Joseph Cotten: Essential 1940s Movies

While Joseph Cotten had a long career that spanned decades, the films he made in the 1940s, when he was new to Hollywood, are some of his best. After gaining success on Broadway, Cotten made his way to Los Angeles where he would become a constant male lead star in great films. Below, we’ve compiled the 13 best 1940s Joseph Cotten movies. Every single move here is great!

The 13 Best 1940s Joseph Cotten Movies, Ranked

13. Love Letters (1945)

  • Genre: Mystery / Romance / Drama
  • Starring: Jennifer Jones, Joseph Cotten, Ann Richards, Cecil Kellaway
  • Directed by: William Dieterle

Love Letters is a great romantic drama set during World War II. Joseph Cotten and Jennifer Jones opposite one another is always a great time — so this film is no different. In this film, Cotten plays a wounded veteran who returns home to find his best friend has been killed — and that starts to become quite interested in the woman (Jones) who may have killed him.

12. Beyond the Forest (1949)

  • Genre: Film Noir / Romance / Drama
  • Starring: Bette Davis, Joseph Cotten, David Brian, Ruth Roman
  • Directed by: King Vidor

Bette Davis and Joseph Cotten in one movie? Yes, please! Beyond the Forest follows the wife (Davis) of a Wisconsin doctor (Cotten) who ends up killing someone who witnessed her affair with another man. While not the best movie ever made, this movie is still quite enjoyable, especially if you admire Davis and Cotten’s filmography!

Related — The Top 10 Best Bette Davis Movies of All Time

11. Journey Into Fear (1943)

  • Genre: Film Noir / Thriller / Drama
  • Starring: Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Dolores del Rio, Ruth Warrick
  • Directed by: Norman Foster

Is Journey Into Fear the best movie Orson Welles and Joseph Cotten made together? Well, no. But it’s still one of the best 1940s Joseph Cotten movies! Cotten stars as a munitions expert who becomes targeted by Nazis and gunrunners while in Turkey.

Related — 8 Popular Dolores del Rio Movies Today

10. Duel in the Sun (1946)

  • Genre: Western / Romance / Drama
  • Starring: Jennifer Jones, Joseph Cotten, Gregory Peck, Lionel Barrymore
  • Directed by: King Vidor

Duel in the Sun is a great psychological western that also happens to be one of the best 1940s Joseph Cotten movies! It’s got a great cast. In Duel in the Sun, a half-Native American woman (Jones) goes to live with her white relatives after her parents are killed, finding love with Peck’s and Cotten’s characters — and causing drama in the process.

9. I’ll Be Seeing You (1944)

  • Genre: Romance / Drama
  • Starring: Ginger Rogers, Joseph Cotten, Shirley Temple
  • Directed by: William Dieterle

In I’ll Be Seeing You, Cotten plays a wounded military veteran on leave who meets a woman (Rogers) on a train and becomes interested in her. However, she’s also keeping her own secrets — she’s a convict who’s been allowed to spend the Christmas holiday out of jail. A great 1940s romantic drama!

8. The Farmer’s Daughter (1947)

  • Genre: Romance / Comedy / Drama
  • Starring: Loretta Young, Joseph Cotten, Ethel Barrymore, Charles Bickford
  • Directed by: H.C. Potter

The Farmer’s Daughter follows a Minnesota farm girl (Young) who goes to work for a congressman (Cotten) — and ends up taking Washington by storm. It’s a fun film that is also one of the best 1940s Joseph Cotten movies!

Related — The Top 10 Best Loretta Young Movies of All Time

7. Since You Went Away (1944)

  • Genre: War / Romance / Drama
  • Starring: Claudette Colbert, Jennifer Jones, Joseph Cotten, Shirley Temple, Hattie McDaniel, Monty Woolley
  • Directed by: John Cromwell

Since You Went Away is a wonderful World War II film that follows a family affected by the war in their small town. Claudette Colbert plays a wife whose husband is away at war. She must care for her daughters (Jones and Temple) alone. To bring in money, she allows two soldiers (Woolley and Cotten) to lodge with them.

6. Portrait of Jennie (1948)

  • Genre: Mystery / Fantasy / Drama
  • Starring: Jennifer Jones, Joseph Cotten, Ethel Barrymore, Lillian Gish
  • Directed by: William Dieterle

Portrait of Jennie is such an interesting movie — and definitely one of the very best 1940s Joseph Cotten movies! This film follows a painter (Cotten) who struggles to find success. However, when he meets an interesting woman (Jones) who may be a ghost or something otherworldly, he becomes artistically inspired.

5. The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)

  • Genre: Romance / Drama
  • Starring: Tim Holt, Joseph Cotten, Dolores Costello, Anne Baxter
  • Directed by: Orson Welles

The Magnificent Ambersons is one of the best Classic Hollywood movies for a reason! This classic follows a wealthy Indianapolis family during the turn of the twentieth century. The family struggles to remain affluent and keep their place in the society and city they once ruled. It’s a wonderful, absolutely astonishing, film. It’s also a part of the Criterion Collection (spine #952)!

4. Gaslight (1944)

  • Genre: Mystery / Crime / Drama
  • Starring: Charles Boyer, Ingrid Bergman, Joseph Cotten, May Whitty
  • Directed by: George Cukor

Gaslight is one of the best psychological thrillers of all time. Clearly, it’s one of the best 1940s Joseph Cotten movies — even if he really isn’t in the film too much. Ingrid Bergman phenomenally portrays a woman who begins to lose her mind, thanks to her husband’s (Boyer) gaslighting. However, a kind Inspector (Cotten) begins to realize that she needs help.

Related — The Most Popular Ingrid Bergman Movies Today

3. Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

  • Genre: Film Noir / Thriller
  • Starring: Teresa Wright, Joseph Cotten, Henry Travers
  • Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock

Shadow of a Doubt is a wonderful thriller by the great Alfred Hitchcock. When Charlie’s (Teresa Wright) Uncle Charlie (Cotten) comes to visit his family unexpectedly, she’s beyond thrilled to reunite with her favorite uncle — and he to reunite with his favorite niece. However, when she learns that two police officers are trailing him, things become very dangerous for her.

2. The Third Man (1949)

  • Genre: Film Noir / Mystery / Thriller
  • Starring: Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli, Trevor Howard
  • Directed by: Carol Reed

The Third Man is one of the best movies ever made, as well as one of the best 1940s Joseph Cotten movies. How could one not like this mystery? In The Third Man, Cotten plays a pulp novelist who travels to Vienna to reunite with his friend (Welles) — only to find him dead. The novelist goes on a mystery to try to learn exactly what happened, and it’s thrilling to watch.

As one of the best films ever made, The Third Man is a part of the Criterion Collection (spine #64)!

1. Citizen Kane (1941)

  • Genre: Mystery / Drama
  • Starring: Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Dorothy Comingore, Agnes Moorehead
  • Directed by: Orson Welles

And now, for the best 1940s Joseph Cotten movie — which also happens to be, for many, the best film ever made. Citizen Kane follows a reporter who begins to interview people after the death of a publishing tycoon (Welles). Through this reporting, we learn about the scandalous life the man led. But what do the man’s dying words mean?

Citizen Kane is also a part of the Criterion Collection (spine #1104)!

What’s Your Favorite 1940s Joseph Cotten Movie?

Alrighty, now it’s time to hear your favorite 1940s Joseph Cotten movies! Which films are your absolute favorites? Do you agree with this list? Hit the comments below with all your thoughts and opinions — we’d love to hear them!

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