Sunday, January 23, 2011

Before The Plunge

1940 was a great year for Hollywood.  A lot of its best people were working at the top of their game.  Europe--not so great.  They had other things on their mind.

Jesse Walker lists a lot of these great films in his top ten list for the year, but not always in the right order.  Here's his top ten.

1. The Philadelphia Story
2. His Girl Friday
3. The Bank Dick
4. A Wild Hare
5. They Drive By Night
6. Rebecca
7. Christmas in July
8. The Grapes of Wrath
9. Dance, Girl, Dance
10. Contraband

His honorable mentions:

11. Foreign Correspondent
12. The Shop Around the Corner
13. The Thief of Bagdad
14. Pinocchio
15. Seven Sinners
16. The Great McGinty
17. Swinging the Lambeth Walk
18. The Westerner
19. Tarantella
20. The Ghost Breakers

The Philadelphia Story (better than the play) and His Girl Friday are certainly among the top comedies of all. 

The Bank Dick I love too, and it's great that W. C. Fields this late in his career was allowed to do whatever came into his head (even if W. C. Fields doesn't mean as much to me as The Marx Brothers (who were busy in 1940 making the weak Go West)). 

The Wild Hare I love, but there were enough great films then that I still don't see why Jesse picks shorts.

They Drive By Night is a lot of fun, even if it wouldn't make my top ten.

Rebecca won the Best Picture Oscar.  It's alright, but too long and hardly top-notch Hitchcock.

Christmas In July is one of Preston Sturges's slighter works, but it's certainly worth some spot in the top twenty.  I think I prefer Sturges's first film, The Great McGinty, which shows up at #16.

The Grapes Of Wrath may have some iconic moments, but for such a recognized classic, a lot of it is dull and overdone.  (Though I agree it's better than most "serious" Ford.)

Dance, Girl, Dance seems rated high.  I wouldn't put it in the top twenty.

Contraband, like Michael Powell's more celebrated Thief Of Bagdad (at #13) is a solid film, worthy of attention, but probably not top ten material.

Foreign Correspondent was Hitchcock's better film that year.

At #12 we see The Shop Around The Corner.  Surely Jesse made a mistake, and meant to put this as the #1 film of 1940, the #1 film of any year ending in zero, and perhaps the #1 film ever made in Hollywood.

Pinocchio isn't just top ten material, it's the starting point of any discussion of the greatest animated features of all time.

Seven Sinners doesn't strike me as anything special but I haven't seen it in a long time.

The Westerner and Ghost Breakers are pretty neat films that deserve a spot in the top twenty. (And I do agree with Jesee that Andy Hardy Meets Debutante is one of the best titles in the series.)

One absence I expected was The Great Dictator, since I know Jesse doesn't like Chaplin.  This was Chaplin's first full-on talkie, and his biggest hit.  It often makes great films lists.  But I agree it doesn't deserve the recognition.  His silents are great, his sound films never recaptured that magic.

Here are other films from 1940 I like, to one extent or another:

Broadway Melody of 1940 and Second Chorus.  It's 1940, and Fred Astaire is no longer with Ginger.  How will he deal with it?  The first has some of Fred Astaire's most brilliant numbers, even if Eleanor Powell, who may be the greatest dancer, technically speaking, he ever worked with, has no chemistry with him.  Second Chorus is far from Astaire's best, but it's still worth catching.

Saps At Sea and A Chump At Oxford are the last fine work Laurel and Hardy did.  Their best stuff was still shorts, but that doesn't mean these aren't fun.

My Favorite Wife.  Cary Grant did far better work this year (and worse work) but even a comedy like this that doesn't quite play is worth something.

I admit that Fantasia is pretentious, and not half the film Pinocchio is, but there's still some amazing technical work here, and some great sequences.

1940 also had some top-notch adventure, such as The Mark Of Zorro and The Sea Hawk.

Then there's Buck Benny Rides Again, Johnny Apollo,  No Time for Comedy (some think Jimmy Stewart miscast, and the film is a little heavy, but I like it), Northwest Passage, Primrose Path, The Return of Frank James, Road to Singapore (the Roads would get better, but you gotta start somewhere), Strike Up the Band, Remember the Night (Sturges being partly serious here, and it works), Tin Pan Alley, Gaslight (the first one), My Little Chickadee (not the pairing that was hoped for, but it has moments), Down Argentine Way

Other films of note:

Abe Lincoln in Illinois, All This, and Heaven Too, Angels Over Broadway, Bitter Sweet, The Blue Bird, Boom Town, The Boys from Syracuse, Brigham Young, Chad Hanna, Dr. Cyclops, The Eternal Jew, The Fighting 69th, The Howards of Virginia, It's a Date, Kitty Foyle, Knute Rockne, All American,  The Letter, Li'l Abner, Little Men, Little Nellie Kelly, The Long Voyage Home, Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet, The Miracle of Sound, The Mortal Storm, Night Train to Munich, One Million B.C., Our Town, Quicker'n a Wink, Pride and Prejudice, Star Dust, Strange Cargo, Swiss Family Robinson, They Knew What They Wanted, Too Many Husbands, Turnabout, Vigil in the Night, Young Tom Edison


Blogger Jesse said...

Remember the Night and The Mark of Zorro came close to making the list. Remember the Night probably would have made the list if it weren't for those nails-on-chalkboard racial stereotypes. (Though I may have given up my right to complain about those when I included The Ghost Breakers.)

You may be right about Pinocchio. I haven't seen it since I was a kid. (I have seen Fantasia as an adult, and that's why it's absent. Some of the sequences are very good, but other parts weigh it down.)

Foreign Correspondent almost made the top 10 (as you can see), but I rank it below Rebecca because the plot holes are too obvious. I admire Hitchcock's ability to get the viewer to accept even the most ridiculous MacGuffins, but even I have to draw the line at the absurdity of a treaty that only one guy knows about.

I guess The Shop Around the Corner is your Apartment. It's a fine movie, but it's not my favorite Lubitsch.

I enjoyed both of those Laurel & Hardy movies, but I wouldn't put them in the top rank of their stuff. (I wouldn't say it's their last good work either -- there's some pretty funny stuff in Atoll K.) And I may have to turn in my cineaste card for saying this, but while I like the original Gaslight, I think the American remake is better.

7:33 AM, January 23, 2011  

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