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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 1946 a big year for movies but it was also a big year for actors making their film debuts and the birth of future actors and directors and the deaths of some truly great talent. Here is a snap shot of the American film industry.


Making Their Film Debuts:

Kirk DouglasThe Strange Love of Martha Ivers
Claude Jarman, JrThe Yearling
Burt LancasterThe Killers
John Lund – To Each His Own
Dean Martin – Film Vodvil: Art Mooney and Orchestra
Yves Montand – Star Without Light


Top-grossing Films

1.Song of the South*Disney$29,229,000
2.The Best Years of Our LivesRKO$11,300,000
Duel in the SunSelznick
3.The Postman Always Rings TwiceMGM$7,600,000
4.Blue SkiesParamount$5,700,000
5.The YearlingMGM$5,568,000
6.The Razor’s EdgeFox$5,000,000
8.Till the Clouds Roll ByMGM$4,762,000
9.Road to UtopiaParamount$4,500,000

(*) After theatrical re-issue(s)


Academy Award Winners

Best Picture: The Best Years of Our Lives – Goldwyn, RKO Radio

Best Director: William Wyler – The Best Years of Our Lives

Best Actor: Fredric MarchThe Best Years of Our Lives

Best Actress: Olivia de Havilland – To Each His Own

Best Supporting Actor: Harold Russell – The Best Years of Our Lives

Best Supporting Actress: Anne BaxterThe Razor’s Edge


Top Ten Money Making Stars

1.Bing Crosby
2.Ingrid Bergman
3.Van Johnson
4.Gary Cooper
5.Bob Hope
6.Humphrey Bogart
7.Greer Garson
8.Margaret O’Brien
9.Betty Grable
10.Roy Rogers


Among Those Who Died In 1946:

  • Slim Summerville, 53, American actor and comedian, All Quiet on the Western Front, Captain January, Niagara Falls, Charlie Chan in Reno;
  • Otto Brower, 55, American director, Paramount on Parade, The Phantom Empire;
  • George Arliss, 77, British actor, Disraeli, The House of Rothschild, Alexander Hamilton;  
  • Justus D. Barnes, 84, American actor, The Great Train Robbery,
  • Noah Beery, Sr., 64, American actor, She Done Him Wrong, The Trail Beyond, The Mark of Zorro, Mystery Liner;
  • William S. Hart, 81, American actor, The Narrow Trail, The Silent Man, The Money Corral, The Return of Draw Egan;
  • Mary Alden, 63, American actress, The Birth of a Nation, The Plastic Age, Brown of Harvard, Strange Interlude;
  • H. G. Wells, 79, British science fiction writer, The First Men in the Moon, The Invisible Man, The War of the Worlds, The Island of Dr. Moreau;
  • Rags Ragland, 40, American actor, Du Barry Was a Lady, Whistling in the Dark;
  • Jeanie MacPherson, 59, American actress and screenwriter, Dynamite, Manslaughter, The Godless Girl, The Captive;
  • Florence Turner, 61, American actress, The Chinese Parrot;
  • Donald Meek, 68, American actor, Stagecoach, You Can’t Take It with You, Captain Blood, State Fair;
  • W. C. Fields, 66, American comedian and actor, The Bank Dick, It’s a Gift, Never Give a Sucker an Even Break, My Little Chickadee

The Greatest Films of 1946



Poster for the movie "The Best Years of Our Lives"

© 1946 Samuel Goldwyn Company − All right reserved.

The Best Years of Our Lives

D: William Wyler

A landmark drama, and Best Picture-winning film – both powerful and provocative with many touching moments in the lives of combat survivors now returned to their former lives, with both hopefulness and poignancy. With great acting, story-telling, direction by Wyler, and pacing, as it told about three WWII veterans attempting readjustment to peacetime life and discovering that they had fallen behind. Perhaps the most memorable film about the aftermath of World War II, it unfolded with a number of great plot threads about the homecoming of three servicemen to their small town: Army Sergeant Al Stephenson (Fredric March) who turns to drinking, Air Force major Fred Derry (Dana Andrews) who is rejected by his spouse Marie Derry (Virginia Mayo), and seaman Homer Parrish (Harold Russell) who lost both arms, agonizes over his relationship with his girlfriend Wilma Cameron (Cathy O’Donnell). The homecoming scene of Al Stephenson when his wife Milly (Myrna Loy) senses his presence, is deeply moving. The compassionate movie portrays the reality of altered lives, readjustments at work, dislocated marriages and the inability to communicate the experience of war on the front lines or the home front. This is the first picture for Harold Russell, a non-actor and war veteran who was an actual amputee.  He won two Oscars for the same role (a unique achievement) – Best Supporting Actor, and a Special Honorary Oscar “For bringing hope and courage to his fellow veterans through his appearance…”

Learn more and watch the trailer here.


Poster for the movie "The Big Sleep"

© 1946 Warner Bros. − All right reserved.

The Big Sleep

D: Howard Hawks

An atmospheric film noir mystery with crackling dialogue, from Raymond Chandler’s first novel, with an incomprehensible plot scripted by William Faulkner (with Jules Furthman and Leigh Brackett). It set the standard for private detective movies. Remade in 1978 with Robert Mitchum. It tells about a down-at-the-heels private investigator Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart). He has been hired by General Sternwood (Charles Waldron), a dying, invalid millionaire to look into drugs, blackmail, nymphomania, pornography, decadence and murder – and to follow and protect his sharp-tongued, indiscreet, thumb-sucking, unstable nymphette daughter Carmen Sternwood (Martha Vickers). The private eye becomes attracted to the older, sultry daughter Vivian (Lauren Bacall). In the twisting conclusion, Marlowe described his suspicions to gambler Eddie Mars (John Ridgely) that Carmen had killed her father’s missing companion Regan, out of jealousy over an imaginary relationship between Regan and Mrs. Mona Mars (Peggy Knudsen). [Note: Mona was discovered hiding out at Huck’s Garage, to make it look like she had run away with Regan during their entirely manufactured affair.] At Vivian’s request, Mars covers up the killing to “protect” her sister Carmen from guilt – and to prevent her sick father from any further suffering. Mars’ cold-blooded hired killer Canino (Bob Steele), hides Regan’s body and the deception is set up. Mars then blackmails Vivian for money and sexual favors. Mars is set up to be killed by his own henchmen, allowing Marlowe to protect Carmen (who was sent “away” to an institution) and Vivian by pinning the murder of Regan on Mars – and Marlow is also able to end up with Vivian.

Learn more and watch the trailer here.


Brief EncounterBrief Encounter

D: David Lean

Based on a Noel Coward play – a poignant, sensitively-told, restrained British melodramatic romance about forbidden passion in a brief platonic affair. It was the quintessential, desperate tale of unconsummated illicit love. The romanticism of the film is enhanced by Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 musical score. It tells about two married strangers who met and developed a forbidden romance. Idealistic married local doctor, Dr. Alec Harvey (Trevor Howard) and middle-class suburban housewife Laura Jesson (Celia Johnson), stuck in a loveless marriage, have a chance meeting one Thursday on the platform of a train station. Their casual friendship soon turned into a romantic relationship and they fell in love, although a planned tryst to consummate their affair is aborted. They agreed to separate and stop seeing each other when he takes an assignment in another country – a medical journey to South Africa. During their final day together, they are interrupted by Laura’s talkative friend Dolly Messiter (Everley Gregg) during their last, painful, repressed goodbye (both at the start and end of the film) as Alec gently places his hand on her shoulder and disappears forever. This was followed by Laura’s near suicide attempt, before she returned to her thankful husband Fred (Cyril Raymond).

Learn more and watch the trailer here.


Duel in the SunDuel in the Sun

D: King Vidor

Critically nicknamed “Lust in the Dust” by its detractors, it remains one of the top box-office westerns – in inflation-adjusted dollars. The ambitious scandalous production from David O. Selznick was a “Gone With The Wind”- type grand western. It was directed by King Vidor (who quit and was one of eight directors and cinematographers). This lurid Technicolor western, set in Texas in the 1880s at the Spanish Bit cattle ranch, is a sprawling, overheated melodramatic saga of sexual longing that was forced to cut nine minutes of its content before widespread release. Jennifer Jones stars as orphaned, ‘half-breed’ gypsy Pearl Chavez, who is taken in by her father Scott’s (Herbert Marshall) second cousin and ex-lover, Laura Belle McCanles (Lillian Gish). Laura is the long-suffering, weak wife of crippled Senator Jackson McCanles (Lionel Barrymore), the patriarch of the cattle baron family. Pearl is soon caught in a destructive love triangle between the two McCanles sons: (1) Joseph Cotten as moderate and cultured Jesse who has studied law, and (2) Gregory Peck as hot-tempered, amoral Lewt, both Cain and Abel archetypes. In the violent melodramatic ending, Pearl and Lewt shoot each other to the death at Squaw’s Head Rock and die in each other’s arms.


Poster for the movie "Gilda"

© 1946 Columbia Pictures − All right reserved.


D: Charles Vidor

The screenplay by Marion Parsonnet (and adapted by Jo Eisinger), is taken from an original story by E. A. Ellington. The steamy crime drama is known for the erotic strains of the strange, tawdry, aberrant romantic triangle between the three main characters. The film’s themes included implied impotence, misogyny and homosexuality, although only suggested with liberal euphemisms and innuendo to bypass the Production Code. The titular femme fatale Gilda Mundson Farrell (Rita Hayworth) is put into the care and keeping by her ex-lover (a gambler and small-time hood) and bodyguard Johnny Farrell (Glenn Ford) – the right hand man of her disagreeable South American casino-owning husband Ballin Mundson (George Macready), a mobster. It also features the seductive striptease onstage (to the tune of Put the Blame on Mame) when sultry Gilda removes long black satin gloves from her arms. When Mundson disappears and is presumed dead, Gilda and Farrell resume their dangerous affair, while Farrell runs the casino – but then Mundson vengefully returnd. The complex, eccentric, perverse, and cynical tale is in keeping with the prevailing attitudes of the American post-war era, playing upon US political paranoia of German-Nazi war criminals who escaped and assumed new identities in South America.

Learn more and watch the trailer here.


Poster for the movie "Great Expectations"

© 1946 Cineguild − All right reserved.

Great Expectations

D: David Lean

This definitive British drama is based on Charles Dickens’ novel (and the first of two films director David Lean adapted from Dickens’ works), with deserved Oscar wins for its detailed set design and black-and-white cinematography. It tells the story of an orphaned British boy befriended by a mysterious benefactor, and later becoming a gentleman of means (a man of “great expectations”). It has long been considered one of the best adaptations ever made of a Dickens novel, and one of the finest British films of all-time.

It began with the voice-over: “My father’s family name being Pirrip, and my Christian name, Phillip, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit than ‘Pip’. So I called myself Pip and came to be called Pip.” Then it proceeds to a very memorable, gloomy opening sequence of young Pip (Tony Wager) meeting escaped convict Abel Magwitch (Finlay Currie) in a graveyard. Pip then serves as a hired playmate to a young adoptive daughter named Estella who is cared for by a wealthy, eccentric, and mysterious older woman in an dilapidated estate. Later, Pip is given a financial fortune (an allowance and funds for education) from an unknown source (not Miss Havisham!), and opportunistically becomes wealthy and cultured, although snobbish. All the Dickens’ characters were faithfully portrayed – John Mills took the role of the older Pip and Jean Simmons as the young Estella, Martita Hunt as Miss Havisham, and Francis L. Sullivan (who played the same role in the 1934 Hollywood version) as Mr. Jaggers, Miss Havisham’s lawyer.

Learn more and watch the trailer here.


Poster for the movie "It's a Wonderful Life"

© 1946 RKO Radio Pictures − All right reserved.

It’s A Wonderful Life

D: Frank Capra

Sweet-natured, sentimental, inspirational drama about a near-suicidal man learning the value of his existence. A charitable, hard-working philanthropist George Bailey (James Stewart), is forced to remain in a small town by unpredictable circumstances, becomes depressed after an accidental financial disaster at his loan company benefited the miserly Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore). He is on the verge of committing suicide and wishing that he had never been born – when his crusty-but-lovable guardian angel Clarence (Henry Travers), who is desperately trying to earn his wings, shows up to give him a tour of his town without his presence (Bedford Falls became the decadent and hellish Pottersville), showing him how important he has been to the lives of his loved ones. Moral courage, small-town American life, civic cooperation, and family love are glorified while corporate greed and selfishness are condemned. Clarence earns his wings and George learns that wealth is measured in love and friendship.

Learn more and watch the trailer here.            


Poster for the movie "The Killers"

© 1946 Universal Pictures − All right reserved.

The Killers

D: Robert Siodmak

A definitive film noir, from a short story by Ernest Hemingway, told in eleven taut flashbacks after an opening murder sequence. Two hit men Al (Charles McGraw) and Max (William Conrad) enter a greasy-spoon diner in Brentwood New Jersey, asking the manager about Ole ‘Swede’ Andersen (Burt Lancaster, in his film debut) – a gas station attendant. The doomed ‘Swede’ (an ex-boxer), who has been hiding in town under an alias for six years, is living in a nearby boardinghouse. Indifferent, he expects their arrival and calmly, passively awaits their deadly approach. Insurance investigator Jim Reardon (Edmond O’Brien) pieces together and unravels the plot and reconstructs the life of the victim through interviews and detective work. He discovers a complex tale of crime and treacherous betrayal – all revolving around a beautifully-glamorous, mysterious, double-crossing femme fatale Kitty Collins (Ava Gardner) – who sang “The More I Know of Love.” The film’s main theme (with a rising and falling dum-de-dum dum) from composer Miklos Rozsa was later borrowed for the opening sequence of TV’s Dragnet.

Learn more and watch the trailer here.


Stairway to Heaven (UK)  

D: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger

Reminiscent of other heavenly fantasies, including Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941) and Down to Earth (1947). One of the most innovative, visually-dazzling (from cinematographer Jack Cardiff), literate, and audacious films ever made by the extraordinary writer/producer/director team of the Archers production company: Powell and Pressburger. The film is an extravagant and extraordinary fantasy in which WWII RAF pilot and squadron leader Peter David Carter (David Niven) must abandon his fiery bomber (returning from a raid over Germany) without a functional parachute. Knowing his fate is doomed, he falls deeply in love with British-based, WAC radio operator and ground controller June (Kim Hunter) as they shared a few last words. In a film that continually begs the question, what was real and what was imagined, he awakens unharmed on a beach after falling to his ‘death’, due to errors made by heavenly emissary Conductor 71 (Marius Goring) in the fog. During brain surgery to rid him of alleged hallucinations, his spirit is put on trial — and he has to justify his continuing existence on Earth to a panel of heavenly judges in a celestial court (with God (Abraham Sofaer) as his judge, recently-deceased friend Dr. Frank Reeves (Robert Livesey) as his defense lawyer, and Abraham Farlan (Raymond Massey) as the prosecutor). He has to convince them that he should survive and wed his romantic sweetheart June. In a bold stroke, the Heavenly sequences were filmed in black-and-white, while the Earthbound scenes were in vibrant, ravishing Technicolor. The film used various then-revolutionary film techniques such as time-lapse photography, mixing monochrome and color in the same shot, and background time-freezes when a spirit leaves the body, reminiscent of The Matrix (1999). One shot typifies just how different the film is — a point-of-view (POV) shot from within an eyeball during brain surgery. The most spectacular dream sequence is the slow ascent to heaven on a giant stairway, and the film’s most memorable image is of a single, glittering love tear on a red rose petal.


Poster for the movie "My Darling Clementine"

© 1946 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation − All right reserved.

My Darling Clementine

D: John Ford

One of John Ford’s greatest westerns, semi-historically based on the famous O.K. Corral gunfight – inevitably visualized in the conclusion. Henry Fonda starred as Wyatt Earp, a one-time outlaw gunslinger who becomes the dedicated, law-abiding sheriff of Tombstone, Arizona during the 1880s, determined to clean up the rowdy frontier town where the killers of his brothers, led by Old Man Clanton (Walter Brennan), has fled. A visit to the barber symbolizes Earp’s transition from the western frontier to civilization – as well as his romantic relationship with the title’s female character. He develops a relationship with the legendary consumptive gunfighter Doc Holliday (Victor Mature) – originally a cultured Bostonian, defends a drunken Shakespearean actor, and cultivates a romance with square dance partner Clementine (Cathy Downs), the town’s school teacher.

Learn more and watch the trailer here.


Poster for the movie "The Postman Always Rings Twice"

© 1946 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) − All right reserved.

The Postman Always Rings Twice

D: Tay Garnett

A stylish moody adaptation of James M. Cain’s torrid crime melodrama – one of the best film noirs, about the murderous effects of lust. Handsome drifter Frank Chambers (John Garfield) is hired at the California roadside Twin Oaks diner/gas station as a handyman by kindly, middle-aged proprietor Nick Smith (Cecil Kellaway) after one look at his sizzling, lustfully white-hot (and unhappy), platinum-blonde waitress wife Cora (Lana Turner). The slow-burning fuse of sexual passion between Frank and adulteress Cora led to their plot to “accidentally” kill her husband. After the murderous couple’s plot is executed following a failed first attempt, they betray each other and are undone by their own uncontrollable, calculating natures, even as Cora admits before her death in an automobile crash: “When we get home, Frank, then there’ll be kisses, kisses with dreams in them. Kisses that come from life, not death.”

Learn more and watch the trailer here.


Poster for the movie "The Razor's Edge"

© 1946 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation − All right reserved.

The Razor’s Edge

D: Edmund Goulding

An outstanding drama taken from W. Somerset Maugham’s novel, although long, gloomy and rambling, about the search for life’s intellectual and spiritual meaning – and enlightenment. After idealistic, wealthy young Larry Darrell’s (Tyrone Power) world is shaken, traumatized and disillusioned by the horrors of WWI (after he served in the war as a pilot and narrowly escaped death), he restlessly sets out again to seek truth and goodness. In Chicago, wealthy, upper-class, social-climbing Isabel Bradley (Gene Tierney) offers him love and stability as his fiancee, but he rejects her, renounces wealth, and travels to Paris’ backstreets and later takes a pilgrimage to the mountains of Nepal. In Paris, Isabel is forced to give up on a plan to trap him into marriage by feigning pregnancy. With the aid of an old mystic Hindu guru, Holy Man (Cecil Humphreys), Larry eventually finds peace and freedom. When he returns almost a decade later to Paris, he is reunited with Isabel and other former friends, and learns that they all have suffered challenging experiences. He aids former childhood friend, Sophie Nelson (Oscar-winning Anne Baxter) whose husband Bob MacDonald (Frank Latimore) and child were killed in an automobile accident. She had resorted to alcoholism and prostitution in a lower-class district of Paris, but with his efforts, Larry is bringing the widow to sobriety and soon becomes engaged to marry her. However, strong-willed Isabel, who had married someone else – multi-millionaire Gray Maturin (John Payne) who had lost his wealth in the stock market crash and suffered a nervous breakdown – is resolute on reigniting her relationship with Larry. Isabel jealously conspires to cause Sophie’s demise. Larry blames Isabel for encouraging Sophie to be self-destructive by returning to drink, and refuses to reconcile with her – he concludes the film having found happiness and true goodness.

Learn more and watch the trailer here.


Poster for the movie "The Stranger"

© 1946 International Pictures − All right reserved.

The Stranger

D: Orson Welles

An impressive film noir starring and directed by Orson Welles – it was his first suspense-thriller. Keen-minded United Nations War Crimes Commission government agent-investigator Mr. Wilson (Edward G. Robinson) is on the trail of Nazi war criminal, fugitive agent Franz Kindler (Orson Welles). In the small and sleepy Connecticut town of Harper, the deceitful Kindler was posing as Charles Rankin, a respectable New England prep school teacher, engaged to marry Mary Longstreet (Loretta Young) – the daughter of respectable Supreme Court Justice Adam Longstreet (Philip Merivale). Mary is unaware of her fiancé’s notorious past as the mastermind of the genocidal Holocaust. To prevent being exposed, Kindler strangles his former associate Meinike (Konstantin Shayne). To get to his quarry in a tense cat-and-mouse game, Wilson (posing as an antiques dealer) has to convince the suspicious Mary of her fiancé’s crimes, before he eliminates her too. In the exciting conclusion, topped by a chase-finale on a church belfry tower, Mary discovers Rankin’s plot to kill her and dares him – and when prevented and pursued, he falls to his death.


To Each His Own

D: Mitchell Leisen

This was star Olivia de Havilland‘s first screen role after winning a landmark Supreme Court case against Warner Bros., reducing exploitative studio control of actors to seven years. Similar in plot to Edmund Goulding’s The Old Maid (1939) with Bette Davis. A superior, sentimental romantic melodrama told in flashback by an unwed mother (now a middle-aged American expatriate, and a fire-watch warden in London during an air-raid beat) who encounters the son she had given up for adoption many years earlier. Miss Josephine ‘Jody’ Norris (Best Actress-winning Olivia de Havilland) recalls a passionate, small-town love affair in Pierson Falls in upstate New York with Captain Bart Cosgrove (John Lund in his debut film), a pilot who presumably died during action in WWI (the Great War). She is painfully forced to give up her son for adoption to another family to avoid scandal. Her son is taken in by Corinne (Mary Anderson) and Alex Piersen (Phillip Terry) Afterwards, Jody spends years devoted to a successful cosmetics business, while her grown son American Lieutenant Gregory ‘Grigsy’ Pierson (also John Lund) only knows her through casual contact and presents (given by “Aunt Jody” – known as a friend of his “mother”). When he visits and reveals his attachment to girlfriend Liz Lorimer (Virginia Welles), Jody’s aristocratic confidant and love interest Lord Desham (Roland Culver) helps their romance lead to marriage, and broadly hints to Gregory the identity of his biological mother, in the tear-jerking happy conclusion. Liz also tips off Grigsy: “Anyone would have thought you were her only son” – he then approaches his mother on a dance floor and asserted: “I think this is our dance, Mother.”


Poster for the movie "The Yearling"

© 1946 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) − All right reserved.

The Yearling

D: Clarence Brown

A beautiful and sensitive film, based on the 1938 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings.  An inspirational family-oriented, coming-of-age dramatic story about a young boy who matures after confronting the harsh realities of life – accepting a final goodbye to his beloved animal friend. In the late 1870s, somber, overprotective, and stern Orry (Jane Wyman) and kind-hearted, understanding Penny Baxter (Gregory Peck) live in the remote Florida wilderness (Baxter’s Island) where they eke out a living on their farm. Sole surviving child, fresh-faced and pleasant Jody (Claude Jarman, Jr. in his screen debut), a lonely 12-year-old son, longs to have a pet to keep him company. Due to dire circumstances, Penny is compelled to orphan a fawn – after being bitten by a rattlesnake, he kills a doe to use its organs to release the poisonous venom. The yearling fawn, named Flag, grows closer and attached to Jody, but problems develop – it eats the pioneer family’s hard-won crops of tobacco and corn, and the boy is forced to accept a painful, heart-wrenching decision. Rather than shoot the yearling, Jody releases him into the woods. Tough-minded Orry shoots and wounds Flag, and tearful Jody finishes him off. Jody runs away, but returns home after three days, to his relieved parents.

Learn more and watch the trailer here.


Did your favorite film make our list of The Greatest Films from 1946?

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