Natalie picked three films from the 1940s:
THE LETTER (1940)
This mystery is the movie that made me really appreciate Bette Davis for the first time. Her character is abnormally well developed and complex for this genre and time, and it is one of the most gripping performances I’ve ever seen.
On an eerie moonlit night, Mrs. Leslie Crosbie (Bette Davis) shoots a man, calmly sends for the authorities, and goes back into her house where she begins work on a lace shawl. Her claim of self-defense is questioned when an incriminating letter surfaces, and Leslie must adjust her story. Her web of deception becomes as complicated as the lace she continuously crochets, and we the audience discover piece by piece the truth behind Leslie’s actions.
The tension and suspense are present in this movie from the beginning all the way to the climactic end. Even if you aren’t a Bette Davis fan, you’ll appreciate this film for its camerawork, intriguing setting, and the mesmerizing story.
THE LEOPARD MAN (1943)
I saw this suspenseful film for the first time on a dark November night several years ago. I’d only seen one other Jean Brooks film, and thought I’d give this one a try. Before I knew it, I had been swept into the mysterious plot, anxious to see who the murderous “Leopard Man” was.
Jean Brooks plays a nightclub singer looking for attention in this Val Lewton film. During a publicity stunt gone wrong, she accidentally unleashes a black leopard on the town, and it isn’t long before the gruesome killings begin. However, suspicions arise as to whether it is the leopard, or the work of a maniac. Soon, it becomes clear that no one should be trusted, anyone could be the infamous “Leopard Man.”
I love this movie, because it is a marvelous exhibition of a lesser known actress, Jean Brooks. If you’ve never seen her before, she is definitely worth looking into. Once you start watching, you won’t be able to stop until the culprit is revealed!
DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944)
This is one of the greatest suspenseful film noir movies ever made. Starring the legendary Barbara Stanwyck alongside Fred MacMurray and Edward G. Robinson, this movie will hold your attention until the last dramatic minute.
The plot centers around an insurance salesman (MacMurray) who is persuaded into helping a beautiful and mysterious woman murder her husband and collect his life insurance money. In an effort to collect double, they decide to stage a strange freak accident to employ the “Double Indemnity” clause and get twice as much money. But it only works if they can prove his death was really an accident.
To me, some of the greatest movies are the ones that manipulate the way you think. You may find yourself rooting for Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray as they plot their crime, holding your breath as they are questioned, wondering if they will pull it off. In short, this film convinces you to sympathize with murderers, effectively making you cheer on the villains. Any movie that can manipulate your thinking that much deserves a watch! Besides, it’s worth seeing just to hear all the hilariously quotable things Fred MacMurray says! You’ll enjoy this movie, as sure as 10 dimes make a dollar!