Top Ten 1949

1. Late Spring
2. The Heiress
3. The Third Man
4. She Wore A Yellow Ribbon
5. Pinky
6. White Heat
7. Champion
8. Adam’s Rib
9. Come To The Stable
10. Little Women


He’s on top of the world, ma!  James Cagney may have switched up the genres since his Oscar win for Yankee Doodle Dandy, but a life of crime was not too far behind. One of his very best performances was in one of the very best films of the decade, the deservedly memorialized White Heat, in which he indulges in a near-Bacchanalian crime spree that erupts in an orgasmic fury in the film’s incredible conclusion–a film so explosive that Madonna even wrote a song about it.

Honour Roll: Montgomery Clift, The Heiress; Kirk Douglas, Champion; Spencer Tracy, Adam’s Rib; John Wayne, She Wore A Yellow Ribbon


Hands down the greatest female performance of the 1940s, Olivia de Havilland predicted the possibilities of subtlety in film acting with her tour de force work in one of William Wyler’s best-ever productions, The Heiress. Inspired by the novel Washington Square by Henry James, the film gives de Havilland plenty of opportunities to really dig into her character’s misery; the scene where she realizes that her father does not love her is among the most devastating in film history.

Honour Roll: June Allyson, Little Women; Jeanne Crain, Pinky; Katharine Hepburn, Adam’s Rib; Loretta Young, Come To The Stable


Watching All The King’s Men, it becomes apparent that John Ireland was not your run-of-the-mill stud (in the novel of L.A. Confidential, Mickey Cohen is obsessed with Ireland’s reportedly on-the-record endowment status). In the years that have passed since this political melodrama was released, none of it has aged particularly well except for Ireland’s work; while Broderick Crawford just barks and Mercedes McCambridge wallows in her overdone misery (she’s much better in Giant), Ireland brings control, skepticism and intelligence to his role as the reporter with more questions about his political hero than are safe to have.

Honour Roll: Dean Jagger, Twelve O’Clock High; Arthur Kennedy, Champion; Edmond O’Brien, White Heat; Ralph Richardson, The Heiress


Pinky is one of the most impressive films of its year, and one of the most challenging: it seeks to criticize racism, and yet the studio chose to put a slight layer of tan makeup on Jeanne Crain instead of casting Lena Horne as a young black woman who passes for white. The reason? She had to kiss a white co-star. This hypocrisy aside (though not ignored), it is a thoroughly absorbing melodrama with whipcrack performances. My favourite of them all is an intelligent, grande turn by Ethel Barrymore (earning her final Oscar nomination) as the Southern matriarch who eventually comes to peacefully accept the passing of her racist era.

Honour Roll: Hermione Baddeley, Passport To Pimlico; Celeste Holm, Come To The Stable; Ethel Waters, Pinky; Margaret Wycherly, White Heat


William Wyler, The Heiress

Honour Roll: Elia Kazan, Pinky; Carol Reed, The Third Man; Raoul Walsh, White Heat; William A. Wellman, Battleground