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

Saturday, January 22, 2011
FORTY FORTY HOME: I've listed my favorite movies of
2000, 1990, 1980, 1970, 1960, and 1950. It shouldn't be difficult to guess what comes next.

When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences looked back at 1940, it gave its Best Picture award to Rebecca, a Daphne du Maurier joint. That one is in my top 10 list, but it isn't at the apex:

1. The Philadelphia Story
Directed by George Cukor
Written by Donald Ogden Stewart and Waldo Salt, from a play by Philip Barry

There's a lot here to admire, but the high point comes with Katharine Hepburn wandering around drunk after dark.

2. His Girl Friday
Directed by Howard Hawks
Written by Ben Hecht, Charles MacArthur, and Charles Lederer, from a play by Hecht and MacArthur

"Walter, you're wonderful, in a loathsome sort of way."

3. The Bank Dick
Directed by Edward F. Cline
Written by W.C. Fields

"Shall I bounce a rock off his head?" "Respect your father, darling. What kind of a rock?"

4. A Wild Hare
Directed by Tex Avery
Written by Rich Hogan

The ur-text for the Bugs Bunny cycle.

5. They Drive By Night
Directed by Raoul Walsh
Written by Jerry Wald and Richard Macaulay, from a novel by A.I. Bezzerides

The first great truck-driving movie.

6. Rebecca
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Written by Robert E. Sherwood, Joan Harrison, Philip MacDonald, and Michael Hogan, from a novel by Daphne du Maurier

The only Hitchcock movie to win a Best Picture Oscar. That says much more about the Academy's prejudices than it does about the film's place in the director's body of work. But if it isn't Hitchcock at his very best, it's still a fine Gothic romance, always atmospheric and often creepy.

7. Christmas in July
Written and directed by Preston Sturges

One of Sturges' sweeter comedies, but it has a sardonic bite.

8. The Grapes of Wrath
Directed by John Ford
Written by Nunnally Johnson, from a novel by John Steinbeck

Ford made genre films and he made "prestige" films. For the most part, the prestige pictures aren't especially good, but this one's an exception: It may get a little heavy-handed at times -- feel free to wince during Henry Fonda's final monologue -- but it's filled with vivid moments, particularly the stunning dust-bowl sequence at the start.

9. Dance, Girl, Dance
Directed by Dorothy Arzner
Written by Tess Slesinger and Frank Davis, from a story by Vicki Baum

The flipside of all those Tex Avery cartoons about the Big Bad Wolf. (Someone should screen it with Red Hot Riding Hood as the opening short.) There's more emotional depth here than you'll find in the average low-budget melodrama, with an unexpected feminist edge.

10. Contraband
Directed by Michael Powell
Written by Emeric Pressburger with Powell and Brock Williams

If Peeping Tom is Powell's Psycho, then this is his 39 Steps.

Honorable mentions:

11. Foreign Correspondent (Alfred Hitchcock)
12. The Shop Around the Corner (Ernst Lubitsch)
13. The Thief of Bagdad (Michael Powell, Ludwig Berger, Tim Whelan)
14. Pinocchio (Ben Sharpsteen, Hamilton Luske)
15. Seven Sinners (Tay Garnett)
16. The Great McGinty (Preston Sturges)
17. Swinging the Lambeth Walk (Len Lye)
18. The Westerner (William Wyler)
19. Tarantella (Mary Ellen Bute, Ted Nemeth)
20. The Ghost Breakers (George Marshall)

Brilliant Sequence in an Otherwise Unexceptional Movie: Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland kiss in a cab, Andy Hardy Meets Debutante.

Of the films of 1940 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in Travelling Actors.

posted by Jesse 6:07 PM
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