1949 Ten Best Movies

Noir is everywhere in 1949’s movies: from the expected sources, such as the American crime picture, but also defining style in unlikely matches such as French Revolution films, Ayn Rand adaptations, and British comedies. A nervous year, evidently, as the #1 movie proves.

thirdman3At times The Third Man can look put-on, just a tad too baroque. And yet even this sense fits the movie’s nerve-jangled mood, like the brittle sound of the zither suddenly intruding on a scene. Directed by Carol Reed and written by Graham Greene, The Third Man (along with its other attractions) has that weathervane quality, a movie that perfectly captures its moment; release it two years later and it isn’t quite the same film, timeless though it may be. And it’s one of those films that manage to get better and better as it goes along, topping itself consistently (with Orson Welles receiving perhaps the greatest third-act actor’s entrance in film history) until it reaches its just-right conclusion.

The Third Man‘s weathervane attributes give it the edge over some sublime runners-up, including melancholy offerings from a pair of directors who had achieved Master status, John Ford’s She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and Yasujiro Ozu’s Late Spring. I also want to make the case for a filmmaker whose promising career was derailed by booze and, perhaps, the limitations of the British film business: Robert Hamer is known for his 1949 classic Kind Hearts and Coronets, a deservedly famous black comedy and an Alec Guinness tour-de-force. His other film of that year, The Spider and the Fly, is even better, a delicately observed variation on the old Gentleman Criminal Versus Ace Detective scenario, except this one’s not so much “versus” as a case of mutual attraction. Check it out. And see the ten best movies of 1949:

1. The Third Man (Carol Reed)

2. She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (John Ford)

3. Late Spring (Yasujiro Ozu)

4. The Spider and the Fly (Robert Hamer)

5. The Reckless Moment (Max Ophuls)

6. White Heat (Raoul Walsh)

7. The Black Book (aka Reign of Terror) (Anthony Mann)

8. The Fountainhead (King Vidor)

9. Stray Dog (Akira Kurosawa)

10. A Letter to Three Wives (Joseph L. Mankiewicz)

The Black Book is the French Revolution noir, The Fountainhead – a definitively crazed and delirious movie – is the Ayn Rand. The next rung of bona fide film noirs includes Mann’s unusual Border Incident, Robert Siodmak’s Criss Cross, and Jules Dassin’s dandy Thieves’ Highway. There’s some noirish tinge to Vincente Minnelli’s film of Madame Bovary, and you could even make a case for Adam’s Rib being a noir Tracy-Hepburn comedy. Along with Kind Hearts, the strong year in Brit-film brings up Powell and Pressburger’s Small Back Room, David Lean’s Passionate Friends, and one of Hitchcock’s weird problem pictures, Under Capricorn. Look at those movies. Everybody’s nervous.

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