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Movies in the 1040's


The early years of the 40s decade were not promising for the American film industry, especially following the late 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese, and the resultant loss of foreign markets. However, Hollywood film production rebounded and reached its profitable peak of efficiency during the years 1943 to 1946 - a full decade and more after the rise of sound film production, now that the technical challenges of the early 30s sound era were far behind. Advances in film technology (sound recording, lighting, special effects, cinematography and use of color) meant that films were more watchable and 'modern'. Following the end of the war, Hollywood's most profitable year in the decade was 1946, with all-time highs recorded for theatre attendance.

The world was headed toward rearmament and warfare in the early to mid-1940s, and the movie industry, like every other aspect of life, responded to the national war effort by making movies, producing many war-time favorites, and having stars (and film industry employees) enlist or report for duty. The US government's Office of War Information (OWI), formed in 1942, served as an important propaganda agency during World War II, and coordinated its efforts with the film industry to record and photograph the nation's war-time activities. Films took on a more realistic rather than escapist tone, as they had done during the Depression years of the 30s.

The most popular box-office stars of the entire decade were: Humphrey Bogard, James Cagney, Clark Gable, Tyrone Power, Judy Garland, Bette Davis, Mickey Rooney, Spencer Tracy, Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Wallace Beery, Gene Autry, Gary Cooper, Greer Garson, Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant, and Ingrid Bergman



Casablanca - 1942 The most subtle of all wartime propaganda films was the romantic story of self-sacrifice and heroicism in Michael Curtiz' archetypal 40s studio film Casablanca (1942). It told about a disillusioned nightclub owner (Humphrey Bogart) and a former lover (Ingrid Bergman) separated by WWII in Paris. With a limited release in late 1942 (and wider release in 1943), the resonant film was a timeless, beloved black and white work originally based on an unproduced play entitled Everybody Comes to Rick's. The quintessential 40s film is best remembered its superior script, for piano-player Dooley Wilson's singing of As Time Goes By, and memorable lines of dialogue such as: "Round up the usual suspects" and Bogart's "Here's looking at you, kid." Its success (it was awarded Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay) made Humphrey Bogart a major star, although his character reflected American neutrality with the famous line: "I stick my neck out for nobody."

The Great Dictator - 1940 Charlie Chaplin directed and starred in his first talking picture, The Great Dictator (1940), almost five years after the release of his last silent film, Modern Times (1936). It was a war-time, anti-fascist, satirical, thinly-veiled lampooning of the Third Reich and its dictatorial leader (rare among American films) in which a Hitler-like, despotic tyrant named Adenoid Hynkel ruled the kingdom of '(P)Tomania.' Its most memorable scene was the one in which Hynkel dances and tosses around a giant world globe/balloon.


Adventure Genre

Tyrone Power gave an outstanding performance as heroic Don Diego Vega, son of a 19th century aristocrat and better known as Zorro, combating villainous Captain Esteban Pasquale (Basil Rathbone) in The Mark of Zorro (1940). And in the same year, Errol Flynn starred as swashbuckling privateer Captain Geoffrey Thorpe, better known as The Sea Hawk (1940) in director Michael Curtiz' rousing film. Errol Flynn also starred as pugnacious Irish boxer James J. Corbett, based on his autobiography The Roar of the Crowd in director Raoul Walsh's biopic Gentleman Jim (1942). In another version of Alexander Dumas' novel, Gene Kelly made a foursome as D'Artagnan, joining Athos (Van Heflin), Aramis (Robert Coote), and Porthos (Gig Young) in the Technicolored costume adventure The Three Musketeers (1948).

The Birth of Film Noir:

By World War II's end, the genre most characteristic of the era and most associated with 1940s Hollywood was film noir. The film noir 'genre' reflected the way Hollywood felt as it faced its greatest challenges during the war and post-war periods - darker and more cynical. The somber, pessimistic 'genre', literally meaning "black film," was already germinating and evolving from 30s gangster films - with dark plots, untrustworthy femme fatales, and tough, but cynical, fatalistic heroes.

The first, clearly definitive example was one of the best hard-boiled detective pictures ever made - director John Huston's remarkable debut film The Maltese Falcon (1941). [This was the third version of the film mystery.] The film about a treasure search for a black bird, adapted from Dashiell Hammett's novel, marked a turning point for actor Humphrey Bogart - it made him a star as private eye gumshoe Sam Spade. The chiaroscuro lighting of Welles' Citizen Kane (1941) by cinematographer Gregg Toland, and the Neo-realism of European film-makers also had an influence on the burgeoning stylistic art form. Film noir became prominent in the post-war era, and lasted in a classic "Golden Age" period until about 1960 - marked by Orson Welles' Touch of Evil (1958).

Comedy Films: Comedy Teams and Pairs

The famed comedy team, the Marx Brothers were to retire from the movies as a screen team in 1941 with their last film, MGM's The Big Store (1941). Laurel and Hardy's last Hollywood film was The Bullfighters (1945), capping a career stretching back to their first film, Slipping Wives (1926).

Cary Grant played the 'son of a sea cook' with lethal Brewster family aunts Abby and Martha in Frank Capra's macabre comedy Arsenic and Old Lace (1944). One of Cary Grant's most under-rated film was Mr. Lucky (1943), as a gambling casino boat owner, who redeems himself by his love for a virtuous young woman (Laraine Day). He was also miscast as a playboy sentenced by judge Myrna Loy to date her sister - an infatuated teenaged Shirley Temple in the romantic comedy The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer (1947). In the next year, he played the role of a New York adman who moves to the Connecticut countryside to do some disastrous home improvement in Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948).

Woman of the Year - 1942The first of nine films teaming Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy together was George Stevens' Woman of the Year (1942). Other comedic pairings of the watchable duo in the decade included State of the Union (1948) and their sixth collaboration together - in George Cukor's marvelous Adam's Rib (1949).

Katharine Hepburn also played the role of socialite Tracy Lord opposite hand-picked Cary Grant as estranged husband C. K. Dexter Haven in the romantic comedy The Philadelphia Story (1940) - her comeback film (from being seen as 'box-office poison') that she had originally performed on the Broadway stage.

The First Appearance of Major Cartoon Characters:

Animated films' cartoon characters Bugs Bunny, Tom and Jerry, Woody Woodpecker, Mighty Mouse, and Casper (among many others) made their film debuts in the 40s decade. The short film A Wild Hare (1940) introduced the wise-cracking, carrot-chomping Bugs Bunny, soon to be one of Warner Bros' biggest stars. Tom & Jerry, created by Hanna & Barbera, were debuted by MGM in Puss Gets the Boot (1940). (Tom was called Jasper and Jerry didn't have a name yet.) Woody Woodpecker first appeared in the cartoon Knock, Knock (1940) distributed by Universal Studios, in which he bedeviled another Lantz character Andy Panda. The next year, the popular Woody became a starring character in The Cracked Nut (1941), and began to replace the waning Oswald the Rabbit. A caped super-rodent named Mighty Mouse was introduced in the Terrytoons short The Mouse of Tomorrow (1942), noted for saying: "Here I come to save the day!" Paramount's theatrical cartoon The Friendly Ghost (1945), debuted the character of Casper. The characters of the RoadRunner ("Accelerati Incredibulis") and the Coyote ("Carnivorous Vulgaris") were debuted in the short animated film Fast & Furry-ous (1949).

The Golden Age of Disney Feature Film Animation:

Dumbo - 1941Technical achievements were many. Disney released more animated feature films in the 40s, including some of its most timeless classics. The golden decade of Disney animation was heralded by Pinocchio (1940) (with a puppet-boy who had a penchant for lying, and a cricket-narrator who sings "When You Wish Upon a Star"), and the wildly-experimental film Fantasia (1940) that blended classical music (from Leopold Stokowski's Philadelphia Orchestra) with animated sequences (including The Sorcerer's Apprentice with Mickey Mouse). It was the first film with stereophonic sound ("Fantasound"). Other Disney feature-length animations included Dumbo (1941) - about a flying, big-eared baby elephant delivered by a stork and tutored by a mouse named Timothy, and Bambi (1942) - an adaptation of Felix Salten's story about a young, beloved deer in the deep forest with friends Thumper (rabbit) and Flower (skunk), with its indelible shocking scene of the off-screen shooting of Bambi's mother.

Disney's charming live-action feature film (with animated sequences) Song of the South (1946), was based on the Uncle Remus' tall-tale stories of Brer Rabbit by Joel Chandler Harris. Although it was a commercial success, the film was criticized by the NAACP in 1946 for "the impression it gives of an idyllic master-slave relationship", but was still nominated for Best Scoring of a Musical Picture, and received an Oscar for Best Song ("Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah") - and an honorary Oscar to African-American James Baskett for his portrayal of Uncle Remus.


John Ford's Westerns:

During the 1940s, director John Ford embarked on his most prolific era with an expanded string of classic Westerns to chronicle America's pioneer past. His award-winning (and most-nominated) films were his three social dramas in the 40s, not his westerns: The Long Voyage Home (1940), an adaptation of John Steinbeck's novel about a Depression-era migrant family The Grapes of Wrath (1940) (with Ford winning the Best Director Oscar) the Best Picture-winning, Welsh mining, family-based drama How Green Was My Valley (1941) with Roddy McDowall as a young Huw in a hard-working South Wales family.

Ford then filmed a classic western about Wyatt Earp (Henry Fonda) and the OK Corral titled My Darling Clementine (1946) featuring Victor Mature as Doc Holliday. His three entries at the end of the decade, in a celebrated "Cavalry Trilogy" each with his favorite male lead (John Wayne) were: Fort Apache (1948), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), with a sole nomination and win for its cinematography (Winton Hoch), and Rio Grande (1950)

Film Musicals

In the 1940s, the panacea for escape from the horror and weariness of the war years was provided by film musicals and their elaborate production numbers, simplistic plots, and music. Post-war films reflected the desire of audiences to put the war behind them. Some of those films were:

Anchors Aweigh (1945), with Frank Sinatra's first major screen appearance and featuring Gene Kelly's dance with an animated mouse.


Arthur Freed was the driving force behind MGM studios and the growth of the musical genre in the 40s and 50s. Gene Kelly made his official screen debut as a song-and-dance man in director Busby Berkeley's (and producer Freed's) hit musical For Me and My Gal (1942), opposite Judy Garland (her first film with her name billed alone above the title in the credits).

Entertainer Al Jolson and bandleader Paul Whitehead starred as themselves in Rhapsody in Blue (1945), the life story of American composer George Gershwin (played by Robert Alda - Alan Alda's father), noted for writing An American in Paris. The musical biography Night and Day (1946) was the life account of songwriter Cole Porter (Cary Grant), and featured Mary Martin singing "My Heart Belongs to Daddy." Cornel Wilde starred as the Polish composer Frederick Chopin in Columbia Pictures' hit musical biopic A Song to Remember (1945), with Merle Oberon as George Sand and Stephen Bekass as Franz Liszt.


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