Five films from 1941, and I think the top five are, in no special order:
“The Little Foxes”
“The Maltese Falcon”
“Meet John Doe”
Some of them were nominated for Best Picture, some had acting and best supporting acting nominations (“The Little Foxes” leads in nominations) but interestingly, none took home any Academy Awards, save for Best Original Screenplay for “Citizen Kane.”
Shuffling the hand allows us to examine them a bit as individuals and groups. “Citizen Kane” stands out, as it always has for film historians, as being a maverick in innovation of cinema technique. However, only star Orson Welles and Joseph Cotten get to do any real acting, and most of that is aging.
“The Little Foxes” and “The Maltese Falcon” give us the acting. “The Little Foxes," taken from Lillian Hellman’s smash Broadway play gives us a literate view of a nasty family stabbing each other in the back, and “The Maltese Falcon” gives us a less than literate view of a collection of low-lifes also stabbing each other in the back. Unlike the technical tricks of “Citizen Kane,” these films show that if you throw a bunch of great actors together in a room, there’s not much else for them to do but act. And stab each other in the back.
“Meet John Doe” and “Sullivan’s Travels” can likewise be lumped together as road pictures, featuring social commentary on the common man and what the common man does best: be optimistic as possible while being as downtrodden as 90 minutes of screen time allows.
Welles, Wyler, Huston, Capra and Sturges, five of the best directors of their day, give us these films. “The Maltese Falcon” introduces us to film noir, and “Sullivan’s Travels” can be called the Last Movie of the Great Depression. Though World War II had been going on without the US for a couple of years, none of these films brings America to the battlefield. We’re clearly not quite ready for that yet. The past, as in “The Little Foxes” and “Citizen Kane” have too strong a hold on us, and the present, as represented in the other films, is engrossing. The war was our future, and we knew it, and it evidently must have been unimaginable.
(This post is also found on the Top 5 writing project of www.problogger.net.)