TEN BEST FILM PERFORMANCES OF THE 1940S

My favorite performance of the decade occupies the royal first position in the list below; thereafter, the nine other performances are listed alphabetically by last name.

1. Self-directed in Henry V (1944), Laurence Olivier brings devastating irony to these victorious post-battle remarks by King Henry, among the saddest lines that Shakespeare wrote:

Let there be sung Non nobis and Te Deum,
The dead with charity enclosed in clay.
And then to Calais, and to England then,
Where ne’er from France arrived more happy men.

I especially like, the night before the battle, when Olivier’s Harry, incognito, sounds out the loyalty and feelings of his troops, displaying a common touch but also, when he deems fit, the steely spine of a king.
     Olivier as Henry V brought us all “a little touch of Harry in the night.”

2. Charles Chaplin, Monsieur Verdoux (Chaplin, 1947).

3. Bette Davis, The Letter (William Wyler, 1940).

4. Setsuko Hara, Late Spring (Yasujiro Ozu, 1949).

5. Celia Johnson, This Happy Breed (David Lean, 1944).

6. Michèle Morgan, Symphonie Pastorale (Jean Delannoy, 1946).

7. Lisbeth Movin, Day of Wrath (Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1943).

8. Chishû Ryû, Late Spring (Yasujiro Ozu, 1949).

9. Barbara Stanwyck, Double Indemnity (Billy Wilder, 1944).

10. Margaret Sullavan, The Mortal Storm (Frank Borzage, 1940).

3 thoughts on “TEN BEST FILM PERFORMANCES OF THE 1940S

  1. I’m not saying any of these are wrong–but omitting Robert Montgomery in They Were Expendable and Welles in Citizen Kane?

    • Well, those are two brilliant performances, and at another time on another day I might have included one or both of them; but ten is a finite number, hence, with a hard limit. Larry, this should appeal to you in at least one regard: here are my 1945 “bests” in my blog file “Best Film & Other Film Achievements by Year”:

      1945

      FILM: San Pietro (John Huston, U.S.)
      FILMMAKER: Yuli Raizman, Berlin
      SCENARIST: Robert Bresson, Jean Cocteau, Les dames du Bois de Boulogne
      CINEMATOGRAPHER: Harry Stradling, The Picture of Dorian Gray
      ACTOR: Robert Montgomery, They Were Expendable
      ACTRESS: Dorothy McGuire, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and The Spiral Staircase
      SUPPORTING ACTOR: Michael Redgrave, Dead of Night
      SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Anna Magnani, Rome, Open City

  2. ” ten is a finite number”
    well-said
    and naming Montgomery the best actor of 1945 makes me feel a lot better.
    Don’t know if you’re familiar with it, but in his off-hand not entirely appreciative review of They Were Expendable, James Agee acknowledged that Montgomery’s performance was “unimprovable.”
    Incidentally, I just read your piece on Rossellini’s Voyage to Italy, Superb.

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