtle as a sledge hammer and just as effective.

Rebecca. Joan Fontaine couldn't be lovelier. Judith Anderson couldn't be creepier. Laurence Olivier couldn't be better. Hitchcock directed. See my post from a few months ago for more.

City for Conquest. Jimmy Cagney reluctantly becomes a prize fighter to support his brother's ambitions of being a concert pianist and composer. Ann Sheridan is his girlfriend and I wish she were mine.

Gaslight. The original version of the story of a man who tries to convince his wife she's loony. I prefer this one. Thorold Dickinson directed Anton Walbrrok and Diana Wynyard and no you shouldn't feel bad about not having heard of any of them.

My Favorite Wife. Cary Grant has two wives. He'd thought the original was long dead. Imagine the newlywed's embarrassment when she shows up! It's between Irene Dunne, the loving mother of their two children and Gail Patrick the stereotypical nasty step mom. Guess who prevails?

The Great McGinty. Preston Sturges started his brief run of brilliant films with this story of corrupt politics. Brian Donleavy is the title character. The usual cast of Sturges characters are around to provide laughs.

The Mortal Storm. Here was a film to stir audiences up for a little Nazi hating. Stewart and and Morgan are together again but this is no comedy. See my post from last Fall.

The Westerner. A William Wyler Western. Wow! Walter Brennan is the onery but love struck Judge Roy Bean and Gary Cooper is Cole Harden, the one man who can match wits and gun play with the Judge.

From 1941:

Sullivan's Travels. I just raved about this Preston Sturges masterpiece the other day. Check it out.

The Maltese Falcon. Bogie is unforgettable as Sam Spade. The rest of the cast ain't half bad either. Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet and let's not forget Elisha Cook. John Huston's directorial debut.

Meet John Doe. One of director Frank Capra's best. Stanwyck is the reporter, Gary Cooper is the hobo. Edward Arnold is the bad guy. Walter Brennan is the sidekick. Great film.

Citizen Kane. You may have heard of it. Young wunderkind Orson Welles produced this opus and ticked off William Randolf Heart and company something awful. A film so good that it lives up to its hype.

The Lady Eve. Another 1941 classic from Preston Sturges. How many other directors have had two great films within 12 months? Henry Fonda and Barbara Stanwyck star and the latter put the exy in sexy.

Mr. and Mrs. Smith. An Alfred Hitchcock screwball comedy. His one and only and he was a most emphatic one- for-one in this category. Robert Montgomery and Carole Lombard are the stars.

The Sea Wolf. Why the hell is this film not available on DVD? Someone get on that, pronto. Edward G. Robinson is superb as a sadistic sea captain. Michael Curtiz directed, Ida Lupino and John Garfield co star. It's not on TCM's schedule for the next couple of months, so now I'm getting mad.

Ball of Fire. Stanwyck is sexy again this time in a comedy from Howard Hawks. Cary Cooper is her co star. For more see this post from last Summer. And say, any year that's got three great Stanwyck films is all right by me.

Here Comes Mr. Jordan. The original of the Heaven Can Wait stories stars Robert Montgomery as a boxer who shuffled off this mortal coil before his time. Heaven's mistake so they give him another chance, this time in the body of a millionaire who's just been offed by the missus. Much under appreciated film.

High Sierra. Bogie is bad man Roy Earle who hooks up with Ida Lupino and Joan Leslie before shooting it out with the cops from the side of a mountain. Raoul Walsh directed.

Love Crazy. You can't go wrong with Myrna Loy and William Powell and this wacky comedy proves it. Powell has to pretend he's off his rocker to keep Loy. Trust me, it's a gas.

Sergeant York. Another Hawks film with Cooper in the lead, this time its the true story of World War I hero, Alvin York. Strong supporting cast featuring Walter Brennan, Joan Leslie and the ubiquitous Ward Bond.

The Devil and Miss Jones. Sam Wood directed this delightful story of a Scrooge like business tycoon (Charles Coburn) who goes undercover to find union agitators at one of his department stores. Instead he becomes one of the gang which includes Jean Arthur and Robert Cummings and Spring Byington (who Coburn ends up being daffy for). Love and laughs triumph.

The Big Store. For a Marx Brothers film this is pretty lame but compared to most comedies its top drawer. Another film set in a department store but this time anarchy is the order of the day (so to speak).

Ladies and gentleman, I rest my case.


Millie said...

You are absolutely right. I have far more favorite films in from 1940/1941 then 1939!

So, you like the original Gaslight better? Why? (I hope I don't sound too annoying! Because I am sincerely curious.)

Richard Hourula said...

I just think it develops the story better. In the later version I find the three stars distracting from the darkness of the plot. The villain is also more menacing to me in the orignal.

Jody said...

I completely agree with you on that. I'd have to go with 1940 as my favorite out of the three years though. Excellent entry, as always.

Rupert Alistair said...

Here, Here!! I couldn't agree with you more and have been of a similar opinion for years. I also think 1937 is such a year...THE AWFUL TRUTH, LOST HORIZON, EASY LIVING, A STAR IS BORN, etc. Great post.


Scott said...

To answer the question in the title - I think it's more that '40 and '41 are underrated. I think 1939 certainly deserves its reputation as an amazing year for cinema. I probably enjoy more films from that year than any other, but when you compare the very best films from each year it is pretty close.

Millie said...

I see. I know several people who love the original far more, but I personally prefer the '44 version.

This is probably partially because I saw the remake first. But, also I had a few problems (mostly with the script). For instance:

One doesn't see Paula/Bella as a normal person. You only see her as a mostly crazy person. I really enjoyed Ingrid's slow fall into insanity!

Also, I had no idea why in the first place she married him! He was not nice at all to her. That was very strange! There was just one point in the film that he was (pretending to be) nice to her...near the end if I remember. Boyer was on and off, on and off, on and off all the time.

Also, I didn't like how it showed Walbrook taking the brooch. I thought it was more interesting when the audience wasn't sure if Paula/Bella was crazy or not.

I did like Walbrook breaking free from the ropes (it showed just how much possessed with the jewels he was), but I didn't like Bella's response to it. She was no longer confident and in control. Now she was scared and screaming, showing that he still had power over her.

I did enjoy the 1940 version! Just not as much as the remake.

Oh, sorry about this long comment (and if I sound idiotic pay no attention...;-D)!