My Top 10:

Henry Fonda as Tom Joad during his final speech in The Grapes of Wrath (1940)

  1. The Grapes of Wrath
  2. The Great Dictator
  3. The Philadelphia Story
  4. Rebecca
  5. His Girl Friday
  6. Pinocchio
  7. The Great McGinty
  8. The Shop Around the Corner
  9. La Bete Humaine
  10. Pride and Prejudice

Academy Awards:

  • Best Picture:  Rebecca
  • Best Director:  John Ford  (The Grapes of Wrath)
  • Best Actor:  Jimmy Stewart  (The Philadelphia Story)
  • Best Actress:  Ginger Rogers  (Kitty Foyle)
  • Best Supporting Actor:  Walter Brennan  (The Westerner)
  • Best Supporting Actress:  Jane Darwell  (The Grapes of Wrath)
  • Best Screenplay:  The Philadelphia Story (from the play by Donald Ogden Stewart)
  • Best Original Screenplay:  The Great McGinty
  • Best Original Story:  Arise, My Love

Consensus Awards:

  • Best Picture:  The Grapes of Wrath
  • Best Director:  John Ford  (The Grapes of Wrath)
  • Best Actor:  Charlie Chaplin  (The Great Dictator)
  • Best Actress:  Katharine Hepburn  (The Philadelphia Story)
  • Best Foreign Film:  The Baker’s Wife

Top 5  (Top 1000):

  • His Girl Friday – #102
  • The Grapes of Wrath – #127
  • The Philadelphia Story – #142
  • The Great Dictator – #234
  • The Shop Around the Corner – #237

Top 5 Awards Points:

  1. The Grapes of Wrath – 590
  2. Rebecca – 425
  3. The Philadelphia Story – 380
  4. The Long Voyage Home – 275
  5. The Great Dictator – 250

AFI Top 100 Films:

  • The Grapes of Wrath – #21  (1998) / #23  (2007)
  • The Philadelphia Story – #51  (1998) / #44  (2007)

Nighthawk Awards:

Oscar winner (and Nighthawk nominee) Jimmy Stewart and Nighthawk Winners Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story (1940)

  • Best Picture:  The Grapes of Wrath
  • Best Director:  John Ford (The Grapes of Wrath)
  • Best Actor:  Henry Fonda  (The Grapes of Wrath)
  • Best Actress:  Katharine Hepburn  (The Philadelphia Story)
  • Best Supporting Actor:  Cary Grant  (The Philadelphia Story)
  • Best Supporting Actress:  Judith Anderson  (Rebecca)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay:  The Grapes of Wrath (from the novel by John Steinbeck)
  • Best Original Screenplay:  The Great Dictator

Nighthawk Notables:

  • Best Film to Watch Over and Over:  His Girl Friday
  • Best Scene:  Charlie Chaplin leaping into the chest in The Great Dictator
  • Best Line (dramatic):  “Look up, Hannah! The soul of man has been given wings and at last he is beginning to fly. He is flying into the rainbow! Into the light of hope, into the future! The glorious future, that belongs to you, to me and to all of us. Look up, Hannah. Look up!”  (The Great Dictator – Charlie Chaplin)
  • Best Line (comedic):  “No, no, never mind the Chinese earthquake for heaven’s sake…Look, I don’t care if there’s a million dead…No, no, junk the Polish Corridor…Take all those Miss America pictures off Page Six…Take Hitler and stick him on the funny page…No, no, leave the rooster story alone – that’s human interest.”  (His Girl Friday – Cary Grant)
  • Best Ending:  The Great Dictator

Ebert Great Films:

  • Pinocchio
  • The Bank Dick
  • The Grapes of Wrath
  • The Great Dictator
  • The Thief of Bagdad

While 1939 is constantly held up as the greatest year, 1940 may actually be a better year.  Certainly there are few years that can match its top 5 films or even its top 6.  It is the year in which Screwball Comedy hit its peak with the release of both His Girl Friday and The Philadelphia Story and Cary Grant still didn’t an Oscar nomination.  In spite of the great Comedies, the Oscars go for more sappy melodramas (All This and Heaven Too, Kitty Foyle, Our Town), while ignoring His Girl Friday, The Shop Around the Corner and The Great McGinty (Shop and Friday get shut out completely).

Film History: Alfred Hitchcock makes his first American film and wins Best Picture.  The five majors (Paramount, 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros, MGM, RKO) agree to outlaw “blind-selling”, the process by which they force theaters to accept films they have not seen.  This leads to a reduction in B-movies from the major and and an increase from Columbia, Universal and Republic to fill the gap.  Road to Singapore opens, the first of the Bob Hope / Bing Crosby road films.  Jean Renoir, director of the two greatest French films ever made at this point (Grand Illusion, Rules of the Game) leaves France ahead of the Nazi arrival and arrives in the U.S. the next year where he will stay through the duration of the war.  Preston Sturges agrees to a fee over $1 for his script for The Great McGinty if he will be allowed to direct.  It is his directing debut and his script wins the Oscar.  Abbott and Costello make their first film together.  William Hanna and Joe Barbera debut a new cartoon team for MGM: Tom and Jerry.

Academy Awards: Jimmy Stewart wins Best Actor, an award that is often referred to today as a “makeup Oscar” for not winning for Mr. Smith the year before.  Rebecca wins Best Picture but Hitchcock fails to win Best Director.  As producer of Rebecca and Gone with the Wind, David O. Selznick becomes the first person to win back to back Best Picture Oscars.  The Letter sets a new record by going 0 for 7.  Walter Brennan becomes the first Actor to win 3 Oscars.  Bette Davis becomes the first Actress to be nominated 3 years in a row (in a streak that will extend to 5 years).  Greer Garson fails to get a nomination for the last time until 1946.  Ginger Rogers win Best Actress for her only nomination, the first to do so since Mary Pickford in 1929 and the last to do so until Judy Holliday in 1950.  No limits on the number of nominees in most of the technical categories (except Editing) results in 59 different films nominated for feature film awards.  The number will fluctuate between 57 and 65 until 1945 and then never go above 46 again.  John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock and Sam Wood all end up with two Best Picture nominees.  Pinocchio and Thief of Bagdad become the first films to win multiple Oscars without a Best Picture nomination.  Bagdad‘s 3 Oscars without a BP nomination will stand as a record until 1952.  Interior Decoration is split into Color and Black and White while Original Screenplay is added as a category.

  • Worst Oscar:  Best Editing for Northwest Mounted Police
  • Worst Oscar Nomination:  Best Picture for All This and Heaven Too
  • Worst Oscar Omission:  Best Actress for Rosalind Russell  (His Girl Friday)
  • Worst Oscar Nominated-Film:  One Million B.C.
  • Worst Oscar Category:  Best Sound
  • Best Oscar Category:  Best Original Score – a plethora of great choices among the 17 nominees
  • Oscar / Nighthawk Agreement:  Best Director / Best Cinematography (Black and White) / Best Special Effects / Best Song

Awards: For only the second time, the New York Film Critics gave Best Picture and Best Director to the same film and like the first time (The Informer), it was for a John Ford film: The Grapes of Wrath.  And like several other years, the NBR also gives it Best Picture and then it loses at the Oscars.  Both groups also agree that The Baker’s Wife is the Best Foreign Film.  The NBR confuses things by having the Oscar winner for Best Picture from 1939 and another nominee (Of Mice and Men) in its Top 10 list along with six of the 1940 nominees.  The New York Critics again gives Best Actor to an Oscar nominee who would lose at the Oscars (Charlie Chaplin) and does the same for Best Actress (Katharine Hepburn).

Greer Garson as Lizzie Bennett and Laurence Olivier as Mr. Darcy in the first film version of Pride and Prejudice (1940)

Under-appreciated Film of 1940:

Pride and Prejudice (dir. Robert Z. Leonard)

During the years of World War II, Greer Garson was nominated for Best Actress six times.  The only year she failed to earn a nomination was in 1940.  While the Academy nominated Martha Wood for Our Town and gave the Oscar to Ginger Rogers for the weepy sentimentality of Kitty Foyle, Garson’s performance as Lizzie Bennett in the first film version of Pride and Prejudice was ignored.  It wasn’t the only thing that was ignored.

Pride and Prejudice won the Oscar for Best Interior Decoration (Black and White) in what turned out to be its only Oscar nomination.  Here we had a great cast: Edmund Gwenn and Mary Boland as the Bennetts, Greer Garson as thoughful, inspired Lizzie and of course, the brilliant casting of Laurence Olivier was Mr. Darcy.  During the last 15 years, while Colin Firth has become so solidly attached to the role of Mr. Darcy it seems that everyone has completely forgotten how perfect Laurence Olivier was for the role.  Is there any actor in film history who could more perfectly portray a stuffed shirt, a man who truly believes himself to be superior to those around him, only to see him suffer the sharp pangs of love for the one woman who also irritates him the most.  Not to mention that in a year when such stolid dramas as All This and Heaven Too and Our Town were nominated (not to mention the ridiculous melodrama of Kitty Foyle) they couldn’t have found a place for another great Comedy?  My top 10 includes 6 Comedies.  The Oscars included 2.

I detest the novel, of course, as can be seen here, find it as unreadable as all the rest of Ms. Austen’s novels, all equally devoid of any knowledge of the outside world.  But there is no question that at the heart of her story is a passionate, burning love that longed to be played out on screen.  There are many fine versions of the novel and there are ones that even far superior to this version (I will always prefer the 2005 film), but there is a lot to be said for this forgotten treasure.  Amazingly enough, in spite of the Austen explosion, until 1995 this was the only film version of any of her novels.

But this film only breeds a greater acknowledgement of what Laurence Olivier brought to film acting.  He had already brought Heathcliff vividly to life the year before and in 1940 he was in fact nominated for Best Actor for his perfect Max De Winter in Rebecca so he wasn’t snubbed.  But while he is mostly remembered today for the Shakespeare which he brought to life on-screen, there is no question that he had the physicality, the vitality, the romance, even the comedic skills that so few actors have ever been able to pit together in one package.

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