27 March 2021

I Answer the Question: What Were the Best Decades Enjoyed by Film Actors?

Humphrey Bogart in Treasure of the Sierra Madre

Last Summer I compiled a list of the ten best decades enjoyed by film directors. Today I'm presenting a list of the best decades enjoyed by film stars. There are several caveats, the most important being that my definition of a good or great film is based solely on my own tastes. I'm sure anyone else taking on the same task would have very different lists. Also I'm not going by ten-year periods but specific decades. So an actor being  in seven great films between, say, 1974 and 1983 is of no help.

Thus chance plays a huge factor. Jimmy Stewart, for example, surely would have made the list for the 1940s save for the small matter of World War II which interrupted his career. Still, I thought it a worthy exercise. 

Another criteria I established was that an actor had to have been in at least five really good films in the decade. This eliminated lots and lots and lots of actors who appeared in four great films. Finally only lead actors were considered.

I came up with a dozen lists. I offer them in no particular order; all are followed by comments.

Humphrey Bogart ‘40s

High Sierra (1941) Walsh

Maltese Falcon (1941) Huston

All Through the Night (1942) Sherman

Casablanca (1942) Curtiz

Passage to Marseille (1944) Curtiz

To Have and Have Not (1944) Hawks

The Big Sleep (1946) Hawks

Dark Passage (1947) Daves

Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) Huston

Key Largo (1948) Huston

Note: If I was going to rank them this would be a strong candidate for the number one slot. Maltese Falcon, Casablanca, The Big Sleep and Treasure of the Sierra Madre area all classics. Also, there are ten films here, tied with Grant (directly below) for most.

Cary Grant '40s

His Girl Friday (1940) Hawks

My Favorite Wife(1940) Kanin

The Philadelphia Story (1940) Cukor

Suspicion (1941) Hitchcock

Arsenic and Old Lace (1942) Capra

The Talk of the Town (1942) Stevens

Mr. Lucky (1943) Potter

Destination Tokyo (1943) Daves

Notorious (1946) Hitchcock

The Bishop’s Wife (1947) Koster

Note: Grant almost made the list for his films from the '30s and '50s too.

Al Pacino in Serpico
Al Pacino ‘70s
Panic in Needle Park (1971) Schatzberg

The Godfather (1972) Coppola

Scarecrow (1973) Schatzberg

Serpico (1973) Lumet

The Godfather Part II (1974) Coppola

Dog Day Afternoon (1975) Lumet

And Justice for All (1979) Jewison

Note: He was brilliant in all of these and should have won a couple of Oscars.

Dustin Hoffman ‘70s

Little Big Man (1970) Penn

Straw Dogs (1971) Peckinpah

Lenny (1974) Fosse

All the President’s Men (1976) Pakula

Marathon Man (1976) Schlesinger

Straight Time (1978) Grosbard

Note: Hoffman has had a long illustrious career but his best work was early on.

Bette Davis ‘40s

The Letter (1940) Wyler

The Great Lie (1941) Goulding

The Little Foxes (1941) Wyler

The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942) Keighley

Now, Voyager (1942) Rapper

Watch on the Rhine (1943) Shumlin

Mr. Skeffington (1944) Sherman

June Bride (1948) Windust

Note: Ms. Davis got a passel of Oscar nominations in the '40s and they were well-deserved.

Barbara Stanwyck ‘40s

Remember the Night (1940) Leisen

The Lady Eve (1941) Sturges

Meet John Doe (1941) Capra

Ball of Fire (1941) Hawks

Double Indemnity (1944) Wilder

Christmas in Connecticut (1945) Godfrey

Note: Ms. Stanwyck had pretty good decades in the '30s and '50s, but the '40s saw her best work.

Max Von Sydown in The Seventh Seal
Max Von Sydow ‘60s
The Virgin Spring (1960) Bergman

Through a Glass Darkly (1961) Bergman

Winter Light (1963) Bergman

Hour of the Wolf (1968) Bergman

Shame (1968) Bergman

The Passion of Anna (1969) Bergman

Note: For me Von Sydow had one of the greatest careers of any actor. Of course it didn't hurt that he worked so often with Ingmar Bergman.

Woody Allen ‘70s

Bananas (1971) Allen

Play it Again, Sam (1972) Ross

Love and Death (1975) Allen

The Front (1976) Ritt

Annie Hall (1977) Allen

Manhattan (1979)

Note: Allen directed himself in four of the six films.

Henry Fonda ‘40s

The Grapes of Wrath (1940) Ford

The Lady Eve(1941) Sturges

The Male Animal (1942) Nugent

The Ox-Bow Incident (1942) Wellman

My Darling Clementine (1946) Ford

The Fugitive (1947) Ford

Fort Apache (1948) Ford

Note: Grapes of Wrath and Lady Eve are one helluva start to a decade.

Diane Keaton ‘70s

The Godfather (1972) Coppola

Play it Again, Sam (1972) Ross

The Godfather Part II (1974) Coppola

Love and Death (1975) Allen

Annie Hall (1977) Allen

Interiors (1978) Allen

Manhattan (1979) Allen

Note: Five of the films were directed by Woody Allen and the other two were the Godfather films. 

Marlene Dietrich in Shanghai Express
Marlene Dietrich ‘30s

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