Best Films Of The 1940s

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Best Films Of The 1940s

Many films have talked about Best Films Of The 1940s. We assembled 17 of the top ones.

It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

It's a Wonderful Life
★★★★
★★★★
3.4 out of 4 stars

From Frank Capra, starring James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Thomas Mitchell
Rated PG

It's a Wonderful Life is a classic Christmas movie directed by Frank Capra, starring James Stewart as George Bailey. The story follows George, a lifelong resident of a small town named Bedford Falls, who has been forced to put his dreams of traveling the world on hold to take care of his community. After a series of unfortunate events, George becomes desperate and decides to take his own life on Christmas Eve. An angel named Clarence steps in and shows George what life would be like if he had never been born, ultimately convincing George that his life is worth living. The film is a heartwarming reminder of the importance of family, friendship, and community, and it has become an enduring holiday classic.

Casablanca (1942)

Casablanca
★★★★
★★★★
3.4 out of 4 stars

From Michael Curtiz, starring Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains
Rated PG

Casablanca is a classic wartime romance set in the exotic port city of Casablanca, Morocco during World War II. The film follows the story of Rick Blaine, a notorious American expatriate running a nightclub in Casablanca. When Ilsa Lund, a former lover of Rick’s, unexpectedly arrives in town with her husband, Victor Laszlo, a Czech Resistance leader, Rick finds himself caught between his love for Ilsa and his desire to help Laszlo escape the city to continue his fight against the Nazis. Complicating matters is the presence of Major Strasser of the German army, who is eager to capture Laszlo and prevent him from leaving. In the end, Rick makes a heroic sacrifice and allows Ilsa and Laszlo to escape, and in doing so, reaffirms the power of love, friendship, and courage in the face of extreme adversity.

Citizen Kane (1941)

Citizen Kane
★★★★
★★★★
3.3 out of 4 stars

From Orson Welles, starring Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Dorothy Comingore, Agnes Moorehead
Rated PG

Citizen Kane is a 1941 American drama film directed, co-written, produced, and starring Orson Welles. The story of the film follows the life and death of Charles Foster Kane, a fictional newspaper magnate played by Welles. Spanning from his childhood to his deathbed, the film follows Kane from his privileged upbringing as the ward of a fabulously wealthy banker, to his eventual rise as a powerful newspaper baron. Along the way, the film explores the nature of power and the corrupting influences of wealth and fame. The second half of the film focuses on a journalist's investigation as he unravels the mystery behind Kane's last word, "Rosebud". Though highly praised at the time of its release, Citizen Kane has since become widely regarded as one of the greatest films ever made.

Children of Paradise (1945)

Children of Paradise
★★★★
★★★★
3.3 out of 4 stars

From Marcel Carné, starring Arletty, Jean-Louis Barrault, Pierre Brasseur, Pierre Renoir
Rated Not Rated

Children of Paradise is a 1945 French film directed by Marcel Carné. It is widely considered one of the greatest French films of all time. Set in early 19th century Paris, the film tells the story of a passionate love triangle between a beautiful woman, Garance, and two very different men. The first is the mime Baptiste, who loves her selflessly and passionately, while the other is the womanizing actor Frédérick, who is willing to do anything to win her heart. The three of them are tied together in a web of fate, love and tragedy. The film is renowned for its technical excellence, with long, graceful tracking shots and elaborate period costumes and sets. Through the story of this doomed love triangle, the film examines the nature of love and loyalty in a way that transcends its time period.

Double Indemnity (1944)

Double Indemnity
★★★★
★★★★
3.3 out of 4 stars

From Billy Wilder, starring Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson, Byron Barr
Rated Passed

Double Indemnity is a classic film noir from director Billy Wilder about an insurance salesman, Walter Neff, who gets caught up in a scheme with a married woman, Phyllis Dietrichson, to commit fraud with an insurance policy she has taken out on her husband. Walter and Phyllis hatch a plan to make it look like her husband has died in an accident, so they can collect the double indemnity payment from the policy. However, the insurance company has their suspicions and sends in an investigator to uncover the truth. As the plan begins to unravel, Walter and Phyllis find themselves in a desperate struggle to keep their scheme a secret and avoid the consequences of their actions.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
★★★★
★★★★
3.3 out of 4 stars

From John Huston, starring Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston, Tim Holt, Bruce Bennett
Rated Passed

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is a 1948 American adventure drama directed by John Huston, starring Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston, and Tim Holt. It tells the story of three prospectors in 1920s Mexico who set out to find a legendary fortune in gold, only to be confronted by danger and betrayal along the way. The film is particularly known for its iconic line, "We don't need no stinkin' badges!" The story follows Fred C. Dobbs (Bogart), an unemployed American drifter, and his friends, Bob Curtin (Holt) and Howard (Walter Huston), as they join forces to search for gold in the Sierra Madre Mountains. Despite the danger of their journey, they eventually find a seemingly inexhaustible source of gold, yet their newfound wealth quickly leads to violent conflicts between them. The film culminates in a tragic climax, as Dobbs is left alone in the mountains, consumed by paranoia and greed. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is hailed as a classic, and is widely considered to be one of the greatest films ever made.

To Be or Not to Be (1942)

To Be or Not to Be
★★★★
★★★★
3.3 out of 4 stars

From Ernst Lubitsch, starring Carole Lombard, Jack Benny, Robert Stack, Felix Bressart
Rated Passed

To Be or Not To Be is a 1942 American black comedy directed by Ernst Lubitsch and starring Jack Benny, Carole Lombard and Robert Stack. Set in Poland during World War II, the film follows the troupe of a theatre company as they use their acting abilities to evade the occupying Nazis. After learning of the Nazi plan to pose as Polish resistance fighters and gain access to the British bomber plane, the troupe must use their wits and courage to save their own lives and the lives of their countrymen. The film is both a satire and a tribute to the courage of the Polish people. It is filled with dark humor and touches on the absurdity of war and the enduring power of hope in the face of great adversity.

The Grapes of Wrath (1940)

The Grapes of Wrath
★★★★
★★★★
3.2 out of 4 stars

From John Ford, starring Henry Fonda, Jane Darwell, John Carradine, Charley Grapewin
Rated Passed

The Grapes of Wrath is a 1940 drama directed by John Ford and based on John Steinbeck’s novel of the same name. The film follows the story of the Joad family, a poor Oklahoma family who loses their farm and is forced to migrate to California during The Great Depression. The family faces many hardships during their journey, including a lack of food and shelter, as well as discrimination and exploitation by their fellow migrants and those who are meant to help them. Despite these obstacles, the family still manages to find unity and hope in their struggles. The film culminates with a powerful conclusion about the resilience of the human spirit in the face of adversity.

The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

The Best Years of Our Lives
★★★★
★★★★
3.2 out of 4 stars

From William Wyler, starring Myrna Loy, Dana Andrews, Fredric March, Teresa Wright
Rated Approved

The Best Years of Our Lives is a classic 1946 American drama directed by William Wyler and starring Fredric March, Myrna Loy, Dana Andrews and Teresa Wright. The film follows three World War II veterans as they return home to the United States and try to reintegrate into civilian life. Al Stephenson (March) is a bank manager, Fred Derry (Andrews) is an Air Force sergeant and Homer Parrish (Harold Russell) is a sailor. Each veteran must confront a different set of challenges related to their service and they ultimately come to rely on each other as they attempt to rebuild their lives. The film paints a vivid portrait of the experience of soldiers returning home and the societal changes that ensued in the years following World War II. It was a critical and commercial success upon its release and won seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

The Third Man (1949)

The Third Man
★★★★
★★★★
3.2 out of 4 stars

From Carol Reed, starring Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli, Trevor Howard
Rated Approved

The Third Man is a classic British film noir directed by Carol Reed. Set in post-war Vienna, it tells the story of Holly Martins, an American writer who arrives in the city to visit his friend Harry Lime, only to find out he has recently died in a bizarre accident. As Holly tries to uncover the truth behind Harry's death, he finds himself caught up in a web of intrigue and deception, involving Vienna's criminal underworld and a mysterious figure known only as the "Third Man". With its unique mix of suspense, dark humor, and superb cinematography, The Third Man is considered a classic of the film noir genre and one of the greatest films of all time.

Rebecca (1940)

Rebecca
★★★★
★★★★
3.2 out of 4 stars

From Alfred Hitchcock, starring Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine, George Sanders, Judith Anderson
Rated Approved

Rebecca is a 1940 romantic thriller directed by Alfred Hitchcock. It stars Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine. The film tells the story of a young woman who marries the wealthy widower Maxim de Winter, but soon finds herself haunted by the memory of his deceased first wife, Rebecca. As the young woman struggles to come to grips with her new life, she finds herself in a dangerous game of cat and mouse with Mrs. Danvers, the estate’s sinister housekeeper. As the film progresses, the young woman must discover the truth behind Rebecca’s death and decide whether or not to trust the man she loves.

The Maltese Falcon (1941)

The Maltese Falcon
★★★★
★★★★
3.2 out of 4 stars

From John Huston, starring Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Gladys George, Peter Lorre
Rated Passed

The Maltese Falcon is a classic noir detective film directed by John Huston in 1941. The film stars Humphrey Bogart as private detective Sam Spade, a hard-boiled San Francisco gumshoe who takes on a dangerous case when his partner is murdered. Spade is hired by a mysterious woman, who claims to represent the sister of a wealthy man who recently died and left a valuable item - a jewel-encrusted statuette of a falcon - in his will. Spade soon finds himself embroiled in a deadly game of cat and mouse with a shady cast of characters all wanting to get their hands on the statuette. With his partner's killer still on the loose and the police closing in, Spade must use all his wit and cunning to unravel the mystery and keep himself out of harm's way.

Out of the Past (1947)

Out of the Past
★★★★
★★★★
3.2 out of 4 stars

From Jacques Tourneur, starring Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer, Kirk Douglas, Rhonda Fleming
Rated Not Rated

Out of the Past is a classic film noir starring Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer. Jeff Bailey is a former private detective who is trying to escape his past, but finds himself drawn back to it when he is approached by a wealthy businessman, Whit Sterling. Sterling hires Bailey to find Kathie Moffat, a woman from Bailey's past who owes him a large sum of money. As Bailey begins his investigation, he finds himself drawn back into a web of deceit and murder that he thought he had left behind. He discovers that Kathie is embroiled in a dangerous plot involving gangsters and Whit Sterling's shady business deals. In order to protect those he loves, Bailey must confront his own past mistakes and take matters into his own hands. Ultimately, Bailey is forced to make a shocking decision that will affect the fates of those involved.

Brief Encounter (1945)

Brief Encounter
★★★★
★★★★
3.2 out of 4 stars

From David Lean, starring Celia Johnson, Trevor Howard, Stanley Holloway, Joyce Carey
Rated Not Rated

Brief Encounter is a 1945 British romantic drama film directed by David Lean, based on the one-act play Still Life by Noël Coward. The story centers around Laura (Celia Johnson), a married woman, and Alec (Trevor Howard), a doctor, who become passionate lovers after an unexpected meeting at a railway station. Despite their deep feelings for each other, they both choose to remain loyal to their respective partners and to part ways forever. The film is noted for its artistic use of black-and-white cinematography, its memorable score by Rachmaninoff, and its emotional melancholy. It is considered one of the greatest romantic films ever made.

Rope (1948)

Rope
★★★★
★★★★
3.2 out of 4 stars

From Alfred Hitchcock, starring James Stewart, John Dall, Farley Granger, Dick Hogan
Rated Approved

Rope is a 1948 thriller directed by Alfred Hitchcock and based on the 1929 play of the same name by Patrick Hamilton. It tells the story of two young men, Brandon Shaw and Phillip Morgan, who commit a thrill killing, and attempt to hide the evidence by throwing a dinner party using the victim's corpse as the centerpiece. The men invite their victim's friends and family, as well as their old prep school professor, Rupert Cadell, whom they both idolize and whose views on Nietzschean philosophy may have provided the justification for their act. As the dinner progresses, Rupert begins to suspect the truth and eventually realizes what the men have done. He is faced with a moral dilemma of whether he should turn them in or protect them.

The Philadelphia Story (1940)

The Philadelphia Story
★★★★
★★★★
3.2 out of 4 stars

From George Cukor, starring Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, James Stewart, Ruth Hussey
Rated Not Rated

The Philadelphia Story is a 1940 romantic comedy about the high society of Philadelphia and its wealthy elite. Socialite Tracy Lord (Katharine Hepburn) is about to marry for a second time, but her impending nuptials are complicated by the return of her ex-husband, C.K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant). Things get even more complicated when a team of reporters (James Stewart, Ruth Hussey) come to cover the wedding, which leads to a series of romantic entanglements and comedic chaos. With witty dialogue, memorable performances, and a classic screwball comedy plot, The Philadelphia Story remains one of the most beloved films of its era.

How Green Was My Valley (1941)

How Green Was My Valley
★★★★
★★★★
3.1 out of 4 stars

From John Ford, starring Walter Pidgeon, Maureen O'Hara, Anna Lee, Donald Crisp
Rated Passed

How Green Was My Valley is a 1941 American drama film directed by John Ford and based on the 1939 novel of the same name by Richard Llewellyn. Set in a small Welsh mining town, the film follows the life of the Morgan family and the changing fortunes of their coal mining industry. The youngest son, Huw, serves as the narrator of the story, remembering the events of his childhood and their effect on his family. Through Huw's eyes, we see the town's hardworking miners struggling in the face of poverty, and the harshness of the industrial revolution. The family's love and loyalty to each other is put to the test as they deal with new dangers and forces of change. The film was both a critical and commercial success, and was nominated for ten Academy Awards, winning five, including Best Picture.

 



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