The B+ Movie Guide: The New List (Part VIII)
I gave Colin a giant list of 500 movies, and he finished it. Of course I’m gonna come up with another list.
This one is for everyone, though. Not specifically for Colin. This is raw material for everybody, should they choose, to go out and see more movies. Not all of them are essential. Most of them are just awesome. I told Colin that once he finished this list, I’d give him another one that was more fun than work. Geared toward cool stuff that he’d enjoy.
I went through and found 1,000 more movies that I think either need to be seen (leftover “essential” films) or are just really great and would be enjoyed by most who see them. Here they are:
49th Parallel (1941)
Powell and Pressburger. (Only directed by Powell, though.) A German U-Boat crashes in Canada, and the men have to make their way into the U.S. (which is still neutral at the time) in order to avoid being thrown in prison. It’s a war movie with the Germans as the focal point, and also features cameos by a lot of big actors — Laurence Olivier, Leslie Hoard, Raymond Massey, Anton Walbrook, Glynis Johns. It’s one of those movies that’s really watchable, and most people will enjoy. Plus — Powell and Pressburger. You should know by now to just trust them.
Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941)
You’ve seen a version of this story. Even if it was in the form of a cartoon when you were growing up. Other versions of this story are Heaven Can Wait with Warren Beatty and Down to Earth with Chris Rock. Trust me, you know it. The gist is — guy is just about to hit the top of his profession (here, he’s a boxer). But he randomly dies in a freak accident out of nowhere (here, it’s a plane crash). And when he gets to heaven, he argues it wasn’t really his time. He wasn’t meant to die just now. And they look at their records, and wouldn’t you know — someone fucked up. Problem is, they can’t put him back in his original body. He’s been dead and buried. So they work out a plan where they put him in a temporary body for the time being until they can find him a permanent one. And in all cases, it’s the body of a rich dude whose wife and lover were planning on bumping him off. And he becomes this guy for a while, contacts his former trainer/mentor, and falls in love with a woman he meets while being this other guy. You’ve seen the story before. All versions are great. This one has Claude Rains as Mr. Jordan, the angel who guides him through the process. It’s a great movie. All of them are great, and you should see them all.
High Sierra (1941)
Bogie. I love these proto noirs. You can see the genre taking shape. Bogie plays a dude just out of prison who is hired to rob a resort. He and his team stake out the place and plan the heist. Cornel Wilde and Arthur Kennedy are part of the crew. Ida Lupino is there. She falls in love with Bogie but he’s not in love with her. What really makes this movie great is the middle section, where Bogart fall in love with a nice woman, and you see the possibility of him leaving the criminal life behind… until everything goes wrong. It’s a great movie. An early starmaking turn by Bogart. Written by John Huston. A real classic.
How Green Was My Valley (1941)
Pretty fucking green, huh? Seriously, this is a great movie. John Ford. And this is the movie that beat Citizen Kane, so you should see it for that alone. But don’t judge it for that. The movie itself is really great. It’s about a family in a coal mining town. All the men work for the mine, and we follow them through ups and downs. It’s a classic Ford type of movie. The daughter falls in love, the father feuds with the sons over conditions at the mine — it’s a really terrific movie. All the classic Ford touches. I consider this essential.
The Little Foxes (1941)
Wiliam Wyler movie. Bette Ford melodrama. Nominated for 9 Oscars that year. This was Teresa Wright’s first movie. For those who don’t know — her first three movies: this, Mrs. Miniver and Pride of the Yankees. She was nominated for all of them, and won for Miniver. And her fourth movie was Shadow of a Doubt. Anyway, this is about a family in the south. Bette Davis is married to a sickly dude, and she despises him. And her brothers are greedy assholes. And they’re just bad people. It’s a good movie. Good actors, has a pedigree, has a lot of reasons to see it.
Love Crazy (1941)
William Powell and Myrna Loy. Screwball comedy. This movie is GREAT. They play a married couple who are madly in love. They have a very elaborate anniversary plan that involves repeating everything they did when they got engaged. Meanwhile, through a series of misunderstandings, she thinks he’s cheating on her and wants to divorce him, despite him trying to explain and the two of them clearly still loving each other. He tries to do whatever he can to prevent them from getting divorced, which includes getting himself declared legally insane. I don’t want to spoil the rest of the movie, but this one will have you laughing until you piss yourself. It’s hilarious. I’d show this to anyone, even people who don’t like movies, and expect them to enjoy this.
Man Hunt (1941)
This is one of those movies — well, here’s what it’s about. A hunter is on vacation in Germany and manages to be in the perfect position to kill Adolf Hitler. He has him in his sights… and then is caught, captured, beaten and left for dead. He manages to escape back to London, only to be pursued by a German agent who knows he is still alive. Directed by Fritz Lang, starring Walter Pidgeon, Joan Bennett and George Sanders. And John Carradine and Roddy McDowall for good measure. It’s terrific. Highly recommended.
Meet John Doe (1941)
Frank Capra. Kinda similar to Mr. Deeds. Well, kinda similar to a lot of his stuff. Barbara Stanwyck is about to be fired from her newspaper, but has to write one last column. So she writes one about a fictional John Doe who is so fed up with society that he’s gonna kill himself on Christmas Eve. And it becomes a sensation. The newspaper decides to exploit it by hiring a homeless guy (Gary Cooper) to be John Doe. And it’s got the usual cast of Capra characters. Walter Brennan, Edward Arnold, James Gleason. It’s a good movie. Not one of the top tier Capra movies (It Happened One Night, Mr. Smith, It’s a Wonder Life), but it’s good. Wholly worth your time
Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941)
One of Hitchcock’s only comedies. It’s a screwball, to boot. Carole Lombard and Robert Montgomery. It’s about a couple who learn they’re not technically married. It’s great, and honestly, it’s Hitchcock, and a screwball. There should be no reason not to see it.
Penny Serenade (1941)
Cary Grant was not a dramatic actor. That is to say, he never dabbled in drama too often. But when he did, the results were really good. This is my favorite of his dramas. It’s him and Irene Dunne. Oh, and George Stevens directed this, so you’re in the best possible hands. It starts with her about to leave him, and we flash back to what got them there. We see them meet and fall in love. And she gets pregnant while they’re living in Japan, only an earthquake happens and she loses the baby. And she finds out she can never have kids. So they move back to the states and decide to adopt. And we follow this family on their ups and their downs, and it’s just a really terrific story. Makes you wish that Cary Grant did drama just a little more often. This was one of my favorite discoveries of the Oscar Quest.
The Reluctant Dragon (1941)
I only watched this for the first time about… well, as of this posting, two months ago. It’s terrific. Robert Benchley is sent by his wife to pitch his children’s book to Walt Disney. And he gets there and ends up wandering around the Disney lot for an hour, seeing how they animate everything and make their movies. And it’s utterly fascinating. And the ultimate joke is, by the time he actually gets to Walt, they had already made his book into a movie and it’s ready to watch. It’s really good. It’s only like 75 minutes. I love these unique movies that play with narrative. This is almost a documentary. It’s really worth the watch.
Shadow of the Thin Man (1941)
There are six of these. All six will be on this list.
Hitchcock. Cary Grant. Joan Fontaine. You’ve seen this story before. They’ve recreated it in other movies, cartoons, shows. The premise is that Fontaine meets and falls in love with Cary Grant. She’s shy and plain and he’s charismatic. And she’s not totally sure why he wants to marry her, but she’s happy. But then he starts acting weird, and she suspects he’s plotting to kill her. It’s a good movie. Perhaps Grant was not the best choice for the part, given the ending, but still an engaging movie with the typical Hitchcock flourishes. I consider this solidly good Hitchcock, if not great Hitchcock. (Though solid Hitchcock is better than most other movies.)
The Strawberry Blonde (1941)
What a great movie. James Cagney, Olivia de Havilland, Rita Hayworth, Jack Carson. Cagney and Carson are both in love with Rita Hayworth, but Carson gets her. So Cagney marries de Havilland and regrets his decision for most of the movie. But it turns into a sweet romance by the end.
They Died With Their Boots on (1941)
Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland. Flynn is playing Custer. Fiction as shit, but that only serves to make it more entertaining. We follow Custer from West Point all the way to Little Big Horn. Arthur Kennedy is in it, Gene Lockhart, Anthony Quinn, Syney Greenstreet, and Hattie McDaniel. Great cast, extremely entertaining. Plus Flynn and de Havilland. That pairing is always worth it.
The Wolf Man (1941)
Universal Monster movie. Of the bunch, Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein are the two that are really the best films. Dracula is worth it because it’s become so iconic. The Invisible Man is fine. Mostly for Claude Rains. The Mummy is just okay. This one is above average. Mostly because the story of the wolf man is one of the more iconic monster stories. (Though John Landis did it better.) I feel like I have to mention it. Plus, you get Lon Chaney Jr. And this is the movie that they’re watching in the theater during The Sandlot. So there’s that.
Across the Pacific (1942)
Colin already knows about this one. I remember when I first watched this movie. Colin got an email that said, “Holy shit, you need to watch this movie right now. Why did I know know about this movie’s existence before this moment and why isn’t this considered one of the greatest movies of all time?” And I’m pretty sure within a day, Colin had seen it too and said the same thing about it.
It’s John Huston directing. And Bogart, Mary Astor, Sydney Greenstreet. So basically The Maltese Falcon cast together again. And Bogart’s on a ship bound for Japan right around Pearl Harbor. There’s something about this movie that’s so funny — I called it the Ocean’s Twelve of 40s movies. Where the cast is just having way too much fun for their own good. Bogart and Astor walk around the ship and throw out all these inside jokes among themselves. And the banter is so great.
Here’s a scene that happens at the beginning of this movie: Bogie goes up to Mary Astor on the boat and introduces himself like this — he walks up, sees her standing there by the railing, looking out to sea. And he gives this look like, “Oh yeah, I got this,” and clears his throat very loudly. It’s pretty wonderful, the way he does it. It has the right amount of, “I know this is the hokiest thing in the world, but I’m gonna make it work.” And then she turns around with this look on her face that can only be described as bemusement. And he just says, “Look, we’re gonna know each other eventually, so why not now?” and starts a conversation with her.
I don’t know if this movie was supposed to be funny, but I laughed all the way through. It’s so entertaining. I need everyone to see this. It’s one of the great forgotten masterpieces. It’s so good.
The Black Swan (1942)
Swashbuckler film. Tyrone Power and Maureen O’Hara. And Thomas Mitchell, George Sanders and Anthony Quinn. There are three things that make this movie great. One, the color. It’s Technicolor, and it looks good. Two, Maureen O’Hara. She looks good in Technicolor (see: The Quiet Man). And three, the fact that the movie is about the love/hate relationship between her and Tyrone Power. Lot of bickering and back and forth between the two of them. And Maureen O’Hara is definitely one for playing feisty women with love/hate relationship with their men. This is a fun movie all around.
Gentleman Jim (1942)
Errol Flynn playing a brash boxer. A perfect part for him. Fit his persona to a tee. It’s just a fun movie. Sports movies are always pretty engaging, and you get Errol Flynn being cocky as shit throughout the whole thing. Definitely worth watching.
Kings Row (1942)
What I like about this movie is how it’s two movies in one. It starts kind of like Our Town, where we go around a small town and meet all the characters and see their lives. And there are all these small stories interacting, until eventually something really big happens that changes everything. And then we flash forward to years later and it turns into a melodrama. It’s good, and engaging, and got nominated for a few Oscars that year. The stars are Ann Sheridan, Robert Cummings, Ronald Reagan, Charles Coburn (in a decidedly not comedic role), Claude Rains (who is really good here) and Judith Anderson. There’s a subplot with Claude Rains in the first half of this movie — kinda surprising it got through the censors. Just gonna leave it at that.
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