Sunday, July 11

A Random Cinematic Year In Review - 1943


1943 - A Random Cinematic Year In Review

By Emery Snyder @leeroy711


Preface: I have decided to write this series at least in part because I don't make it out to see new films very often and I've found that I spent too much time at the end of the year attempting to see all the big releases (many of which I'm not even interested in) for no other reason than to make an obligatory 'year-end list'... This is a way that I can continue writing about films without feeling the pressure to see a bunch of stuff that I wouldn't otherwise take the time to. I'll still see most of them eventually, just on my own time. I use a random number generator to pick a year and I use to determine the actual release year.


The one thing I’ve found consistent while researching for these posts is that race relations has been a constant struggle in this country. In the Summer of 1943, we experienced both the “Zoot Suit Riots” in Los Angeles as well as the Detroit Race Riots, respectively. The former, refers to about a week’s worth of attacks from White Angelinos and U.S. Navy servicemen against East L.A. Chicanos that were found wearing zoot suits. Later that same month (June ’43), the streets of Detroit, Michigan erupted in two nights of violence as Black Americans fought for equality in the workplace, fair public housing and fair treatment by police. Their strides in the workplace were met with insolence and violence by their neighbors in the White community.

These and other instances did not go unnoticed by the Federal Government who, at the time was trying to win a war. Polls showed that Black Americans were unconvinced in the importance a U.S. victory against Imperial Japan, some even thought they would be better off with a Japanese victory. These sentiments came to a head in 1943, and prompted the U.S. Office of War Information (OWI), though its Bureau of Motion Pictures to pressure Hollywood to improve Cinema’s depictions of African Americans. Prior to this, the overwhelming majority of Black depictions on the screen were relegated to some of the worst stereotypes and shown to be clearly and significantly inferior to Whites.

Hollywood studios largely complied with the OWI’s requests, (in letter if not in spirit) removing the most egregious stereotypical portrayals. Of course, these weren’t large roles, so in most of these cases, it was far easier for the character to simply be cut out of the pictures, rather than to be rewritten. So the final consequence of the OWI’s effort ended up making Hollywood an even harder place for Black Americans to find work.

I found this story to be fascinating and ultimately very telling. The takeaway is obvious. Think about this the next time someone scoffs at the concept that representation is important. The next time Tucker Carlson or Laura Ingraham are worked into a frenzy over some Disney Princess’ lack of Whiteness, just remember that when it was time to defeat fascism in Europe and Japan, the U.S. Government understood the importance of representation in film, 78 years ago.


MESHES OF THE AFTERNOON – Directed by Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid

No, I cannot claim that I fully understand this fourteen minute early avant-garde experimental dreamscape film. And no, this fact does not keep me from loving it in the slightest. The use of shadows and angles shot and cut through a surreal context come together to form a sort of mini-masterpiece of cinema.

LE CORBEAU – Directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot

Clouzot was touted as the French Hitchcock for good reason. Like the rest of his films, this is a masterpiece of suspense. Decades before the anonymity of social media, someone is spilling all of the town’s guts with a series of poison pen notes signed by “Le Coubeau” (The Raven). Audiences loved the film, but the Vichy Government (who allied itself with the occupying Nazis) didn’t care much for the negative light the film put on the act of informing on your neighbors, so the film was banned. Later, after liberation, the new government didn’t much care for how the film contradicted the concept that France was a country full of resistance fighters. So they banned Clouzot from working entirely. Even without any historical or cultural significance, this film is fantastic.

HANGMEN ALSO DIE! – Directed by Fritz Lang

A unique WWII thriller about an assassination that takes place in the opening scene. This isn’t Lang’s best film but I still feel like it’s necessary part of his oeuvre. It showcases his passions in an intelligent and clever manner as well as his skills as a tension builder. The cinematography by James Wong Howe is beautiful as well.

SHADOW OF A DOUBT – Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

If I’m writing about any year in the 30’s through the 60’s, I’ll usually fit in whatever Hitchcock was releasing. But this one stands out as particularly creepy to me, even for Hitchcock and especially for its time. Joseph Cotten’s “Uncle Charlie” and Theresa Wright’s “Charlie” dance around on disturbing undertones as suspicions and mistrust work their way through the story. It’s been said that this was Hitchcock’s favorite of his own films and for that reason alone, it should be seen by any cinefile.

THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP – Directed by Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger

I think this is my first opportunity to talk about a Powell and Pressburger film. I think the best word to describe this and all of their work is rich. Richness of character, story, set and of course, color. This is an epic film, that takes place over the course of four decades, two wars and three women, all played by the beautiful Deborah Kerr. This isn’t my favorite Powell/Pressburger film but over the years, it’s grown on me. In scope, it’s probably their biggest film. It’s a great watch and a great journey.


It’s impossible to discuss the cinema of this era without mentioning producer, Val Lewton. RKO Pictures hired Lewton to helm the studio’s “B film” horror division. Universal already owned the rights to the monsters that audiences were familiar with so RKO would give Lewton a vague title and a $150,000 budget and told him to keep the films under 75 minutes. Out of these limitations, he was able to crank out 11 films from Jacques Tourneur’s CAT PEOPLE (’42) through Mark Robson’s BEDLAM (’46).

1943 was his most prolific year. Tourneur’s I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE and THE LEOPARD MAN are still some of the most beautifully shot black & white horror films of all time. While Robson’s THE SEVENTH VICTIM              about some of Manhattan’s friendliest Satanic cult predates ROSEMARY’S BABY by a quarter century. These films will never be my favorite thing in the world but it is simply impossible to overstate their importance to the landscape of independent horror that it cultivated.

SANSHIRO SUGATA – Directed by Akira Kurosawa

This is Kurosawa’s directorial debut. For that reason alone, it demands to be in this discussion. If for no other reason than a demarcation of time. 1942 is Pre-Kurosawa, 1943 begins the career of cinema’s most important artist of all time… All of this notwithstanding, if you’re unfamiliar with his work, don’t start here. This film shows the promise of the greatness to come later in his work. And I actually find it a much more interesting and satisfying watch after you know what the techniques he’s developing will turn into.

HEAVEN CAN WAIT – Directed by Ernst Lubitsch

I’ve heard that Billy Wilder had a sign in his office that said: “How would Lubitsch do it?” … Well, Lubitsch would do it big and bold. His films were consistently stylistic, expressionistic and playful. And this was his first opportunity with Technicolor. It’s lush and beautiful. I don’t know if you’d say that Lubitsch has a specific charm to his work. Unless you consider extra charm to be specific… His films are extra… In the best way possible.

DAY OF WRATH – Directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer

If you want to learn about the power of the close-ups in cinema, study Dreyer. This story, unlike his previous masterpiece, THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC, unfolds without the type of judgment of its characters. It’s a similar story. A religious hierarchy persecutes an innocent woman that has her own word as her only defense. This film however, is somehow darker. I think it’s because every character, especially those in charge of carrying out the law, is honestly acting in good faith of what they consider to be God’s will. It’s as though they are merely cogs in a machine of misguided oppression. This is a frightening scenario that Dreyer plays out for us in all of its beautiful cinematic bleakness.

LA MAIN DU DIABLE (CARNIVAL OF SINNERS) – Directed by Maurice Tourneur

Earlier we looked at two films directed by Jacques Tourneur in this year. Well this is his father, Maurice, bringing us a Faustian horror in occupied France. This story exists somewhere between Wiene’s THE HANDS OF ORLAC and W.W. Jacobs’ “The Monkey’s Paw”. Really, the plot is ridiculous, but the visuals in this film are what truly elevate it. So much of this film plays out in the stark shadows lurking off frame. It’s one of the best non-German-German-Expressionism films you will find.

THE OX-BOW INCIDENT – Directed by William A. Wellman

This is my favorite Western of all time. A lot of films of that genre, especially from this era are riddles with problematic morals. This film turns the mirror on the often romanticized vigilante justice of the lawless West. But what would you expect from 12 ANGRY MEN star, Henry Fonda. The story takes place in 1885 but it’s important to understand how relevant it was at the time of its release. That same year, Cellos Harrison, a Florida black man was taken out of Jackson County jail by four masked men and lynched after the Florida Supreme Court overturned his conviction. No one was ever charged in his murder. Two additional incidents of lynching black men in this country happened in the same year. Unfortunately, the moral of this story is still painfully relevant. I first saw this film long before the Trayvon Martin or Ahmaud Arbery murders. But I can’t help think of them when I watch it now.

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