Top Ten 1942

1. Casablanca
2. Kings Row
3. The Magnificent Ambersons
4. To Be Or Not To Be
5. One Of Our Aircraft Is Missing
6. In Which We Serve
7. The Ox-Bow Incident
8. The Palm Beach Story
9. Now, Voyager
10. Random Harvest


Nothing like stepping outside your comfort zone to get awards attention, but then again if you do it this well, why not reap the benefits? James Cagney got out of gangster films just in time to see them go out of style and, instead of becoming a trademark heavy in film noir as we would have expected, headlined a terrific musical biopic of songwriter George M. Cohan (notice how often he makes sure people know it’s not pronounced “Cohen”). Yankee Doodle Dandy is a great film and Cagney can barely be contained: he can pretty much power a steam engine across the country with his infectious energy. Well done, little thug.

Honour Roll: Ronald Colman, Random Harvest; Paul Henreid, Now, Voyager; Spencer Tracy, Woman Of The Year; Monty Woolley, The Pied Piper


I’ve often found the praise heaped upon Katharine Hepburn for being a woman ahead of her time to be somewhat overstated; it’s mostly based on the fact that she wore pants before it was regularly fashionable (I think a movie like The Aviator does a terrific job of pointing out what I perceive to be the shady side of her “liberated” persona, notably the fact that she was haughtily unaware of her economic privileges). Still, if the personality cult created around that grass-chewing accent were based on one film, it should be the surprisingly still fresh Woman Of The Year, in which she gets to have it all but, thanks to Spencer Tracy’s refusing to take her crap lying down, is forced to prove she’s worth changing the world for.

Honour Roll: Bette Davis, Now, Voyager; Greer Garson, Mrs. Miniver/Random Harvest; Carole Lombard, To Be Or Not To Be


The other point of energy coming from Yankee Doodle Dandy is the great Walter Huston as Cagney’s father; the man pretty much gave an Oscar-worthy performance in every film he ever appeared in (and six years later the Academy finally agreed), and this one is among his finest.

Honour Roll: William Bendix, Wake Island; Tim Holt, The Magnificent Ambersons; Emrys Jones, One Of Our Aircraft Is Missing; Claude Rains, Casablanca/Now, Voyager


Among the many elements of cinema that Orson Welles introduced with his Citizen Kane was the appearance of one of its greatest character actors, Agnes Moorehead. With her probing eyes and beakish nose she was quickly cast as the shrewish spinster in many films for decades (she was the picture of spinster even in movies where she was married) but it was never a cardboard caricature of ignored womanhood. Her four Oscar nominations attest to a fiery presence on screen no matter what trouble she was causing the film’s leads, and the best of them is in Welles’ second masterpiece, the sadly unrecoverable The Magnificent Ambersons.

Honour Roll: Mary Astor, The Palm Beach Story; Susan Peters, Random Harvest; Googie Withers, One Of Our Aircraft Is Missing; Teresa Wright, Mrs. Miniver


Casablanca is probably the best directed movie of all time, but I’m going to spread the wealth since I already give Michael Curtiz plenty of love in these lists. Instead I direct your attention to a terrific, little-remembered soap opera by Sam Wood called Kings Row. It could have been yet another multi-cast melodrama, but with the impressive dramatics and moody cinematography by James Wong Howe it is instead a wonder to behold. Even the presence of the wooden Ronald Reagan doesn’t keep it from being a through and through classic.

Honour Roll: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger, One Of Our Aircraft Is Missing; Orson Welles, The Magnificent Ambersons; William Wellman, The Ox-Bow Incident; William Wyler, Mrs. Miniver