The B+ Movie Guide: Part VIII

In May of 2012, Colin said I should make a list of movies that need to be seen, because he felt there were huge gaps in what he’d seen, and wanted something to do. The idea was that I’d make up a list, as “homework” for him, and he’d use that as things to watch.

So we came up with a giant list of 500 movies that worked, and Colin went about finishing it. And now that it’s finished, we’re gonna write it up. Because you don’t watch a giant list of movies without documenting that you did it.

We’re going through the entire list, little by little, for posterity’s sake. And here’s the next set:


Casablanca (1942)


You may have heard of it. (1)


This goes on my top five. I don’t care how obvious that sounds. There’s a reason it’s that obvious. If you’ve never seen this movie, we don’t have anything to talk about until you do.

Cat People (1942)


Film student stuff. But it’s actually a really great horror movie. Val Lewton is a big name in the genre, and this movie introduced a lot of concepts that would be essential to the genre for decades (this movie led to the “bus” technique). Plus, it’s about a person who turns into a cat. I’m trying to be judicious to all genres, and this is a classic of the horror genre. (3)


Horror isn’t really my thing, to be honest. Early horror, yes. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Phantom of the Opera and stuff like that. Once the 40s roll around, it’s a different ball game. Way more modern, way less abstract, and the setup is so much more…normal. It starts out as a pretty standard boy-meets-girl scenario. Girl just happens to come from an Eastern European community of vindictive women who turn into large cats and murder people. The stalking scenes are terrifying, especially because they don’t really have the effects to really show everything. Watching It Follows this year, I couldn’t help but to be reminded of the pool scene from Cat People

The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)


The lost Welles film. They got him out of the country on some bullshit and recut the film while he was gone. Robert Wise recut it (and Welles never spoke to him again). The result is a very good film, and we’ll never know just how great it might have been if Welles got to put his version out there. It’s still a very important film, historically, and goes great with a lecture on studios vs. filmmakers, and Orson Welles in general. (3)


These stories that cover a family’s fortunes for years and years are relics these days. Stuff like this, or Giant, or How the West was Won — they don’t get made anymore. I’m not sure what it is about these families of the Midwestern aristocracy, but they’re painful to watch at the turn of the century. All I can say is, you enjoy watching Joseph Cotten rise with the nation and Tim Holt fall with his family. And through all of it, there’s Agnes Moorehead, giving the best performance of all of them.

Now, Voyager (1942)


Classic. Lot of things about this one. “Don’t ask for the moon, we have the stars.” A great Bette Davis melodrama. I don’t usually love those, but this one is quite good. And there’s a scene from this movie (I won’t give it away. You’ll know it when you see it) that was blatantly stolen in Titanic. I’m not kidding. It’s actually to the point where you see it and go, “Oh my god.” Because one, they stole it, and because two, “Oh my god, they actually did that scene in 1942.” But this is great. A real cinematic classic. (3)


Ah, yes. The vehicular turducken of love-making. Bette Davis, yes. Paul Henreid, yes. But let me say, if I haven’t already, that I’m going to get around to watching everything that Claude Rains was ever in. The man is a revelation. He wasn’t even the lead in this, and he’s still what I remember most. This movie’s also funny because it’s like She’s All That or The Princess Diaries in that they take a starlet and frump her up for the beginning of the movie to make her eventual makeover seem incredible. But naturally, nobody’s really surprised when Bette Davis ends up looking like…Bette Davis. Still, a great movie that doesn’t really end the way you would expect it to now.

The Pride of the Yankees (1942)


“Today, I consider myself, the luckiest man on the face of the earth.” Perfection. (2)


This, as I mentioned yesterday, is the movie that you should be watching if you have to choose only one early 40s Gary Cooper biopic. I have no idea under what circumstances you’d be forced to make that choice, but now you know the answer. I’m not much of a baseball fan and I don’t particularly love the Yankees even when it comes to baseball, but it’s a great story about a different era and one of the greatest personalities of the day. The story is tragic, and Gary Cooper is a good fit. He always strikes me as the kind of actor who plays the character saying, “Well shucks, I’m just a regular kinda fella. I’m glad you like me (or sorry you don’t like me), but I’m just going to keep on doing things the way I’ve always done.” You know, humble to a fault, despite incredible achievements and circumstances. Sergeant York and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town were both kind of like that, but this is where I enjoyed it most.

Random Harvest - 32

Random Harvest (1942)


This is one of those movies — you won’t think much about it going in, but you’re gonna love it. I promise you’re gonna love it. People don’t think of this as being perfect, but it is. This is one of those movies that’ll surprise a lot of people who don’t know about it. It’s arguably melodrama, but man, is it good. Not quite a hidden gem, since it’s out there, and people know how good this is, but definitely one of the more underrated Hollywood classics. It can definitely be out there more. (2)


There are very few movies that make me want to yell at characters onscreen, and even fewer that prompt me to actually do so. This is one of those that had me saying things like, “No, look at the suitcase again!” and, “It’s HER, you idiot! Just REMEMBER!” The best part about this movie and why it sucks you in is that the main characters are so incredibly close to being deliriously happy for almost the entire movie, if only one little thing here or there would go right. In most movies, you’re left in the dark about what it’s going to take to make someone happy or how they need to go about getting it, but Now Voyager lays everything out for the main characters and you have to watch them fumble. It becomes frustrating to watch, but it builds the suspense to a breaking point where even the slightest positive outcome in the plot makes you feel like you’ve personally just won the lottery. I wasn’t expecting this at all and had no idea what it was going in — Mike told me to just put it on and shut up. You will not be disappointed by this movie.

Yankee Doodle Dandy - 98

Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)


James Cagney could do it all, man. He’s so perfect here. It’s impossible to not love James Cagney in this. Impossible. A real classic. (2)


If you like Jimmy Cagney and happiness, this is probably a good bet for you. It’s another one of those lifelong biopics like Pride of the Yankees and Sergeant York, only this one’s full of song and dance numbers because it’s the life of George M. Cohan, the composer. If the name of the movie doesn’t give it away, this was a total morale picture for the war effort, covering Cohan’s whole life and repertoire of patriotic songs and evergreen standards like “Yankee Doodle Boy,” “Give My Regards to Broadway,” “Grand Old Flag,” and “Over There.” Cagney also danced like a champ. The end of the movie has him talking to Roosevelt, who you only see from behind (pretty much just Larry David as Steinbrenner), and then dancing down the steps from the White House residence out of nowhere. Wasn’t even in the script, Cagney just did it. I had no idea the guy could dance like that, but every single tap sequence in the movie is perfect, making you wonder what happened to actors who can randomly just pull that off. Cagney won Best Actor here, beating out Cooper for Pride of the Yankees and Colman for Random Harvest. So it’s a solid year that he comes out on top of, beating out Cooper — and I liked Cooper better in ’42 than I did in ’41 with Sergeant York, which he won the Oscar for. So Cagney really delivers here. The Germans turned out propaganda like Triumph of the Will…we turned out movies where Jimmy Cagney sings and tap dances. Of course we had to win the war.

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943)


Powell and Pressburger. This is probably their least “mainstream” entry on this list. Which is to say — it’s an almost three hour meditation on a man’s military experience. It’s almost like Patton in that regard. (Which is partially why I chose it for Colin.) It’s fairly essential. It looks great, for one, and it’s a really engaging movie. It’s just not gonna have as fervent a following as the other Powell and Pressburger movies on this list. (3)


The rest of the Powell and Pressburger movies on this list — go watch them if you haven’t. This is one that I enjoyed immensely, but I have to warn you that unless you’re invested and unless you love classic film, you’re probably going to decide about twenty minutes in that you have something better to do. This movie covers the life (but weirdly, not so much the death) of a British military man around the time of the Boer War to the beginning of World War II. The other male lead is Anton Walbrook, who turns up again in The Red Shoes, and has the most heartbreaking arc in this movie as the main character’s German friend. You could also call this movie the height of this filmmaking duo’s obsession with Deborah Kerr; most people think of Black Narcissus first, but she appears in three roles during this movie, all of which are central. They just couldn’t get enough of the redheads, these guys. And the same redhead in this case. It’s a great movie, but stay away unless you’re ready to watch a relatively slow-paced movie for three hours and get into it.

The More the Merrier (1943)


Fucking hilarious. Charles Coburn again. That man is an American treasure. This was remade as Cary Grant’s last movie, Walk Don’t Run. The story will be feel familiar to you. Mostly it’s about Charles Coburn, though. That man — if you’re not familiar with his work, you’re in for a real treat. He’s one of those guys that, once you know who he is, and you see him pop up in a movie, you just get happy. (3)


What’s better than a movie about a woman trying to avoid life mistakes and then making them anyway? The reason I love so many movies from the 30s is that they’re set with the Depression as a backdrop, because it was easy fodder for juicy stories that anyone could easily understand without too much background. The war is a lot like that here. This movie is about the housing shortage in D.C. during WWII and how Jean Arthur sublets half of her place to Charles Coburn, who in turn sublets half of his half to Joel McCrea. Of course, it borrows elements from movies like the Fred and Ginger musicals by making Arthur hate both of them but work it out so that she ends up married to McCrea despite her initial better judgement. There were a string of funny movies during the war years, and this is one of the better ones.

The Ox-Bow Incident - 9

The Ox-Bow Incident (1943)


A classic of the western genre. Even non-western fans will love this one, I promise you. It’s gripping drama. (2)


Before I’d even seen this movie, I used to laugh at the Woody Allen bit because it just sounded funny. We saw the movie during college for the Western film class we took (though technically, I was auditing it while filming the lectures, so I didn’t have to do the reading and got paid) and could see how major an installment it was in the genre. A lot of Westerns deal with vigilantism, but this is the only one that shows just how devastating it can be and why it isn’t as glorious as American society often treats it. This is Wellman’s fourth appearance on the list, after WingsThe Public Enemy, and A Star is Born — this is the movie that leaves probably the greatest impression in terms of message.

A posse captures three men suspected of murder and decides to hang them. A few of the members of the posse are conflicted, and only one (played by the African American actor Leigh Whipper in an incredible, uncredited performance) opposes it outright from the beginning. The three condemned men, two of whom are played by Dana Andrews and Anthony Quinn in stunning performances, are made to show us how they face their doom as the posse — including Jane Darwell in the least possibly “Ma”-esque Ma role ever — prepares to hang them. I love it because Henry Fonda and Harry Morgan (who you’ll know later as Col. Potter from the M*A*S*H TV show) are set up as the guys who don’t really like what’s going down but don’t do enough to stop it.

This is the movie that shows you peer pressure in action and puts to test the maxim that all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing. Fonda and Morgan do next to nothing and appear very imperfect, while the oft-mocked black man in their company is unflinching in his principles. Rarely does a movie provoke the kind of soul-searching that this one does, and it’s films like this that make me believe that Hollywood and its audience are capable of the sort of compassion that would protest crimes like the internment of Japanese-American citizens that was still ongoing when this film was released. There are plenty of reasons to suspect that Hollywood is a callous institution that cares little for the betterment of humanity, but I’d rather point to films like this, that illustrate the choices we strive to make as a nation in opposition to injustice, acrimony and iniquity. The movie’s 75 minutes long, folks. Give it a watch.

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Final Thoughts:


This is an interesting turn. Now we’re getting into the war years. And there are some movies here that are classics, but might not scream to people as films you need to watch. But if you look at them individually, they are.

Cat People is very much a reinvention of the horror genre, which almost disappeared in the second half of the 30s. Horror went from Dracula and Frankenstein and movies of that sort to almost a mix of horror, mystery and even proto noir. But now it’s back to the genre we recognize Ambersons is a big movie in terms of film history. Random Harvest is a forgotten masterpiece and very indicative of multiple prevalent themes of the 40s. Colonel Blimp is Powell and Pressburger. The rest make sense. There’s nothing I’d change here.

Ratings: Casablanca is clearly a 1. Ox-Bow, Yankee Doodle Dandy, Pride of the Yankees and Random Harvest are 100% 2s. Cat People is a 3, and probably Colonel Blimp is a 3. The rest can go either way. More the Merrier felt like a 3 to me, but it could be a 2. And Now Voyager the same.


Indeed, there’s nothing here worth changing. I mean, Casablanca is mandatory for anyone who didn’t wake up from a 74-year coma this week. They should honestly just make it part of the curriculum in schools, because you honestly need to have seen it more than you need to have read The Great Gatsby or The Scarlet Letter. And I say that as someone who likes both of those books.

If I have to advocate for the movies on here, I’d love to get people to watch Random Harvest, which was the unexpected masterpiece for me. But there’s also The Ox-Bow Incident, which I’d seen before the list and still want to take this opportunity to sell. It’s really worth your time.

If you want a good time, it’s The More the Merrier, and if you want to spend a bunch of time watching a lengthy, biographical history, it’s…The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. I know I’m supposed to say The Magnificent Ambersons there, but I’m really going to go with Powell and Pressburger on this. Mike mentioned that he picked it just for me, and the guy knows my tastes. I’m not sure if it’s essential for everyone, or even if everyone would be as crazy about it as I was, but I really liked it.

And now here we are, firmly in the 40s.

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More movies tomorrow.

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