ByJohn McGinn, writer at
John McGinn

Like the 1920s and 1930s I haven’t seen a ton of films in the 1940s, but the amount of films I have seen have gone up from a few dozen to around a hundred or so.

Out of those hundred or so films I narrowed them down to about the top 13 films. In all honesty in my opinion the 1940s wasn’t a great decade for cinema, but it is understandable as World War II was going on. As far as this list goes, it was hard to choose a number one film as there were no truly spectacular films that stood for me like in the 1930s in All Quiet on the Western Front, but there were a lot of really good if not great films like Casablanca, Citizen Kane, The Devil and Daniel Webster and Red River, so here are what is in my opinion the 10 best films of the 1940s.

1. Citizen Kane

I did not watch Citizen Kane for the first time until I was 32 years old, and I think that was a good thing, as I don't think I would have appreciated what a good film Citizen Kane is, what it accomplished in film making with one of if not the first films to ignore convention in storytelling with Citizen Kane being non-linear as well as having multiple points of view. That combined with great directing by Orson Welles, an interesting story, and compelling characters make Citizen Kane the best film of the 1940s, and one of the best films of all time. For me Citizen Kane isn't the best film ever, but I'd without a doubt put it in the top 10.

Rating 10/10

2. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

The first of two Humphrey Bogart films on this list, and in my opinion the better of the two. Sierra Madre delves into the darkness and the corrupting power of greed, and the influence it has on the characters of the film that is added by one of the best actors of the time in Bogart. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is a powerful film that I recently bought on Blu-Ray and recommend to everyone.

Rating 10/10

3. Casablanca

Casablanca along with the Star Wars films is one of the most quoted or missed quoted films of all time having some of the best dialog in film with "Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine", "We'll always have Paris", "Here's looking at you, kid" to name a few, and all though "Play it again Sam" is a famous misquote from the film I still prefer it over the original line.

Rating 9.75/10

4. Twelve O'Clock High

One of the best war films ever made. Twelve O’Clock High is hauntingly accurate as the writers drew from their own experiences as WWII pilots during the war, and wonderfully displays the toll the war took on these pilots many of whom never made it home. Next there was the performance of Gregory Peck who in my opinion is one of the greatest actors to grace the screen starring in such films as The Guns of Navarone, Cape Fear, The Yearling, To Kill a Mockingbird, and in my opinion the highly underrated MacArthur. In Twelve O’Clock High Gregory Peck gave a moving performance Brigadier General Frank Savage giving viewers as Savage begins to crumble under the pressure of war and the loss of some many of his men. Peck should have been given the Oscar for best Actor over Broderick Crawford.

Rating 9.75/10

5. The Devil and Daniel Webster

The Devil and Daniel Webster is another film I hadn't seen till about four or five years ago, and I had no idea that a Halloween Simpsons episode was based off the film. There are many reasons I love The Devil and Daniel Webster is the great and at the time original premise in that Jabez Stone sells his soul to the devil, and attempts to get out of the deal by enlisting the help of a lawyer Daniel Webster going to trial for the mans soul.

Rating 9.5/10

6. They Were Expendable

One of three John Wayne films on this list, and that’s funny since I am not a huge fan of Wayne and think he’s an overrated actor, but even with that said I’m not denying that Wayne didn’t have his moments or wasn’t in good if not great films with They Were Expendable and Red River being two of his best.

Rating 8.75/10

7. Red River

Red River is no where near the best Western, but what makes Red River so good is the friendship/father-son relationship between Thomas Dunson (John Wayne) and Matthew Garth (Montgomery Clift), and the conflict that springs from it and their desperate cattle drive.

Rating 8.5/10

8. All the Kings Men

Although director Robert Rossen's film adaption of Robert Penn Warren's novel than Sean Penn's horrible All the Kings Men film Rossen's film is far from perfect. I think the biggest criticism I have of the film is the acting as it was decent, but nothing more and Broderick Crawford shouldn't have been the star or a leading actor in Hollywood. Also there is no way All the Kings Men should have beaten 12 O'Clock High for Best Picture or Best Actor at the Academy Awards.

Rating: 8.5/10

9. Fort Apache

There isn't a lot I can say about Fort Apache. The film is a pretty good western/war film with some nicely filmed action sequences, but nothing that blew me away. I'm sure if I see more 1940s films than I have now I will remove Fort Apache from this list along with the next film. One of the only memorable things of the film is Ford's favorable portrayal of Native Americans, which was rare in Hollywood at the time.

Rating 8.25/10

10. Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo

The film is based on Doolittle Raid that took place over Tokyo just a few months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo is a good patriotic war films as most films were during World War II, but nothing outstanding, and the film is far from being a great war film.

Rating: 8.25/10


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