The Forties were sort of a schizophrenic decade for Hollywood movies in a lot of ways. About half of the films made were super-depressing, super-serious films along the lines of "we're in a war how could anything ever be fun ever again," or, "we've just been through a war how could anything ever be fun ever again". And the other half of the films were ridiculous escapist stuff - intentionally and bull-headedly ignoring everything that was going on around them, reminiscent of John Cleese screaming, "Don't mention the war!"
Actually, now that I think about it, that's pretty much every decade of Hollywood movies. About equal parts sanctimonious b.s. and escapist pap.
Now to the best of them!
10. The Third Man (1949). Carol Reed directed what may well be Orson Welles' best performance. Joseph Cotten doesn't do to badly either. My only problem with the film is how much of a dumbass Cotten's character is. What, he couldn't fake his way through a literary discussion of his own books? What a dumbass!
9. Unfaithfully Yours (1948). For my money, this is the fastest and funniest of all of Preston Sturges' comedies. Generally I find Rex Harrison insufferable, but here his mannered jerkishness is comic gold.
8. Easter Parade (1948). To atone for my grievous sin of not including any Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers movies in my "best of the thirties" list, I offer Easter Parade, which some people consider "lesser" Astaire. Those people are stupid-heads.
7. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948). John Huston directs Humphrey Bogart and Walter Huston going crazy in the desert. The harshness of untamed America is on display here better than in any mere Western I've ever seen.
6. Great Expectations (1946). Before David Lean became a director, he was an editor, and in his Great Expectations, it shows. His manipulation of the medium for maximum effect is, quite frankly, extraordinary.
5. Beauty and the Beast (1946). Jean Cocteu's dreamlike fantasy is the definitive screen version of the oft-told story. The ending still feels like a cop-out, but at least it's rushed.
4. To Have and Have Not (1944). Howard Hawks riffing on Casablanca, giving Bogie almost exactly the same role, but giving the Ingrid Bergman role to Lauren Bacall. Bacall does it better than Bergman ever could.
3. Double Indemnity (1944). Before Billy Wilder became a director of decent-but-slow fifties comedies, he was one of the most interesting, experimental guys in Hollywood. This quintissential film noir is, for my money, the best crime movie ever made.
2. Dumbo (1941). The best Disney movie. Short, lean, and packing an emotional wallop, this movie doesn't contain any of the tedious flab that drags down other Disney films of the forties.
1. His Girl Friday (1940). What can I say? I have an undying love for Howard Hawks, and undying love for Cary Grant, and an undying love for this movie. And boy, can Rosalind Russell talk. I could listen to that all day.