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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 1949 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:

  • Julie AndrewsThe Singing Princess
  • Yul BrynnerPort of New York
  • Richard BurtonWomen of Dolwyn
  • Tony CurtisCity Across the River
  • Jerry LewisMy Friend Irma
  • Liza MinnelliIn the Good Old Summertime
  • Jeanne MoreauLast Love
  • Philippe NoiretGigi
  • Max von SydowOnly a Mother

 

Top-grossing Films

RankTitleStudioGross
1.Samson and DelilahParamount$28,800,000
2.BattlegroundMGM$5,051,000
3.Jolson Sings Again
Sands of Iwo Jima
Columbia
Republic
$5,000,000
5.I Was a Male War Bride20th Century Fox$4,100,000
6.Twelve O’Clock High20th Century Fox$4,025,000
7.A Letter to Three Wives20th Century Fox$3,800,000
8.The HeiressParamount$3,700,000
9.Pinky20th Century Fox$3,600,000
10.All the King’s MenColumbia$3,500,000
11.Little WomenMGM$3,500,000
12.Look for the Silver Lining20th Century Fox$3,250,000

 

Academy Award Winners

Best Picture: All the King’s Men – Rossen, Columbia

Best Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz – A Letter to Three Wives

Best Actor: Broderick Crawford – All the King’s Men

Best Actress: Olivia de HavillandThe Heiress

Best Supporting Actor: Dean Jagger – Twelve O’Clock High

Best Supporting Actress: Mercedes McCambridge – All the King’s Men

 

Top Ten Money Making Stars

RankActor/Actress
1.Bob Hope
2.Bing Crosby
3. (tie)Bud Abbott
Lou Costello
4.John Wayne
5.Gary Cooper
6.Cary Grant
7.Betty Grable
8.Esther Williams
9.Humphrey Bogart
10.Clark Gable

 

Among Those Who Died In 1949:

  • Victor Fleming, 59, American director and producer, The Wizard of Oz, Gone With the Wind, Captains Courageous, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
  • William Wright, 38, American actor, Philo Vance Returns, Eve Knew Her Apples
  • Nora Gregor, 47, Austrian actress, The Rules of the Game, But the Flesh Is Weak
  • Jean Gillie, 33, British actress, Decoy
  • Wallace Beery, 64, American actor, Grand Hotel, The Champ, Robin Hood, Viva Villa!
  • Will Hay, 60, English comedian, actor and director, Oh, Mr. Porter!, Hey! Hey! USA
  • Charles B. Middleton, 75, American actor, Flash Gordon
  • Harry Davenport, 83, American actor, Gone with the Wind, The Ox-Bow Incident
  • Frank Morgan, 59, American actor, The Wizard of Oz
  • Richard Dix, 56, American actor, Cimarron, Redskin
  • Bill Robinson, 71, American dancer and actor, Stormy Weather, The Little Colonel
  • Tom Walls, 66, British actor and director, Stormy Weather, Lady in Danger

The Greatest Films of 1949

 

***POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT FOR ALL***

 

Poster for the movie "The Accused"

© 1949 Paramount Pictures − All right reserved.

The Accused

D: William Dieterle

A film noir based upon June Truesdell’s 1947 novel, “Be Still, My Love.” The dramatic psychological crime thriller opens with psychology professor Dr. Wilma Tuttle (Loretta Young), a prim and proper teacher at a small Southern California college, at a Pacific Coast Highway beach in Malibu one evening. After hitching a ride home with a trucker Jack Hunter (Mickey Knox), Wilma sleeps restlessly and in the morning, she recalls – in flashback – what had occurred the previous day. She had been fending off the flirtatious romantic advances of one of her students, handsome Bill Perry (Douglas Dick), a “bad boy” who comes from a dysfunctional family. As they parked next to an isolated beach cliff, he changed into a bathing suit and then became sexually aroused (he called her a “little firecracker”) – and attempted to rape her. She resisted, picked up a tire iron, and unintentionally beat him to death. To cover up the crime, she tossed his body over the cliff into the ocean, making it appear that Bill was diving into the water from cliff’s edge. The overwhelmingly-distraught Wilma is anxious and guilt-ridden about the murder. She learns from Bill’s guardian, lawyer Warren Ford (Robert Cummings), that Susan Duval (Suzanne Dalbert), a foreign exchange student in the same class who had unrequited love for Bill, claims (falsely) that he had impregnated her, in order to get his attention. When Bill’s body is found, skilled investigating detective Lt. Ted Dorgan (Wendell Corey) concludes that it was murder, and Susan becomes the prime suspect. To allay suspicion, Wilma begins to date Warren (and soon, they become engaged), and she is fortunate that the trucker couldn’t identify her. Forensics lab technician Dr. Romley (Sam Jaffe) concludes accurately that the killer had struck Bill on the head with a lethal blow, and then faked Bill’s drowning. Wilma is having frequent anxiety attacks and outbursts. Detective Dorgan suspects that Wilma is the murderer – he knows she had copied a letter to Bill (that she had put on her door, but the janitor had thrown away) about cancelling a date to see him, in order to help establish her innocence. He also knows that Bill’s last words were that he was going to meet with a “cyclothymiac cutie” – a phrase taken from one of Wilma’s exam questions on personality about a chronic mood disorder. Wilma knows that Bill had described her as a repressed, prudish female in the exam, and she fears that she will be connected to Bill’s death. With a subpoena to appear in court, Wilma confesses to the killing after re-enacting the murder scene. She is arrested, and Warren elects to defend her – arguing that the crime was committed in self-defense. In his closing argument, he convincingly argues that fearful Wilma’s only crime was the cover-up. Detective Dorgan realizes that the circumstances of the case, defended by the love-struck lawyer, would fully exonerate her.

 

Poster for the movie "Adam's Rib"

© 1949 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) − All right reserved.

Adam’s Rib

D: George Cukor

A great, sophisticated, battle-of-the-sexes comedy, one of Hollywood’s greatest comedy classics. The sophisticated film was originally titled Man and Wife. It is about husband-and-wife lawyers in the upper middle-class who take opposite sides of a front-page court case. With a forward-looking, provocative screenplay with snappy dialogue by Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin – the husband and wife’s second collaboration with director George Cukor. Often rated as the best pairing of the nine films of the legendary screen team of Tracy and Hepburn – it was their sixth film together. The film also skyrocketed the career of Judy Holliday who went on to play the lead role in Born Yesterday (1950).

Chauvinistic Asst. District Attorney Adam Bonner (Spencer Tracy) prosecutes ‘dumb blonde’ Doris Attinger (Judy Holliday) for attempted murder – seen in the film’s opening. The wronged Brooklyn housewife, a real bombshell, vengefully shoots and wounds her philandering, two-timing husband Warren (Tom Ewell) who is with mistress Beryl Caighn (Jean Hagen) in a Manhattan apartment. His savvy wife Amanda Bonner (Katharine Hepburn) victoriously defends Doris. Adam is angered that his wife Amanda volunteered to defend Doris, pro bono, with feminist, women’s rights arguments for seeking revenge – upsetting sexist double standards. She claims that Doris had the same right (an “unwritten law”) as a man to shoot a spouse when caught in adultery. During the trial, Beryl testified that Warren was at the apartment to sell her an insurance policy, and that he never touched her. Doris testified that she wanted to save their marriage and family (they had three children) – she wanted to frighten Warren, not injure him or Beryl. To bolster her case (although irrelevant), Amanda called three successful female witnesses to demonstrate equality of the sexes. There are personal tensions on the home front each evening between Amanda and Adam, and eventually Adam moves out. His closing argument is weak, because Amanda interrupts him with frequent objections to his claims that Doris is a criminal. The jury acquits Doris. At film’s end, Adam finally and conclusively admits the profound differences between males and females to Amanda: “Vive la difference.”

Learn more and watch the preview here.

 

Poster for the movie "All the King's Men"

© 1949 Columbia Pictures Corporation − All right reserved.

All the King’s Men  

D: Robert Rossen

Best Picture-winning film. Robert Rossen’s fictionalized account of the rise and fall of backwoods rebel lawyer and poor rural farmer turned into a corrupt politician – a story inspired by the rule (and despotic abuse of power) of Louisiana’s colorful state governor (1928-32) and Democratic U.S. Senator (1932-35), the notorious Huey Long – better known as “The Kingfish” – who was only removed from office when he was assassinated. The hard-hitting film is the melodramatic story of the corruption of power by an ambitious demagogue – adapted and based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning and best-selling 1946 novel of the same name by Robert Penn Warren, and filmed from a script by producer-screenwriter-director Robert Rossen (known for directing other films such as Body and Soul (1947) and The Hustler (1961)). The main difference between the novel and the film is the reversal of the major roles: the narrating newspaper reporter takes precedence over the power-hungry governor in the novel. In the film, the secondary character is the reporter Jack Burden (John Ireland), while the central character is small-town lawyer-turned-politician Willie Stark (Broderick Crawford). One of the film’s posters proclaimed: “He thought he had the world by the tail…till it exploded in his face…with a bullet attached…” This great political drama was a breakthrough film for Broderick Crawford from his B-picture status – his performance is very compelling, electrifying and impressive as he is transformed from a backwoods, honest and naive lawyer into a dirty, unscrupulous, back-stabbing and sleazy politician.

Learn more and watch the preview here.

 

Poster for the movie "Battleground"

© 1949 Loew’s − All right reserved.

Battleground

D: William A. Wellman

A solid, ultra-realistic, grim and authentic-looking war drama nominated for six Oscars (including Best Picture), with wins for Best Writing, Story and Screenplay (by Robert Pirosh, a veteran of the Battle of Bastogne) and Best B/W Cinematography. Noted as the first significant post-WWII film in the US. It tells about a WWII platoon of American troops in the elite 101st Airborne Division (“The Screaming Eagles”) trapped at the strategic crossroads of the city of Bastogne in late 1944 during wintry conditions. The raw recruits are dug in behind the German lines during the German’s final advance at the Battle of the Bulge (the Siege of Bastogne), surrounded and outnumbered and awaiting their fate. The story is told as a character study of the various stressed-out GI comrades from around the country – including their fears, hopes, light-hearted humor and courage. When caught in inclement weather (the “fog of war”), the infantry group is cut off from supplies (reinforcements of food and ammunition) and military intelligence. The star-studded cast includes James Whitmore as tough, tobacco-spitting lead Sgt. Kinnie suffering from frostbitten feet, Van Johnson as paratrooper Pfc. Holley, while Ricardo Montalban plays the part of Pvt. Johnny Roderigues, a religious Latino from LA, John Hodiak is featured as Jarvess, an enlistee and Kansas newspaper columnist, Marshall Thompson as innocent and idealistic rookie Pvt. Layton – the film’s narrator, and George Murphy as Pop Stazak, the oldest member of the platoon. Eventually when the skies clear, the platoon survives after airplanes drop parachutes with supplies, and they are relieved by fresh troops.

Learn more and watch the preview here.

 

Beyond the Forest Beyond the Forest

D: King Vidor

A muddled, far-fetched, and absurd melodrama with an impressive score by Max Steiner, starring the inimitable Bette Davis in her last film for Warner Bros. after 18 years. The main female protagonist is one of the baddest, trashiest, and most warped of all femme fatales in cinematic history. The story is told in flashback by a narrator, who introduces the character of Rosa Moline (Bette Davis) as “evil” – a suspect in a manslaughter trial. The film reviews the events that led up to Rosa’s murder trial, the context for her “evil” reputation, and the events that led up to an accidental murder. Black-hearted, unattractive Rosa was a Loyalton, Wisconsin mill town girl, married to a decent, saintly small-town Midwestern doctor Dr. Lewis Moline (Joseph Cotten). She is dissatisfied, bored, neglected, discontented, and repressed by small town life, longing for and coveting big-city life and desperate for wealth. She complains: “If I don’t get out of here, I’ll just die! Living here is like waiting for the funeral to begin. No, it’s like waiting in the coffin for them to take you out!” She snarled at her husband – “What a dump!” To escape her boredom, she first attempts adultery, engaging in a short, illicit, erotic love affair with a vacationing neighbor – wealthy Chicago industrialist/millionaire Neil Latimer (David Brian), while he is at his hunting lodge cabin near her hometown. She attempts to sexually entice and entrap him. However, after Rosa discovers that she is pregnant by her husband, she is forced to shoot and kill Latimer’s cabin caretaker Moose Lawson (Minor Watson) to silence him, so that she can run away to Chicago with Latimer, who has reversed himself and now wants to marry her. A murder trial finds her not guilty for the ‘accidental’ death, while she continues to keep the pregnancy a secret from Latimer. In fact, she attempts to abort her baby with a “Psychiatrist” – then successfully induces a miscarriage by jumping from a moving car down an embankment. Half-crazy, mad, feverish, and suffering from blood poisoning, she frantically continues to try to escape to Chicago to meet up with Latimer. Near the train station, she collapses and dies in the roadway before getting to the boarding platform.

 

Poster for the movie "Champion"

© 1949 Stanley Kramer Productions − All right reserved.

Champion

D: Mark Robson

An all-time great boxing film and taut morality tale, with six Academy Award nominations (and one win for Best Film Editing), including Best Actor for Kirk Douglas in a star-making role. It is based on the short story Champion by Ring Lardner, that appeared in Metropolitan magazine in 1916. The story tells about the ups and downs in the life of ruthless, loud-mouthed, thuggish, working-class boxing champ Michael “Midge” Kelly (Kirk Douglas) – seen in flashback. With his partially-disabled, crippled brother Connie (Arthur Kennedy), Midge is hitching westward and ends up in Kansas City after being picked up by boxer Johnny Dunne (John Day) and his good-time girlfriend Grace Diamond (Marilyn Maxwell). Midge is encouraged to enter a boxing match event for $35, and although beaten in the four-round bout, his raw talent attracts the attention of his future manager from Los Angeles named Tommy Haley (Paul Stewart). Later in Malibu, California, Midge is forced to marry waitress Emma Bryce (Ruth Roman) after getting her pregnant – a shotgun marriage demanded by Emma’s enraged father. Shortly after, he deserts her and locates retired trainer Haley in a Los Angeles gym, and begins working his way up in the boxing ranks by winning matches. Although Haley orders him to take a dive in a fight against top opponent Johnny Dunne, he knocks Dunne out in the first round. For his disobedience, he is viciously beaten by his irate handlers and other organized mob members. He begins a relationship with seductive gold-digger Grace, an opportunistic moll who is secretly working for Jerome Harris (Luis Van Rooten), Dunne’s promoter and manager (with ties to criminals), who eventually persuades Midge to switch managers and abandon Haley. Midge is also having an affair with naive and spoiled Palmer Harris (Lola Albright), Harris’ sculptor wife. Harris makes a deal with Midge to end his affair with his wife Palmer, by forgiving his debts – and Midge agrees, breaking Palmer’s heart. Midge continues to throw away his moral principles. He cruelly alienates, abuses and mistreats all of his friends and family (and even the mob) who stood by him, including his mother, Connie (now engaged to Emma, whom Midge raped off-screen before her divorce was final) and Palmer. With Haley rehired as his trainer-manager, he prepares to defend his championship title against comeback fighter Dunne. During the final rematch, it becomes a brutal fight. Midge is knocked down twice and has a severely-cut eye, but he fight to the end and knocks out Dunne in the last round. Bloodied and victorious, a triumphant Midge – with a battered face – collapses and dies of a brain hemorrhage in his dressing room. In the last line of the film, Connie faintly praised his brother to the press: “He was a champion. He went out like a champion. He was a credit to the fight game, to the very end.”

Learn more and watch the preview here.

 

Poster for the movie "The Heiress"

© 1949 Paramount Pictures − All right reserved.

The Heiress

D: William Wyler

A great but bleak romantic drama based on Henry James’ 1880 novella Washington Square and the 1946 play by Ruth and Augustus Goetz, with an icy musical score from Aaron Copland. In mid-19th century New York City (Greenwich Village), a plain, repressed, shy and virginal ‘heiress’ daughter Catherine Sloper (Oscar-winning Olivia de Havilland) lives with her wealthy, arrogant, imperiously abusive, and domineering, widowed, patriarchal physician-father Dr. Sloper (Ralph Richardson) in a luxurious townhouse. Also in the house is Catherine’s Aunt and confidante, Lavinia Penniman (Miriam Hopkins). Catherine remains a spinster, after her young, first love toward a handsome, but penniless, mysterious suitor and mercenary, scheming Morris Townsend (Montgomery Clift) is thwarted by her stern, tyrannically-selfish father. Her imperious and abusive father threatens to deny the bride-to-be her full inheritance. Pitifully, she is also jilted on the night of their elopement by Townsend. Over many years, her anger has been suppressed and simmered, and surfaces when insincere scoundrel and gold-digger Townsend returns and again asks for her hand in marriage. With rational, cold, controlled rage for all her years of mistreatment, she turns the tables on him in the final, chilling scene.

Learn more and watch the preview here.

 

Poster for the movie "Kind Hearts and Coronets"

© − All right reserved.

Kind Hearts and Coronets (UK) (aka Noblesse Oblige)

D: Robert Hamer

Loosely based on Roy Harniman’s 1907 novel Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal. The title was taken from a verse in Tennyson’s 1942 poem Lady Clara Vere de Vere. In this Ealing Studios morbid and black comedy about inheritance in Edwardian England by director Robert Hamer, the versatile Alec Guinness (in his third film role) stars with a virtuoso performance as all eight of the victimized members of the effete, aristocratic D’Ascoyne family (including Lady Agatha!) as they are killed one by one. All the aristocratic family relatives are pictured in the title screen (young and old, and male and female — a General, a snob, a young photographer, a suffragette, an Admiral, a Parson, a Banker and the Duke). The many heirs stand in the way of cold-blooded serial killer and impoverished, embittered commoner Louis Mazzini (Dennis Price) – a distant poor relative and the ninth in line to inherit the Dukedom of Chalfont. The scheming Mazzini’s intent is to murder all the other rival successors and competing heirs, to become the new Duke of D’Ascoyne. Vengeful and greedy, and while in prison and about to be executed for a murder he didn’t commit (of Lionel Holland (John Penrose)), he flashbacks to his earlier days (“In those days, I never had any trouble with the sixth commandment”) and he tells about his parents: his opera-singing father died when seeing his newborn child for the first time, while his disinherited, ostracized widowed mother (a member of the high-born D’Ascoyne family) was killed by a train (and refused a burial in the family vault at Chalfont). The murders occurr in this order: snobbish Ascoyne d’Ascoyne (by drowning in a boating accident), young Henry d’Ascoyne (by fire in a photographic darkroom), Reverend Lord Henry d’Ascoyne (The Parson) (by poison), suffragette Lady Agatha d’Ascoyne (by fall in hot-air balloon), Admiral Lord Horatio d’Ascoyne (The Admiral) (not murdered, died in naval accident), General Lord Rufus d’Ascoyne (The General) (by bomb explosion), Lord d’Ascoyne Ethelred (The Duke) (by gunshot while caught in a trap), and Lord Henry d’Ascoyne, Sr. (The Banker) (by fatal heart attack). In the satirical and memorable twist ending, Mazzini is released from prison to a cheering crowd (due to perjured testimony and a deal with the victim’s widow Sibelia Holland (Joan Greenwood)). He is approached by a Tit-Bits reporter (Arthur Lowe) who asks: “I represent the magazine Tit-Bits by whom I’m commissioned to approach you for the publication rights of your memoirs.” Mazzini pauses for a second, then replies: “My memoirs? Oh, my memoirs. My memoirs” — he glances backward, and is reminded that he had left a self-incriminating memoirs document on his desk in his cell – the camera tracks back to his cell and the pile of his papers that would reveal his guilt.

Learn more and watch the preview here.

 

Knock on Any DoorKnock on Any Door

D: Nicholas Ray

A ‘social problem’ drama based upon the best-selling book by Willard Motley. Nick “Pretty Boy” Romano (John Derek), a mal-adjusted and frequent lawbreaker, is charged with the crime of robbery in the 380 Bar, and the cold-blooded murder of police Officer Dan Hawkins (Thomas Sully) during flight. Prominent Attorney Andrew Morton (Humphrey Bogart) reluctantly agrees to defend Romano, while the District Attorney is Kerman (George Macready). Judge Drake (Barry Kelly) presides. The DA argues that Romano is a black-hearted murderer that deserves to be executed. Morton, who grew up with the same hardship conditions as Romano, counter-argues with a simplistic defense plea that emphasized the evil of the slums, where Romano had been raised. In flashback, it is shown that years earlier, Morton’s law firm had improperly defended Nick’s innocent, Italian immigrant grocer father, who was sent to prison and died there. Romano’s disadvantaged family was forced to move to the slums, where young disenfranchised Nick lived in poverty, was sent to a reform school, gambled himself into debt, met the wrong people, and joined a violent criminal gang. After Nick’s wife Emma (Allene Roberts) becomes pregnant, he flees, and when he returns, he finds that she committed suicide (by asphyxiation in a gas oven). He turns to robbery and holds up a train station. At the conclusion of his opening statements, slightly guilt-ridden Morton states that Romano was not the murderer. DA Kerman summons some unreliable, uncredible eyewitness to the stand who claim they had seen Nick victimize 380 Bar bartender Carl Swanson (Vince Barnett), and homeless bum Kid Fingers Carnahan (Jimmy Conlin). Morton discredits their testimonies. An accusatory statement by Juan Rodriguez (Pepe Hern) is obtained under duress – Rodriguez is coerced by being threatened, by police, with deportation. Two of Morton’s witnesses provide Nick with an alibi – they were drinking beer at the time of the crime. Under fierce cross-examination on the stand, Nick (who shouldn’t have been allowed to testify) caves to pressure by Kerman (who screamed “murderer” at him), especially when he is accused of causing his wife Emma’s suicide. Romano breaks down and confesses to the robbery and murder. In the final moments of the trial, liberal-minded attorney Morton emotionally pleads for leniency and mercy from the jury regarding Nick’s admission of guilt, arguing that his social upbringing and failures of the justice system caused his life of crime, but his pleas were unsuccessful. Nick is sentenced to death (by electric chair) by the Judge.

 

Poster for the movie "On the Town"

© 1949 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) − All right reserved.

On the Town

D: Gene Kelley and Stanley Donen

This fresh, energetic, kinetic and innovative landmark MGM musical was co-directed by Stanley Donen and dancer/choreographer Gene Kelly (together, they directed three MGM post-war musicals) – his directorial debut, featured lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, and Leonard Bernstein’s music from the Broadway stage musical of 1944. This exuberant musical masterpiece won the Oscar for Best Musical Score. It takes the musical out of the wall-bound studio and on location in New York City (with all the prominent sites) – the first time that actual locations were used for musical numbers. The movie is also noted as the third and final pairing of musical stars Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra. It opens with the show-stopping, two and a half-minute song-and-dance number “New York, New York (It’s a Hell of a Town).” The lively musical is a story about three on-leave sailors, Gabey (Gene Kelly), shy Chip (Frank Sinatra) and Ozzie (Jules Munshin), who are looking for romance during a 24-hour shore leave/furlough after docking in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Together, they experience all the sights of the city with their new girlfriends: lust-crazed woman cab driver Hildy Esterhazy (Betty Garrett) (who advances on Chip in “Come Up to My Place”), sexy anthropologist Claire Huddesen (Ann Miller) (whom Ozzie meets in the fictional Museum of Anthropological History where they perform the song/dance “Prehistoric Man”), and ballet dancer ‘Miss Turnstiles’ (subway ad ‘dream girl’), actually named Ivy Smith (Vera-Ellen) – who performs a duet with Gabey in “Main Street,” and then appears in a stylized and innovative dream sequence titled “A Day in New York.” The film ends with the climactic title number “On the Town” performed by the three couples.

Learn more and watch the preview here.

 

The Reckless MomentThe Reckless Moment

D: Max Ophuls

Director Max Ophuls’ taut domestic ‘woman’s melodrama’ and thriller, with stark shadowy cinematography (by Burnett Guffey), was his fourth and final Hollywood film before returning to Europe. Ophuls was known for trademark long and fluid takes, deep-focus, and subtle mise-en-scene. Slightly similar in theme to Mildred Pierce (1945), the story was adapted from Elisabeth Sanxay Holding’s 1947 “The Blank Wall” originally published in the Ladies Home Journal. It was remade as The Deep End (2001), by Scott McGehee and David Siegel, with star Tilda Swinton. It is set in a small, sleepy beach-seaside community (Balboa) 50 miles from Los Angeles. Upper middle-class, chain-smoking, bespectacled, and sheltered housewife Lucia Harper (Joan Bennett) (with her patriarchal husband Tom (Henry O’Neill) noticeably absent and away on business in Berlin, Germany) mistakenly believes that her arrogant, nail-biting, and impetuous 17-year-old daughter Beatrice or “Bea” (Geraldine Brooks), an LA art school student, has killed her slimy, older lover Ted Darby (Shepperd Strudwick). Darby accidentally died (a case of manslaughter) during a clandestine meeting with Bea in a boathouse. When Bea angrily hits Darby in the head with a flashlight, he trips, loses his balance and falls onto a large boat anchor. In a panic and “reckless moment,” the determined, frantic, devoted and selfless mother (to defend her domesticity and family from scandal) dumps the body in a lagoon (with the anchor), but the corpse washes ashore and is discovered. Afterwards, suave, small-time Irish crook Martin Donnelly (James Mason in his third US film) visits Lucia to blackmail her (for $5,000 hush money), on behalf of his tough boss-partner Nagel (Roy Roberts), a loan shark with incriminating love letters that Bea had written to Ted. Although Martin soon becomes infatuated with Lucia, his dangerous and unprincipled partner continues to pressure him and demand payment. Feeling entrapped by lies and deception, neurotic woman-in-peril Lucia attempts to raise the funds (at first, she is unsuccessful in securing a loan from a bank), and resorts to pawning her jewelry (for only $800), with Donnelly in tow. In the stirring conclusion, Donnelly decides to defend Lucia against Nagel. Although stabbed, Donnelly choked Nagel to death. As he was dying after a car crash during his departure, Donnelly returns the love letters and assures Lucia that he will take the blame for the deaths of Darby and Nagel. The film ends, as Lucia phones her husband and assures him that everything will be fine once he returns home.

 

Poster for the movie "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon"

© 1949 RKO Radio Pictures − All right reserved.

She Wore a Yellow Ribbon

D: John Ford

This is the second of director John Ford’s “cavalry trilogy” series and his personal favorite, preceded by Fort Apache (1948) and followed by Rio Grande (1950) which were in black and white, filmed in his favorite scenic locale – Monument Valley. It is noted for Winton C. Hoch’s beautiful Oscar-winning color cinematography (the film’s sole nomination and win). Ford’s autumnal and sentimental western stars John Wayne as a retirement-age cavalry captain named Nathan Brittles, serving at Fort Starke, a one-troop cavalry post, in 1876. In one sunset scene, soon-to-be retired Capt. Brittles sits at the gravestone of his wife Mary Cutting Brittles and speaks to her while he waters the flowers. The Captain is attempting to prevent a large-scale Native-American Indian uprising with Chief Pony That Talks (Chief John Big Tree) following General Custer’s (and the 7th Cavalry) defeat at the Battle of the Little Big Horn. On a dangerous mission, his last patrol, he protectively accompanies two women who are being evacuated for their own safety to an awaiting stagecoach at Sudros Well: post commander Major Allshard’s (George O’Brien) wife Abby ‘Old Iron Pants’ Allshard (Mildred Natwick), and attractive single Olivia Dandridge (Joanne Dru) (with a ‘yellow ribbon’ in her hair signifying she has chosen a beau) – who is being pursued by two lieutenants in the fort – Lieutenant Flint Cohill (John Agar) and Lieutenant Pennell (Harry Carey, Jr.). During the trip, Captain Brittles learns that warring Indians have destroyed the stage depot, forcing them to return to the fort. On his last day in a farewell scene, Brittles’ C troops give shim a silver pocket watch with the inscription “Lest we forget” that he tearfully and proudly reads with his glasses. To avoid a bloody war, even after his retirement, he chooses a risky strategy of stampeding the Indians’ horses out of their camp at midnight, to force them to return to their reservation on foot.

Learn more and watch the preview here.

 

Poster for the movie "The Third Man"

© 1949 London Film Productions − All right reserved.

The Third Man (UK)

D: Carol Reed

Carol Reed’s visually-stylish film noir thriller – a paranoid story of social, economic, and moral corruption – has been widely acclaimed as an effective suspense and one of the best films of all-time. It was adapted from Graham Greene’s novella written to prepare the film’s screenplay, then later published. With a haunting zither musical score and theme from Anton Karas, and innovative b/w camera-work (by Robert Krasker) to accentuate the gloomy, depressed, rotting and sinister atmosphere. Unusually reckless, canted camera angles (one of their earliest uses), and wide-angle lens distortions amidst the atmospheric on-location views of a shadowy Vienna cast a somber mood over the fable of post-war moral ambiguity and ambivalent redemption. The deliberately unsettling, tilted angles reflect the state of the ruined, fractured and dark city – ravaged, crumbling and desperate during the Cold War, and split among the occupying forces. Vienna is also filled with black marketers, spies, refugees, thieves, and foreign powers seeking control. A pulp Western novelist Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) arrives in Vienna, totally broke and hoping to find employment. He is forced to assume the role of an amateur sleuth as he looks for old friend Harry Lime (Orson Welles) who has reportedly been killed in Vienna in a car accident, days earlier – although there are mysterious circumstances surrounding the incident. He seeks to unravel the mystery of the presumed-dead friend with a probing search, and an infatuation with Lime’s actress girlfriend Anna Schmidt (Alida Valli). The first appearance of Lime is in a doorway, as a light suddenly illuminates his sardonic smile. He ultimately learns that Lime is a vile, unscrupulous and notorious black-market drug dealer who preys on the sick with diluted penicillin. The great thriller includes the dramatic scene atop a Ferris wheel (with the famed “Swiss cuckoo clock” dialogue), a suspenseful manhunt led by Major Calloway (Trevor Howard) into the underground city sewers for Lime – a shadowy, marked man, and the famed ending of Anna’s stoic shunning of Martins while remaining loyal to Lime.

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Poster for the movie "Twelve O'Clock High"

© − All right reserved.

Twelve O’Clock High

D: Henry King

A great and realistic war film about leadership – and a superb and enthralling character study emphasizing the stress encountered by various WWII officers who led US forces into combat. Although effective against the German Nazis, the heavy bombing raids in a hot combat zone took a horrendous, self-destructive, emotional and physical toll on fliers and aircraft. The terrifying and dangerous air raids were dramatically photographed in numerous aerial sequences. This timely, tense and compelling film is told in flashback (from the year 1949, looking back to 1942) by middle-aged, introspective American tourist Harvey Stovall (Dean Jagger) who is visiting an abandoned airstrip in England. Years earlier, he had served with the struggling 918th Bomb Group (of the US Eighth Air Force) of B-12 bombers based at Archbury, England in late 1942. He recalls when Brig. Gen. Frank Savage (Gregory Peck), a tough, hard-as-nails, discipline-oriented commander was assigned to the unit. Known as a very strict, harsh and by-the-book officer, Savage replaces compassionate, soft-hearted but popular predecessor Colonel Keith Davenport (Gary Merrill) who was relieved of his duty after resisting to send his men on another near-suicidal, low-altitude daytime mission. At first, the scarred, hard-luck men with low morale resent and detest the personal style of their stern replacement commander who insists on discipline, and many of them threaten to be transferred. However, they gradually learn to respect him. Over time, Savage begins to over-identify with his beleaguered men, and suffers from the same effects that doomed Davenport. In the stressful atmosphere of uncertainty, risk and danger, he begins to act erratically, goes into shock and has a nervous breakdown during a mission.

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Poster for the movie "Whisky Galore!"

© 1949 Ealing Studios − All right reserved.

Whisky Galore! (UK) (aka Tight Little Island)

D: Alexander Mackendrick

Alexander Mackendrick’s directorial debut film was this Ealing Studios release – a droll, fast-paced, black-and-white British comedy that is well-revered, based on the light-hearted 1947 novel by Scottish novelist Compton Mackenzie. It is based upon a true story of a sunken ship in early 1941. The odd comedy tells about a cargo of 50,000 cases of whiskey on the steamship freighter SS Cabinet Minister that is shipwrecked in heavy fog off the rocky and remote Scottish Hebrides island of Todday during WWII – the tagline described: “It’s Light… It’s Bright… It’s 100 Proof!” The tempted and thirsty locals during a time of war rationing, salvage some of the precious cargo, smuggle it to the island, and conceal it. Among those who are enlivened by the cargo are the town’s tee totaling, henpecked schoolteacher George Campbell (Gordon Jackson), his strict and domineering Calvinist mother Mrs. Campbell (Jean Cadell), and dying hermit Old Hector (James Anderson). They and other wily townsfolk make numerous devious attempts to circumvent the British customs revenue officials, led by stuffy, bureaucratic and pompous Home Guard Captain Paul Waggett (Basil Radford), who wants to confiscate the find. A cat-and-mouse game distracts the authorities, and allows the islanders to triumphantly keep their prized drink. In the film’s moral epilogue, however, it is announced that the whiskey soon dries up, and the Todday islanders live ‘unhappily’ ever after.

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Poster for the movie "White Heat"

© 1949 Warner Bros. − All right reserved.

White Heat

D: Raoul Walsh

One of the most volatile, super-charged and compelling gangster-crime films ever made, and one of the last of Warner Bros.’ gangster films. The film anticipated the heist films of the early ’50s (e.g., John Huston’s The Asphalt Jungle (1950) and Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing (1956)), accentuated the semi-documentary style of films of the period (e.g., The Naked City (1948)), and contains film noir elements, including the shady black-and-white cinematography, the femme fatale character, and the twisted psyche of the criminal gangster. The film noir crime drama tells about a psychopathic, homicidal, mother-devoted gangster. Crazed, eccentric, and tough-guy killer Arthur “Cody” Jarrett (James Cagney in one of his finest career performances) leads a gang of train robbers in the High Sierras, while unnaturally and obsessively aided by the ministrations of his beloved, equally crooked and shrewd “Ma” Jarrett (Margaret Wycherly), the only female he truly loves, and the only one who can console him during excruciatingly-painful bouts of headaches. His treacherous wife Verna (Virginia Mayo) is unfaithful with rebellious gang member “Big Ed” Somers (Steve Cochran), amidst gang dissension, when Cody was briefly imprisoned in the Illinois State Penitentiary. When he learns of his mother’s death, the mother-fixated, violent and warped Cody goes berserk in the prison cafeteria. After an escape from prison during a riot, he flees to Southern California, where Verna assures him that “Big Ed” shot and killed his mother (although she had committed the deed) – and Cody guns him down. Then, during the payroll robbery of an oil refinery and chemical plant in Long Beach, Cody is betrayed by clever undercover agent/informant Vic Pardo/Hank Fallon (Edmond O’Brien). In the legendary blazing finale, a trapped Cody is consumed in the flames of a holding tank explosion (from his own gunfire) as he proclaims: “Made it Ma! Top of the world!”

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We are at the end of the decade! Did your favorite make our list of the greatest movies of 1949?

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