Top Ten 1940

1. The Grapes Of Wrath
2. Rebecca
3. The Thief Of Bagdad
4. Fantasia
5. The Letter
6. The Great Dictator
7. The Bank Dick
8. The Philadelphia Story
9. Pride and Prejudice
10. Dance, Girl, Dance


There are few actors in Hollywood history that encompass the traits that were covered by Henry Fonda: courage, compassion, bravery and intelligence, touched by a searing line of pain somewhere in his core that always made him so affecting. Never were all these traits on better display than in John Ford’s superb adaptation of Steinbeck’s The Grapes Of Wrath, and it is Fonda’s moral force that gives the film its drive.

Honour Roll: Charles Chaplin, The Great Dictator; Cary Grant, His Girl Friday; Laurence Olivier, Pride And Prejudice/Rebecca


It is impossible to understand how Kitty Foyle‘s Ginger Rogers managed to snag an Oscar for a dull performance in a dull drama (after years of being brilliant in musical comedies); especially when it was at the disadvantage of the incredible work done by Joan Fontaine in Rebecca. The film has mystery, romance, enchantment and some dirty sex, but it wouldn’t be as tense or captivating without Fontaine’s pitch-perfect, breathy vulnerability. She’s always sympathetic without ever pushing it to the point of manic or desperate; Hitchcock doesn’t necessarily create one of his trademark icy blondes here, but he does show us what they were as younger women.

Honour Roll: Joan Crawford, Susan And God; Irene Dunne, My Favourite Wife; Greer Garson, Pride And Prejudice; Rosalind Russell, His Girl Friday


There are probably more impressively dramatic performances to choose from here, or even George Sanders’ deliciously snide turn in Rebecca, but I can’t help myself and so choose to honour Jack Oakie for his hilarious performance as Napaloni, Dictator of Bacteria in Chaplin’s marvelous The Great Dictator. Comedy is a terrific way to diffuse the tragedies of real life, and Chaplin satirizes human inhumanity in a way that still resonates today.

Honour Roll: Albert Bassermann, Foreign Correspondent; Walter Brennan, ,The Westerner; George Sanders, Rebecca; James Stephenson, The Letter


The other performance in The Grapes Of Wrath that gives it its careworn heart is the one that deservedly won an Academy Award, for Jane Darwell as the tired but courageous matriarch of a clan of labourers who have to scratch their existence from the very dust around them.

Honour Roll: Mary Boland, Pride And Prejudice; Olivia de Havilland, Santa Fe Trail; Paulette Goddard, The Great Dictator; Barbara O’Neil, All This, And Heaven Too


John Ford, The Grapes Of Wrath

Honour Roll: Charles Chaplin, The Great Dictator; Alfred Hitchcock, Foreign Correspondent/Rebecca; Anatole Litvak, All This, And Heaven Too; William Wyler, The Letter