Why watch movies from the 1940s? First, Hollywood’s golden age reached its peak during this decade. The eight largest studios (Warner, MGM, RKO Radio, Fox, United Artists, Paramount, Universal and Columbia) controlled over 90% of film production and distribution. The group released at least one film per week, including the classics Cidadão Kane (1941), Casablanca (1942) and A Felicidade não se Compra (1946).
Across the ocean, Italy made history with Rome, Open City (1945) and Bicycle Thieves (1948). It should be remembered that the period is marked by World War II, however, 95% of films made in the United States during the decade were unrelated to the theme, according to the online encyclopedia Cengage. The big exception is The Great Dictator (1940) by Charles Chaplin, even before the United States entered the fray in 1941.
Another symbol of the era is film noir, a genre based on mystery and dark tones. The style became popular, and also brought to the screen the heroic role of the detective, already famous among readers of novels of previous decades. The classics presented in this list correspond to the genre of suspense, marked their time and delighted viewers even 80 years later. After all, observing the past is always a great way to understand the cinematic language of the present.
Rebecca, the unforgettable woman (1940)
Available in Looke
Obviously, Alfred Hitchcock’s original work is better than Ben Wheatley’s remake, Rebecca (2020), released by Netflix. Without wanting to compare the directors, if you like mystery and twist, I recommend the second and third feature films from Wheatley: Kill List (2011) and Tourists (2012). The adaptation of the novel Daphné Du Maurier must be seen in the 1940 version, with Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier. The film’s initial plot already has a dark tension in the air, something removed from recent production, that permeates the entire Winter bride and groom relationship. Tormented by the ghost of Mr. Winter’s ex-wife, young Mrs. Winter lives under the veiled threat of the halls of the mansion, of the employees and even of her own husband. The main character does not have a face, but his presence is striking and his death is controversial.
Macabre Relic (1941)
Available on Vimeo
Cinematically, Relic Macabra is an important step in making Humphrey Bogart (Casablanca) a Hollywood star and being John Huston’s first director. However, the story of film noir is complex and complicated. The plot takes several turns with a huge amount of characters and collateral issues. The chance to understand the movie is to focus on Sam Spade (Bogart), a super confident and selfish detective, with a big smile but arid. Another great plot game is the battle of intelligence between Spade and femme fatale Brigid (Mary Astor). The work won three Oscar nominations, including Best Screenplay for John Huston’s Rocky Tale.
Available at Petra Bela Artes à La Carte
In the best style of Agatha Christie, whodunit (from the English contraction “who [has] fact ”- who did it), Laura, from Otto Preminger (Anatomy of a Crime), keeps her conundrum even after a twist in the middle of the plot. The main character, played by the charming Gene Tierney, is a young publicity manager, who was murdered on the doorstep of his apartment. Charming, intelligent and successful, Laura caught the attention of several suitors, but she was engaged to playboy Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price) and was friends with self-centered columnist Waldo Lydecker, played unusually by Clifton Webb. Between intrigue and conflict, detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) falls in love with the fantastic image of the victim. Oscar winner for Best Cinematography, Laura is timeless and fascinates viewers of all generations.
Mr. Verdoux (1947)
Available on Telecine Play
Directed, written and performed by Charles Chaplin, Monsieur Verdoux is more of a criminal comedy than a suspense, however, accompanying Verdoux’s choices and hoaxes is a carousel of emotions. The film is based on the real French serial killer Henri Landru. In the plot, Verdoux is a former bankrupt bank employee who marries and kills women for money. For him, wealthy wives were businesses worth exploring. In other words, the character does on a smaller scale what was done by dictators around the world: people are not treated as human beings, but only as economic gain. It sounds brutal and it really is, but Chaplin, as always, manages to get his point across in comedy. Keep in mind that the film is set in the interwar period and is released after WWII.
Devilish Party (1948)
Available in Looke
The master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock, opens and closes our list. Best known for its sequential shooting technique, Diabetic Feast has a simple plot enriched by the brilliance of the director and his actors. The plot follows young friends Brandon (John Dall) and Philip (Farley Granger) who are considered superior and adventurous. They decide to murder colleague David Kentley (Dick Hogan) and place the corpse in a safe, around which, at a party with the victim’s family and friends, eats and talks. When the theme of the “perfect murder” is raised during the event, former professor Rupert (James Stewart) begins to suspect that his theories may have been turned into a brutal crime. The suspense is not from the viewer, but from all the characters on the scene and accompanying them in this story is a cinematic delight.
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