I’m embarking on decades throughout the year; I am currently making my way through the 1940’s. At first I was sad to leave the 1930’s; too sad. I went into the 40’s resenting them, a patently ridiculous sentiment. Quickly though, my hesitancy washed away. Of the films I have watched so far, a handful of them would already be placed among my admittedly large group of all-time favorites. I tried to narrow the list down to 20 but this never seems to work. So I’m watching as many of these as I can before mid-May. I did the 20’s and 30’s earlier this year watching from each about 15 and 35 films respectively. I won’t be able to make it through all of these but I hope to keep this as a reference guide. I feel like I’m pretty well-viewed, especially for being 24, so if a film does not appear it may be because I’ve seen it already.I have a 70-page Word Document chronologically chronicling every film I have ever seen (this was a huge project for a while) and I have seen roughly 120 films from the 1940’s

I have no idea what will happen when I get to the 70’s and 80’s, two decades I’ve seen a lot from, but comparatively speaking to how much there is, I haven’t even scratched the surface from those s in particular.

Note: I had a lot of amazing help on this list from Andreas from Pussy Goes Grrr. She was kind enough to make a post for me in which she brought together five ‘obscure-ish’ films from each year that were recommendations from her to everyone. Luckily I had only seen a little over 10 of them. Her picks were a wonderful combination of films that were either on my brainstorm list (that she had seen and recommended them provided further incentive to see them) or were films I had not heard of and was delighted to come across. http://pussygoesgrrr.com/2012/04/10/obscure-ish-movies-of-the-1940s/

The goal here was to have a mix of well-known canon films and obscurities or at the very least films that may not be universally known amongst film buffs.

So here is the list. In bold are the films I have watched since making the list. Please comment and tell me which ones I would be crazy not to miss; I will not have time to watch all of these in a mere 3 weeks!

Whisky Galore!
The Man in Grey
They Live by Night
The Man Who Came to Dinner
Night Train to Munich
The Thief of Bagdad
City for Conquest
The Flame of New Orleans
Man Hunt
Kings Row
Day of Wrath
The More the Merrier
Henry V
National Velvet
The Children Are Watching Us
The Lodger
Green for Danger
No Regrets for Our Youth
The Red House
Thieves Highway
The Seventh Veil
The Small Back Room
Oliver Twist
Act of Violence
Blood of the Beasts
On the Town
La Terra Trema
Tales of Manhattan
Miracle on 34th Street
The Strange Love of Martha Ivers
Foreign Correspondent
Ivan the Terrible Part I
Dark Passage
Odd Man Out
Meet John Doe
Cabin in the Sky
The Clock
The Woman in the Window
The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry
Secret Beyond the Door…
A Canterbury Tale
Brighton Rock
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
The Shanghai Gesture
The Suspect
My Favorite Wife
The Set-Up
The Devil and Daniel Webster
Criss Cross
The Big Clock
The Wolf Man
The Dark Mirror
The 49th Parallel
And Then There Were None
Pride of the Yankees
Spring in a Small Town
Stray Dog
Drunken Angel
The 47 Ronin
Meshes of the Afternoon
Listen to Britain
Fires Were Started

15 thoughts on “List of 1940’s Films to See

  1. Thanks a lot for the plug! Glad I could help. Of the non-bolded ones on your list, I’d say my most must-see recommendations would be The Flame of New Orleans, Pursued, On the Town, Ivan the Terrible Part I, and The Devil and Daniel Webster. All five gave me very pleasant viewing experiences; hope they can do the same for you!

    Meshes of the Afternoon, too.

  2. there are many films I love from the list, okay so here are the ones you shouldnt miss (from what Ive seen):
    – Day of Wrath (essential Dreyer)
    – The Children Are Watching Us (oh only thinking about this one and my eyes got teary)
    – Meshes of the Afternoon (oh yes please watch anything by Deren)
    – Spring in a Small Town (only if u can get a good copy)
    – The Big Clock (the premise is interesting)
    – The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (crazy, hilarious Danny Kaye in his multiple roles)
    – The Clock (simple but one of my very favorite Garland)
    – Meet John Doe (maybe my second favorite Capra, Gary Cooper is adorable, and also one of John Cassavetes’ favorite films)
    – Ivan the Terrible Part I (never been a big fan of Eisenstein, but this one is marvelous in every sense of word)
    – Thieves Highway (it’s as gripping as The Wages of Fear)
    – On the Town (entertaining)
    – Shoeshine (this is very sad in great way)
    – La Terra Trema (essential neorealism, so its a must)


    I’ve seen the first 20m of A CANTERBURY TALE and it was so not what I was expecting. Liked it so far, but… strange. (Admittedly, I didn’t read a synopsis before starting, either.)

    I kinda hated LA TERRA TREMA.

  4. definitely try to fit in:

    They Live by Night
    The More the Merrier (one of the funniest films EVER)
    Thieves Highway
    Miracle on 34th Street
    Foreign Correspondent
    Dark Passage (this is my favorite Bogart/Bacall film)
    Odd Man Out
    The Woman in the Window
    A Canterbury Tale
    Brighton Rock
    The Set-Up
    The Devil and Daniel Webster
    Criss Cross
    The Big Clock
    The Wolf Man
    The Dark Mirror
    Pride of the Yankees

  5. I would recommend watching the following films in the following order of priority:

    1. Spring in a Small Town (Arguably the greatest Chinese movie ever, a kind of In the Mood for Love of the 1940s.)
    2. They Live By Night (Nick Ray’s first and one of his best.)
    3. Meshes of the Afternoon (One of the most essential experimental films of all time.)
    4. On the Town (Great Technicolor musical. Gene Kelly at his best plus some actual NYC location work.)
    5. La Terra Trema (Quintessential Neorealism.)
    6. Odd Man Out (This is arguably a better thriller than The Third Man.)
    7. A Canterbury Tale (Leisurely paced and very witty Powell/Pressburger film.)
    8. Brighton Rock (Maybe the best British gangster movie ever. Great performance by a young Richard Attenborough and great use of locations. The ending is unforgettable.)
    9. Blood of the Beasts (A disturbing, poetic and essential documentary.)
    TIE 10. The Red House (This is a terrific, underrated film starring Edward G. Robinson as a one-legged farmer with a terrible secret! Scenes of high-school kids snooping around the title location are a clear metaphor for the loss of sexual innocence. The Blue Velvet of the 1940s.)
    TIE 10. The 47 Ronin (Not as essential as Utamaro and His Five Women, Mizoguchi’s best film of the 40s, but all of Mizo’s films are essential.)

    Shoeshine and the Kurosawas are overrated. Foreign Correspondent is minor Hitchcock. Criss Cross is an interesting but not entirely successful liberal message noir. The Flame of New Orleans should go to the bottom of the list in spite of the fact that Marlene Dietrich might be my favorite actress ever.

  6. A Canterbury Tale & The Clock are personal favourites. Kings Row, The Set Up, Thieves Highway, The Red House, The Small Back Room, Fires Were Started, Whiskey Galore! & Odd Man Out are also wonderful. A stunning list of films from one of my favourite decades of film.

  7. A Canterbury Tale and The Devil and Daniel Webster jumped out at me from this list. Oliver Twist is excellent, if you’re a fan of Alec Guinness and/or David Lean. Ivan the Terrible ought to be seen (you should include Part II as well since it was made in the 40s, just not released until 1958 due to Soviet censorship) both for history’s sake and also because it’s just a very unique, impressive work of art.

  8. I’d recommend They Live by Night, Night Train to Munich, The Lodger, Foreign Correspondent, La Terra Trema, Brighton Rock, The Shanghai Gesture and Stray Dog. The last three films have particularly strong performances from their leads in my humble opinion. I tend to like crime films & thrillers so my list naturally leans in that direction.

    I’m also very fond of Blood of the Beasts and Meshes of the Afternoon but it’s difficult to recommend experimental films.

  9. Well I’m a Danny Kaye nut and THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY is one of my favorite movies so I definitely say go for that one (I don’t believe it’s on dvd yet but I have the vhs if you can’t find it online.) FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT and ON THE TOWN are both good too. I myself am weirdly bad at 40s movies, don’t know why but I seem to have missed a ton from that decade, so I’m unfamiliar with most of the others.

  10. First, how fortunate you are to have developed an interest in vintage films so early in life; on the whole, I find them much more engaging than most of contemporary fare.
    These aren’t on your list, but should be:

    Double Indemnity, The Postman Always Rings Twice, Out Of The Past, The Maltese Falcon, and Casablanca. I could go on, and will if you ask for more.

    While I enjoy movies from the mid-to-late 30’s as well, I believe the entire 40’s is the sweet spot for cinema.

    Happy Viewing!

    1. Thanks for commenting! I’ve seen all of the ones you mentioned. My interest in going through the decades is not because I haven’t seen anything from them (I’ve already seen quite a bit), but its because I have so much more I want to watch and this gives me some structure. I’m moving onto the 50’s next week!

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