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.
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.)
Here Comes Mr. Jordan
Won: How Green Was My Valley
Should Have Won: Citizen Kane. Was there ever any doubt?
The Magnificent Ambersons
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.
The Song of Bernadette
Should Have Won: Casablanca. The Academy got it right.
Since You Went Away
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.
The Bells of St. Mary’s
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.
It’s A Wonderful Life
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.
The Bishop’s Wife
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.
The Red Shoes
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.
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!