1941 Ten Best Movies

I am not exactly a teacher but have have taught college classes and courses over the years. And I can tell you that there’s something special about the week when you come to actually teaching Citizen Kane; you’re walking toward the classroom and you’re thinking, here we go, mano a mano with the big kahuna, time to scale the mountain, let’s head into the labyrinth, and other such phrases. Of course there are other movies that are great to teach, but we’ve gotten used to the idea that Kane is the “Stairway to Heaven” of the movie polls, and thus represents an Everest that any film critic worth his/her salt must attempt. (Apologies now to the metaphor police.) Teaching it was fantastic.

The Best Picture Oscar that year went to How Green Was My Valley, which makes it probably the greatest movie ever to unjustly win Best Picture over a worthier film. Meanwhile, Preston Sturges contributes two classics, The Strawberry Blonde is a splendid Cagney picture that captures the flavor of director Raoul Walsh, and Hitchcock comes through with a very sinister film that isn’t mentioned enough among his best. And have you ever seen H.M. Pulham, Esq.? A lovely picture of a middle-aged success (played by Robert Young, who, oddly enough, is just exactly right) sifting through his memories and wondering whether he took the wrong road. King Vidor directed it, impeccably, and its reputation should be raised. Even if it comes in a year when one movie tends to eclipse the others. The ten best of 1941:

1. Citizen Kane (Orson Welles)

2. How Green Was My Valley (John Ford)

3. The Maltese Falcon (John Huston)

4. Suspicion (Alfred Hitchcock)

5. 49th Parallel (Michael Powell)

6. Sullivan’s Travels (Preston Sturges)

7. The Strawberry Blonde (Raoul Walsh)

8. H.M. Pulham, Esq. (King Vidor)

9. Man Hunt (Fritz Lang)

10. The Lady Eve (Preston Sturges)

It’s a drag to leave off The Shanghai Gesture, a mad enterprise from Josef von Sternberg in his post-Dietrich phase. Also in the crowd: Jean Renoir’s Swamp Water, and two nifty films written by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett: Ball of Fire (Howard Hawks directed) and Hold Back the Dawn (Mitchell Leisen). I like Meet John Doe, and Dumbo, and High Sierra; in the next tier down, I hold a soft spot for Universal’s classy-looking attempt to get the horrors going again, The Wolf Man, which looks pretty good compared to the recent remake; and Road to Zanzibar is one of the least politically correct of the Hope-Crosby “Road” movies, but it does have some funny patter.  At the zero-budget level, The Blood of Jesus, directed by Spencer Williams, Jr., is a melodrama from the African-American film circuit, and its low-budget rawness makes it seem like a blues song recorded in a tin shed – and it literally has the devil showing up at the crossroads.

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One Response

  1. Great year. “The Lady Eve” is one of my very favorite screwball comedies, and it’s not even the only great 1941 comedy with “Eve” in the title. “It Started With Eve,” with Deanna Durbin and Charles Laughton, is pure joy. I don’t know why it’s not better known today. I can only guess it’s because Durbin is an old-fashioned star and director Henry Koster is not really considered an auteur today. But the film, which is hilarious, remarkably warm, and unfailingly human, deserves to be better seen.

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