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 1945 a big year for movies but it was also a big year for actors making their film debuts and the death of some truly great talent. Here is a snap shot of the American film industry.
Making Their Film Debuts:
|1.||The Bells of St. Mary’s||RKO||$8,500,000|
|3.||Leave Her to Heaven||20th Century-Fox||$6,505,000|
|4.||Mildred Pierce||Warner Brothers||$5,638,000|
|6.||Week-End at the Waldorf||MGM||$4,366,000|
|7.||Saratoga Trunk||Warner Bros.||$4,250,000|
|8.||Thrill of a Romance||MGM|
|9.||The Valley of Decision||MGM||$4,103,000|
|11.||The Lost Weekend||Paramount|
|12.||The Dolly Sisters||20th Century-Fox|
|13.||The Spanish Main||RKO|
|14.||A Tree Grows in Brooklyn||20th Century-Fox|
|17.||Diamond Horseshoe||20th Century-Fox|
|18.||State Fair||20th Century-Fox|
Academy Award Winners
Best Supporting Actor: James Dunn – A Tree Grows In Brooklyn
Among Those Who Died In 1945:
- Heinrich Schroth, 73, German actor, Dr. Hart’s Diary, Melody of a Great City, Die Entlassung, Rembrandt;
- Reginald Barker, 58, American director, Civilization, The Bargain, The Coward, The Moonstone;
- Lucille La Verne, 72, American actress, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Abraham Lincoln, Orphans of the Storm, A Tale of Two Cities;
- Mark Sandrich, 44, American director, The Gay Divorcee, Follow the Fleet, Holiday Inn;
- Gloria Dickson, 27, American actress, Lady of Burlesque, They Won’t Forget;
- Malcolm McGregor, 52, American silent screen star, Lady of the Night, The Circle, The Whispering Shadow, The Ladybird;
- Anna Dodge, 77, American actress, The Extra Girl, Ride for Your Life;
- Alla Nazimova, 66, Ukrainian-born stage and film actress, Blood and Sand, Salomé, Since You Went Away, Madame Peacock;
- Jerome Kern, 60, American composer, Show Boat, Swing Time; Jaro Fürth, 74, Austrian actor, Diary of a Lost Girl, Joyless Street;
- Robert Benchley, 56, American writer and actor, Foreign Correspondent, You’ll Never Get Rich, Road to Utopia
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The Greatest Films of 1945
***POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT FOR ALL***
D: George Sidney
MGM’s Technicolored, Best Picture-nominated lightweight fluffy musical in the post-war years, which headlined a young and thin Frank Sinatra who crooned Julie Styne-Sammy Cahn tunes, and energetic Best Actor-nominated Gene Kelly (his sole Oscar nomination in his career) in a star-making role. It was the stars’ first of three film pairings – and similar to Kelly’s and Sinatra’s later On the Town (1949).
The lively musical, with an Oscar-winning Best Musical Score, features two sailors on a 4-day shore leave from their ship Knoxville in San Diego, and their trip to Los Angeles (Hollywood), looking for love connections: experienced “Pomeranian sailor” and lothario Joseph Brady (Gene Kelly) and the innocent and naive Brooklynite Clarence Doolittle (Frank Sinatra). They met up with aspiring singer Susan Abbott (Kathryn Grayson) who works as a film extra, and befriends her young 9 year-old runaway nephew Donald Martin (Dean Stockwell in his film debut) who wishes to join the Navy.
In the story, the bashful Clarence fell hard for Susan, and Joe, who was chasing after actress/girlfriend Lola (unseen) at the time, helps him by promising to introduce Susan to MGM music producer and famed orchestra conductor José Iturbi (Himself) – without really knowing him. However, a love triangle develops when Joe also begins to have feelings for Susan, while Clarence meets a more suitable Brooklyn native match (Pamela Britton in her film debut), a waitress.
Some of the tunes included Sinatra’s “I Fall in Love Too Easily” and “What Makes the Sunset?”, and Kelly’s live-action magical dance with scene-stealing animated mouse Jerry, the character from MGM’s “Tom and Jerry” cartoons, in “The King Who Couldn’t Dance (The Worry Song)” number. Susan sang “Jalousie” (or “Jealousy”) and “(All of a Sudden) My Heart Sings.”
Learn more and watch the trailer here.
And Then There Were None (UK)
D: Rene Clair
Agatha Christie’s best-selling 1939 detective novel about ten house guests, and subsequently performed as a stage play, from which this film was developed. This is the best-ever, most entertaining version of the Agatha Christie mystery.
Eight individuals, strangers to each other, were invited to a forbidding house on an isolated island off the coast of Devon, England – the mansion is owned by the absent Mr. and Mrs. Owen, but their newly hired servants, butler Thomas (Richard Haydn) and cook Ethel Roberts (Queenie Leonard) are in attendance. Each of the 10, accused of having caused the death of others and escaping punishment, are eliminated. [Note: All of the murders were inspired by the Irish children’s nursery rhyme song Ten Little Indians, the film’s sole clue. The mysterious “Mr. U.N. Owen” (read as “Mr. Unknown”) has created the remote Indian Island deathtrap. One by one, the guests start dying (off-screen) – by poisoning, drug overdose, stabbing, axing, by a hypodermic needle, a shot to the head, death by a crushing load of bricks, etc. The terminally-ill, wise and retired Judge Francis J. Quinncannon (Barry Fitzgerald), one of the guests, is revealed as the perpetrator of the killings – and identified as the enigmatic Mr. Owen. Quinncannon faked his own death (bullet hole in the head) with the help of one of the unsuspecting victims, disgraced alcoholic doctor Dr. Edward Armstrong (Walter Huston), who he then kills. At film’s end, Quinncannon offers surviving guest Vera Claythorne (June Duprez), a secretary, the option of hanging herself with a noose rather than waiting to be hanged publicly. Then, he commits suicide by swallowing poisoned whiskey. Only two guests – who were not guilty of a hidden crime – managed to survive: Vera (who had confessed to a crime committed by her sister – the murder of her fiancee) and dashing adventurer-explorer Philip Lombard (his real name was Charles Morley) (Louis Hayward) who had attended in place of his friend Lombard who had committed suicide when threatened by Owen.
The Bells of St. Mary’s
D: Leo McCarey
A sprightly, entertaining, family-oriented holiday favorite and sentimental sequel to Paramount Pictures’ Best Picture-winning Going My Way (1944), and a major box-office hit – it ended up being the most profitable picture in the history of RKO Studios. It was the first sequel to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture.
Modern-minded priest Father Chuck O’Malley (Oscar-nominated Bing Crosby reprising his earlier Oscar-winning Best Actor performance) is assigned to minister in a parish with a Catholic parochial elementary school attached named St. Mary’s. He soon finds himself in a good-natured rivalry and conflict with the headstrong Mother Superior, Sister Mary Benedict (Ingrid Bergman). [Note: Her character replaces Barry Fitzgerald‘s role in the previous 1944 film.] In a series of episodic events, O’Malley helps educate the children with unconventional methods (in contrast to Sister Mary’s rules-oriented approach), solves family problems, and improves life for everyone. In one case, they help the teenaged daughter Patricia ‘Patsy’ Gallagher (Joan Carroll) of single mother Mary Gallagher (Martha Sleeper) reunite with their missing musician-husband-father Joe Gallagher (William Gargan) who walked out on them years earlier.
In another scene, Sister Mary teaches one of the young boys, Eddie Breen (Richard/Dickie Tyler), to box to defend himself against school bullies. The inner-city school is run-down and threatened with being condemned and demolished by a greedy land developer who wanted to build a parking lot. O’Malley partners with the Mother Superior to raise money for the construction of an addition to the school. They cleverly convince cranky businessman Horace P. Bogardus (Henry Travers), a rich benefactor to reconsider and donate a recently-completed office building next to the school.
Along the way, likeable crooner Bing Crosby sings “Adeste Fidelis,” “The Bells of St. Mary’s,” and “O Sanctissma” with a children’s choir, and he solos with “Aren’t You Glad You’re You,” and “In the Land of Beginning Again.”
D: Edgar G. Ulmer
Edgar G. Ulmer’s gritty, cheaply-made (“Poverty Row”), fatalistic crime film noir was about the bleak twists of fate. The cultish film was made in only 6 days, and was largely ignored when first released. The film was remade as Detour (1992) and starred the son of the original ill-fated protagonist, Tom Neal, Jr. The flashback story is cynically narrated almost non-stop by world-weary Al Roberts (Tom Neal), an East Coast musician. He has been haplessly involved in an ambiguous death in Arizona during his thumbing trek from New York to Los Angeles/Hollywood after ex-bookie turned businessman Charles Haskell (Edmund MacDonald) picks him up. When Haskell suffers an apparent heart attack and falls out of the car (and his head struck a rock), Roberts dumps Haskell’s body, steals his car and adopts his identity. Then, after picking up a vulturous, nasty and despicable, yet sexy hitchhiker Vera (Ann Savage), she accuses him of not being Haskell (“You’re a cheap crook and you killed him”). She turns out to be a blackmailing, vindictive femme fatale con. Vera schemes to turn Roberts in as a murderer, unless he agrees to sell the car and also to claim a substantial inheritance from Haskell’s dying father, by having them pretend to be Mr. and Mrs. Haskell. Things turn against him even further when the drunken Vera is accidentally strangled by the doomed protagonist with a telephone cord, behind a closed door in their rented Hollywood apartment after a vicious argument. Another disastrous twist of fate for him is signified by the in-and-out of focus shots from his deranged mental state and point of view in the bedroom. He imagines his arrest by the Highway Patrol after leaving a tawdry Reno, Nevada diner (to appease the Hays Code censors of the time). The great film ends with the quote by self-pitying Roberts who knows his fate is sealed as a guilty man: “But one thing I don’t have to wonder about. I know. Someday a car will stop to pick me up that I never thumbed. Yes, fate or some mysterious force can put the finger on you or me for no good reason at all.”
Learn more and watch the trailer here.
I Know Where I’m Going! (UK)
D: Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
A small, unpredictable, and unassuming gem of a movie from the famed British writer/director/producer team of Powell and Pressburger (known as “The Archers”). The wartime, fable-like, mystical romance also has some comedy and suspense, accompanied by other-worldly, fanciful elements of romantic myth and legend, Scottish dance, simple virtues and proud traditions, the ancient curse of castle Sorne, and thematic symbols. With lyrical and haunting cinematography by Erwin Hillier.
Determined to marry for money as a ‘fortune hunter,’ ambitious, materialistic, self-centered, strong-willed, middle-class 25 year-old Londoner Joan Webster (Wendy Hiller) sets off from Manchester, England by train to the western isles of Scotland. She has decided to engage in a loveless marriage to her elderly and stuffy employer – wealthy middle-aged chemical industrialist Sir Robert Bellinger (voice of Norman Shelley), the executive owner of Consolidated Chemical Industries. He is living on mythical Kiloran island, in the Hebrides Islands of Scotland. Nasty weather (fog and violent storms) maroon her for a week in a seacoast town on the island of Mull, where she meets another stranded individual – modest young naval officer Lt. Torquil McNeil (Roger Livesey) who is on an 8-day leave. Both stay in the home of a hunting dog lover – dark-eyed Catriona Potts (Pamela Brown), along with eccentric falconer Col. Barnstaple (C. W. R. Knight), who own and train a golden eagle named after Torquil. Joan learnes that Torquil is the actual owner of Kiloran (and has leased the island retreat to Bellinger). She slowly develops a love for Torquil, amidst the magical allure of the Scottish highlands, after he helps save her from a whirlpool during a risky boat trip with a conked-out engine. Joan’s values are astutely contrasted with those of another young couple, Kenny (Murdo Morrison) and Bridie (Margot Fitzsimons) – after which she learns the simple lesson that she should trust her heart rather than her head.
Leave Her to Heaven
D: John M. Stahl
Based on the best-selling novel by Ben Ames Williams. This psychological, unsettling but lush melodramatic Technicolored noir highlighting a menacing, father-fixated, unstable, and deranged, darkly alluring femme fatale named Ellen Berent Harland (Gene Tierney). The ‘wicked’ woman is neurotically-possessive and psycho-insanely-jealous. Vincent Price portrays her vengeful ex-lover and fiancee Russell Quinton, a Boston attorney. She vows to her deceived novelist husband Richard Harland (Cornel Wilde), who resembles her father, that she wants him all to herself: “I’ll never let you go, never, never,” stopping at nothing to make the man she loves her exclusive possession. The most dramatic scene is the drowning murder of her paraplegic brother-in-law Danny (Darryl Hickman) in a Maine lake as she calmly watches from a nearby rowboat. When he becomes exhausted and distressed in the water from severe stomach cramps (after eating a large lunch), Ellen passively watches as he called out: “Help me!” He submerges twice and then disappears under the surface. She pretends to assist him by diving in, but it is obviously too late. Later, Ellen deliberately falls down a flight of stairs to cause a miscarriage and kill her unborn child. And finally, she commits suicide with cyanide, implicating her half-sister Ruth Berent (Jeanne Crain) in the death (although Ruth was found innocent) and sending Richard to jail for two years for withholding evidence.
The Lost Weekend
D: Billy Wilder
A Best Picture-winning film – and a ground-breaking film, based on Charles Jackson’s 1944 novel by co-screenwriters Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder and filmed in NYC. The Lost Weekend is a classic, melodramatic, realistically-grim and uncompromising “social-problem” film of the 1940s, about the controversial subject of alcoholism, told partially in flashback.
Rather than join his brother Wick Birnam (Phillip Terry) on a weekend outing to the country, talented New York aspiring novel writer Don Birnam (Oscar-winning Ray Milland) – a chronic alcoholic with writer’s block – spends a ‘lost weekend’ on a wild, self-destructive drinking binge. Eluding his persistently supportive girlfriend Helen St. James (Jane Wyman), he desperately trudges down Third Avenue on Yom Kippur attempting to find an open pawnshop to hock his own typewriter for another drink. In Bellevue Hospital’s alcohol detoxification ward (shot on location) after a debilitating alcoholic binge, he awakens to shrieking inmates suffering the DTs, and suffers torment from sadistic male nurse ‘Bim’ Nolan (Frank Faylen). In his apartment, Birnam experienced hallucinations of a mouse being attacked by a bat. He narrowly avoids committing suicide by shooting himself in the ‘optimistic’ ending. He vows to write about his ‘lost weekend’ in a novel titled The Bottle.
Learn more and watch the trailer here.
D: Michael Curtiz
One of the best melodramatic, film noir classics of the 1940s – and Joan Crawford’s comeback film. A glossy tale adapted from James M. Cain’s novel. Began with the startling murder of Monte Beragon (Zachary Scott) in a beach house – by an unknown assailant. Suspect Mildred Pierce (Oscar-winning Joan Crawford) is interrogated by police for the killing of her second husband, a playboy. In flashback (with effective voice-over narration), housewife Mildred is divorced from her decent first husband Bert Pierce (Bruce Bennett). The hardworking, dowdy divorced mother obsessively dotes on her two daughters, especially rotten, spoiled and selfish elder 16-year-old daughter Veda (Ann Blyth), so she is forced to become a waitress. Through determination and will-power, she opens a small restaurant with the help of friend Ida (Eve Arden). She develops it into a successful and profitable chain, received financial assistance from realtor/rebuffed beau Wally Fay (Jack Carson), and married socially-prominent playboy Monte Beragon, who eventually spend her money and sends her into bankruptcy. The petulant, selfishly-ungrateful Veda, estranged from Mildred and whose greed also contributed to the restaurant’s financial ruin, romances her own step-father behind the restaurateur’s long-suffering back. The murder mystery concludes with a resolution to the question – who murdered Monte? It is revealed that insanely jealous Veda, after having her marriage proposal rejected by Monte, shoots him to death. As Veda is led off by the police, Mildred is reconciled with Bert.
Learn more and watch the trailer here.
The Picture of Dorian Gray
D: Albert Lewin
Writer-director Albert Lewin’s black and white occult-horror fantasy drama was based upon Oscar Wilde’s 1891 story about a man’s soul and its evil destiny. It tells the fate of healthy, handsome, and young 19th century Victorian Englishman Dorian Gray (Hurd Hatfield), an aristocrat who has his portrait painted by his friend Basil Hallward (Lowell Gilmore). Gray is distressed when reminded by cynical and witty old acquaintance Lord Henry Wotton (George Sanders) that he would not be handsome and youthful forever. He jealously speaks to the painting in the presence of a statue of the ancient Egyptian goddess Bast, that he would “sell my very soul” if he can stay young forever and never grow old. The wish appears to come true, as the painting ages (locked away in an attic room), while Gray remains youthful. In addition to remaining good-looking, he has become hedonistic, narcissistic, ruthless, heartless, and mean in his heart, and the painting reflects his soul.
He falls in love with and proposes to singer Sibyl Vane (Angela Lansbury) whom he meets at the Two Turtles Pub, but then rejects his fiancee, causing her to commit suicide by poison. Years later, Dorian seizes Basil’s niece Gladys Hallward (Donna Reed) away from her noble suitor David Stone (Peter Lawford), but then decides at age 38 that he will leave her – he claims it would be wicked to marry her, although she wants to marry him. When Basil demands to see the painting – corrupted by his secret sins – Dorian is afraid Basil will tell Gladys, and he stabs Basil to death. The film ends with Dorian viewing his own painting – curious to see what the effects of his behavior has been upon it. There is a sudden and shocking final view of the hideously-aged painted portrait of Gray (occasionally shown in Technicolor) showing the ravages of sin and withered aging (while he remaind young, vain and handsome). Dorian attempts to stab the heart of his image in the picture to release his awful visage, but he actually is stabbing his own heart. He collapses to the floor and takes on the hideous and deformed characteristics of the painting – as the painting reverts back to its original state (while a swinging lamp cast ominous shadows).
Learn more and watch the trailer here.
D: Fritz Lang
This is an early classic non-detective film noir from director Fritz Lang, a steamy and fatalistic tale – and one of the moodiest, blackest thrillers ever made. It is the tragic story of a meek, middle-aged, mild-mannered cashier and unhappily-married, hen-pecked husband Christopher Cross (Edward G. Robinson), a painter, who unwittingly falls into a cruel trap set by cold-hearted, amoral femme fatale gold-digger Katherine “Kitty” March (Joan Bennett), and her abusive, slick and mercenary boyfriend-pimp Johnny (Dan Duryea). Cross first meets Kitty when she is being beaten up by Johnny on a rainy night (a set-up), and they got to know each other in a bar for a late-night drink. He is immediately entranced by the clear plastic raincoat-wearing sexy dame. The deceitful female leads Cross to commit embezzlement, impersonates him in order to sell his paintings, and is cruel to him. After he proposes marriage, she told him: “Oh, you idiot! How can a man be so dumb?…I’ve wanted to go laugh in your face ever since I first met you. You’re old and ugly and I’m sick of you. Sick, sick, sick!” She causes him, in a fit of jealous anger, to murder her. He stabs her with an ice pick through her bed covers as she hides. The film ends with Johnny being accused of the crime and executed, and Cross suffering humiliating disgrace, haunting psychological torment, and mental anguish (i.e., Cross attempts suicide by hanging and fails, and in abject homelessness wandered the streets). The final image is his shuffling by a 5th Avenue gallery passing the ‘self-portrait’ he had drawn of Kitty, and overhearing its sale to an elderly matron for $10,000. The last lines of dialogue are heard as the haunted Cross slowly ambled down the deserted street under a movie marquee – he thought of Kitty and Johnny together, with echoing words of love spoken (off-screen) between them: Kitty: “Johnny. Oh Johnny.” Johnny: “Lazy Legs.” Kitty: “Jeepers, I love you, Johnny.”
The Seventh Veil (UK)
D: Compton Bennett
The tagline for this well-produced and acted romantic and psychological melodrama described: “Is There Always a SEVENTH VEIL Between a Woman and the Men Who Love Her?” The Muriel and Sydney Box story won the Best Original Screenplay Academy Award. It is the compelling story of teenaged Francesca Cunningham (Ann Todd), a world-famed concert pianist who has left her family.
The film opens with her escape from a mental hospital, and her attempt to commit suicide with a night-time jump off a bridge. For rehabilitation and psychological treatment, she meets with psychiatrist Dr. Larsen (Herbert Lom), who uses hypnosis therapy to have the neurotic Francesca talk about her past, and the events and people that led her to a deep depression and mute state, and her inability to play the piano. The film, through flashback, peels back the layers of Francesca’s mentally-ill and unstable mind, composed of various veils. The removal of the last and seventh veil would reveal her subconscious. She explains how as a 14 year-old orphan, she lived with her controlling and stern guardian (her second cousin), a crippled bachelor named Nicholas (James Mason), who forced her to practice piano five to six hours a day, helping her to become an excellent classical pianist. The Svengali-like Nicholas kept Francesca from other love interests, including her first musically-talented beau, American band leader Peter Gay (Hugh McDermott). After being forbidden to marry Peter, Francesca moved in with a German bohemian portrait artist-painter named Maxwell Leyden (Albert Lieven). Again, Nicholas demanded full control over her and thwarted her. He struck her hands with his cane while she was playing Beethoven’s “Pathétique” Sonata. When she fled with Max, the two had a serious automobile accident, and Francesca’s hands were burned. She was hospitalized – and the film returns to the present time. Dr. Larsen believes rightly that Francesca will be able to resume playing if she listens to a recording of Beethoven’s Sonata. By the film’s illogical and semi-twisted conclusion, the cured Francesca chooses to remain with the demanding, dominant, and enigmatic Nicholas, the possessive mentor who had helped to nurture her to succeed in her career.
D: Jean Renoir
Based on George Sessions Perry’s 1941 novel, “Hold Autumn in Your Hand,” and one of the best of the five films French director Renoir made in the US, from 1941 to 1947 after he migrated to Hollywood (due to the advent of WWII). Some called Renoir’s third US feature film “the first successful essay in Franco-American screen collaboration.” When released, it was met with poor box-office, and in the South by boycotts and pickets from Southerners who disliked the depiction of their way of life. However, it was a critical success (Renoir was nominated for a Best Director Academy Award), and in 1946 it won the Venice Film Festival award for Best Feature Film. The visually-poetic drama, with quasi-documentary elements and sparse dialogue, tells an inspiring and moving story about a poor southern tenant farmer’s struggle to raise his own crops and support his family in southern Texas. Uneducated cotton picker field-hand Sam Tucker (Zachary Scott) decides to own and farm his own land (but without modern farm equipment) – as a sharecropper, by renting some unpromising, abandoned river-front property with meager soil that had been unfarmed from his boss/employer Ruston (Paul Harvey). Sam and his family moves into a miserable rundown shack with a dry well. His family consists of his tough, loyal and supportive wife Nona (Betty Field), his two adolescent children Jot (Jay Gilpin) and Daisy (Jean Vanderwilt), his cranky and stubborn paternal Granny (Beulah Bondi) – and then Sam’s mother Mama Tucker (Blanche Yurka). Although determined to succeed, they face numerous trials in an endless succession of natural and man-made problems – nutritional ignorance, illness and disease (son Jot suffered from pellagra or “spring sickness”), the jealous Devers (J. Carrol Naish) – a bitter and mean neighbor and his hired hand nephew Finlay (Norman Lloyd), torrential downpours, etc. Although appearing defeated, the family continued to persevere, and the humanistic film closed on a note of optimism.
Learn more and watch the trailer here.
D: Alfred Hitchcock
Director Alfred Hitchcock’s psychological mystery-thriller often used Freudian symbols and analysis to add richness to the mysterious plot. Intellectual and cool-minded psychiatrist Dr. Constance Petersen (Ingrid Bergman) is having a love affair with the handsome new director of the Green Manors mental hospital (or asylum), Dr. Anthony Edwardes (Gregory Peck). He has been selected to replace the outgoing director Dr. Murchison (Leo G. Carroll). As their love deepens she begins to rationally suspect that Dr. Edwardes is delusional and homicidal, and has murdered the real Dr. Edwardes. But at the same time, she is concerned that he is innocently delusional and is suffering from anxiety attacks, neurosis, paranoia, and amnesia. Hitchcock features set-pieces to depict the crazed mental state of Edwardes – actually the imposter is named John Ballantine (or “JB”) — there are recurring lines on a white background, including the image of parallel fork lines on the tablecloth, and sled tracks and patterns on the bedspread. These patterns are JB’s partial recollection of witnessing the murder of the real Dr. Edwardes, his analyst, on a ski slope at Gabriel Valley. [Note: When the police recovered Edwardes’ corpse, they discovered a bullet wound in the body’s back and therefore suspected John Ballantine of murder.] A pivotal, brilliant nightmarish dream-remembrance sequence conceived by surrealist artist Salvador Dali involved eyes on a wall, a gambling room, a blackjack (21) card game with blank cards, an angry proprietor, a sloping roof, a wheel, and a pair of pursuing wings. In one blood-chilling sequence, Ballantine vividly remembers his young brother’s accidental and tragic death by impalement on a spiked fence when he fell from a roof. In another scene, the camera focuses on a straight razor carried in the hand of disturbed Ballantine as he approached the old doctor, Dr. Murchison. By film’s end, it is revealed that the murderer of Dr. Edwardes is the jealous and treacherous Dr. Murchison, who framed imposter Ballantine for the murder of Edwardes. Motivated by jealousy and not wanting his job stolen, Murchison used Ballantine’s disabilities to frame him. Murchison first aims his gun at Dr. Petersen’s back after she reveals his treachery. [Note: He had given himself away when he told her: “I knew Edwardes only slightly. I never really liked him. But he was a good man, in a way, I suppose.” If Murchison had known Edwardes, he shouldn’t have mistaken Ballantine for Edwardes.] Then, after she leaves, he slowly turns it toward the camera and fires at himself – there was a burst of red color gun flash (in the black and white film).
The Spiral Staircase
D: Robert Siodmak
A classic, old haunted house horror film with Gothic (and Hitchcockian) elements, involving a threatened female and a serial killer (who specializes in killing imperfect, physically-flawed or “afflicted” women – the film opened with the third murder by the killer, the strangulation of a crippled female). [Note: The set was the house from Orson Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons (1942).] Based on crime writer Ethel Lina White’s 1933 novel “Some Must Watch.” A stylish, suspenseful, and taut thriller – and psychological drama-mystery. Remade as The Spiral Staircase (1975, UK) with Jacqueline Bisset and Christopher Plummer.
At the turn of the century in New England (Massachusetts), mute caretaker Helen Chapel (Dorothy McGuire) is hired to assist a wealthy, widowed, bed-ridden invalid matron Mrs. Warren (Ethel Barrymore) in a large spooky mansion – where the killer is hiding in the shadows within the house. The local bachelor doctor, Dr. Parry (Kent Smith), one of Helen’s love interests, believes that her inability to speak is trauma-induced (from a house fire that killed her parents) and is possibly reversible. Two other suitors included the widow’s stepson, scholarly Professor Warren (George Brent), and her real younger son, womanizing Steven Warren (Gordon Oliver), who recently returned from living abroad. Young tormented and victimized mute Helen soon comes to believe that she will be the killer’s next victim. An atmosphere of terror in the old dark mansion is intensified with a raging storm outside, high contrast or light and dark shadows, a spiral staircase, the killer’s menacing eyes, gusts of wind, flickering candlelight, creaking doors. By the exciting conclusion, it is implied that one of the rival stepbrothers, Steven, had murdered live-in secretary Blanche (Rhonda Fleming), but then it is revealed that Professor Warren is the killer. In the suspenseful climax set on the spiral staircase, the defenseless Helen screams at her extreme moment of peril, and then speaks her first words since childhood with a phone call to an operator, asking for Dr. Parry: (“1-8-9…Dr. Parry…Come…It’s I, Helen”) – the film’s final line of dialogue.
They Were Expendable
D: John Ford
Toward the close of the war, director Ford (after making wartime documentaries) based this realistic, under-rated, inspiring and bleak war film upon the historically-true story of the Navy’s PT boat squadrons and crews based in the Philippines that were supporting the naval war in the Pacific campaign. The crews of the fast, maneuverable, lightweight plywood (not metal) PT (short for patrol torpedo) boats armed with torpedos, were there during the early years of the war (Dec 1941 – April 1942) and faced the greatly-outnumbered advance of Japanese forces immediately after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
The straight-forward, well-directed, semi-patriotic film, a detailed and authentic-looking action-war drama, is based on William L. White’s bestselling 1942 book with the same title about torpedo boat squadron commander Lt. John Brickley (real-life Congressional Medal of Honor winner John Bulkeley) (Robert Montgomery) and his second-in-command executive officer, PT boat officer/skipper Lt. J.G. “Rusty” Ryan (real-life Robert Kelly) (John Wayne). A hospitalized Ryan had moments of on-screen romance with nurse Lt. Sandy Davyss (Donna Reed) when he was in sick bay.
Learn more and watch the trailer here.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
D: Elia Kazan
This sincere, endearing and moving family drama and coming-of-age tale marked Elia Kazan’s directorial debut. It was based on Betty Smith’s beloved 1943 novel with the same name, about a turn-of-the-century Irish family in Brooklyn, the Nolans, who are struggling to survive in their challenging tenement neighborhood-environment. In one scene set at their apartment window, improvident Irish singing waiter Johnny Nolan (Oscar-winning James Dunn) tells his bright young 13-year-old daughter Francie Nolan (Special Oscar-winning Peggy Ann Garner), an aspiring writer, that she needn’t worry that the neighbors killed a courtyard tree nearby, with an optimistic tone: “They didn’t kill it, why they could cut that old tree right down to the ground and a root would push up someplace else in the cement. You wait until springtime, my darlin’, you’ll see.” He is encouraging, comparing their family’s (and his own) struggles to the resilient tree in their tenement area. The down-to-earth, frugal, strong-willed, hard-working and firm mother Katie Nolan (Dorothy McGuire) is the backbone and strength of the family, and is appropriately hard on Johnny, although her treatment of him is misunderstood by Francie. Johnny is a ne’er-do-well loser, due to his frequent drinking and irresponsible nature, but he is still kind, loving and encouraging. He sits with dreamer Francie at her bedside at Christmastime, and encourages her aspirations to grow up and be a writer. In a heartbreaking scene, he watches her fall asleep, faces the truth and decides to go out and find a real job (to support his now-pregnant wife, and to keep Francie in school) – and never come home again. He dies from pneumonia – exposure to the elements while job-searching.
A Walk in the Sun
D: Lewis Milestone
Director Lewis Milestone’s modest yet starkly realistic, dialogue-filled, combat film is based upon the novel by Yank Magazine’s Harry Brown. This is Milestone’s second (and middle) film in a war trilogy, composed of All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), and Pork Chop Hill (1959). It is often considered one of the best WWII war-battle films ever made, although it is essentially bloodless. It thoughtfully portrays the psychological stress felt by the US GIs. It intimately follows an American infantry unit in 1943, led by platoon squad leader Sgt. Bill Tyne (Dana Andrews), that is struggling to survive during a combat mission. They are making a frontal assault on a fortified, Nazi-occupied farmhouse in Italy, as part of the Allied attack on Anzio. The tension and fear is brilliantly captured on the faces of the terrified soldiers as they take the short, six-mile journey (from the coastal beach at Salerno, moving inland through the Italian countryside) to the farmhouse where they are on a mission to blow up a bridge. Despite heavy losses and fearful madness, the bridge is destroyed and the platoon triumphantly captures the fortified farmhouse.
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