Mike’s Top Ten of 1942
You’d think maybe there’d be a bit of a drop off, the year after Citizen Kane. But no, we come right back with Casablanca. And about five or six other really iconic and incredible movies. (I mean like, all-time iconic and not just regular iconic.)
The big thing to discuss for 1942 is that it’s the first year of World War II. The U.S. entered the war at the end of 1941, and this was the first year you start to see incredibly pro-war effort films start to come out there. That is really the main trend for the year.
Outside of that, the year is full of terrific biopics and classy dramas. And one film that is one of the most entertaining and underrated hidden gems out there, that almost nobody knows about today.
Mike’s Top Ten of 1942
Across the Pacific
The Magnificent Ambersons
The Pride of the Yankees
The Talk of the Town
To Be or Not to Be
Yankee Doodle Dandy
11-20: Captains of the Clouds, Cat People, Holiday Inn, Larceny Inc., The Major and the Minor, My Sister Eileen, Now Voyager, Saboteur, Wake Island, Woman of the Year
Tier two: The Big Shot, The Black Swan, Captains of the Clouds, Flying Tigers, For Me and My Gal, Gentleman Jim, I Married a Witch, In Which We Serve, Johnny Eager, The Jungle Book, Kings Row, The Man Who Came to Dinner, Once Upon a Honeymoon, The Palm Beach Story, The Pied Piper, Reap the Wild Wind, Roxie Hart, Saludos Amigos, Tales of Manhattan, Thunder Birds, You Were Never Lovelier
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“Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine.”
Honestly, if this wasn’t #1, we’d all be more shocked than we were to find out there was gambling going on in this establishment.
There’s nothing that needs to be said here. This movie is perfect.
2. Random Harvest
“You and I are in the same boat, Miss Hanson; we’re both ghost-ridden. We are prisoners of our past. What if we were to pool our loneliness, and give each other what little we have to give support, friendship?”
This movie only raises in stature in my eyes as each year goes by. I love it so much.
Ronald Colman is an amnesiac in an institution on the eve of the end of World War I. He was a soldier injured in battle and has no memory of who he is. On the night the war ends, while everyone is out celebrating, he wanders out of the hospital and into the nearby town. He soon finds himself in a dance hall, where he meets Greer Garson, a singer. She takes a liking to him and hides him from the doctors. They then fall in love, and start a life together. He becomes an author and they buy a house together. One day, while in town, he is almost run over by a cab, and suddenly all his memories come flooding back. Only now, he’s forgotten all about everything in the mean time. So he returns home to his wealthy family, not remembering anything about Garson. She, meanwhile, starts looking for him, and after finding him and realizing he has no idea who she is, starts working for him. It’s — great.
It’s such a beautiful romance. One of those movies that could only be made in 1942. Even the people who think it sounds too melodramatic for them like this movie. This is an all-time classic and when a film is regarded as such there’s usually good reason for it.
3. Yankee Doodle Dandy
“My mother thanks you, my father thanks you, my sister thanks you, and I thank you.”
This movie proves that James Cagney could do it all. Sure, he’s an iconic gangster, but this is where his best performance is. He’s so good as George M. Cohan. He sings, he dances — he just jumps off the screen with all his energy, delivering one of the most iconic performances of all time.
The film is a solid biopic, elevated by Cagney’s (and the other actors’) incredible work. Most people today won’t remember Cohan at all until they said, “He wrote the title song.” And even then it’s not that big a deal. But when you watch the film, it’s so great, which such wonderful moments. My favorite is still when he meets his future wife. She comes backstage to compliment the old man she just saw give the most astonishing performance on the stage. Little does she know, it’s Cagney, in makeup and a fake beard. She earnestly tells him how much she loves his performance, and Cagney just leans into it, pretending to be this old man and messing with her by doing these crazy dance moves only a 20-year-old could do. It’s incredible.
One of the most iconic biopic/musicals ever, and just a wonderful film that always makes me happy.
4. The Pride of the Yankees
“I have been walking on ball fields for 16 years, and I’ve never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans. I have had the great honor to have played with these great veteran ballplayers on my left: Murderer’s Row, our championship team of 1927. I have had the further honor of living with, and playing with, these men on my right: the Bronx Bombers, the Yankees of today. I have been given fame and undeserved praise by the boys up there behind the wire in the press box: my friends, the sportswriters. I have worked under the two greatest managers of all time: Miller Huggins and Joe McCarthy. I have a mother and father, who fought to give me health and a solid background in my youth. I have a wife, a companion for life, who has shown me more courage than I ever knew. People all say that I’ve had a bad break, but today… today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”
One of the single greatest speeches in the history of cinema, taken from one of the most famous speeches in the history of sports.
This is another one of those movies that makes me happy. It’s a highly-fictionalized biopic of Lou Gehrig, but man, is it just entertaining. And that final speech is just so good. Gary Cooper was the perfect man for this job.
5. Mrs. Miniver
“This is the people’s war! It is our war! We are the fighters! Fight it then! Fight it with all that is in us, and may God defend the right!”
Such a great movie. World War II told from the home front. England’s home front, that is.
I love that the movie is focused on this one family, and still manages to illuminate larger themes involving the war. Of course it’s meant to arouse public sympathy for the war effort, but it still holds up as incredible filmmaking. The scene where the downed German pilot ends up in the house, or how seamlessly they work Dunkirk into the story. Even the climax at the rose competition — it all works. And that final scene is still one of the most touching scenes of the war years.
6. Across the Pacific
“If you catch pneumonia, what will happen to our romance?”
“What will happen to it anyway, if you don’t shave.”
One of the ultimate “where the hell did this come from” finds for me. I had no idea this existed until I started seeking out stuff for my Directors List. Then I looked it up, wondering what it was and saw, “… John Huston, Bogart, Sydney Greenstreet and Mary Astor, made in 1942,” and went, “He just used the Maltese Falcon cast again!” And had to see it immediately. And then I got into it and was suddenly in love with it within the first 40 minutes.
This movie is like the Ocean’s 12 of 40s movies. It’s following a narrative, but it’s almost as if the stars used it as a vehicle to hang out and didn’t take it seriously whatsoever. All the dialogue between Bogart and Mary Astor is some of the most inside-jokey, knowing dialogue I’ve ever seen. The first time they meet on the ship, Bogart just walks up to her and gives her this look like, “Oh yeah, I got this.” And rather than try anything subtle, he just openly clears his throat. It’s so amazing.
I honestly don’t even know what the plot of this movie is, and I don’t even care about that. Because the plot doesn’t matter. The point of this movie is to see just how much fun these people are having while making it. And boy, do I love this movie because of that.
Also, fun story about this movie: John Huston shot most of it but had to leave near the end of filming because he was going off to serve in World War II. Only when he leaves he takes the script with him. So Vincent Sherman, who finished the film, asks Huston, “How the hell do we end it?” Since at that point, all they had was Bogart trapped at gunpoint and needed a way out. So Huston’s like, “Shit, that’s your problem, I’m going to war.” And fucking leaves him on his own to figure it out. Apparently he told him, “Bogie will know how to get him out.” And he just left. So they figure out an ending and finish the film, and then Huston eventually sees the movie and goes, “That ending was totally implausible.”
That’s a director.
7. To Be or Not to Be
“Her husband is that great, great Polish actor, Josef Tura. You’ve probably heard of him.”
“Oh, yes. As a matter of fact I saw him on the stage when I was in Warsaw once before the war.”
“What he did to Shakespeare we are now doing to Poland.”
One of the greatest comedies ever made. So great that they remade this movie and I even love that movie. (FYI, they remade it in 1983 with Mel Brooks. Go check out that year for more on that version.)
The film is about a married acting couple in a Polish theater troupe who get caught up with the Nazis and a German spy. It’s absolutely hilarious and still works better than 99% of comedies made today.
It’s an absolutely perfect movie. Impeccably written. Also, sadly, Carole Lombard’s final film. But man, what a lasting impression.
“What happened, Mother? Why did we all run?”
“Man was in the forest.”
It’s Bambi. That… pretty much covers everything I need to say.
Though I guess the other thing I should say is — isn’t it interesting how this movie can be so iconic and so plotless at the same time? You think about this movie… it’s just random scenes of a deer growing up in the forest. There’s no progression to it whatsoever. I constantly forget that when I go back to revisit this movie.
Still — it’s gorgeously animated.
9. The Talk of the Town
“He’s the only honest man I’ve come across in this town in 20 years. Naturally, they want to hang him.”
Incredible film. George Stevens directing Cary Grant, Jean Arthur and Ronald Colman.
Grant plays a political activist accused of setting fire to a mill, which killed its foreman. He escapes during his trial and hides out in a cottage owned by Arthur (with whom he went to school). She just happens to have rented the cottage out for the summer to Colman, a law professor looking for a quiet place to write a book. Naturally, the three end up in the house together (Grant posing as the gardener), with Grant and Arthur hiding his identity from Colman as he tries to prove his innocence and, naturally, both men starting to fall for Arthur in the process.
What I love most about the film is how it straddles the line between comedy and drama. It’s not expressly either and can make a case as both. And it’s incredibly engaging and entertaining all the way through, as almost all George Stevens movies are.
10. The Magnificent Ambersons
“When times are gone, they are not old, they’re dead. There aren’t any times but new times.”
Orson Welles’ second film, and considered by many a masterpiece. The story behind this movie is just as interesting as the film itself. He shot it, went over budget and was clocking the first cut a bit over two hours. Meanwhile, he’s given up his final cut of the film as part of negotiations on something else he was planning on making. The studio tests the film, it gets bad reviews, and they want to shorten it. So they send Welles off to Brazil to shoot a documentary and while he’s gone, cut 40 minutes out of the movie and reshot the ending. And the negatives were eventually destroyed too. So the rest of the movie is just gone. The funny part is that it’s still considered a masterpiece despite all that.
The film is about the decay of an old money family, specifically the spoiled son of the family’s intent on ruining his widowed mother’s relationship with an automobile magnate, who she’s always loved but never got to be with for societal reasons. It’s a great film. Not quite Citizen Kane, though I understand some people liking it more than Kane. Still, immaculately made.
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Captains of the Clouds — Gorgeous-looking Michael Curtiz film, with James Cagney as a Canadian bush pilot who keeps stealing jobs from the other pilots. He ends up partnering with them and getting into some drama with one of the guy’s girlfriend, but then the movie becomes a war film, as the three enlist to become pilots in the war. Only once they get there, they’re told they’re too old to fly and train to become instructors. Though Cagney, of course, has other plans. It’s awesome. And the cinematography is stunning for the era
Cat People — One of the great horror films. Gorgeously constructed. It’s a low budget affair, but that was Val Lewton’s specialty. He takes a story that should be insane by all accounts and makes it work. Some of the shot choices here are so thematically rich, and this movie pioneered the jump scare. (Oh, and it’s about a woman who thinks she’ll turn into a cat if she fucks a dude. So there’s that.)
Holiday Inn — Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. Bing opens an inn only open on holidays, and he and Fred both fall for the same woman. Famous for the song “White Christmas.”
Larceny, Inc. — I love this. Crime comedy with Edward G. Robinson who buys a store so he can use the basement to tunnel his way into a bank vault to rob it. Only the store actually becomes profitable. I first saw this story when Woody Allen appropriated it for Small Time Crooks and had no idea this was the basis for it. It’s quite a funny movie. Also has Jane Wyman, Broderick Crawford and Anthony Quinn.
The Major and the Minor — Billy Wilder’s first film. Ginger Rogers pretends to be a child so she can pay less for a train ticket and ends up being picked up by a soldier who thinks she’s an orphan. So she’s hanging around the army base, trying to get out of the situation and falling in love with the soldier at the same time. Billy Wilder movies are always great.
My Sister Eileen — Terrific comedy. Rosalind Russell and her sister move to New York to be successful. And they have to deal with various issues, like their cramped basement apartment, all the construction that keeps happening, a lack of money, etc. Of course romance ensues at some point too. Good stuff.
Now, Voyager — I love this film. Perhaps my favorite of the Bette Davis melodramas. She’s an ugly duckling who is driven to a nervous breakdown by her domineering mother. And under the care of Claude Rains, a psychiatrist, she is able to come out of her shell. She then goes on a vacation and meets a married man with whom she falls in love. Incredibly uplifting, featuring one of the most famous lines in cinema, and it has more than a few passing resemblances to the movie Titanic (Cameron definitely borrowed some stuff heavily from this film).
Saboteur — Hitchcock. Actually a remake of an earlier film. A guy who works at a factory is wrongfully accused of starting a fire that led to a death, and he goes on the run to prove he’s innocent and find the actual culprit. A classic Hitchcock plot that ends at the Statue of Liberty. It’s almost an earlier version of North by Northwest in some ways. Awesome movie that’s underrated by Hitchcock’s standards.
Wake Island — About the Battle of Wake Island. The battle scenes in this movie were stunning to me the first time I saw it. I was so impressed at how visceral they felt for 1942. Nice war movie that’s gone largely forgotten today.
Woman of the Year — The first of the Katharine Hepburn/Spencer Tracy films. Possibly even the best. George Stevens again. He’s a sports reporter and she’s a political columnist. She’s fiercely independent and cultured, and he’s laid back and more traditional. They fall in love, and pretty soon their difference start to put a strain on their marriage. It’s a great comedy, and those two are one of the best screen pairings in history.
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- The Big Shot
- The Black Swan
- Flying Tigers
- For Me and My Gal
- Gentleman Jim
- I Married a Witch
- In Which We Serve
- Johnny Eager
- The Jungle Book
- Kings Row
- The Man Who Came to Dinner
- Once Upon a Honeymoon
- The Palm Beach Story
- Reap the Wild Wind
- Roxie Hart
- Saludos Amigos
- Tales of Manhattan
- Thunder Birds
- You Were Never Lovelier
The Palm Beach Story is Preston Sturges again. Pretty much everything he made will appear on these lists. This one is fun. Claudette Colbert is married to an inventor. He has a great idea, but not the money to implement it. So, in order to get him the money, she decides to divorce him and marry a rich guy. Hilarity ensues. There’s one scene in this movie I’ll always remember, but not because it’s hilarious. It’s because when I heard it the first time, I did a triple take, because it sounded like they cursed on screen. Colbert is leaving, and her husband is chasing after her. He’s trying to catch up to her at the train station, and she tells a policeman he’s bothering her. The policeman naturally details him. And he says, “That’s my wife, you dumb cluck!” And the cop goes, “Oh, so I’m a dumb cluck, am I?” And I’m listening to this movie and I go, “Did he just call that guy a dumb fuck on screen?” Clearly he didn’t, but man, did that make me perk up something fierce.
Gentleman Jim is a biopic of boxer Jim Corbett starring Errol Flynn. Boxing movies are usually interesting and watching Errol Flynn charm his way through one is more than enough for me. Lot of fun, this one. For Me and My Gal is a Judy Garland/Gene Kelly musical directed by Busby Berkeley. The Black Swan is a great Technicolor pirate movie with Tyrone Power, Maureen O’Hara, George Sanders, Thomas Mitchell and Anthony Quinn. Looks great, and look at that cast! The Big Shot is the last time Bogart played a gangster. Nice little underseen noir. Flying Tigers is a fantastic war film with John Wayne as a flying ace commander who has to deal with a buddy who is too much of a hotshot. Fantastic aerial sequences and great camerawork for 1942.
Once Upon a Honeymoon is Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers. She’s a showgirl pretending to be a society woman getting married to an Austrian dude. He’s a reporter who thinks her fiancé is a Nazi spy. Pretty soon, she begins to think he’s right, and the two run off together. Nothing like a good romance amidst Nazis. In Which We Serve is a story about a ship, shown in flashback as it sinks. We follow the ship from when it was built all the way through to how it ended up the way it did. I Married a Witch… you know, I’m not really sure what this one’s about. If only there were clues.
Kings Row is one of those movies that had me so enthralled for a while and then completely lost me in the second half. The first half is so interesting, with all the characters as kids, and setting up all these fascinating subplots, many of which are understood even despite the Production Code. One of the characters is having sex with his daughter and it’s basically explicit. And then something big happens at the midway point of this movie that completely alters the course of the film, and then we flash forward to the characters as adults. And the second half to me just wasn’t as interesting. Though overall it’s a solid film. Very interesting for those interested in films that openly get around the Production Code while still following it. Johnny Eager is a noir/drama with a typical plot. DA’s daughter falls for the gangster her father’s trying to put away. Mostly notable for the Van Heflin supporting performance. Everyone else is in line with how the film’s supposed to play, but he feels disconnected from it and free to do pretty much whatever he wants.
The Man Who Came to Dinner is not a biopic of Sidney Poitier. It is, however, a movie about a man who comes to dinner. For a while. Monty Woolley made a career for himself with this movie. He used to be a professor and not long after becoming an actor, he got this role on the stage, which propelled him to stardom late in life. He plays a grumpy radio host who breaks a hip at a family’s house and essentially takes it over while he stays there, recovering. The Pied Piper stars Monty Woolley as a professor traveling Europe who picks up two orphaned kids to take to safety from the Nazis, against his wishes (at first). Pretty soon, he’s traveling with a group of children, trying to sneak them over the border. Great film.
You Were Never Lovelier is a musical rom com with Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth. She’s a headstrong woman who doesn’t want to get married. So her father writes love notes for her from an anonymous admirer, thinking it’ll get her in a romantic mood and more likely to be open to marriage. Through some confusion, she thinks Astaire is the one trying to woo her. Complications, comedy, and eventually romance ensue. Thunder Birds is a Technicolor film about Air Force pilots. Reap the Wild Wind is Cecil B. DeMille, Technicolor, and a seafaring adventure starring John Wayne, which just exciting.
The Jungle Book is another in a line of those Arabian Nights, Thief of Bagdad type films. Gorgeously shot adventure movies based on source material set in exotic locations. (No talking animals here, though. Not really.) Roxie Hart is, essentially, Chicago. Just without the music. This is the story they based the musical on. It’s different. Solid, but different. And I kinda like it. Saludos Amigos is the first of Disney’s package films, which were a mainstay during the 40s when they were pressed for cash. This one at least has a theme, which is Latin America. So all the shorts are set there. It’s fun, but inconsequential as far as Disney films go. Tales of Manhattan is an anthology film that follows a coat as it goes through various owners. Here’s the cast: Charles Boyer, Rita Hayworth, Ginger Rogers, Henry Fonda, Charles Laughton, Edward G. Robinson, Thomas Mitchell, Ethel Waters, Eugene Pallette, Caesar Romero, Elsa Lanchester, George Sanders, James Gleason, Harry Davenport and J. Carrol Naish.
Still not sure why they didn’t call it COAT Tales of Manhattan.
*drops the mic*
Thank you everybody, good night!
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