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DISCLAIMER: All film criticism is extremely subjective and there is no such thing as the definitive list of the Greatest (English-language) Films. Great Films can't be measured scientifically because greatness is extremely subjective. Just because we like a film doesn't mean that you will like it as well. Please feel free to leave us a comment with the films that you think are the greatest which we have not included on our list.

Not only was 1941 a big year for movies but it was also a big year for actors making their film debuts and the deaths of some truly great talent. Here is a snap shot of the American film industry.

 

Making Their Film Debuts:

Cyd Charisse – The Gay Parisian; Laird Cregar – Hudson’s Bay; Eva Gabor – Forced Landing; Ava Gardner – Fancy Answers; Charlton Heston – Peer Gynt; Deborah Kerr – Major Barbara; Bruce Lee – Golden Gate Girl; Norman Lloyd – The Forgotten Man; Donna Reed – The Get-Away; and Frank Sinatra – Las Vegas Nights

  

Top-grossing Films

Box office numbers were reported at the time as a percentage compared to ‘normal’ business at each theater. For example, Sergeant York performed at 220% while Citizen Kane did 130% (coming in a surprisingly strong 30th for the year). This is why exact dollar grosses for the period are unreliable at best.

RankTitleDirectorStudioLeading Star
1.Sergeant YorkHoward HawksWarner Bros.Gary Cooper, Walter Brennan
2.Honky TonkJack ConwayMGMClark Gable, Lana Turner
3.Louisiana PurchaseIrving CummingsParamountBob Hope, Vera Zorina
4.A Yank in the RAFHenry King20th Century FoxTyrone Power, Betty Grable
5.How Green Was My ValleyJohn Ford20th Century FoxWalter Pidgeon, Maureen O’Hara
6.Babes on BroadwayBusby Berkeley, Vincente MinnelliMGMJudy Garland, Mickey Rooney
7.Caught in the DraftDavid ButlerParamountBob Hope, Dorothy Lamour
8.Road to ZanzibarVictor SchertzingerParamountBing Crosby, Bob Hope, Dorothy Lamour
9.Keep ‘Em FlyingArthur LubinUniversalBud Abbott, Lou Costello
10.In the NavyArthur LubinUniversalBud Abbott, Lou Costello
11.Charley’s AuntArchie Mayo20th Century FoxJack Benny, Kay Francis, Anne Baxter
12.Ziegfeld GirlRobert Z. LeonardMGMJames Stewart, Judy Garland, Hedy Lamarr, Lana Turner
13.Birth of the BluesVictor SchertzingerParamountBing Crosby, Mary Martin, Brian Donlevy
14.They Died with Their Boots OnRaoul WalshWarner Bros.Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland
15.Nothing but the TruthElliott NugentParamountBob Hope, Paulette Goddard
16.Life Begins for Andy HardyGeorge B. SeitzMGMMickey Rooney, Lewis Stone, Judy Garland
17.Hold That GhostArthur LubinUniversalBud Abbott, Lou Costello
18.Dr. Jekyll and Mr. HydeVictor FlemingMGMSpencer Tracy, Ingrid Bergman, Lana Turner
19.Shadow of the Thin ManW.S. Van DykeMGMWilliam Powell, Myrna Loy
20.They Met in BombayClarence BrownMGMClark Gable, Rosalind Russell, Peter Lorre
21.Dive BomberMichael CurtizWarner Bros.Errol Flynn, Fred MacMurray
22.Meet John DoeFrank CapraWarner Bros.Gary Cooper, Barbara Stanwyck
unknownDumbouncertainDisneyuncertain

 

Academy Award Winners

    Best Picture: How Green Was My Valley – 20th Century-Fox

    Best Actor: Gary CooperSergeant York

    Best Actress: Joan FontaineSuspicion

    Best Supporting Actor: Donald Crisp – How Green Was My Valley

    Best Supporting Actress: Mary AstorThe Great Lie

    Best Director: John Ford – How Green Was My Valley

 

Among Those Who Died In 1941:

  • Joe Penner, 36, American comedian, actor, The Boys from Syracuse, Millionaire Playboy, The Day the Bookies Wept, Mr. Doodle Kicks Off;
  • Stuart Walker, 63, American director, White Woman, Great Expectations;
  • Tore Svennberg, 83, Swedish actor, The Phantom Carriage, A Woman’s Face;
  • Ruth Stonehouse, 48, American actress, film director, The Satin Woman;
  • Ida Waterman, 89, American actress, Stella Maris, The Enchanted Cottage, Amarilly of Clothes-Line Alley, Esmerelda;
  • Helen Morgan, 41, American actress and singer, You Belong to Me, Applause, Show Boat;
  • Victor Schertzinger, 41, American director, Paramount on Parade, Road to Zanzibar;
  • David Howard, 45, American film director, Daniel Boone

The Greatest Films of 1941

 

*** POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT FOR ALL***

 

Poster for the movie "Citizen Kane"

© 1941 RKO Radio Pictures − All right reserved.

Citizen Kane

D: Orson Welles

A masterpiece – a movie milestone. Considered by most film critics as the greatest, or one of the top ten films ever made. It rewrote the rules of Hollywood cinema, setting Hollywood on its ear when first released. The film was co-written, directed, and starred in by 25-year old radio star Orson Welles in his first film effort and on a bare-bones budget. With an acting cast from Welles’ own Mercury Theater. It is famous for its innovative cinematic techniques, quick cuts, use of shadows to intensify the drama, limited close-ups when they were in style, deep-focus photography, and dissolves.

Told in flashbacks with a multi-viewpoint, non-linear script, the story is the portrait of the public and private life of a newspaper publisher, loosely based on (and paralleling) the life of William Randolph Hearst. The last dying word of newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles), the mysterious “Rosebud,” sent reporter Jerry Thompson (William Alland) on a search for the meaning of the word and an understanding of the publishing giant’s life. Kane built a publishing empire but ended up undone by his own excesses and obsessions, when he created a castle-like refuge where he was alone.

Learn more and watch the trailer here.

 

Poster for the movie "The Devil and Daniel Webster"

© − All right reserved.

The Devil and Daniel Webster (aka All That Money Can Buy)

 D: William Dieterle

This cautionary moral tale is faithfully based on Stephen Vincent Benét’s 1937 Faustian short story, with an Oscar-winning score by Bernard Herrmann. In 1840, poor, 27 year-old Cross Corners, New Hampshire farmer Jabez Stone (James Craig), a kind-hearted man, married for two years to Mary (Anne Shirley), is down on his luck. His family and shrewd and wise mother Ma Stone (Jane Darwell) facing eviction and are in debt to local loan shark Miser Stevens (John Qualen) – threatened with poverty and farm foreclosure. He idly offers to sell his soul for two cents to the jolly but ruthless Mr. Scratch (Walter Huston), aka The Devil or Satan (Mephistopheles). For seven years, Jabez  will become financially prosperous and wealthy with lots of good luck (and “all that money can buy”), after which the Devil will take his invisible soul. Jabez finds Hessian gold coins under the floor of his barn and immediately pays off his debts to Stevens, and becomes richer and richer (with the townsfolk owing him money as a fearsome land baron), but also becomes greedy and hard-hearted. Also, Scratch sends his bewitching and alluring live-in housemaid/nanny/temptress Belle (Simone Simon), callously driving off his wife Mary and newborn son, and is alienated from his mother. He takes up drinking and gambling. When the 7 years are up, Jabez is given the option of giving up his son to save his soul – but he refuses. He enlists the aid of local hero and famous silver-tongued orator/politician Daniel Webster (Edward Arnold) to defend him – with a jury trial – to plead his case and win back his soul from an iron-clad contract.

In the film’s dramatic conclusion, the 12-person jury of the “damned” summoned by the Devil is composed of infamous cutthroats, brigands and traitors in American history, such as Benedict Arnold, who had previously sold their souls also. The judge is Justice John Hathorne (W.B. Warner) of the Salem witch trials, who refuses cross-examination, and denies disqualification of the prejudiced jury. With eloquent oratory in the final moments, Webster gives an impassioned closing argument, which persuades the jury and the court to turn against Mr. Scratch, destroy the contract, and have mercy on Jabez’s soul.

Learn more and watch the trailer here.

 

Poster for the movie "Dumbo"

© 1941 RKO Radio Pictures − All right reserved.

Dumbo

D: Disney Studio

A charming, animated Disney story, released to theaters around the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, and the first of the Disney animated to be released on videocassette (in 1981).

It is a twist on the classic ugly duckling story of a shy little circus elephant Dumbo. The baby pachyderm is criticized, ridiculed, and outcast for his ears which were big enough to fly with. He is separated from his mother, Mrs. Jumbo, when she is branded a mad elephant for defending him. He is befriended by circus mouse Timothy Mouse who builds his confidence. Dumbo becomes the overnight sensation of the circus with his flying act, and he is reunited with his mother.

Learn more and watch the trailer here.

 

Poster for the movie "Here Comes Mr. Jordan"

© − All right reserved.

Here Comes Mr. Jordan

D: Alexander Hall

A highly inventive comedy-fantasy film (with an Oscar-winning Original Screenplay award), with many plot twists and turns. A good-natured saxophone-playing prizefighter Joe Pendleton (Robert Montgomery), “The Flying Pug,” dies in a plane crash in New Jersey 50 years too early due to a heavenly screw-up. He is prematurely brought to heaven (he was supposed to survive the crash) by bumbling, inexperienced busybody Heavenly Messenger No. 7013 (Edward Everett Horton) for check-off by Mr. Jordan (Claude Rains).

Because heaven had called him too soon, he is sent back to Earth to live out the remaining years allotted to him, occupying someone else’s body. Escorted by Mr. Jordan back to Earth, the body he enters is that of unscrupulous multi-millionaire playboy Bruce Farnsworth who had just been murdered by drowning in his bathtub by his scheming and greedy wife Julia Farnsworth (Rita Johnson) and his male secretary Tony Abbott (John Emery). The murderous pair are shocked and confused to see the deceased suddenly re-emerge from the bathroom. He also utterly befuddles his former fight manager Max Corkle (James Gleason). Joe’s/Farnsworth’s reincarnated spirit falls in love with Bette Logan (Evelyn Keyes), the daughter of a man that Farnsworth had framed for securities fraud. Farnsworth trains with Max to enter a heavyweight championship boxing match against the reigning champ, when Joe/Farnsworth is again murdered by his secretary. Joe’s/Farnsworth’s replacement in the prize-fight with the champ is K.O. Murdoch. As the fight is about to begin, Murdoch, who has run afoul of the mob, is shot in the ring for betraying gamblers (by not “throwing” the fight). Joe’s soul quickly takes Murdoch’s place, and awakens in Murdock’s body lying on the floor of the ring. Joe, as Murdoch, defeats his opponent and wins the title of world champ, with only Max realizing that Joe’s soul is in Murdoch’s body. Murdoch loses his memory of his past life as Joe. In the conclusion, he is strangely drawn to Bette, even though they haven’t met.

Learn more and watch the trailer here.

 

Poster for the movie "High Sierra"

© 1941 Warner Bros. − All right reserved.

High Sierra

D: Raoul Walsh

A landmark gangster film from Warner Bros. studios (and a script by John Huston adapted from the book by WR Burnett). It tells about aging notorious gangster Roy “Mad Dog” Earle (Humphrey Bogart in his first lead role, although second-billed behind Ida Lupino). Pardoned after 8 years in prison, he is hired by his old crime boss, Big Mac (MacBride), to help amateur cons plan and carry out the jewel heist of a California resort hotel – one final job. He meets a runaway dance-hall girl named Marie (Ida Lupino), the girlfriend of one of the thugs nicknamed Babe (Alan Curtis), who eventually becomes his ‘tarnished angel’ friend. Before the robbery, he meets a destitute grandfather (“Pa”) (Henry Travers) and club-footed Velma (Joan Leslie), and offers to pay for surgery to correct her disability. When he visits her after the successful operation, she rejects his marriage proposal (“We can still be friends…”), and he feels heartbroken and betrayed. Although the heist is successful, everything unraveled after a car crash, a cop is killed, and an inside connection squeals to the police.

In the conclusion, Earle is the target of a suspenseful manhunt high up in the Sierra Mountains as police pursue him in a doomed last stand. Marie refuses to call out to him as she told the authorities: “He’s gonna die anyway, I’d rather it was this way. Go on, all of you, kill him, kill him…” Earle is shot dead from behind when he calls out to his mongrel dog Pard. After he is killed out in the open, a weeping Marie kneel over Earle’s dead body, and asks an uncaring officer (who sarcastically called the dead man “Big-shot Earle” – “Look at him lying there. He ain’t much now, is he?”): “Mister, what does it mean when a man cashes out?” When told that it means being free, she sadly repeats the word “Free?”, questioning Roy’s unnecessary death. She picks up Pard as she is escorted away and says the word “Free” one more time. The film ends with a blurry fadeout on Marie’s tear-stained face as it fills the frame before a pan up to the mountains.

Learn more and watch the trailer here.

 

Hold Back the DawnHold Back the Dawn

D: Mitchell Leisen

A touching, moving melodrama from Ketti Frings’ semi-autobiographical story. This is the last film written by Billy Wilder with his scripting partner Charles Brackett, before he embarked on his own directorial career. This was also the year that this film’s star Olivia de Havilland was nominated as Best Actress, competing against her sister Joan Fontaine, also nominated for Suspicion (1941) – the first time for a pair of siblings.

The film’s plot is told in flashback – in the preface, the main character visits Paramount Studios in Los Angeles to sell his hard-luck romantic story to director Dwight Saxon (Mitchell Leisen, the film’s actual director), for $500. An unscrupulous, hopeless Romanian refugee, dancer Georges Iscovescu (Charles Boyer) from oppressive war-ravaged Nazi Germany, is stranded at the Hotel Esperanza in the Mexican border town of Tijuana, with a number of other hopeful immigrants to the US. His plan to satisfy immigration officials, especially Inspector Hammock (Walter Abel), is to marry a US citizen to gain entry (requiring only four weeks for a visa instead of five years). He meets and marries a lonely, shy, innocent, and trusting American schoolteacher Emmy Brown (Olivia de Havilland), who is visiting with her students on a school trip. Desperate to escape his situation, Iscovescu, a former gigolo, deceitfully lures the gullible Emmy into a quick matrimonial immigration scheme to merely gain entrance. His plan is to desert her after gaining entry, and link up with his old jealous girlfriend Anita Dixon (Paulette Goddard) from the Cote d’Azur who has also married an American to get into the US (and then dump him). But, they both fall deeply in love with each other, evidenced by Georges crossing the border illegally when Emmy has a car accident and is hospitalized and unconscious in Los Angeles. [This is when Georges requested $500 in the preface, to be used to help Emmy.] Although Georges is arrested and brought back to Mexico, he is soon released to cross the border to be with Emmy.

 

Poster for the movie "How Green Was My Valley"

© 1941 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation − All right reserved.

How Green Was My Valley

D: John Ford

Derived from Richard Llewellyn’s best-selling autobiographical novel about labor unrest, personal tragedy, the end to a way of life, and the power of the family. Beautifully directed, vividly photographed, and performed, with a well-written screenplay, one of John Ford’s masterpieces (for which he won his third Best Director Oscar). Controversial though, because it won the Best Picture Academy Award over Citizen Kane (1941) and The Maltese Falcon (1941). In voice-over, the life of a Welsh coal mining town in the late 1800s and early 1900s is seen through the sensitive eyes of the youngest son Huw (Roddy McDowall) of the hard-working, close-knit Morgan family (with seven children), relating the story in flashback. With many memorable performances including the family’s strict anti-union patriarch Gwillym Morgan (Donald Crisp) and matriarch Beth (Sara Allgood), and the noble-spirited beauty – the lovely unmarried 17 year-old daughter Angharad (19 year-old Maureen O’Hara). Domestic life, romance, harsh treatment at school, the departure of two Morgan boys to find their fortune in America, unrequited love between the local preacher Mr. Gruffydd (Walter Pidgeon) and the only Morgan daughter, and other events (such as a labor dispute, and a devastating mine accident) are portrayed within the warm, human story.

Learn more and watch the trailer here.

 

Poster for the movie "The Lady Eve"

© 1941 Paramount Pictures − All right reserved.

The Lady Eve

D: Preston Sturges

A classic, witty, romantic screwball comedy of the 1940s, with traditional fast-paced dialogue, farce, slapstick (Fonda’s multiple pratfalls) and visual humor. Considered possibly as Preston Sturges’ best film, a wonderful battle of the sexes.

Con artist, swindler, and professional card shark Jean Harrington (Barbara Stanwyck), with her crooked father “Colonel” Harry Harrington (Charles Coburn) make their living by charming gullible multimillionaires out of their money. On board a luxury ocean liner, she selects her next victim, millionaire herpetologist/ophiologist Charles “Hoppsy” Pike (Henry Fonda), the socially-awkward heir to a brewery fortune, who has just returned from an expedition up the Amazon River. When he is set up, she runs into one difficulty – she has fallen in love with her victim, but he finds out about her ulterior motives before she can confess, and he dumps her. To get revenge for being coldly dropped, she poses with another identity – as an English aristocratic lady, Lady Eve Sidwich, and he falls in love with her all over again in front of his tycoon father Horace (Eugene Pallette) at the Pikes’ Ridgefield, Connecticut mansion. She later extracts her revenge on their honeymoon on a speeding train.

Learn more and watch the trailer here.

 

The Little FoxesThe Little Foxes

D: William Wyler

Adapted from Lillian Hellman’s play (with assistance from others including Dorothy Parker), with fabulous cinematography (deep-focus) by the acclaimed Gregg Toland. This was the third icy, mostly-villainous female role that Bette Davis performed for director William Wyler (after Jezebel (1938) and The Letter (1940)).

It is the turn-of-the century story about a greedy, corrupt, and dysfunctional Southern family, the Hubbards, who attempt to build a factory on what was once a beautiful plantation. Brothers Ben (Charles Dingle) and Oscar (Carl Benton Reid) schemed to bring industry by building a cotton mill in their small southern town. But they need the capital of their sister Regina’s (Bette Davis) banker husband Horace Giddens (Herbert Marshall) in order to make the deal. The principled Horace, who is an invalid with a bad heart, wants no part of their exploitative scheme despite Regina’s requests. Regina’s nephew Leo Hubbard (Dan Duryea), who works in the bank, stole some bonds from Horace’s safe-deposit box to make the deal work. Learning of the theft, the ruthless, manipulative and conniving Regina blackmails her brothers into giving her a percentage of the business. Horace, however, foils Regina’s scheme when he informs her that he actually gave the money as an interest-free loan, and that he is changing his will in favor of their daughter Alexandra Giddens (Teresa Wright). Before he executes the change, he suffered a heart attack and collapsed, and in a very bold and memorable scene, the heartless and avaricious Regina refuses his pleas for help to get his medicine as he expires on the staircase. The cold-hearted Regina is left alone and deserted by her daughter.

 

Poster for the movie "The Maltese Falcon"

© 1941 Warner Bros. − All right reserved.

The Maltese Falcon

D: John Huston

One of the all-time greatest film-noir crime-detective mysteries and scriptwriter John Huston’s incredible directorial debut. Adapted from Dashiell Hammett’s hard-edged detective novel about greed and deceit.

Hard-boiled San Francisco sleuth/private eye Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) is hired by pretty client Ruth Wonderly/Brigid O’Shaughnessy (Mary Astor) to trail her that evening. When partner Miles Archer (Jerome Cowan) is shot dead that night, Spade quickly becomes a murder suspect. He also finds himself at the center of a great deal of attention by a group of shady, unsavory characters (including Fat Man Kasper Gutman (Sydney Greenstreet), his henchmen Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre) and hired gun Wilmer (Elisha Cook, Jr.)). They are on the elusive search for a “black bird,” the stolen Maltese Falcon statuette. With superb moody images, a sinister atmosphere, a pace that accelerates as tension mounts, a treacherous femme fatale (Brigid O’Shaughnessy) and an innovative film noir style.

Learn more and watch the trailer here.

 

Poster for the movie "Meet John Doe"

© − All right reserved.

Meet John Doe

D: Frank Capra

A dramatic, endearing, and poignant social/political commentary from Frank Capra (and scriptwriter Robert Riskin). Capra’s third Depression-Era populist parable about the common man’s struggles, following after Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936) and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939).

Struggling reporter Ann Mitchell (Barbara Stanwyck) is fired, and as a last desperate act to keep her job, she creates a fictional “John Doe” character to dramatize the hard times. In his letters to the editor, Doe writes that he is for the common man and little guy, but is so disgusted by powerful political corruption (and big money interests) that he was going to commit suicide by jumping off City Hall’s roof on Christmas Eve. Her ploy works as a publicity stunt and she is persuaded to continue writing “John Doe” letters to appeal to the masses. When the public’s interest takes off, the paper has to save its image and find an impersonator to be the real John Doe. They hire naive, homeless tramp, ex-baseball pitcher Long John Willoughby (Gary Cooper) who quickly becomes a national hero. He also becomes the unwitting, manipulated tool of the paper’s unscrupulous right-wing publisher, a corrupt politician named D. B. Norton (Edward Arnold). He expected the John Doe Club movement and convention to be an endorsement for his fascist party’s run at the White House. In one of the film’s most powerful scenes held at a rally, ‘John Doe’ is denounced as a fraud. He realizes that the only way out was to actually commit suicide by jumping off City Hall, but in the final scene, he is persuaded by “the people” who still believe in him to not go through with it.

Learn more and watch the trailer here.

 

Never Give A Sucker An Even BreakNever Give a Sucker an Even Break

D: Edward F. Cline

An absurd, wacky film spoofing the film industry and Hollywood, with Fields in his last starring role in a feature-length film. It is a surrealistic film with no real plot, only a series of very funny scenes and bizarre sequences one after the other, to skewer the entire movie business.

The Great Man (W. C. Fields), a film scriptwriter, attempts to get backing from a skeptical producer (Franklin Pangborn) at Esoteric Studios for a movie he wishes to make about one of his highly improbable romantic adventures. He relates the whole story in the hopes of getting financial support. He drunkenly falls out of an airplane, diving to retrieve his bottle of booze, and falls thousands of feet to the ground. He lands in a strange country named Ruritania in the mountain retreat of Mrs. Hemoglobin (Margaret Dumont). There, he meets attractive Ouliotta Delight Hemoglobin (Susan Miller), who has never met a man – and he teaches her how to play “Post Office.” The producer throws the Great Man out of his office after listening to the absurd, impossible tale. The film concludes with a classic car chase scene – he drives a woman through downtown Los Angeles to the maternity hospital.

 

One Foot in HeavenOne Foot in Heaven 

D: Irving Rapper

A wholesome, nostalgic, heartwarming, poignant and moving film told episodically, and based on a biographical book written by Hartzell Spence, the son of the actual minister. Although trained to be a doctor, William Spence (Fredric March) in the early 1900s decides to quit his studies and devote himself to God and ministry. The Rev. Spence, now a devoted Methodist minister begins his work in a small town in an Iowa community at the turn of the century. He moves from community to community over a period of years, building up the faith of troubled parishes. With his ever-faithful wife Hope Morris Spence (Martha Scott), they were forced to cope with the clash between fast-changing attitudes and church teachings.

 

Poster for the movie "Sergeant York"

© 1941 Warner Bros. − All right reserved.

Sergeant York

D: Howard Hawks

The true, and unusual story of World War I’s biggest war hero, and the highest grossing film of the year. An authentic war saga and portrait of a poor Tennessee backwoods mountain boy Alvin C. York (Best Actor-winning Gary Cooper). His hot-headed brawling, hell-raising life in Pall Mall changes when he falls in love with teen-aged Gracie Williams (Joan Leslie), works hard to buy farm land for them sometime in the future, and has a life-changing religious experience signaled by a bolt of lightning. When the war breaks out, he refuses to enlist (as a conscientious objector), but is reluctantly drafted into World War I service, even though he has become deeply religious and pacifistic. He heroically fights in the war, mostly as a great marksman, and kills about 20 Germans (in a machine gun nest to save his comrades), and captures (almost single-handedly) a large regiment of 132 German soldiers in the Battle of the Argonne, becoming the most decorated soldier of the war. Upon his return, he is greeted with parades, the gift of a farm and house by the people of Tennessee, and the love of Gracie. A sensitive, affecting, and compassionate portrayal of York with fast-paced action sequences and some wartime propagandizing.

Learn more and watch the trailer here.

 

Poster for the movie "Sullivan's Travels"

© − All right reserved.

Sullivan’s Travels

D: Preston Sturges

A landmark, classic Hollywood satire and social comedy, thought by many to be Preston Sturges’ greatest film. A successful yet naive Hollywood film director John L. Sullivan (Joel McCrea), known for making lightweight, trite movies (musicals and comedies), becomes disgruntled. He decided to research his next “message” picture to be titled “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” – one that would be more socially worthwhile, by leaving Hollywood disguised in hobo’s clothing with only ten cents in his pocket. He nomadically sets off cross country for new material for his next movie – about how the common people were experiencing the Great Depression, so that he has a fresh, first-hand experience of the dark days of suffering. He is joined by a waitress and has-been actress dubbed The Girl (Veronica Lake) to encounter the common people during their journey. Only when Sullivan, after one failed attempt to shake off the publicity-seeking studio, experienced real poverty, loss of his name and memory, and his freedom, does he begin to understand the plight of his beaten companions. When he views a Mickey Mouse cartoon in a brutal work camp where he had been sentenced to a 6-year term, he discovers the real value of laughter and returns reinvigorated to Hollywood to make comedies that will lift people’s spirits.

Learn more and watch the trailer here.

 

Poster for the movie "Suspicion"

© 1941 RKO Radio Pictures − All right reserved.

Suspicion

D: Alfred Hitchcock

A suspenseful classic thriller from Alfred Hitchcock. Fontaine won the Best Actress Academy Award, some thought as consolation for not winning the previous year for Rebecca (1940).

A lonely, prim, overprotected and very rich British wall-flower, Lina McLaidlaw (Joan Fontaine), is courted by and falls in love with charming, flamboyant, and debonair playboy Johnnie Aysgarth (Cary Grant), known for his womanizing, fortune-hunting reputation. In an unusual courtship, she learns very little about him and his background. She marries him, but then unearths clues and begins to suspect that he is trying to kill her, with a nightly poisoned glass of milk delivered to her. He has created financial difficulties for himself in an embezzlement scheme, and she fears, with mounting tension as the film progresses, that he has plans to do away with her to collect an insurance payoff.

Unfortunately, the studio modified the ending, making it a disappointing and contrived finale with a happy ending. She barely escapes death after a careening drive on a twisty cliff side road with Johnnie driving.

Learn more and watch the trailer here.

 

That Hamilton Woman

© − All right reserved.

That Hamilton Woman (UK)

D: Alexander Korda

A touching, poignant and sadly beautiful costume drama. A realistic, historical portrayal of the ill-fated, tragic romance between England’s famous Naval Commander/hero Lord Admiral Horatio Nelson (Laurence Olivier) and Lady Emma Hart Hamilton (Vivien Leigh). The story is told in flashback by a drunken cellmate, the former Lady Hamilton. She was a beautiful and intelligent woman of poor, common origin – a dance hall girl. She raised herself to become an unloved “trophy” wife of the British ambassador to Naples, Sir William Hamilton (Alan Mowbray). Seven to eight years later, Lady Hamilton meets the dashing Nelson when he comes to Naples to ask for the king’s support in the fight against Napoleon – and soon wins the war in Egypt. When he returns as a wounded Admiral, they fall passionately in love – and she takes care of him when he is exhausted and in poor health (he lost an arm and eye in battle), while Sir Hamilton let their affair occur. But their love is thwarted because Lord Nelson is married to the stern and unforgiving Lady Nelson (Gladys Cooper). When Sir Hamilton dies, he leaves his inheritance to his nephew, and Lady Hamilton is left penniless. Nelson asks his wife Lady Nelson for a divorce so that he can marry a pregnant Emma, but she refuses. The couple are able to defy gossipers by setting up housekeeping (with their child) for a few years in the English countryside cottage, but when he is killed at the Battle of Trafalgar, she is left destitute.

 

Poster for the movie "The Wolf Man"

© 1941 Universal Pictures − All right reserved.

The Wolf Man

D: George Waggner

One of the greatest, classic horror films, a tense, well-made, eerie production, and one of the last of Universal’s great monster films. This film spawned many sequels with Lon Chaney, Jr. continuing in the role with which he would always be identified – the wolfman. Lon Chaney, Jr. would eventually star in a total of five werewolf films from 1941 to 1948.

Easy-going, innocent British heir Lawrence Talbot (Lon Chaney, Jr.) returns to Wales to the castle-mansion of his father Sir John Talbot (Claude Rains) after an education in America. When he visits an antique shop and its pretty shopkeeper Gwen Conliffe (Evelyn Ankers), the daughter of the shop owner, he purchases a rare silver-topped, wolf-headed cane with a pentagram design – a symbol of the werewolf. Shortly after, at a gypsy festival attended by Larry, Gwen, and Gwen’s girlfriend, beautiful young Jenny Williams (Fay Helm), Jenny has her palm read by traveling gypsy fortune-teller Bela (Bela Lugosi). Nearby is his mother Maleva (Maria Ouspenskaya), another gypsy fortune teller – and the results were alarming (the image of a pentagram) – meaning she would be the werewolf’s next victim. Then, Talbot is bitten by a ravenous, hairy werewolf (also Bela Lugosi) as he attempts to save Jenny from being attacked on the moors. When the police investigated, they only discover the bodies of Jenny and Bela (who had been beaten to death by the silver-topped cane that Talbot used as a weapon). Maleva informs Talbot that the bite was from no ordinary wolf – he has been bitten by a werewolf, and at each new full moon, he is now condemned like her son was. Indeed, Talbot sees the fabled pentagram in the palm of Gwen’s hand – a sign that she would be his next victim. That night the moon is full, and Talbot is transformed into a blood-thirsty creature, who first kills the gravedigger. In the final moments of the film, Talbot’s father joins a search party and kills the beast with the silver cane as it attacks Gwen on the moors, ending the man’s suffering. After Talbot’s body (transformed from a werewolf and reverted back to the human facial features of Talbot) is found at the site, he is praised as Gwen’s heroic rescuer. However, Sir John had looked on in horror, realizing that he had slain his own son.

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