Laurence Olivier as Henry V

Laurence Olivier's 1944 Technicolor adaptation of Henry V is widely regarded as the play's defining performance for popular audiences. Henry is a chivalrous king who inspires his men to victory. It is a terrific film, with bold technicolor, inventive storytelling and a fascinating design based on images from the Très Riches Heures. But Olivier's wartime [...]

Day of Wrath (1943) dir. Carl Theodor Dreyer Day of Wrath, a movie about 17th Century women accused and condemned of witchcraft, was made during the Nazi occupation of Denmark, and released just months after the Nazis dissolved the Protectorate Government, announced martial law and began hunting for Danish Jews. Jonathan Rosenbaum reports that director [...]

Scarlet Street (1945) - dir. Fritz Lang After seeing The Woman in the Window - made with the same director and lead cast the year before - I was much more sympathetic to Joan Bennett's character in Scarlet Street than I perhaps should have been.  It was, after all, based on the French novel La Chienne (The Bitch). It also took [...]

The Woman in the Window (1944) dir. Fritz Lang Spoilers abound in this post, so please consider watching The Woman in the Window before reading. The "it was all a dream" ending of the film has frustrated many viewers.  The audience has become emotionally engaged in what happens to Professor Wanley, and are disappointed to learn that none of [...]

Red River (1948) - dir. Howard Hawks John Wayne's best performance - at least of those I've seen - comes as playing a dark, malevolent character in Howard Hawks' Red River. John Wayne leaves the cattle train he works for after seeing a nice, large spot of land in Texas, across the Red River.  Problem is, the [...]
Out of the Past

Out of the Past (1947) dir. Jacques Tourneur It feels like there are 3 movies here, or maybe 4.  The first is of a reformed man who starts a new life, only to be pulled in for one last job.  There is the story of two lovers who double-cross the rich corner of the triangle.  There [...]
Black Narcissus

Black Narcissus (1947) dir. Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger A nun should practice celibacy and acknowledge natural lust - "the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak."  But weak flesh conflicts with Sister Clodagh's titular narcissistic vision of herself.  She imagines that someone deserving of the Sister Superior title is above base temptation.  So, [...]

Paisan (1946) dir. Roberto Rossellini Rossellini's realism isn't any less contrived or manipulative than classical Hollywood styles.  'Simplicity,' rather than 'realism' might be a more accurate word in this sense.  The film still lies, '24 frames a second.' But its lie is convincing; Paisan feels much more natural and more 'real' than a different war [...]
The Great Dictator

The Apotheosis of Adolf was a project started by the Nazis and continued in the popular imagination by casting him as a malevolent deity. Hitler’s plans for Germany didn’t work out, but his egotistical desire to become a Wagnerian god has.
The real Nazi party was a disorganized mess, and Hitler only achieved the military success he did through luck rather than some sort of genius. Yet popular historiography simply perpetuates the self-glorifying mythos he created.

The Magnificent Ambersons

The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) dir. Orson Welles The Magnificent Ambersons is the Ken Griffey Jr. of film. A first-ballot Hall of Famer without question, but oh, what might have been... The story is pretty well known. Welles thought he had finished the film, and went to Brazil to shoot a picture for the government. War [...]