Another decade down, another SASY Rank mini-post. With the 1940s now behind us it is time for the two of us to scrawl down the films that impressed us the most from the decade. There are 36 films from the 1940s on the Sight & Sound list, but as it happens we are largely on the same page with regard to our selections. Neither of us could resist throwing 11 films into our respective Top 10s and we share nine films. That’s a good indication of how strong these nine films were, because this was a particularly satisfying decade for the both of us. There were quite a few filmmakers boasting multiple list films during the decade (Powell & Pressburger, Howard Hawks, Roberto Rossellini, John Ford, Orson Welles) but nobody dominated our Top 10 lists the way that Jean Renoir did in the 1930s. No, we’ve spread the love around on this one and can’t wait to move into the 1950s with our next yammer.
We’ve already yammered about all of the films below, so we’ll leave the lists to speak for themselves. But if you want more, then click on a film title to be magically transported to our conversation.
Because we love fun, we always try to shoehorn “SASY Wrap” into the subtitles of these roundup posts, but I’m guessing the reference here is lost on a lot of readers. It’s a reworking of The Unbearable Bassington, a short novel by the early 20th century British writer H.R. Munro, better known as Saki. Though not as good as his short stories, the novel is still a razor-sharp dig at British society — particularly upper-middle class society — a comedy of manners with some real teeth and heartbreak. And that’s why it seemed so appropriate for this SASY Wrap, as Great Britain finally enters the picture with a bang. Nearly half of the 10 films we will discuss here are British movies that alternately question, criticize, and celebrate Britain. But it is not just the British who are ascendant in this period; in a welcome reversal from our last batch of 10, nine of the films below are not American productions (well, maybe eight and half depending on how you classify Once Upon a Time in the West). Nine of the films below were also made during the second half of World War II, showing that as the Nazis were being pushed back a new artistic flowering was happening across Europe. But before we get into all that, as tradition demands, our respective (and for once quite different) rankings of the last 10 films:
Pilgrims’ progress. Alison and Mr. Colpeper share a moment atop a hill overlooking Canterbury in Powell & Pressburger’s A Canterbury Tale, a wartime homage to English tradition and a jovial examination of the ties between Britain and America.
Badly burned by the Triangle Shirtwaist fire that is Meet Me in St. Louis, we had the pleasure of being promptly salved by the soothing and airy A Canterbury Tale (1944), the next Powell & Pressburger entry on the Sight & Sound list. We’ve already yammered about one Powell & Pressburger film (the excellent Life and Death of Colonel Blimp), but have said little of the famed filmmaking duo, who were known as “The Archers”. Though they share directing, writing, and producing credits on their films, the majority of the directing duties fell to Michael Powell, who had been working in the business since the silent film days. Emeric Pressburger was a Hungarian emigré to Britain who was the principal writer of the films and handled much of the production duties. Together they went on a critically acclaimed run in the 1940s like nobody else — landing six films on the Sight & Sound list in six consecutive years (1943-1948). Perhaps the gentlest and most modest of those six is A Canterbury Tale, which follows an American sergeant, a British sergeant, and a young woman in the Women’s Land Army as they try to unravel a mystery in the countryside of Kent, before all journeying to Canterbury. Though slight in scope and full of gentle (and genuinely funny) humor, the film manages to tackle a wide array of issues, from Anglo-American relations, the urban/rural divide, and faith in the face of adversity, to our connection to history and the extent to which good intentions can mitigate bad actions. It’s a pilgrimage well worth making. (124 min.) Continue reading