The war years colored everything in the 1940s including, early in the decade, the types of movies greenlit for production. In addition to expected -- and necessary -- morale-boosting bombast like 'Yankee Doodle Dandy' and 'They Were Expendable,' other wonderful films shined through, including two of the greatest prestige pictures ever delivered by major studios ('The Best Years of Our Lives' and 'Gentleman's Agreement').

The decade also saw noir come into its own as a genre in such immortal movies as 'Double Indemnity,' 'The Maltese Falcon,' 'The Postman Always Rings Twice' and 'The Third Man.' So, lace up your saddle shoes, adjust your bobbysox and Lindy Hop with us down memory lane for some of the '40s greatest hits.


The war years colored everything in the 1940s including, early in the decade, the types of movies greenlit for production. In addition to expected -- and necessary -- morale-boosting bombast like 'Yankee Doodle Dandy' and 'They Were Expendable,' other wonderful films shined through, including two of the greatest prestige pictures ever delivered by major studios ('The Best Years of Our Lives' and 'Gentleman's Agreement').

The decade also saw noir come into its own as a genre in such immortal movies as 'Double Indemnity,' 'The Maltese Falcon,' 'The Postman Always Rings Twice' and 'The Third Man.' So, lace up your saddle shoes, adjust your bobbysox and Lindy Hop with us down memory lane for some of the '40s greatest hits. -- By Tom Johnson


40. 'Fantasia' (1940)
A groundbreaking meld of classical music and Disney animation in eight parts, "Fantasia" was way ahead of its time in 1940 (and by some accounts, still is). Although the narration by critic Deems Taylor is a bit dated, the Disney factory working at peak efficiency and creativity to music by Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky, Dukas, etc., doesn't disappoint, putting Mickey Mouse through his 'Sorcerer's Apprentice' paces and animating dancing hippos, crocodiles, elephants and ostriches. Venerable maestro Leopold Stokowski conducts the Philadelphia Orchestra for this aural and visual treat.

Rent the DVD | Buy the DVD

39. 'Key Largo' (1948)
Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall must deal with a Chicago mobster on the lam (Edward G. Robinson) and his crew of lowlife paisanos while trying to batten down the hatches (literally) on a ramshackle Florida Keys hotel as a hurricane threatens to obliterate the premises. Bogie & Bacall's legendary screen chemistry remains intact in this their fourth screen pairing, but its Claire Trevor as Robinson's boozy moll who won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar.

Rent the DVD | Buy the DVD

38. 'Rebecca' (1940)
Alfred Hitchcock made his American directing debut (and hit it out of the park) with this melodramatic adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier's novel of a shy girl (Joan Fontaine) who marries broody British aristocrat Maxim De Winter (Laurence Olivier), a man seemingly haunted by the memory of his dead first wife. Judith Anderson (years before she became 'Dame') stands out in the role of Ms. Danvers, De Winter's housekeeper, who is as devoted to the memory of the first wife -- Rebecca -- as she is to gaslighting Fontaine straight into the booby hatch. Winner of the Best Picture Academy Award.

Rent the DVD | Buy the DVD

37. 'The Secret Life of Walter Mitty' (1947)
Based (ever so loosely) on James Thurber's classic short story, Danny Kaye is a case of, well, dream casting in the role of the titular milquetoast writer who daydreams that he is the hero of a series of epic adventures. Kaye's particular brand of frenetic, glandular comedy is well served in one of his signature patter numbers -- 'Anatole of Paris.'

Buy the DVD

36. 'Yankee Doodle Dandy' (1942)
Talk about going against type! Tough guy James Cagney won a Best Actor Oscar for his bombastic portrayal of Irish song-and-dance man George M. Cohan in this patriotic flag-waver that was just the tonic the country needed in the dark early years of WWII. Filled with classic musical chestnuts ('Over There,' 'You're a Grand Old Flag,' 'Harrigan'), Cagney was able to reconnect with his Vaudeville roots as a hoofer to deliver the film's best moment: Cohan's buck and wing down a White House staircase after being awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor by FDR.

Rent the DVD | Buy the DVD

35. 'The Shop Around the Corner' (1940)
Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan carry out a pen-pal courtship using aliases in a charming film directed with a sure touch by rom-com veteran Ernst Lubitsch. The beauty part is that Stewart and Sullavan both clerk in the same store and don't like each other. The movie is probably most famous for spawning a veritable cottage industry of remakes including, nine years later, 'In the Good Old Summertime,' 'You've Got Mail' in 1998, the Broadway musical 'She Loves Me' and even the cultish British sitcom 'Are You Being Served?' Which just proves that a good idea always has legs.

Rent the DVD | Buy the DVD

34. 'Miracle on 34th St.' (1947)
As a seasonal Santa-for-hire for Macy's flagship department store in midtown Manhattan, Edmund Gwenn (who won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar), with his cherubic smile, sunny disposition and fleecy beard may just be the real deal. The granddaddy of all classic Christmas movies (and far superior to the legions of lackluster remakes), 'Miracle' has been just that to generations of moviegoers -- a perfect way to ring in the holiday season. And has there ever been a child actor more winsome than pintsized Natalie Wood?

Rent the DVD | Buy the DVD

33. 'Twelve O'Clock High' (1949)
An American Air Force general (Gregory Peck) is tasked with improving the morale (and luck) of a hapless bomber group that has had the devil's own day of it during daylight bombing raids over Germany in the early days of World War II. The Luftwaffe is just one of Savage's problems as he works to discipline recalcitrant pilots while hitting his strategic targets. The film pivots around the flashback recollections of Dean Jagger, who won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role as Savage's empathetic Man Friday. It also spawned a popular '60s TV series.

Rent the DVD | Buy the DVD

32. 'Going My Way' (1944)
Father Charles "Chuck" O'Malley (Bing Crosby) takes over a parish in a downtrodden neighborhood from older priest Father Fitzgibbon (Barry Fitzgerald) in sentimental wartime escapism that scored huge at the box office and swept the Oscars, generating seven statuettes, including Best Picture, Director (Leo McCarey), Actor (Crosby) and Supporting Actor (Fitzgerald). Bing trills five songs, including one of his biggest hits ('Swinging on a Star'), which also won Oscar gilt.

Rent the DVD | Buy the DVD

31. 'Great Expectations' (1946)
Charles Dickens' classic novel of an orphan who makes good thanks to an anonymous benefactor, transfers to the screen in one of the best adaptations of any Dickens work ('Expectations' alone has been the subject of 13 movie and TV versions). Leave it to the British to get the best handle on their own cultural patrimony with David Lean directing John Mills as the adult Pip and Jean Simmons as Estella in something veddy English ... and wonderful.

Rent the DVD | Buy the DVD