Best Documentary Movies of 1940


Cavalcade of the Academy Awards

8.6/10 IMDB

This 1940 presentation features highlights of earlier (1928 onward) Oscar ceremonies including Shirley Temple and Walt Disney, plus acceptance speeches for films released in 1939 with recipients and presenters including Vivien Leigh, Judy Garland, Hattie McDaniel, Fay Bainter, Mickey Rooney, Thomas Mitchell, Sinclair Lewis, and more, with host Bob Hope.

Starring: Carey Wilson, Janet Gaynor, Emil Jannings, Mary Pickford, Warner Baxter, Norma Shearer, George Arliss, Marie Dressler, Lionel Barrymore, Helen Hayes ..
Release date: 1940-07-31
Best Documentary Movies of 1940 : Seattle: Gateway to the Northwest

Seattle: Gateway to the Northwest

6.6/10 IMDB

This Traveltalk series short visits Seattle and other areas in the state of Washington. Seattle was a small city until the 1897 gold rush. During World War I, it served as a major shipping center for lumber that was transported through the Panama Canal to East Coast shipbuilders. We also visit a Weyerhaeuser lumber camp located between Longview and Tacoma, and the city of Everett, where lumber is used in the burgeoning aircraft industry.

Starring: James A. FitzPatrick ..
Release date: 1940-02-17

The Capital City: Washington, D.C.

6.4/10 IMDB

A Traveltalk look at the exteriors of Washington, D.C.'s famous buildings and monuments.

Starring: James A. FitzPatrick ..
Directed by: James A. FitzPatrick
Release date: 1940-09-07

Old New Orleans

7.0/10 IMDB

This Traveltalk series short looks at several landmarks and neighborhoods in New Orleans, Louisiana. Sights include the Cathedral of St. Louis, Pirate's Alley, the Old French Market, and Broussard's Restaurant.

Starring: James A. FitzPatrick ..
Release date: 1940-12-21

Tacoma Narrows Bridge Collapse

7.0/10 IMDB

The collapse of the bridge was recorded on film by Barney Elliott, owner of a local camera shop. The film shows Leonard Coatsworth leaving the bridge after exiting his car. In 1998, The Tacoma Narrows Bridge Collapse was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant. This footage is still shown to engineering, architecture, and physics students as a cautionary tale. Elliott's original film of the construction and collapse of the bridge was shot at 16 frames a second, on 16mm Kodachrome film, but most copies in circulation are in black and white because newsreels of the day copied the film onto 35 mm black-and-white stock (not to mention, often showed the film at the wrong speed).

Starring: Frederick Burt Farquharson ..
Directed by: Barney Elliott, Harbine Monroe
Release date: 1940-12-31
Best Documentary Movies of 1940 : Experiments in the Revival of Organisms

Experiments in the Revival of Organisms

6.6/10 IMDB

This film shows experiments performed by Soviet scientists reviving the lungs, heart, and even the head of a dead dog.

Starring: J.B.S. Haldane ..
Directed by: D.I. Yashin
Release date: 1940-05-29
Best Documentary Movies of 1940 : Quicker'n a Wink

Quicker'n a Wink

7.2/10 IMDB

In this Pete Smith Specialty short, Dr. Harold E. Edgerton demonstrates stroboscopic photography, which he helped develop. This process allows us to see in slow motion what happens during events that occur too fast to be seen by the naked eye. Examples shown here include a bullet in flight as it shatters a light bulb, the moment of impact when a kicker kicks a football, and the motion of a hummingbird's wings as it hovers.

Starring: Pete Smith, Harold E. Edgerton ..
Directed by: George Sidney
Release date: 1940-10-12
Best Documentary Movies of 1940 : Eyes of the Navy

Eyes of the Navy

5.7/10 IMDB

Produced by MGM in cooperation with the U.S. Navy, this short film follows U.S. naval aviators through their basic training in Florida and advanced training in California.

Starring: Frank Whitbeck, Charles Middleton, Warren McCollum, Russell Wade, James Conaty ..
Release date: 1940-10-26
Best Documentary Movies of 1940 : Spring Offensive

Spring Offensive

6.5/10 IMDB

Documentary short by Humphrey Jennings. The GPO Film Unit was a subdivision of the UK General Post Office. The unit was established in 1933, taking on responsibilities of the Empire Marketing Board Film Unit. Headed by John Grierson, it was set up to produce sponsored documentary films mainly related to the activities of the GPO.

Directed by: Humphrey Jennings
Release date: 1940-06-01
Best Documentary Movies of 1940 : Night Descends on Treasure Island

Night Descends on Treasure Island

6.7/10 IMDB

A travelogue celebrating the 1939 Golden Gate Exposition and highlighting its exhibition of classical paintings and stunning lighting effects.

Starring: James A. FitzPatrick ..
Release date: 1940-01-20
Best Documentary Movies of 1940 : Power and the Land

Power and the Land

6.6/10 IMDB

A documentary showing the struggle to bring electricity to rural areas of the United States.

Starring: William Adams, Stephen Vincent Benét, Hazel Parkinson, William Parkinson ..
Directed by: Joris Ivens
Release date: 1940-10-01
Best Documentary Movies of 1940 : Commandment Keeper Church, Beaufort South Carolina, May 1940

Commandment Keeper Church, Beaufort South Carolina, May 1940

6.0/10 IMDB

Field recordings of religious services in a South Carolina Gullah community. Commandment Keeper Church, Beaufort South Carolina, May 1940 is a 1940 short documentary film which shows religious services taking place in a South Carolina Gullah community. In 2005, Commandment Keeper Church was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

Directed by: Zora Neale Hurston
Release date: 1940-03-24

A New Romance of Celluloid: The Miracle of Sound

5.4/10 IMDB

This short documentary, presented and directed by MGM sound engineer Douglas Shearer, goes behind the scenes to look at how the sound portion of a talking picture is created.

Starring: Douglas Shearer, Greer Garson, Clark Gable, Hedy Lamarr, Spencer Tracy, Norma Shearer, Robert Taylor, Conrad Veidt, Alla Nazimova, Ann Sothern ..
Directed by: Douglas Shearer
Release date: 1940-10-24
Best Documentary Movies of 1940 : Siege


6.7/10 IMDB

Siege is a 1940 documentary short about the Siege of Warsaw by the Wehrmacht at the start of World War II. It was shot by Julien Bryan, a Pennsylvanian photographer and cameraman who later established the International Film Foundation. Siege was nominated for an Oscar for Best One-reel Short at the 13th Academy Awards in 1941, and in 2006, it was named to the National Film Registry by the Librarian of Congress as "a unique, horrifying record of the dreadful brutality of war."

Directed by: Julien Bryan
Release date: 1940-12-31

Campaign in Poland

5.7/10 IMDB

The first blitzkrieg, Hitler's invasion of Poland, is traced in this original Nazi propaganda film from 1940.

Starring: Adolf Hitler ..
Directed by: Fritz Hippler
Release date: 1940-01-02

Time in the Sun

6.1/10 IMDB

Second attempt to create a feature film out of the 200,000-plus feet of film which Soviet film-maker Sergei Eisenstein shot during 1931-32 in Mexico for American socialist author Upton Sinclair, his wife and a small company of investors. The projected film, to be called "Que Viva Mexico", was never completed due to exhaustion of funds and Stalin's demand that Eisenstein return to the USSR (he had been absent since 1929). The first attempt at editing the footage, in the USA, resulted in "Thunder Over Mexico", released in 1934. In 1940, Marie Seton, from the UK, acquired some of the footage from the Sinclairs in an attempt to make a better cutting according to Eisenstein's skeletal outline for the proposed film. This film has apparently been lost.

Directed by: Sergei Eisenstein, Grigori Aleksandrov
Release date: 1940-09-30
Best Documentary Movies of 1940 : Men and Dust

Men and Dust

6.1/10 IMDB

This labor advocacy film is about diseases plaguing miners in Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. Sponsored by the Tri-State Survey Committee, "Men and Dust" is a stylistically innovative documentary and a valuable ecological record of landscapes radically transformed by extractive industry.

Starring: Will Geer, Storrs Haynes, Robert Porterfield, Eric Walz ..
Directed by: Lee Dick
Release date: 1940-11-08

The Old South

5.8/10 IMDB

This short film chronicles the importance of cotton to the economy and culture of America's Old South.

Starring: Frank Whitbeck, George Lynn ..
Directed by: Fred Zinnemann
Release date: 1940-01-20
Best Documentary Movies of 1940 : Northward, Ho!

Northward, Ho!

5.8/10 IMDB

Behind-the-scenes promotional featurette to publicize the epic outdoor adventure Northwest Passage filmed on location in Idaho.

Starring: Spencer Tracy, Robert Young, King Vidor, Frank Whitbeck, Clark Gable, Myrna Loy, Clem Bevans, Truman Bradley, Donald McBride, Lew Strohm ..
Directed by: Harry Loud
Release date: 1940-02-10

Breakdowns of 1940

6.1/10 IMDB

Flubs and bloopers that occurred on the set of some of the major Warner Bros. pictures of 1940.

Starring: Humphrey Bogart, George Brent, James Cagney, Miriam Hopkins, Allen Jenkins, Joel McCrea, Pat O’Brien, George Raft, Ann Sheridan, Eric Blore ..
Release date: 1940-01-01

Cavalcade of San Francisco

5.7/10 IMDB

This Traveltalk series short celebrates San Francisco, past and present.

Starring: James A. FitzPatrick ..
Release date: 1940-09-28

Fashion Horizons

4.2/10 IMDB

Combines airplane trips and fashion. Heavy on the fashion.

Starring: Wendell Niles, Dee Lowrance, Mary Martin, Margaret Hayes, Virginia Dale, Martha O'Driscoll, Esther Fernández, June Malm, Don King, Dorice Miller ..
Directed by: Harry D. Donahue
Release date: 1940-08-03
Best Documentary Movies of 1940 : Hollywood: Style Center of the World

Hollywood: Style Center of the World

4.9/10 IMDB

This short promotes the premise that movies often create a demand for the fashions seen in them. It starts with a vignette in rural America. A mother and daughter go to town to buy a new dress. In the dress shop window is a designer dress worn by Joan Crawford in a recent movie. We then go to Hollywood and visit Adrian, MGM's chief of costume design, and see how multiple copies of a single clothing pattern are produced. The film ends with short segments of several MGM features.

Starring: Ann Morriss, Naomi Childers, George Lessey, May McAvoy, Adrian, Lew Ayres, Lionel Barrymore, Wallace Beery, Bruce Cabot, Claudette Colbert ..
Directed by: Oliver Garver
Release date: 1940-05-29
Best Documentary Movies of 1940 : Citizen Kane Trailer

Citizen Kane Trailer

8.2/10 IMDB

The Citizen Kane Trailer is a four-minute, self-contained "making-of" featurette, released in 1940 to promote the feature film Citizen Kane. Unlike standard theatrical trailers of the era, it did not feature any footage of the actual film itself, but was instead a wholly original pseudo-documentary (considered by numerous film scholars such as Simon Callow, Joseph McBride and Jonathan Rosenbaum to be a standalone short film). In future works, Welles would build off this faux-documentary framework.

Starring: Ray Collins, Joseph Cotten, Everett Sloane, Orson Welles, George Coulouris, Erskine Sanford, Ruth Warrick, Paul Stewart, Agnes Moorehead, Dorothy Comingore ..
Directed by: Orson Welles
Release date: 1940-01-01

Citizen Kane trailer

8.2/10 IMDB

4-minute documentary on the making of "Citizen Kane"

Starring: Ray Collins, Joseph Cotten, Everett Sloane, Orson Welles ..
Directed by: Orson Welles
Release date: 1940-12-01
Best Documentary Movies of 1940 : Transfer of Skill

Transfer of Skill

7.4/10 IMDB

Short World War II documentary showing examples of how skilled craftsmen of peacetime apply their skills to essential wartime production.

Directed by: Geoffrey Bell
Release date: 1940-08-31

Spills for Thrills

7.1/10 IMDB

Warner Bros. short about stuntmen and stuntwomen and how they do their work, featuring real-life stunt artists Harvey Parry, Mary Wiggins, and Allen Pomeroy.

Starring: Harvey Parry, Mary Wiggins, Allen Pomeroy, Knox Manning, John Ridgely ..
Directed by: De Leon Anthony
Release date: 1940-01-07
Best Documentary Movies of 1940 : Britain at Bay

Britain at Bay

6.6/10 IMDB

Wartime morale-boosting propaganda short, looking at the greatness of Britain and the efforts of all to preserve her power and integrity.

Starring: J.B. Priestley ..
Directed by: Harry Watt
Release date: 1940-07-31

The Front Line

6.9/10 IMDB

The world's press gather at Dover, England awaiting a threatened German attack.

Directed by: Harry Watt
Release date: 1940-01-01

Modern New Orleans

6.8/10 IMDB

This Traveltalk look at New Orleans starts at the recently modernized port and harbor facilities, with ships unloading various cargo and loading cotton. We then ride along Canal Street and visit the Tulane University campus. After a look at the variety of the residential architecture, we end our visit at the city's new airport.

Starring: James A. FitzPatrick ..
Release date: 1940-05-11
Best Documentary Movies of 1940 : They Also Serve

They Also Serve

6.8/10 IMDB

Short World War II documentary showing how the everyday work of British housewives aided the war effort.

Directed by: Ruby Grierson
Release date: 1940-09-30

Sitka and Juneau: 'A Tale of Two Cities'

6.6/10 IMDB

This Traveltalk series short takes the viewer to Alaska, focusing on the cities of Sitka and Juneau.

Starring: James A. FitzPatrick ..
Release date: 1940-04-13

Old New Mexico

6.6/10 IMDB

This Traveltalk series short takes viewers on a tour of old New Mexico. Starting in Santa Fe, the oldest state capitol in the USA, the city existed long before European migration. It's unique architecture is its most prominent feature. There are several archaeological sites trying to date when Indians first settled in the area. Seven percent of the population are of Indian origin. Near Taos is the onetime home of Kit Carson whose grave is one of the sacred shrines of New Mexico. The Navajo live on their 14 million acre reservation and continue their traditional way of life.

Starring: James A. FitzPatrick ..
Release date: 1940-10-26

Famous Movie Dogs

6.6/10 IMDB

Well-known canine performers of the 1930s vie for a part in an upcoming movie.

Starring: John Deering ..
Release date: 1940-08-17
Best Documentary Movies of 1940 : I Married Adventure

I Married Adventure

7.2/10 IMDB

A 1940 Columbia Picture feature film, "I Married Adventure" stars Osa Johnson and closely follows her 1940 best-selling book of the same name. Osa portrays herself in studio-produced scenes which bridge the transition between actual documentary footage segments as the film recounts the Johnson's nine world expeditions to Africa, Borneo, and the South Seas. Jim Bannon, a Hollywod stuntman who lent his voice to many western's including Red Ryder, Don Clark, and Albert Duffy narrate this adventure classic that compiles the very best images from the Johnsons' original feature films.

Starring: Jim Bannon, Martin E. Johnson, Osa Johnson ..
Directed by: Osa Johnson
Release date: 1940-07-24
Best Documentary Movies of 1940 : Tomorrow Is Theirs

Tomorrow Is Theirs

6.8/10 IMDB

Tomorrow is Theirs examines provisions for secondary school education during the war, arguing for the importance of maintaining excellent, thorough schooling in spite of wartime obstacles.

Starring: Joseph Macleod ..
Directed by: James Carr
Release date: 1940-07-27

The Hidden Master

6.3/10 IMDB

Shows how important luck can be in a person's life.

Starring: John Nesbitt, Peter Cushing ..
Directed by: Sammy Lee
Release date: 1940-04-20

Glimpses of Washington State

6.3/10 IMDB

This Traveltalk series short begins in the Wenatchee River valley, where apples are the chief commercial crop. In Spokane, we see the Sunken Gardens (later called the John W. Duncan Gardens) in Manito Park. In Olympia, the campus of the state capitol is surrounded by flowers. At Long Beach is the beginning of a sand roadbed that stretches for 27 miles. After a glimpse of canoeing on the Quinault River, we get a view of the San Juan Islands. Finally, we are shown some sights on the Columbia River, including the Rock Island Dam and the not-yet-finished Grand Coulee Dam, largest concrete structure in the United States.

Starring: James A. FitzPatrick ..
Directed by: James A. FitzPatrick
Release date: 1940-06-07

Suva: 'Pride of Fiji'

6.0/10 IMDB

James A. FitzPatrick takes a tour of the Fiji Islands. The short depicts the different types of natives that inhabit the islands, and shows villages that have not been changed in architecture for centuries. There are ceremonial dances, and FitzPatrick politically-correctly describes the rule of the islands under the British government.

Starring: James A. FitzPatrick, Noelle Bënda Richards ..
Directed by: James A. FitzPatrick
Release date: 1940-05-23
Best Documentary Movies of 1940 : Auto-Lite on Parade

Auto-Lite on Parade

6.2/10 IMDB

Tour of an auto parts and accessories factory climaxing with a stop-motion product parade.

Starring: Lowell Thomas ..
Directed by: Cullen Landis
Release date: 1940-08-03

Hunting in the South Seas

6.1/10 IMDB

The film depicts one of the great hunts the South Sea Islanders. Come schools of fish in one of the bays on the island, so hurry on an alarm signal all the people out to sea to seal off the bay to drive the fish towards the coast and to impose there with spears.

Directed by: F.W. Murnau, Werner Buhre
Release date: 1940-08-30

Servant Of Mankind

5.9/10 IMDB

This short dramatizes how profoundly the inventions of Thomas A. Edison have affected the world in which we live. In addition to the electric light, Edison developed the system of alternating current that carries virtually all of the world's electricity, as well as storage batteries and electric motors. Other highlighted inventions include the phonograph, automatic stock ticker, wireless telegraphy, mimeograph machine, and, of course, the world's first motion picture studio.

Release date: 1940-01-01

After Mein Kampf

5.6/10 IMDB

Allied propaganda in the form of cartoons and newsreels shows the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis.

Starring: Robert Beatty, Derek Blomfield, Herbert Lom, Olaf Olsen, Henry Oscar, Peter Ustinov ..
Directed by: Norman Lee
Release date: 1940-09-13
Best Documentary Movies of 1940 : A Case of Spring Fever

A Case of Spring Fever

2.8/10 IMDB

Advertising short for Chevrolet combining live action and animation. The film relates the story of Gilbert Willoughby, who, exasperated by his stubborn boxspring mattress, imprudently wishes for the disappearance of springs. Coily, the animated spring sprite, grants his wish, and Gilbert is bedeviled by once-familar appliances that no longer function. Apolo­gizing to Coily, Gilbert acknowledges the contribution of springs to daily life, especially in the Chevrolet.

Starring: Pinto Colvig ..
Directed by: James Tyer, Frank Goldman
Release date: 1940-02-03

Yesterday Is Over Your Shoulder

5.2/10 IMDB

A wartime short encouraging workers to join free, government-organised engineering training schemes.

Starring: Robertson Hare, Joyce Barbour, Ernest Bevin, Herbert Hodge ..
Directed by: Thorold Dickinson
Release date: 1940-05-05

Wild Boar Hunt

5.3/10 IMDB

This short film showcases the skills of Howard Hill, known as the "World's Greatest Archer".

Starring: Howard Hill, Knox Manning, Buster Wiles ..
Release date: 1940-01-21

In the Kingdom of the Lapland Bear

5.2/10 IMDB

Documentary about bears where the animals were filmed completely undisturbed.

Starring: Stig Wesslén ..
Directed by: Stig Wesslén
Release date: 1940-12-26

Choose Cheese

5.1/10 IMDB

Wartime public information film.

Directed by: Ruby Grierson
Release date: 1940-11-01
Best Documentary Movies of 1940 : Flying Stewardess

Flying Stewardess

3.7/10 IMDB

A short documentary depicting a typical day in the life of a 1940s era flying stewardess.

Release date: 1940-08-16

Civilian Front

3.5/10 IMDB

E.V.H. Emmett narrates this propaganda short about how sacrifices on the home front support the war effort.

Starring: E. V. H. Emmett ..
Directed by: Mary Field
Release date: 1940-08-16

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