The Best Picture Race In Review: The 1940s


Orson Welles in Citizen Kane

Ah, the 40s! For most of the decade, the world was at war and the Academy’s nominations reflected that fact. The best picture lineups alternated between patriotic films that encouraged the battle against evil and darker films that contemplated both the mistakes of the past and what threats might be waiting in the future.

1940

All This, and Heaven Too

Foreign Correspondent

The Grapes of Wrath

The Great Dictator

Kitty Foyle

The Letter

The Long Voyage Home

Our Town

The Philadelphia Story

Rebecca

Won: Rebecca

Should Have Won: Rebecca was the only Hitchcock film to win Best Picture and while I hate to take that honor away from him, it simply cannot compare to the power of John Ford’s adaptation of The Grapes of Wrath. Considering that people nowadays tend to assume that FDR just waved a magic wand and ended The Great Depression as soon as he was elected, The Grapes of Wrath is still an important historic document of just how bad things truly were in the 1930s. (World War II ended the Great Depression for more effectively than the New Deal ever did.)

1941

Blossoms in the Dust

Citizen Kane

Here Comes Mr. Jordan

Hold Back the Down

How Green Way My Valley

The Little Foxes

The Maltese Falcon

One Foot in Heaven

Sergeant York

Suspicion

Won: How Green Was My Valley

Should Have Won: Citizen Kane. Was there ever any doubt?

1942

49th Parallel

Kings Row

The Magnificent Ambersons

Mrs. Miniver

The Pied Piper

The Pride of the Yankees

Random Harvest

The Talk of the Town

Wake Island

Yankee Doodle Dandy

Won: Mrs. Miniver

Should Have Won: Mrs. Miniver was a heartfelt tribute to the strength of the British people and it’s certainly understandable why the Academy honored it. That said, today, the over-the-top melodrama of Kings Row is a lot more fun to watch.

1943

Casablanca

For Whom The Bell Tolls

Heaven Can Wait

The Human Comedy

In Which We Serve

Madame Currie

The More The Merrier

The Ox-Bow Incident

The Song of Bernadette

Watch on the Rhine

Won: Casablanca

Should Have Won: Casablanca. The Academy got it right.

Casablanca (1943, dir by Michael Curtiz)

1944

Double Indemnity

Gaslight

Going My Way

Since You Went Away

Wilson

Won: Going My Way

Should have Won: The Academy went from nominating ten films to only nominating five this year. (Decades later, it would go back to nominating ten.) Darryl F. Zanuck launched an all-out blitz to convince the Academy to honor Wilson, a film about one of our worst presidents. The Academy instead went with Going My Way, a pleasant crowd-pleaser. I would have voted for Double Indemnity, a film that was perhaps too cynical to win at a time when America was at war.

1945

Anchors Aweigh

The Bells of St. Mary’s

The Lost Weekend

Mildred Pierce

Spellbound

Won: The Lost Weekend

Should Have Won: I agree with the Academy. The Lost Weekend is an underrated winner but it’s still undeniably effective.

1946

The Best Years of Our Lives

Henry V

It’s A Wonderful Life

The Razor’s Edge

The Yearling

Won: The Best Years Of Our Lives

Should Have Won: The Best Years Of Our Lives was one of the first films to deal with the struggle of returning veterans. It’s a great film. That said, I still have to vote for It’s A Wonderful Life, a film that is far darker than its reputation as a holiday favorite might suggest.

1947

The Bishop’s Wife

Crossfire

Gentleman’s Agreement

Great Expectations

Miracle on 34th Street

Won: Gentleman’s Agreement

Should Have Won: Crossfire. Like Gentleman’s Agreement, Crossfire deals with anti-Semitism. Crossfire, though, does so in a far more direct, angry, and effective manner.

1948

Hamlet

Johnny Belinda

The Red Shoes

The Snake Pit

Treasure of the Sierra Madre

Won: Hamlet

Should Have Won: Hamlet is an excellent film but The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is one of the best ever. John Huston’s look at the power of greed gets my vote.

1949

All the King’s Men

Battleground

The Heiress

Letter To Three Wives

Twelve O’Clock High

Won: All The King’s Men

Should Have Won: In this case, I think that Academy got it right. All The King’s Men is a film that seems rather prophetic today.

Up next, get ready to like Ike and hate commies because we’re heading into the 50s!

One response to “The Best Picture Race In Review: The 1940s

  1. Pingback: Lisa’s Week In Review: 4/19/21 — 4/25/21 | Through the Shattered Lens

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