Saturday, February 20, 2016

My Ten Favorite Movies Set in the 1940s

In honor of 1940s Week over at An Old-Fashioned Girl, I've put together a list of my 10 favorite movies that take place during the 1940s.  Because I'm fascinated by how WWII affected the military and civilians alike, and how it changed the world on so many levels, you'll notice that many of these directly involve the war.

1.  The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) (and more thoughts)

Three veterans (Dana Andrews, Frederic March, Harold Russell) find returning to civilian life and their families (Myrna Loy, Teresa Wright, Virginia Mayo, Cathy O'Donnell) much harder than they'd expected. An amazingly frank look at post-war America.  Particularly noteworthy is the performance of Harold Russell, a real-life double amputee who served during WWII and will break your heart.  In a good way.

2.  The Great Escape (1963)

The Nazis put all their worst eggs (Steve McQueen, James Coburn, Charles Bronson, James Garner...) in one prison camp, and naturally all those escape artists work together to escape. I love this on so many levels, from the whole band-of-misfits-working-together angle to the clever planning to the actual escape itself. And it's based on a true story!

3.  Laura (1944)

While solving the murder of beautiful, talented Laura Hunt (Gene Tierney), Detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) falls in love with her memory. One of the most haunting murder mysteries with one of the biggest plot twists.

4.  Operation Pacific (1951)

Commander Duke Gifford (John Wayne) leads a submarine crew on a bunch of adventures (most of them based on actual WWII events) and tries to win back his ex-wife (Patricia Neal). My 8-year-old son asks to watch this at least once a month right now. This is a clean and lovely movie.

5.  Father Goose (1964)

A misanthropic drunk (Cary Grant) reluctantly becomes an island spotter during WWII and winds up caring for a group of young girls and their oh-so-proper chaperon (Leslie Caron). This is both sweet and salty, and I love it dearly.

6.  It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

George Bailey (James Stewart) decides he's worth more dead than alive, and it takes an unlikely angel (Henry Travers) all of Christmas Eve to convince him otherwise. There's a reason it's so famous -- it's really that good.

7.  Hell is for Heroes (1962)

One small American Infantry squad (Bobby Darin, Steve McQueen, Fess Parker, James Coburn, Bob Newhart...) holds off a Nazi attack thanks to lots of clever ruses and some spectacular sacrifices. This was written by Robert Pirosh, who also created my beloved Combat!, and this whole movie almost feels like a long episode of the show.

8.  State Fair (1945)

A family spends a week at the Iowa state fair, where the daughter (Jeanne Crain) falls in love with a newspaper man (Dana Andrews), the son falls in love with an entertainer, and the parents take home prizes for their mincemeat and hog. There's a 1960s remake that stars Bobby Darin in the Dana Andrews role, but aside from dearest Bobby, I feel that version lacks the charm of this one.

9.  The Monuments Men (2014)

A special American task force tries to rescue important art from the Nazis. Another great ensemble cast (Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Jean Dujardin, Bill Murray, John Goodman, George Clooney...), and another true story.

10.  To Have and Have Not (1944)

Fisherman Harry Morgan (Humphrey Bogart) gets tangled up with a wandering woman (Lauren Bacall) and a bunch of anti-Nazi French patriots during WWII. Loosely based on characters from the Ernest Hemingway novel by the same title, but I like it far better than the book.


  1. I haven't seen most of these, but I really like the Great Escape! I've watched it several times, even though it is so long. I thought they did a pretty good job sticking to the story. I'd like to watch Hells are for Heroes, but is it family suitable? (As far as language or obscenity).

    1. Connie, isn't it cool how The Great Escape doesn't feel long? It's so well told.

      Hell is for Heroes is pretty family-friendly. Some WWII violence, similar to what you find in other early '60s war movies. It's been a while since I saw it, so I don't remember for sure, but from what I recall, cursing was minimal and mild.

      Eva, have you watched it fairly recently? Do you remember what kind of cursing it had, if any?

    2. Yep, I saw it semi-recently (because I was showing it to my grandfather for the very first time) and I can only remember one use each of h--- and d---. So, pretty good as far as language is concerned. :)

  2. A very nice selection!
    I love The Great Escape, and how it could keep the pace for almost 3 hours.
    And State Fair and It's A Wonderful Life are favourites of mine too.
    I really want to watch Laura and The Monuments Men, they sound really good.

    1. Thanks, Rose! I love learning about the 1940s -- it's one of my favorite eras.

      I just realized I didn't link the movie titles to my reviews of the movies (if I've reviewed them). I should do that! I've reviewed both Laura (here) and The Monuments Men (here) if you want to know more about them.

  3. I'd be interested to watch "The Best Years of our Lives"--it sounds as though it has a lot of historical value, apart from being a cool movie :-)

    1. Jessica, TBYOOL is amazing. Historically, cinematically -- it's a wonder. Find it! Watch it! (Fall in love with Dana Andrews because of it!)

  4. I've seen all of these but three. *fist-pump* Goodness, you've got some amazing ones on here. <3 (I really want to watch Operation Pacific - I'll have to see if my library has it.)

    1. Eva, that's so cool! I think you'd did Operation Pacific. It's a "fun" war movie, if that makes sense. And 100% clean. I hope your library has it!

      Let me guess... you also haven't seen To Have and Have Not and... um... Father Goose, maybe?

    2. Those are the three I haven't seen. They're all on my to-watch list, though.

    3. Father Goose is very fun. And funny! Another one my family quotes a lot.

  5. Replies
    1. Thanks, Sarah! This looks like an original and fun one... and simple!

  6. Ooh! So many good ones to try!


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