For fans of the Film Noir genre, including myself, there is little doubt that the 1940′s produced a wealth of noir directed by many of the greatest film noir directors in the genres history. It was these early noir efforts that would take the genre well into the 1950′s.
The success of the following directors is not in any way limited to the 1940′s, or to film noir exclusively. Many started earlier, and/or continued with their directorial success for decades to come in numerous film genres.
They are listed alphabetically and I’m sure you will find some of your own favorites included. I will also suggest for viewing some of their most notable film noir for the decade.
Here are my favorites:
Edward Dmytryk- From studio messenger, to top director, to university professor, Dmytryk directed two of the more classic film noir titles of the 40′s. However, there was a black side to the directors career as he was one of the Hollywood Ten, a group of blacklisted film industry professionals during the McCarthy era.
* Murder My Sweet – 1944
* Crossfire – 1947
Alfred Hitchcock- A London import whose name and films are familiar to everyone. A master of psychological thrillers, many of which are film noir, Hitchcock had a career that spanned over five decades earning him the distinction of being considered one of the most influential filmmakers of all time.
Starring – James Ellison (Wesley Rand), Frances Dee (Betsy Connell), Tom Conway (Paul Holland), Edith Barrett (Mrs. Rand).
Description – See this strange, strange story of a woman whose lure sent brother against brother, whose love caused hate – and whose beauty bowed to an evil spell whose power we must refuse to believe – Even If It’s True!
Canadian nurse Betsy Connell is hired by Carribbean sugar plantation owner Paul Holland to care for his wife Jessica.
Upon Betsy’s arrival she is taken to the Holland residence and during the trip is informed about the history of the island of Saint Sebastian and how the Holland family brought the slaves to the island.
That night at dinner, Betsy meets Paul’s half-brother Wesley Rand and learns that they both have the same mother, Mrs. Rand. Later that evening, while preparing for bed, Betsy hears the cries of a woman across the courtyard.
Her investigation leads her to a tower stairwell where she encounters Jessica Holland who approaches her almost ghost-like causing her to scream. Jessica’s zombie appearance is explained as a tropical fever.
During a visit to town learns that Wesley and Jessica had an affair and that Paul may be the cause of Jessica’s state-of-mind. Wesley believes Paul is trying to drive Jessica insane as a result of the affair.
The locals believe that Jessica has been cursed and is now one of the living walking dead. As some time passes, Betsy finds herself attracted to Paul and is more determined than ever to help cure Jessica.
When all conventional treatment fails, Alma, the maid, suggests that Betsy bring Jessica to see a Voodoo priest.
Voodoo and black magic follow in an attempt to cure Jessica. The locals feel that Jessica is evil and must be held accountable to their beliefs and practices regarding the undean.
Tension builds between the locals and the white settlers as a cure is hoped to be found before the bloodshed begins.
NOTABLE: Producer Val Lewton’s creativity is clearly evident here as this is one of those classic horror films he produced where he was given only the title of a film and had to create a story around it.
The motion picture had a “fun” disclaimer at the end of the credits that stated: “The characters and events depicted in this photoplay are fictional. Any similarity to actual persons, living, dead, or possessed, is purely coincidental.”
Personal Note: If you are not familiar with the classic horror films produced by Val Lewton and directed by Jacques Tourneur, take note. They are some of the best ever make in the genre.
Modern zombie fans may be disappointed in the depiction of zombie’s in I Walked With A Zombie. They are not the flesh eating version so popular with today’s audiences. Rather, they are unfeeling, unthinking, and unresponsive traditional zombies.
This is one of the best with great atmosphere and a surprising and very satisfying conclusion.
Starring – Simone Simon (Irena Dubrovna Reed), Kent Smith (Oliver Reed), Tom Conway (Dr. Louis Judd), Jane Randolph (Alice Moore), Jack Holt (The Commodore).
Description – The exciting story of a woman who kills the thing she loves!
While at the zoo Serbian-born fashion designer Irena Dubrovna meets marine engineer Oliver Reed who she invites to her apartment for tea. During their conversation, Irena tells Oliver a strange story of her heritage that involves witchcraft and devil worship.
Irena believes she is a descendant of a cursed people with a strange connection to a panther. While growing up her father had died mysteriously and her mother was called “the cat person.”
In spite of these stories, Oliver asks Irena to marry him and she accepts. While celebrating their engagement at a Serbian restaurant, a woman closely resembling a cat approaches and asks Irena is she is “her sister.” This fuels Irena’s fear of the cat curse.
After the marriage, Irena tries to avoid sleeping with her husband as the curse is said to manifest itself by her turning into a panther should she be aroused to passion.
Oliver pursuades Irena to see a psychiatrist and begins to confide his marital problems with his beautiful assistant Alice Moore.
Adding another woman to an already cursed relationship can only lead to tragedy.
NOTABLE: In 1993 this film was added for preservation to the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.
Cat People cost RKO Radio Pictures just over $140,000 to make and earned over $4 million, reportedly saving the studio from financial ruin.
The film was such a box office hit that many critics who had originally posted bad reviews took the opportunity to view it again and issued positive follow-up.