The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
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by Jesse Walker

Friday, January 20, 2006
SIXTY YEARS BACK: So far, I've nominated the best movies of
1995, 1985, 1975, 1965, and 1955. The last few times I did this, I never made it past the '50s. But the '40s are actually my favorite decade for filmmaking -- the '70s come second, and the '80s are probably last -- so why not plow onward to 1945?

1. I Know Where I'm Going!
Written and directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger

A romantic comedy with something pagan simmering beneath it.

2. Ivan the Terrible, Part One
Written and directed by Sergei Eisenstein

Stalin had an infamously ambivalent attitude towards this film and its sequel: He endorsed the first installment but suppressed the second, after he realized the parallels to his career weren't so flattering after all. Both pictures are deliberately, grandly overstylized, like an opera or a superhero comic.

3. Scarlet Street
Directed by Fritz Lang
Written by Dudley Nichols, from a play by Andre Mouezy-Eon and a novel by Georges De La Fouchardiere

A noir remake of Renoir's La Chienne.

4. Open City
Directed by Roberto Rossellini
Written by Sergio Amidei and Federico Fellini

A ground-eye view of the resistance in World War II.

5. Isle of the Dead
Directed by Mark Robson
Written by Josef Mischel and Ardel Wray

One of several excellent horror movies produced by Val Lewton in the 1940s, each one drenched in archetypes and atmosphere. This one illustrates the so-called Thomas Theorem: "If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences."

6. The Picture of Dorian Gray
Directed by Albert Lewin
Written by Lewin, from a novel by Oscar Wilde

Wilde inspired so many bad movies -- delicate, middlebrow piles of reverence whose creators never forgot they were adapting a canonized Great Author -- that it's a special pleasure when someone does justice to one of his tales.

7. The Body Snatcher
Directed by Robert Wise
Written by Philip MacDonald and Val Lewton, from a story by Robert Louis Stevenson

Another Lewton production. You just can't go wrong with him.

8. Le Vampire
Directed by Jean Painleve

Painleve got his start in the surrealist movement, then moved into making more subtly surreal science films. This documentary is one of his best: It explores not just the behavior of the vampire bat but the legend of the creature that gave it its name. It even wanders into potentially dangerous waters, considering where and when it was made, by showing the animal stretching its wing in a way that looks a lot like a Nazi salute.

9. Children of Paradise
Directed by Marcel Carne
Written by Jacques Prevert

"Novelty is as old as the hills."

10. Detour
Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer
Written by Martin Goldsmith, from his novel

A classic B-movie about a loser, a woman, and a couple of corpses. I like the theory that the whole tale is one man's dubious alibi for crimes he really did commit, and that the film's inconsistencies and glitches are actually just the holes in his story.

posted by Jesse 4:37 PM
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