By The Decade: 4 From The 40s

First thing’s first, I was really pleased with the response to last week’s By The Decade piece, and had some terrific recommendations for movies from the 1930s. Thanks again if you contributed to that!

Next up, of course, is a look at some of my favourites from the 1940s, and a request to you to suggest your top films from that decade, in an effort to help me and anyone who reads this discover some great films we might not be aware of.

Here are four of my recommendations from the 1940s then…

Rope (1948)

I’ll be absolutely honest, I had to double check this was actually from the 1940s before committing to it, as part of me was convinced it was a fifties film.

Essentially the story of two men who believe they can get away with murder, so kill a friend and host a dinner party around his hidden corpse, it’s loosely based on the Leopold & Loeb case of the 1920s*.

One of the reasons I’ve picked it is for the limitations Hitchcock set himself when developing the movie – the single location becomes increasingly claustrophobic as the pressure builds, and it’s meant to look like one continuous shot. While technical limitations of the era meant it’s actually a series of long takes cleverly stitched together, it must have been a huge challenge for everyone in the cast and crew and makes me appreciate it even more.

I’ll be the first to admit it has its flaws, and there’s no denying it struggles to break out of its stage play origins and become something truly cinematic. In my opinion though, it’s stylish and well-played enough to overcome its limitations and while it might not share the classic status that, say, Psycho has, it’s a fascinating curiosity of a film by a filmmaker who is experimenting with his craft.

*There was a film based on the same case released in 1959 – Compulsion, starring Dean Stockwell, Bradford Dillman and Orson Welles. Although it definitely has its moments, I think I prefer Rope.

Casablanca (1942)

Well this one was pretty obvious, but I’m not going to apologise for it.

I first saw it years ago and thought it was fine, but watching it again as an adult, knowing a little more about its background, appreciating the timing and nature of its production and release, it’s amazing to think that it was even made when it was, let alone that it’s still so well-regarded.

Every member of the cast is note-perfect, the script is faultless and the film whips along at one hell of a pace. There’s a lot to take in, but it’s a film that is endlessly watchable.

Yes, it’s been parodied half to death, but unlike some classics that have received similar fates, I don’t think it’s to this movie’s detriment. If anything, the fact that it’s so ingrained into the public consciousness means that watching it in full, whether for the first time or the tenth time, is like comfort food for the mind.

It’s easy to be put off by the whole ‘it’s a classic’ argument, but this one really is worth trying if you’ve never seen it.

Dead Of Night (1945)

This is the entry on the list I’ve seen for the first time most recently, but in a way, I was really familiar with it already due to its enormous influence on cinema (particularly certain elements of horror cinema), since its release.

I’ve made no secret of my affection for creaky British horror movies, but until fairly recently I’d only gone back as far as the Amicus anthologies of the 1960s and 1970s. That interest was probably sparked through Steve Coogan’s series Dr Terrible’s House Of Horrible, which was an uneven but affectionate love letter to that style of filmmaking.

But go back just a little further, and Dead Of Night is the bedrock of British horror anthologies. Like all such films, you’re probably not going to love each section of the film (for me, the comedy story about the two golfers just didn’t land), but as always, the beauty of an anthology film is that there’s another story along in a few minutes.

Plus, the final act is utterly unforgettable – manic, harrowing and terrifying more than 75 years after it was released… and don’t get me started on creepy ventriloquist dummies.

The Big Sleep (1946)

I’ve written at length about this one before, so I won’t spend too long on The Big Sleep.

To date, this is the only Late Review so complicated that I had to resort to bullet points to explain what was happening, but that in no way lessens the quality of the film.

Bogart and Bacall have an incredible energy in this, the dialogue is superb and superbly delivered, and the story – hole-filled though it may be – is guaranteed to keep your attention as it rattles along at pace.

That being said, the same story didn’t work quite so well for the Michael Winner adaptation – though that’s still a pretty interesting watch.

What else?

I’d love to know what films from the 1940s you’d recommend to someone who wanted to give that decade a try, so please get in touch on Twitter, Facebook or in the comments section and let me know!

UPDATE: You can now find out which films from the forties readers suggested here!

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