Here is a fast and dirty take on a top 10 movies of the 1940s from my recent watch-through of over 40 movies from this era.  This project has been evolving as I progress and thus I have missed a number of quality movies, and still live in total ignorance of many others.  I also feel very uncertain about the ordering of all of my picks excepting perhaps the number 1 choice.  This list is considered entirely subjective to my tastes and interests.  Let us proceed.

10. Shadow of a Doubt (1943)
Director: Alfred Hitchcock

I do not generally see this work held up in the conversation of best Hitchcock movies.  Many would argue that Notorious would beat Shadow in a battle of merely Hitch's 40s movies.  However, somehow this was the movie of his that held a strange power over me as it began to unfold.  It portrays the corruption of small town America being invaded by the world at large.  An innocence twisted until the very home you grew up in is no longer safe.  Hitch was the master of suspense and Shadow had a tangible tension as you saw the happy dreams of the American Child disintegrate.  There is unfortunately a tacked on love story that waters down the substance of an otherwise gut-wrenching thrill.

"There's so much you don't know, so much. What do you know, really? You're just an ordinary little girl, living in an ordinary little town. You wake up every morning of your life and you know perfectly well that there's nothing in the world to trouble you. You go through your ordinary little day, and at night you sleep your untroubled ordinary little sleep, filled with peaceful stupid dreams. And I brought you nightmares. Or did I? Or was it a silly, inexpert little lie? You live in a dream. You're a sleepwalker, blind. How do you know what the world is like? Do you know the world is a foul sty? Do you know, if you rip off the fronts of houses, you'd find swine? The world's a hell. What does it matter what happens in it? Wake up, Charlie. Use your wits. Learn something."

9. Double Indemnity (1944)
Directed by Billy Wilder

Since the first time I saw this movie, Raymond Chandler had become one of my favorite popcorn wordsmiths, so I greatly looked forward to revisiting this Chandler-scripted noir of nasty people doing nasty things.  Unfortunately Wilder in his daily battles would drive Chandler back to the drink, and then rib him with his next movie being about a drunk novelist... however their joint union, rocky though it be, created perhaps the noir breaking point that may have begun the erosion of the Hollywood code that was handcuffing the content of American cinema (for both good and bad).  A movie of imprisoning light and shadow, betrayals of trust expected and un-. Double Indemnity skated every line, and ultimately told of the downfall of a world of greed and lust.  One broken rule begets the next until the perpetrator is buried by his own attempts to bury sin.  And Chandler's dialogue just sings as only his can.  Oh, and there's that evil wig.

"Yes, I killed him. I killed him for money - and a woman - and I didn't get the money and I didn't get the woman. Pretty, isn't it?"

8. Banshun (1949) or Late Spring
Directed by Yasujirō Ozu

Early in the decade, foreign movies seemed to come to a halt, at least in terms of getting historical recognition today.  One can easily guess why a global conflict in all the major hubs of cinema might make it hard for movies to be made outside of the United States.  But thankfully as the decade moved away from the tides of World War II you began to see international cinema resurface and be a very necessary voice in contrast to the studio system of America.  Not surprisingly, a number of these movies were still attempting to deal with the aftermath of the War.  In Late Spring we see a shifting culture in Japan in the eyes of a young woman literally healing from the effects of the war alongside her nation.  All of the cultural normative was now subject for revision, and in Noriko's desires to live as she wants under the weight of social expectations.  It was my first Ozu movie.  It will not be my last.  I also expect many listens to his movie scores.

7. Ladri di biciclette (1948) or Bicycle Thief or Bicycle Thieves
Directed by Vittorio De Sica

Did I mention a number of foreign films focus on the aftermath of the war?  De Sica has a few works that pick up in Italy in the aftermath of the War.  I think the US felt a new freedom and sense of importance after the War; places like Italy stood in a very different condition.  In Bicycle Thief or Thieves you see the condition of a country all wrapped up in a man.  You see the slow deterioration of a man; the dismantling, the dehumanizing.  This is a man's worst day under the observation of a quiet camera and his son.  And this is war.

"There's a cure for everything except death."

6. Fantasia (1940)
Directed by umm, technically a lot of people

Disney, today, is considered the hallmark of the big studio.  Yet there was a time when they were the innovator's.  It is hard to believe that only after two feature length animations Disney attempted to create a new form yet again with Fantasia.  And it utterly failed.  Failed in the box office.  As a work of art, it still stands.  Perhaps a significant amount of its greatness is wrapped up in less of what it does and more in for what it hopes.

5. The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
Directed by John Ford

This movie is hard for me to quantify.  It is a fairly faithful adaptation of Steinbeck while separating itself from the more political left leanings of its writer, given that Ford was a fairly conservative fellow.  It focused on the more humanist side of Steinbeck while still really capturing a great deal of Grapes, which should make for a fairly mundane watch given that I would probably just rather reread the book if it is going to follow so closely, however, Ford does something else here.  Somehow in giving the book image, he does something captivating in its own right.  Never hurts to have opening shots like the above...

"Rich fellas come up an' they die, an' their kids ain't no good an' they die out. But we keep a'comin'. We're the people that live. They can't wipe us out; they can't lick us. We'll go on forever, Pa, 'cause we're the people."

4. Casablanca (1942)
Directed by Michael Curtiz

This is the kind of movie that has made me realize a number of things about my tastes.  First, I love a good setting.  Casablanca is just a setting that writes itself.  It is the most important character of the movie.  Second, I would want to argue that I am more of a substance over style guy, but really, I am a sucker for good style.  Casablanca is not a deep work.  It does not retain audiences all these years because of a majestic unveiling of the human condition.  It is just dang fun with style to spare.  Bogart gives all his line with the overbearing confidence that made him a star, and you cannot help yourself but run along with his swaying mood.  When you are speaking of cinema as entertainment, this is perhaps its most essential model of that form.

Captain Renault: I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here! 
[a croupier hands Renault a pile of money]
Croupier: Your winnings, sir. 
Captain Renault: [sotto voce] Oh, thank you very much.

3. The Third Man (1949)
Directed by Carol Reed

I saw this many years ago and remembered little else than Orson Welles and a ferris wheel.  Since that day, Graham Greene (the screenwriter) has become one of my favorite novelists and my taste for noir has grown immensely, so I greatly looked forward to the day I would get to rewatch this work.  It did not disappoint.  It perhaps falls once more in the camp of style over substance, but a great deal of the style in this is the camera and cinematography.  Setting again dominates as another foreign film would find itself exploring the chaos of post-war Italy.  The whimsy and style of this movie has a surprisingly contemporary feel.  Watch it.

• Nobody thinks in terms of human beings. Governments don't. Why should we? They talk about the people and the proletariat, I talk about the suckers and the mugs - it's the same thing. They have their five-year plans, so have I. 
• You used to believe in God. 
• Oh, I still do believe in God, old man. I believe in God and Mercy and all that. But the dead are happier dead. They don't miss much here, poor devils.

2. Les enfants du paradis (1945) or Children of Paradise
Directed by Marcel Carné

I am a sucker for movies about story.  Movies about movies.  (Movies about writer's block) In Les enfants du paradis we have a movie about the stage.  And a significant amount of other subjects, but that is again the setting we find ourself in.  And this feels like the beginning of a trend to the bizarre and varied cast of nearly otherworldly characters.  It was fitting that my viewing of this ended with an accidental post-introduction by none other than Terry Gilliam whose style felt like it very much had its germination in this work of Carné.  This movie feels like the opposite reaction to the war and is a cast of characters doing what they can to forget and ignore the war's aftermath (it takes place post-napoleon).  Lost in their silly romances and affairs and craft.  Yet what will one give up in pursuit of dreams?

"Jealousy belongs to all if a woman belongs to none."

1. Citizen Kane (1941)
Directed by Orson Welles

The only placement I feel certain of on this list, Citizen Kane, will necessarily have its detractors given its Best-Movie-Ever label.  However, I do believe that the conversation at the very least has to begin at this movie, regardless of where it ends.  Citizen Kane is a case of rookies not knowing any better.  The Mercury Theater company had conquered the stage, they had conquered the radio, now they were attempting the cinema.  And they did not waste a millimeter of film.  Every piece of every shot meant something.  One could argue that the camera is too vocal a member of the cast, or perhaps Welles is too busy shaping your every perception, yet in a world where Nazism had destroyed a thriving German Expressionist movement the camera had for many years been dead in the hands of the Hollywood studios, and Welles came to reclaim it with no regard for what a director should or should not do, only what he wanted to do.  Again the movie failed, the innovation failed... initially.  But ultimately it recaptured the original magic that had grown stale.  It was a little boy playing with his toy.  And the reward the audience gets is marvelous: shot after breath-taking shot; line after breath-dripping line.

Other movies nearly making the list:
The Philadelphia Story (1940)
The Maltese Falcon (1941)
Notorious (1946)
Out of the Past (1947)
Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
The Red Shoes (1948)
Rope (1948)

Movies I disliked:
The Lady Eve (1941)
Spellbound (1945)

Movies I am looking forward to (re)watching from the 1950s:
In a Lonely Place (1950)
Sunset Boulevard (1950)
Rashomon (1950)
All about Eve (1950)
Ikiru (1952)
Tokyo Story (1953)
On the Waterfront (1954)
The Searchers (1956)
Forbidden Planet (1956) (I am going to add in a read of The Tempest)
Paths of Glory (1957)
Throne of Blood (1957)
Vertigo (1958)
Touch of Evil (1958)
The 400 Blows (1959)
Pickpocket (1959)

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