15
Feb
2011
Feature: Jordan's Movie Quest
Jordan's Movie Quest: The Year 1941
Jordan
Due to the intense amount of movie watching required to complete Whose Film Is It Anyway? on a biweekly basis, my movie quest has been slowed substantially in the past year (my look at 1940 was eight months ago, which is far too slow to be a realistic pace to keep). However, I have finally completed my look at 1941. After the stellar year that was 1940, it was inevitable there would be a downturn in cinematic quality. The Year 1941 was not nearly as solid as the one before it, but it did have some solid cinematic moments, including one widely considered the greatest film of all time. So here are my top ten movies of 1941, with a blurb on each.

10. Sergeant York-Sometimes a performance is better than the movie built around it, and that is certainly the case with Sergeant York. Played by Gary Cooper in an Academy Award winning turn, Alvin York is a ne'er-do-well who turns his life around after being struck by lightning and ends up becoming a hero in World War I. A celebration of patriotism and a testament to the ability of man to improve himself, Sergeant York is carried by the stellar performance of Gary Cooper, a legend for his easy portrayals of American masculinity.

9. Road to Zanzibar-Similar in construction and execution to its predecessor, Road to Singapore, yet improved by the increased chemistry between its stars, Road to Zanzibar follows con-artist Chuck Reardon (Bing Crosby) and his sidekick Hubert "Fearless" Frazier (Bob Hope) on a trek across Africa, fleeing from one failed scheme to the next in the company of fellow con artists Julia Quimby (Una Merkel) and Donna LaTour (series co-star Dorothy Lamour). Containing the winning mix of Crosby's crooning and his quick banter and physical comedy with Hope, Road to Zanzibar's success guaranteed the continuation of the "Road to"¦" series by becoming a well-deserved hit.

8. Sullivan's Travels-A classic story of the disconnect of Hollywood and the power of laughter, the film follows comedy director John Sullivan (Joel McCrea) as he decides to make a drama about the problem of poverty, tentatively entitled O Brother Where Art Thou? (Coen fans will understand the significance of the title). When Sullivan realizes he knows nothing of poverty, he decides to hit the road as a tramp and experience the hard knock life. Accompanied by a failed actress (Veronica Lake) and tailed by a band of studio employees required to ensure his safety, Sullivan sets out to experience the real world first hand, and along the way discovers that comedy can make life livable for the truly downtrodden. Written and directed by the brilliant Preston Sturges, the film is a testament to the power of humor and of love, as hilarious as it is insightful, and a sheer joy to watch.

7. The Little Foxes-Regina Giddens (Bette Davis, in an Oscar nominated role) wants wealth and the freedom it brings, but is saddled in the early 20th century Southern culture that considers sons as the only legitimate heirs to a fortune. Because of this, her greedy brothers Benjamin (Charles Dingle) and Oscar (Carl Benton Reid) are wealthy and Regina is forced to rely on her sickly husband Horace (Herbert Marshall) for financial support. When her brothers plan to build a cotton mill, Regina will stop at nothing to ensure she benefits financially from the deal. A tour de force by Davis, The Little Foxes is a vicious, ruthless, and blackly insightful look into the nature of avarice and the consequences of ambition.

6. Suspicion-Johnnie Aysgarth (Cary Grant) charms Lina McLaidlaw (Joan Fontaine) into marrying him before she realizes he expects to live off of the generosity of her father (Sir Cedric Hardwicke). When a friend and investment partner of Johnnie's winds up dead, Lina becomes convinced that her husband murdered him and is plotting to kill her for her life insurance. A taut thriller directed by undisputed master of the craft Alfred Hitchcock, Suspicion is a tense examination of the nature of paranoia and the dangers of slowly encroaching fear.

5. High Sierra-Roy "Mad Dog" Earle (Humphrey Bogart) is released from prison and wants to go straight, though he quickly learns he has been freed at the whim of crime lord Big Mac (Donald MacBride) to lead a gang in a heist at a California casino. On his cross country trip to the site of the heist in the Sierra mountains, Roy meets and falls for the disabled Velma (Joan Leslie), a kind hearted girl who Roy thinks might be his redemption. When she refuses his offer of marriage, Roy takes up with gangster's moll Marie (Ida Lupino) and when the heist goes awry, the two go on the lam from the law. A surprisingly affecting story of a man who trying to make himself better and often failing, High Sierra is filled to the brim with noir dialogue, excellent performances, and earned emotions.

4. Penny Serenade-A frame tale centered on the reflections of Julie Adams (Irene Dunne) as she prepares to leave her husband Roger (Cary Grant, who was nominated for an Oscar for his performance), Penny Serenade follows through flashback the development and potential dissolution of the couple's relationship. From a miscarriage in Japan to the struggle to adopt, and then keep, a baby, the film follows the couple's struggle to build a life together and to keep that life from falling apart. Featuring excellent supporting performances by Edgar Buchanan and Beulah Bondi and solid direction by George Stevens, Penny Serenade is a prime example of an effective melodrama: moving but never maudlin, well acted, emotionally resonant and finally mournfully inspirational.

3. The Lady Eve-Written and Directed by screwball genius Preston Sturges, The Lady Eve follows Jean Harrington (Barbara Stanwyck in a hilarious and sexy performance), a gorgeous con artist who sets her sights on the rich but painfully shy snake expert Charles Pike (Henry Fonda) as they travel on a luxury cruise. She of course falls in love with him, but when her treachery is revealed, he leaves her and she, determined to re-enter his life, masquerades as Lady Eve Sidwich. Hysterical, complex, and perfectly executed, the film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Writing, Original Story (the '40's version of Best Original Screenplay), and is a prime example of a comedy icon at the top of his game.

2. The Maltese Falcon-Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) finds himself embroiled in an increasingly complex web of double crosses and hidden agendas when his partner (Jerome Cowan) is killed while on a seemingly routine reconaissance. At the center of the mystery seems to be a theoretically priceless statue of a falcon and everyone from the woman who hired him (Mary Astor) to the mysterious Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre) and the sinister "Fat Man" Kasper Gutman (Sydney Greenstreet, who was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his performance). Widely considered the first major film noir, The Maltese Falcon is full of the signature dialogue, characterizations, and mood that would come to represent the genre. Tense, frenetically paced, well acted and almost perfectly executed, The Maltese Falcon (which was also nominated for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay) truly is "the stuff that dreams are made of."

1. Citizen Kane-So widely acclaimed that Roger Ebert once quipped, "So, its settled: Citizen Kane is the official greatest film of all time" its almost impossible to imagine the film living up to its hype. And while I can say its unlikely Citizen Kane will end up being my favorite movie of all time, it is an incredible cinematic achievement, representing a sea change in cinema that solidified the medium as an art form. When Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles, who was nominated for Best Actor and Best Director, and won Best Writing) dies alone in his house, his last word, "Rosebud" sparks a search by Jerry Thompson (William Alland) into the past of the vastly wealthy media mogul to discover the meaning of his last words and to capture the measure of the man. Citizen Kane is a fascinating examination of a larger than life man with an even larger ego, and a look at what can be lost when one gains the world. Nominated for nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture (which it lost to the much less stellar How Green Was My Valley), Citizen Kane stands as one of the greatest films ever made, and perhaps the first movie to ever show the potential of the medium.
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