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:
Trains that pass in the night. Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard star as two lovers caught up in a short-lived extramarital affair in David Lean’s earnest romance.
British director David Lean is most famous as a maker of titanic Hollywood epics, including The Bridge on the River Kwai, Dr. Zhivago, and of course Lawrence of Arabia. But before Columbia Pictures came calling, Lean typically helmed British films of a much more modest scale, including a couple of stellar adaptions of Charles Dickens novels. Prior to Oliver Twist and T.E. Lawrence capturing his attention, Lean’s bread and butter was making films based on the works of British playwright, actor, and wit Noël Coward. The last of his Coward adaptations, Brief Encounter (1945) is generally considered to be the high point of Lean’s British film work before his talents were harnessed by American studios. The story of Brief Encounter is quite simple, a suburban housewife meets a suburban doctor while running errands in the city. Though both are already married and have children, they form an instant attraction and become tangled in a short-lived romance. Brief Encounter is an elegant study in desire and repression, passion and propriety; and ranks as one of few movie romances that dares to feel real in its emotions and realistic in its plotting. But it also remains strikingly cinematic, transforming a dingy train station into a realm of love and anguish. (86 min.) Continue reading