1943 Ten Best Movies

Here’s a year that might have gone a few different ways, Number One-wise. The top spot could have been Day of Wrath, a magisterial, overwhelming work; it could have been The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, as nimble and insightful a movie as ever sustained itself over 163 delicious minutes. But 1943 saw Alfred Hitchcock really on his game, and in Shadow of a Doubt Hitchcock hit a perfect blend of the sinister and the humorous.

shadow1Neither the genre appeal nor the crafty comedy of Shadow of a Doubt should disguise the incisive look at how a family operates and how a small town lives and breathes. Hitchcock (and the writing team that included Thornton Wilder, Sally Benson, and Frau Hitchcock) sinks into this in an unusually complicated way; the warm presences of Joseph Cotten and Teresa Wright have a lot to do with the movie’s power as well.

At the time, Hollywood was missing some of its top talent, but Val Lewton’s low-budget unit (with #4 and # 8 on the list) helped pick up the slack, and European emigres were around to fill the ranks with brilliance. I love Fritz Lang’s Hangmen Also Die!, for instance, a film that serves a righteously propagandistic purpose but also delivers Lang’s particular world view and his grid-like dividing of spaces and places. And in Italy, Luchino Visconti made a rather remarkable debut by shooting an unauthorized adaptation of The Postman Always Rings Twice, by James M. Cain. The ten best of 1943:

1. Shadow of a Doubt (Alfred Hitchcock)

2. Day of Wrath (Carl Theodor Dreyer)

3. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger)

4. I Walked with a Zombie (Jacques Tourneur)

5. Ossessione (Luchino Visconti)

6. Hangmen Also Die! (Fritz Lang)

7. The More the Merrier (George Stevens)

8. The Seventh Victim (Mark Robson)

9. Air Force (Howard Hawks)

10. Heaven Can Wait (Ernst Lubitsch)

A pretty dark year; even the Lubitsch comedy is about going to Hell. As for The More the Merrier, it’s a movie that should be cited more often when people invoke the best comedies of the era, and a great example of how comedy can thrive under rigorous direction. Just  missing the list are Clouzot’s fearsome Le Corbeau, and Billy Wilder’s Five Graves to Cairo, which is one of those “minor” Wilders that sometime seem more valuable than the majors (not to be confused with The Major and the Minor, which came out a year earlier).

Next week: 1982.