Mike’s Top Ten of 1947
So 1944 for me was about the rise of the noirs. 1947 is the year of the noir. There are 22 of them on this list. 22! This is as cynical as it got for Hollywood.
That’s really the overwhelming theme for 1947: dark and cynical. Which is funny, because one of the most uplifting Christmas movies ever made (I guess, actually… two of them) came out this year. But man, there’s not a lot of uplift in here. Even the major film of the year about how awful society is.
But hey, alongside the darkness, we also have one of the most beautiful films ever shot. So there’s that.
Mike’s Top Ten of 1947
The Bishop’s Wife
Kiss of Death
The Lady from Shanghai
Miracle on 34th Street
Out of the Past
Song of the Thin Man
11-20: The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer, Crossfire, Dark Passage, The Fugitive, Fun and Fancy Free, Lady in the Lake, The Long Night, Odd Man Out, Pursued, Riffraff
Tier two: Backlash, Body and Soul, Boomerang, Born to Kill, Calcutta, Cynthia, Dead Reckoning, Desperate, A Double Life, Down to Earth, The Farmer’s Daughter, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, It Happened on Fifth Avenue, Life with Father, Magic Town, The Paradine Case, Railroaded!, Ride the Pink Horse, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Unconquered
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1. Black Narcissus
“Remember, the superior of all is the servant of all.”
One of the ten most beautifully shot films of all time. Every frame of this movie is stunning.
It’s Powell and Pressburger too. Those guys — god, do I love those guys.
It’s about a group of nuns that move to a remote convent up in the Himalayas. They face a lot of problems, from the locals’ reluctance to accept religion, to being completely cut off from the rest of the world. And very slowly, it takes its toll on them. And man, is there a hell of a climax to this one. Sister Ruth, is all I’m gonna say.
Hands down, one of the greatest films ever made. Also surprisingly underseen by the film buff community. Take my advice — don’t be one of the people missing out on this movie.
2. Gentleman’s Agreement
“Why don’t some people like them?”
“Well, I can’t really explain it, Tommy.”
It’s definitely the most important film of 1947. Now it might not seem as big as it was then. But trust me, this was a big deal then.
Gregory Peck plays a journalist who writes these long exposé pieces for a magazine. For his next one, he wants to dig into anti-semitism. To do this, he’s gonna pretend he’s Jewish. His last name is Green, and is gonna pretend like it’s actually Greenberg. And he’s gonna see how differently he’s treated because of this. And pretty soon, he realizes just how fucked up Jewish people are treated.
There are really great moments. I love the scene where his secretary confides him him that she’s actually Jewish and changed her name to get a job. She submitted her resume with her real name and got rejected. She submitted it with a different name and got hired. There’s also the scene (pictured above), where Peck’s hotel reservation mysteriously is cancelled and the hotel refuses to offer him a room. Though when he asks why, they keep refusing to say it’s because he’s Jewish. It’s so good. You guys know my affinity for movies that make you feel angry about societal issues when you watch them. This is one of those.
Peck is amazing here, as are Celeste Holm, Anne Revere, John Garfield and Dorothy McGuire. It may seem dated to some, but you have to realize — at the time nobody wanted this movie to be made. They begged the studio not to make it, telling them not to “stir up any trouble.” Peck’s agent told him the role would hurt his career. How people react to this film now (in terms of “there’s no way people were that openly anti-semetic”) is hopefully how they’re gonna react to other films about certain issues going on today in a few years. (One can hope, anyway.)
3. Song of the Thin Man
“If the party gets rough, duck.”
“I’m practically under the table now, but not the way I like to be.”
The last of the Thin Man films. The plot — honestly, who cares at this point. It’s Nick and Nora. They’re the best. We get one more case with them. Enjoy it.
4. Kiss of Death
“You know what I do to squealers?”
One of the great film noirs of all time. Famous for the scene picture above — Richard Widmark pushing the old woman in the wheelchair down the stairs. He’s one of the great film psychopaths of all time in this one. Great performance.
The film is about Victor Mature as a man who robs a bank and gets arrested. He’s told that if he gives up his accomplices, he’ll get a lighter sentence. He refuses and gets 20 years. Part of the way through his sentence, he finds out his wife has killed herself and his kids sent to an orphanage (despite his buddies telling him they’d take care of them while he was away). He tries to give up his accomplices, but the information’s no good to the cops now. Though they do cut him a deal — help them out on another case, and he’ll be free. This puts him right in the sights of Widmark, who is the guy the cops are trying to put away for murder.
A classic of the noir genre, and just a fantastic film. Richard Widmark is so good. One of the underrated actors of the studio era. Also, this was his debut!
5. Miracle on 34th Street
“Oh, Christmas isn’t just a day, it’s a frame of mind… and that’s what’s been changing. That’s why I’m glad I’m here, maybe I can do something about it.”
A classic of the Christmas genre. Everyone knows this story, even if they have really only ever watched the 1994 remake.
A man shows up to Macy’s during the Christmas season to play their Santa Claus. He tells everyone he actually is Santa Claus. And pretty soon, it actually starts to seem like he really is Santa Claus. And of course the government gets involved and there’s a big trial to decide whether or not this man is the real Santa.
It’s so good. Maureen O’Hara, Natalie Wood. Edmund Gwenn is perfect as Kringle. A true classic.
6. The Lady from Shanghai
“Killing you is killing myself. But, you know, I’m pretty tired of both of us.”
Aww yeah. The year of the noir. How awesome is this movie?
Orson Welles, Rita Hayworth. That hall or mirrors climax is iconic. I honestly couldn’t tell you what the actual plot of this movie is, but it doesn’t really matter, does it? Welles gets mixed up with Hayworth, there’s a murder plot, and Welles directs the hell out of it.
Fun story: the only reason Welles did this film is because he was putting on a stage production and they needed the money to go on. So he called up the head of the studio and was like, “There’s this great book I read. If you can wire fifty grand to this theater within two hours, I’ll direct it for you.” That’s how this movie happened. Crazy.
7. Monsieur Verdoux
“Business is a ruthless business, my dear.”
The most underrated Chaplin film. There’s gonna be one in a few years that’s also terribly underrated, but at least that film is kind of known by people. This one, I’m pretty sure even big Chaplin fans have no idea about this one.
Chaplin plays a guy who supports his family by marrying and murdering wealthy widows. I’m not kidding. It’s a dark comedy.
I’m not even gonna get into specifics. Trust me on this movie. You’re gonna love it. It’ll be made even better by the fact that you probably didn’t know it existed.
I love that Chaplin made this movie. What major star would go out and make a movie like this? Sure, he was past the peak of his popularity, but he was still Charlie Chaplin. Plus, given how few films he made in his career, the fact that this is one of them makes me so happy. When that man made a movie, he made a movie.
8. Brute Force
“Nobody escapes. Nobody ever really escapes.”
Our third noir in the top ten. This one is the one not as many people know about.
This movie was directed by Jules Dassin, who had a run of noirs from 1947 through 1950. And all four of them are not only great, but they’re also among the greatest noirs ever made. You’re legitimately gonna see three of them in the top ten for their respective years.
It’s a prison noir. Tensions are running high in the prison, as per a new directive to impose more discipline on the inmates. Hume Cronyn, the sadistic head of security, takes particular delight in this, and enforces punishment on a whim. This, however, makes the prison a powder keg, just waiting to explode. Eventually, Burt Lancaster and some of the other prisoners organize a revolt on the guard shack, leading to an eventual escape.
It’s such a great movie. You can feel the tension hanging over the entire film. One of my all-time favorite noirs. And, as I always say — prison films are always interesting.
9. Out of the Past
“I think we deserve a break.”
“We deserve each other.”
One of the ten best-known noirs and a film guaranteed to be one of the first five mentioned when one is tasked with listing the best of the genre.
Robert Mitchum is the owner of a gas station whose detective past catches up with him. He’s soon back in the big city, working for a mobster looking for his girl. But when he finds the girl, well… things just get more crooked from there.
The dialogue here is so noir. Everything is just dripping with cynicism. Add to that the cinematography, and the performances — this film is the total package. The absolute pinnacle of the noir genre.
10. The Bishop’s Wife
“Sometimes angels rush in where fools fear to tread.”
Another classic Christmas film.
David Niven is a bishop who is trying to find the money to build a new church. He prays for guidance, and in comes Cary Grant, an angel. Grant comes to stay with Niven and his family in order to help. Niven tries to figure out why Grant isn’t helping him get the money, and doesn’t realize that he asked for guidance, and building the church isn’t exactly the help he needs at the moment. Complications ensue when Grant starts to fall for Loretta Young, Niven’s neglected wife…
It’s just a classic. Not much more to say.
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The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer — Screwball rom com with Cary Grant, Myrna Loy and Shirley Temple. Myrna and Shirley are sisters. Shirley falls for the (much older) Grant, and hilarity ensues. Naturally you can guess which pair ends up together. You can never go wrong when you have Cary Grant and Myrna Loy in the same movie.
Crossfire — The first B movie to be nominated for Best Picture. It’s a procedural about the cops investigating the murder of a man most recently seen at a bar with some soldiers on leave. So the cop questions all the soldiers, trying to figure out a motive for the killing. I always call this a B movie version of Gentleman’s Agreement. They both deal with anti-semitism, but while one deals with it in the classy way, this one is down and dirty.
Dark Passage — Interesting noir shot first-person POV for the first act. Bogart plays a man in jail for killing his wife who escapes. We follow him along his escape until he can get to a surgeon who can change his face. So from the beginning of the movie until the bandages come off, the entire movie is shown from his perspective. Then the rest of the movie is about him trying to prove his innocence. It’s got Lauren Bacall and Agnes Moorehead in it too. The real interest here is the POV, which is admittedly a gimmick, but in a genre that tries a lot of stuff like that, I’m all for it. (Also not the only movie on this list to feature a first-person camera.)
The Fugitive — This is one of the most underrated John Ford movies. Henry Fonda plays a fugitive priest in South America. He’s never given a name, which makes it even better. Religion is outlawed in the country, so he has to hide his faith. Eventually he is told a bandit is dying and wishes to receive last rites, so he risks his own safety to find the man and perform his duty. It’s really good. There are the well known Ford films, and then the ones that aren’t seen as much but are generally out there as being great. This one is one that even slips past that list. No one talks about how good this movie is.
Fun and Fancy Free — A Disney package film with only two parts. The first half is Bongo, about a circus bear who wants to live in the wild. The second, and more famous half, is Mickey and the Beanstalk, a modern retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk with Mickey and Donald and Goofy. Not the best Disney movie ever made, but fun.
Lady in the Lake — This is Robert Montgomery’s directorial debut, and man, is it memorable. It’s a Phillip Marlowe story. Marlowe occasionally addresses the audience directly, but outside of those moments, the entire film is shot from his perspective. It’s a really interesting way to tell a story, and for me it works. It’s one of those things that could be dismissed as a gimmick, but to have a movie so unlike everything else to me is a great thing.
The Long Night — Great noir with Henry Fonda. The entire film is a standoff in his apartment. He’s stuck there with police in the stairwell and snipers on the roofs, and we flashback to how he got there, which involves Vincent Price as a sinister magician. It’s pretty fantastic.
Odd Man Out — A Carol Reed noir about James Mason as an IRA soldier hiding out in a town after a failed robbery. It’s amazing. You can feel the walls closing in on him as the film progresses. And no one shot a noir like Carol Reed did, especially in the late 40s.
Pursued — This is a western, a noir, and a psychological drama. And it’s fascinating. Robert Mitchum is a guy haunted by the murder of his family. He grows up but can’t seem to run away from that event. It’s great. A fantastic cast — Dean Jagger, Teresa Wright, Judith Anderson, Alan Hale. Wonderfully directed by Raoul Walsh. One of the real hidden gems of the decade.
Riffraff — Amazing noir. I saw this at a noir festival last year and fell in love with it. The movie begins with a wordless sequence of a cargo plane taking off from a hangar in South America. When it arrives at its destination, one of the passengers isn’t on it. The briefcase he had with him is now in possession of another passenger. The briefcase contains a map, which contains information on the location of oil. All sorts of people want the map, and it ends up (unknowingly) in the possession of Pat O’Brien, a low rent detective. And he gets mixed up in all this, becoming the point by which everything converges. And it’s so much fun.
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- Body and Soul
- Born to Kill
- Dead Reckoning
- A Double Life
- Down to Earth
- The Farmer’s Daughter
- The Ghost and Mrs. Muir
- It Happened on Fifth Avenue
- Life with Father
- Magic Town
- The Paradine Case
- Ride the Pink Horse
- The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Half this list is noirs. I love it. Let’s dive right in.
Calcutta is an awesome one. A pair of pilots who fly cargo shipments from China to India investigate the murder of one of their buddies and stumble upon a smuggling ring. Alan Ladd and William Bendix. A lot of fun. Big fan of this one. Backlash is fun too. A criminal lawyer is found dead in a car crash shortly after one of his clients escapes from prison. Pretty soon, his wife becomes a suspect. Especially since she seems to be having an affair with the D.A. and according to his doctor, it seems like the lawyer was being slowly poisoned by his wife. Though as the cop assigned to the case investigates, he starts to realize there’s more going on than he thought. Desperate is about a trucker hired to unwittingly transport stolen goods. A cop ends up dead and he is forced by the criminals to take the rap or else they’ll kill his wife. Though he rescues her and they escape, ending up on the run from both the cops and the criminals.
A Double Life is one of my favorite setups. Ronald Colman is a famous stage actor known for getting deep into the characters that he plays. Though it causes hell in his personal life, naturally. He starts playing Othello, and pretty soon he finds himself getting into murderous rages and possibly having killed his mistress. The ending is quite good. Body and Soul is a boxing noir about John Garfield as a man who works his way up the ladder, slowly getting corrupted and involved with shady types that begin to make things more difficult for him. Boomerang is directed by Elia Kazan, and about a homeless man accused of a murder that a prosecutor believes he didn’t commit. Dead Reckoning is Bogart as a soldier investigating the disappearance of a fellow soldier who disappeared.
The Paradine Case is Hitchcock. A courtroom drama, too. Not what you’d expect from him. Gregory Peck is a barrister who defends a beautiful woman accused of murdering her much older husband. As Peck defends her, he becomes obsessed with her and absolutely determined to get her acquitted at all costs. Great performances all around, especially by Charles Laughton. One of Hitchcock’s most underrated films. Railroaded is Anthony Mann. About a woman who works for a bookie who secretly helps her boyfriend knock off the joint and frame an innocent man for the crime. Ride the Pink Horse is a weird, laid back noir about a veteran doing down to New Mexico to avenge the death of an army buddy. A fascinating noir directed by Robert Montgomery, his second interesting directorial effort of the year.
Cynthia is a nice little movie with Elizabeth Taylor in the first of her teenage roles. The film begins with her parents meeting and falling in love. They have high aspirations but soon settle down into a family life, struggling to make ends meet. To make things worse, Taylor, their daughter, is a very sickly child. She’s desperate to be a regular kid, and have a part in the school musical, but her parents are worried for her. Eventually they relent and let her, and she falls for a classmate. It’s a cute film. Not of much consequence, but it’s a light family picture. Down to Earth is a sequel to Here Comes Mr. Jordan. Larry Parks is a guy putting on a play about the Muses. Up in Heaven, Rita Hayworth, an actual Muse, asks to go down and help him fix the play. Basically, “He’s got it all wrong, that son of a bitch. Let me go down there and show him!” And then she goes down and they fall in love — you know the drill. It’s cute. Not as good as Here Comes Mr. Jordan, but amusing.
The Farmer’s Daughter is a film about Loretta Young as a Swedish-American farm girl who ends up working as a maid for a highly influential family whose son is on a promising political career track. She impresses them and starts to fall for the son, while also getting traction to run as a candidate herself. It’s a solid film. Generally known as the film that won Loretta Young her Oscar (somewhat derisively, by Oscar buffs), but the film itself is quite good. Loaded cast. The Ghost and Mrs. Muir is a fantasy romance about a widow who falls in love with the ghost of a sea captain who haunts her seaside cottage. Gene Tierney and Rex Harrison. Directed by Joseph Mankiewicz. A classic in the genre. Life with Father is a comedy about William Powell as the head of a house trying to keep things in order. The film’s mostly anecdotal, and a lot of fun. Michael Curtiz directs, Irene Dunne, Edmund Gwenn and Elizabeth Taylor co-star.
It Happened on 5th Ave. is about a hobo who moves into an abandoned mansion and taking in a bunch of misfits who don’t have a place to stay, like a homeless soldier and a runaway. This band of friends lives in the mansion along with, unbeknownst to them, the owner of the house, a millionaire who returns and pretends to be a vagrant. It’s a great, uplifting holiday film. Magic Town is about Jimmy Stewart as a guy who conducts opinion polls who discovers a town whose opinions mirror those of the entire country. No matter what poll he gives the town, it exactly mirrors the opinions of the country at large. He wants to stay there and conduct his surveys, but soon he’s falling for a local girl and, in trying to maintain the towns innocence, slowly corrupts it. It’s fun.
Unconquered is a historical adventure film. Cecil B. DeMille directing, Gary Cooper and Paulette Goddard starring. She’s a British convict sent to be an indentured servant in America. She’s purchased by Cooper, who sets her free. They then get involved in the conflict between the whites and the Native Americans. Cooper’s rival sells guns to some of the Native Americans, who try to wipe out the whites and kick them of the land. It’s Technicolor and looks great. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a fantasy film they remade a few years ago with Ben Stiller. It’s about a regular guy prone do daydreams who gets involved in a conspiracy with some spies. Essentially forgotten now, but it’s fun. People forget how huge a star Danny Kaye was in the 50s.
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