1944 Ten Best Movies


The latter half of the 1940s is considered the meat of the film noir era: the returning veterans, postwar anxieties, new man-woman tensions. But my 1944 list shows the first boomlet of noir taking over the top spots and setting the tone for the movies that would follow during the decade. Sort of hard to pick a winner choosing among Laura, Double Indemnity, and The Woman in the Window, so I can only say that Laura seems the most flawlessly realized of the trio, The Woman in the Window the most authoritative, and Double Indemnity the most iconic. But if Laura deserves the edge for any single thing, it’s the character of Waldo Lydecker, that snobby columnist gloriously portrayed by Clifton Webb – one of the automatic invitees to the “best movie characters at a dinner party” event.

It’s a strong year at the top. Preston Sturges had his two small-town pictures, both starring Eddie Bracken, as the culmination of his great early-40s run; and while The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek is a hilarious alarm clock of fun, Hail the Conquering Hero is something finer, a bittersweet slice of Americana and possibly Sturges’ best film. You’ve also got that Powell-Pressburger curio, A Canterbury Tale, and Meet Me in St. Louis, with arguably the best of Judy Garland.

I am in awe of Ivan the Terrible, Part I, which seems to me a complete example of pure cinema, in the way shapes and shadows and forms come together to tell a story; it could almost be an abstract work of art, except that it does tell a story. (Also glad to note that it made the Medved brothers’ list of the “Fifty Worst Films of All Time,” that early indicator of Medvedian vacuity.) And To Have and Have Not is a prime example of a Howard Hawks project that looks less like a movie than a party thrown by Hawks for some of his friends. The best movies of 1944:

1. Laura (Otto Preminger)

2. Double Indemnity (Billy Wilder)

3. The Woman in the Window (Fritz Lang)

4. Hail the Conquering Hero (Preston Sturges)

5. Ivan the Terrible, Part I (Sergei Eisenstein)

6. A Canterbury Tale (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger)

7. Meet Me in St. Louis (Vincente Minnelli)

8. The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (Preston Sturges)

9. To Have and Have Not (Howard Hawks)

10. Phantom Lady (Robert Siodmak)

Coming close: Going My Way, a wonderful look at personality and behavior; The Ministry of Fear, another Fritz Lang goodie; David Lean and Noel Coward’s This Happy Breed; that lovely ghost story The Uninvited; and Hitchcock’s Lifeboat. Interesting year for the zero-budget fringies: consider Edgar Ulmer’s Bluebeard, William Castle’s When Strangers Marry, Val Lewton’s Curse of the Cat People, and a stark, not entirely competent but folklorishly powerful morality tale for the black-theater circuit, Spencer Williams’ Go Down, Moses!

3 Responses

  1. Canterbury Tale only #6?!

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