2
Apr
2010
Feature: Jordan's Movie Quest
Jordan's Movie Quest: The Year 1940
Jordan
After my journey through the last decade in film, it seemed only right to take a trip through a much more innocent time in Hollywood: the 1940's. Due to a busy schedule and a large number of movies to work my way through, it's taken me several months to get through the first year of this decade, but I made it through, and here are my findings for my top ten movies of 1940:

10. Road to Singapore-The first installment in Bob Hope and Bing Crosby's iconic "Road To"¦" series finds Josh Mallon V (Crosby) and his navy buddy Ace Lannigan (Hope) on the run from Josh's overbearing father (Charles Coburn) and high-society fiancé (Judith Barrett) in the southeast. Along their adventures, they meet, and both fall in love with Mima (series co-star Dorothy Lamour) and try to get rich, or at least make ends meet through a variety of scams. As their rivalry over Mima builds, and Josh's father works to track him down, the two become involved in various misadventures, including trying to sell a spot-remover that disintegrates clothing, and getting into more than a few barroom brawls. Filled with plenty of Crosby songs and the quick banter that made the series famous, Road to Singapore is a solid start to what would become one of the longest comedy franchises in history.

9. Kitty Foyle- When Mark Eisen (James Craig), a young doctor, proposes to her, and her ex-lover Wyn Strafford (Dennis Morgan) reappears asking her to run away with him, Kitty Foyle (Ginger Rogers, in an Oscar winning performance) is forced to look back on her life and make a decision that will alter the rest of it. Reminiscing about her days as a lower-class working girl in Philadelphia, and her star-crossed romance with Wyn, a socialite whose family won't accept their engagement, Kitty examines the difficulties imposed by her class and her gender in turn of the century America. At once a melodramatic romance and an examination of classism and sexism, Kitty Foyle packs an added punch from Roger's excellent performance.

8. The Thief of Bagdad- Ahmad (John Justin), the prince of Bagdad is convinced by his evil Grand Vizier Jaffar (Conrad Veidt) to go out among his people to experience life as a pauper. Almost immediately arrested, he is broken free by a young pickpocket named Abu (Sabu, in his iconic role). The two then embark on an adventure to regain Ahmad's throne, which takes them from the court of a beautiful Princess (June Duprez) to the slave trades, from the stormy seas, to a temple atop the highest mountain in the world. Packing in flying horses, swordfights, sea battles, a magic carpet, and the occasional djinn, The Thief of Bagdad utilizes cutting edge technology for the period (the film won Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, and Best Special Effects) to present an epic whose influence is felt to this day (does the plot sound at all familiar to a certain Disney movie from the "˜90s? That's because it is).

7. My Favorite Wife- Seven years after a shipwreck that left his wife missing, Nick Arden (Cary Grant) has her declared legally dead to facilitate his remarriage to Bianca (Gail Patrick). Before his new marriage can be consummated, however, his first wife (Irene Dunne) returns from the island where she has spent the last seven years shipwrecked alone with Stephen Burkett (Randolph Scott). When Nick discovers his first wife is alive, he is thrown into a comedy of errors and mistaken identities as he tries to reconcile the life he once had with the one he has since made for himself. Meanwhile, Ellen pretends to be a visiting friend and wreaks havoc on the fledgling new marriage to hilarious results. The chemistry between Grant and Dunne, and their constant banter over an admittedly complex situation makes My Favorite Wife a winning comedy about the bonds that tie us, and how far we are willing to go not to offend.

6. The Great Dictator-Over a year before the attack on Pearl Harbor that brought America into World War II, Charlie Chaplin wrote, directed, produced, and played dual roles in The Great Dictator, a blistering satire of totalitarianism, anti-Semitism, and the leadership of Adolf Hitler. The film opens during World War I, where a Jewish barber (Chaplin) fights for the fictional nation of Tomania, blundering through the trenches, and into a dogfight before crashing and learning that his beloved country has lost the war. Twenty years later, Adenoid Hynkel (also Chaplin) is now the ruthless dictator of Tomania who aims to persecute Jews across the land, with the help of Minister of the Interior Garbitsch (Henry Daniell) and Minister of War Herring (Billy Gilbert), along with a rival dictator Benzino Napaloni (Jack Oakie, in an excellent parody of Mussolini). Meanwhile, the barber is released from a hospital where he has suffered amnesia for the past two decades, and quickly meets a Jewish resistance fighter in Hannah (Paulette Goddard). Featuring some of Chaplin's classic bits, like a scene in which the barber shaves a customer to Brahm's "Hungarian Dance No. 5," and one in which Hynkel ballet dances with an inflatable globe, The Great Dictator was not only Chaplin's first "talking picture," it was also one of the few films of the era to take aim at the injustice going on in Europe.

5. The Philadelphia Story- Wealthy Philadelphia socialite Tracy Lord (Katherine Hepburn) divorced her childhood sweetheart C.K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant) because of his alcoholism. Years later, she prepares to remarry, this time to newly rich "man of the people" George Kittredge (John Howard). In a bid to win back Tracy, Dexter agrees to smuggle Macaulay "Mike" Connor (James Stewart, who won Best Actor for his performance) and his photographer Liz (Ruth Hussey) into the wedding ceremonies. As the weekend progresses, Mike and Dexter vie for Tracy's affections as Liz admits her attraction to Mike and George feels increasingly left out of his own wedding. Directed by George Cukor, the film also won Best Adapted Screenplay for its classic story of a love triangle and the woman at its center who still needs to decide who she really is, and what she wants to become.

4. The Foreign Correspondent- The second film Alfred Hitchcock made in America, and the second to be nominated for Best Picture in 1940 (for the other, see #2), Foreign Correspondent tells the story of intrepid reporter Johnny Jones (Joel McCrea) who is sent to Europe under the pseudonym Huntley Haverstock to report on the growing tensions during the outbreak of World War II. Haverstock is quickly drawn into intrigue when he witnesses the assassination of Dutch diplomat Van Meer (Albert Basserman). In hot pursuit of the assassin's getawar car, Haverstock draws Carol (Laraine Day), the daughter of a politician, and fellow reporter Scott ffolliott (George Saunders) who refuses to capitalize his last name into his pursuit. When he discovers that Van Meer is still alive, he sets out to discover the plot behind this complex set of circumstances, and is drawn ever deeper into suspicion, intrigue, and paranoia. Fraught with the kind of tension only Hitchcock can produce, Foreign Correspondent is thrilling, thought provoking, blackly comedic, and potentially even tragic in its examination of espionage, political corruption, and the dangers of inaction.

3. Rebecca-Alfred Hitchcock's American debut, and the only time he ever won Best Picture, Rebecca tells the story of a young woman (Joan Fontaine, who got a Best Actress nomination for her performance ) who works as a companion to an elderly woman until she meets and quickly falls in love with Maximilian De Winter (Laurence Olivier, nominated for Best Actor himself) and the two decide to elope. De Winter whisks his new bride back to his country estate Manderlay, where she learns of his recently deceased wife Rebecca from the distant, ominous housekeeper Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson, who was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her terrifying performance). The new Mrs. De Winter soon finds herself embroiled in psychological warfare with Mrs. Danvers and constantly haunted by the continued presence of Rebecca in the house, and in the minds of its occupants. Thrilling, complex, filled with foreboding and excellently acted, Rebecca is a chilling meditation on the effects of lost love, the dangers of repression, and how the effects of one person can live on far after they are dead.

2. His Girl Friday-Walter Burns (Cary Grant, who was a very busy man in 1940) is a hard-boiled newspaper man who learns his ex-wife and former ace reporter Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell) intends to get married to Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy) and leave the business forever. Never one to lose a good reporter (or a good woman) Walter schemes to keep Hildy around by continuously getting Bruce arrested on trumped up charges and embroiling her in an unfolding story about the execution of a convicted murderer (character actor John Qualen, who was equally busy in 1940). Filled with endless rapid-fire banter, quick exchanges, a reporter's hunger for a great story and a few excellent sight-gags, His Girl Friday is an enormously entertaining romp through a busy day in the lives of two top-of-their-game schemers who happen to make their living's reporting on the news, and happen to have a romantic history that doesn't seem ready to die.

1.The Grapes of Wrath-Director John Ford (who won best Director for the film) adapts John Steinbeck's classic novel, which tells the story of the Joad family's move from the dustbowl of Oklahoma to California in search of a way to make a living during the great depression. Tom Joad (Henry Fonda, who was nominated for Best Actor for his compelling performance) is released from prison into a world that is falling apart. His family has been reduced to poverty and kicked off their land, so he joins them in their quest for employment and a better life for themselves. As the family encounters hardship after hardship, Ma Joad ( Jane Darwell, who won a much deserved Best Supporting Actress Oscar for perhaps the best performance of 1940) keeps her hard-won optimism as Tom tried to avoid getting into trouble and tries to find a place where his family can earn a living wage for a hard day's work. Stark, bleak, and depressing even as it remains more hopeful than its source material, The Grapes of Wrath is a stirring examination of the perseverance of the human spirit, the strength of the family unit, the inequities inherent to capitalism (especially during the Depression) and the will of human beings to soldier on no matter how hopeless their situation gets.
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