The 1940s List: Discussion and Suggestions

An ongoing survey of the Criterion Forum membership to create lists of the best films of each decade and genre.
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domino harvey
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Re: The 1940s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#776 Post by domino harvey » Fri Dec 20, 2019 2:32 pm

sir_luke wrote:
Fri Dec 20, 2019 11:40 am
domino harvey wrote:As far as I know, no one's made Letterboxd lists for any of our recent List Projects. If you're interested, go for it!
In case no one has done this yet, I went ahead and threw this together, though I still have more details to add and some things to figure out (not sure how to represent ties, etc). I’ve done a few other lists, too, and hope to eventually have all of them made.

I welcome any suggestions on what I can include/change to make this more useful for y’all!
Thanks for this but theflirtydozen already did the last couple decades including this one and posted here, but maybe you two could work out who could do some of the non-decade lists if you’re interested in doing more of these, as they are very helpful

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sir_luke
Joined: Sun Nov 03, 2013 9:55 pm

Re: The 1940s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#777 Post by sir_luke » Sat Dec 21, 2019 2:31 am

domino harvey wrote:
sir_luke wrote:
Fri Dec 20, 2019 11:40 am
domino harvey wrote:As far as I know, no one's made Letterboxd lists for any of our recent List Projects. If you're interested, go for it!
In case no one has done this yet, I went ahead and threw this together, though I still have more details to add and some things to figure out (not sure how to represent ties, etc). I’ve done a few other lists, too, and hope to eventually have all of them made.

I welcome any suggestions on what I can include/change to make this more useful for y’all!
Thanks for this but theflirtydozen already did the last couple decades including this one and posted here, but maybe you two could work out who could do some of the non-decade lists if you’re interested in doing more of these, as they are very helpful
Whoops, don’t know how I missed that. Thanks, domino, and great work theflirtydozen! I love doing these, so I’m happy to help out however I can.

nitin
Joined: Sat Nov 08, 2014 6:49 am

Re: The 1940s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#778 Post by nitin » Sun Dec 22, 2019 12:18 am

Didn’t make it in time for the list but finally got around to rewatching Whirlpool. It ultimately still wouldn’t have made my list but is definitely a very good film.

Firstly, I find it a little odd that Otto Preminger seems to be a bit of a forgotten director these days. His career is undoubtedly inconsistent and filled with frequent highs and lows, but any director of films such as Anatomy of a Murder, Laura, Advise and Consent, Where the Sidewalk Ends, Angel Face, Daisy Kenyon and Whirlpool, deserves more recognition.

Anyway, Whirlpool is a gloriously silly and hokey story played straight and made with an effortlessly high degree of skill while also imbuing its characterisations with a reasonably acute psychological awareness. The plot is basically a riff on The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari (minus the twist) and The Testament Of Dr Mabuse but Preminger does not go for german expressionist flourishes and instead opts for a similar style to his own Laura.

Gene Tierney is once again hypnotising in her beauty but also does a quite a credible job of portraying a woman that is mentally affected by being boxed in by a patriarchal society that has no interest in her needs or wants. Richard Conte is miscast as an upper society psychiatrist that is married to Tierney’s character (Conte basically comes across as he does in many other films of his where he plays working class tough guys) but his character has an unusually nuanced arc which he is able to still get across. Jose Ferrer gets the showiest role as the antagonist of the films and runs with it, pronouncing every consonant and vowel with mischievous glee and going along for the ride with the more ridiculous turns for his character’s role in the story.

This is included in the BFI’s Otto Preminger Collection. The BFI blu is sourced from an older Fox master that has a surprising amount of damage present and also has noticeable warping and frame instability issues. Otherwise the source is pretty sharp and detailed and with a good greyscale. The encoding is subpar but adequate. If you can afford it, I would recommend TT’s release of the film which is from the same Fox master but is much better encoded and also seems to have reduced the warping and instability (it is still there but not as noticeable as on the BFI’s disc).

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therewillbeblus
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Re: The 1940s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#779 Post by therewillbeblus » Sun Dec 22, 2019 12:45 am

Conte's casting is the piece of this film that's been most interesting to reflect upon over time. He initially appears to be miscast by playing the same old character, but I think Preminger is using his aloofness as a strength, to subtly pinpoint him as the perhaps most responsible participant to this patriarchal boxing you describe. The material is dense enough for Conte to present as a protagonist, in his wife's camp, and we even follow him as a surrogate; but his blindness to his own culpability allows us to remain unaware too if we don't take a step outside to the objective portrait Preminger is framing for us with a twisted smile. Conte exudes the exact kind of charm and innocence that casts a shadow over his harm through non-action (as an action) and the layers of systemic stress don't skip over him but in a sense start and end with him as the focal point of systemic oppression within the microsystem that is Tierney's domestic life. I used to think his casting was the one issue amongst the strength of the other performances, but now I think it might be the best choice because he is the perfect match for his character, and the fact that he's noticeably weak next to them provides that curious eye in his direction that can unload all of this (potential) insight.

nitin
Joined: Sat Nov 08, 2014 6:49 am

Re: The 1940s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#780 Post by nitin » Sun Dec 22, 2019 1:07 am

I must admit I thought a lot about Caught while viewing this and kept thinking what someone like Robert Ryan could have done with the role.

I do think the character (and the arc) is interesting enough that ultimately it still works with Conte in the role but I am not sure I thought he was the protagonist at any stage, the guy’s response to being told about the murder and his wife’s possible role and her alleged infidelity is “It was a very nice marriage”!!

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therewillbeblus
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Re: The 1940s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#781 Post by therewillbeblus » Sun Dec 22, 2019 1:28 am

Yeah I’d take Ryan over Conte any day but that would’ve likely made the ‘husband as unconscious role of prison warden’ more aggressive and less believably subliminal. Preminger certainly lets us in on all three main characters as surrogates, but Conte is presented as the seemingly “objective” role of detective at a certain point, jokingly appointed by Preminger especially since on the one hand he fits the role as the one most oblivious to the going-ons, but also ridiculous since it’s actually he who needs to consider his own role in this entire plot- and he’s looking externally when he should be looking at the internal system of his marriage, most importantly himself! It’s an intelligent complicated and dark doubling gag, and is pulled off with intentional ambiguity because of how lowkey Conte plays things and how even if we catch those troubling remarks he suavely slips under the radar more than a Ryan or any louder, better, and discernible actor that demands more attention be paid to them through ambient presence.

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domino harvey
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Re: The 1940s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#782 Post by domino harvey » Sun Dec 22, 2019 2:03 pm

Preminger has only recently been the beneficiary of critical reappraisal. For several decades after his heyday he was a go-to punching bag for critics, and you can still see the residue of this in some older critics’ more recent takes (see any of the commentaries by older critics on the old Fox and WB DVDs for his films to see how old habits die hard). I still remember pulling resources in the library in college and stumbling upon the casual Preminger hate in unrelated film reviews in the 70s and 80s, it was and is very bizarre— perhaps the notorious tyrannical approach of Preminger didn’t gel with either the New Hollywood lovers or those embracing the backlash?

nitin
Joined: Sat Nov 08, 2014 6:49 am

Re: The 1940s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#783 Post by nitin » Mon Dec 23, 2019 3:55 am

He wouldn’t be the only tyrannical director from the studio Hollywood period though would he?

And his contribution to the noir cannon is immense but you are right as he doesn’t really get a lot of credit in that space either.

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therewillbeblus
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Re: The 1940s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#784 Post by therewillbeblus » Sun Dec 29, 2019 7:48 pm

Lady on a Train (I’m posting this here instead of the holiday thread because it feels more appropriate to me to categorize it as a 40s genre hybrid than a Christmas movie)

reaky wrote:
Mon Dec 23, 2019 4:55 pm
This year I discovered the *other* Deanna Durbin Christmas movie, Lady on a Train (1945). It’s a bit of mess, but as much fun as you’d expect from a screwball comedy whodunnit musical.
I thought this was excellent, and Deanna Durbin didn’t ruin anything for me because her obtuse nature was a perfect fit for a heroine who isn’t taken seriously by anyone in the film, not even the viewer. Part of the fun here is that instead of feeling allied with the protagonist I felt divorced from all parties watching her with just as curious a sideways perspective as anyone else. Without that tactic I doubt I would’ve liked this nearly as much, but by treating Durbin as another side character and removing myself to the position of the self-assured voyeur, the separation freed me from any responsibility to empathize with the players, and with the only objective to be entertained this film never failed to deliver. Through all its self-aware genre playing there was an even further dilution of the filmgoer experience that fit right at home with the distance a musical might.

Speaking of genre, the screwball comedy elements embedded in the noirish mystery worked oddly enough without a consistent sparring partner, because each person or situation Durbin encountered showed her naïveté, ill-equipped persona, and absence of skills. It felt like she was trapped in the wrong movie, which was actually perfect for how things would likely play out if a Joe or Jane Smith decided to meddle where they didn’t belong (also, I could totally believe that she had nothing better to do, nor personal goals to attend to, that gave credence to playing detective- emphasis on “playing”). The self-reflexivity was a lot more intelligent than I expected, up to and including Durbin’s casting. Even just watching her staring off into space next to Bellamy as she infiltrates the will reading is hysterical, and something that a more talented or personable actress wouldn’t be able to pull off. I don’t think her random breakout into song with Silent Night on the phone or her song in the ballroom were intended to be funny, but I laughed. I realize I’m selling this pretty hard, and it isn’t the great movie I’m painting it as (it’s a total mess, as reaky suggests) but it’s the exact kind of mess I adore, precisely because of the ways those flaws can be interpreted to create new ideas and thus new admiration for these recontenxtualizations, regardless of whether the exact intentions of the filmmakers are in step with these impressions all the way down the line.

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therewillbeblus
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Re: The 1940s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#785 Post by therewillbeblus » Tue Feb 04, 2020 4:55 pm

I thought both Gran Casino and El Gran Calavera were strong films from Bunuel's transition into more coherent narrative features, especially the latter which I found absolutely hysterical. The father figure was just incredible and the gags that result from the crumbling of their system functioning are inspired, with one of the great suicidal gags of the era (what is it with this period succeeding in making such a dire concept funny? My favorite is hands-down Walter Connolly's line in Twentieth Century which may be the best in the whole film for me). Bunuel's socioeconomic vulnerabilities and ideological classist expectations are touched upon both seriously and in jest, while the film follows a pretty standard execution, though even the ending - as expected as it is - comes abruptly with a surge of humor due to the long-gestated drawing out of tension for maybe 30 seconds too long forcing a jarring timing of the objection. Recommended.

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senseabove
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Re: The 1940s List: Discussion and Suggestions

#786 Post by senseabove » Tue Jun 16, 2020 3:22 am

The Razor's Edge (Goulding, 1946) At one point, Gene Tierney lays out the entire plot of this movie in a single glance, and if we ranked pieced out moments rather than whole movies, at first blush, I could imagine a list where it's the pinnacle of the 1940s. Unfortunately, sadly, after a brilliant first act with some jaw-dropping blocking and camera work, we're saddled with an atrocious sojourn to India that produces a blandly enlightened main character—though Tyrone Power does an admirable job making the best of it. Luckily, there are still more brilliant moments scattered throughout to make it entirely worthwhile. The others that jump immediately to mind are a minute-long dolly shot, when Isabel and her mother arrive in Paris, that moves in and out of crowds, traffic, and cars; and the scene when Anne Baxter returns to the story—Baxter in general is excellent, with another greatly moving moment late in her arc that plays all of the phases of her character we've seen against each other in an instant. The thing is far too flawed as a whole to be considered a masterpiece, but about a third of this is some of the best studio movie-making of the era.

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